Methodism came to Cambridge despite John Wesley's neglect: he never preached there and visited only briefly, in 1731. At the end of that decade a religious society similar to the Holy Club had a brief existence, with William Delamotte among its members, but this had dispersed by 1740. In the 1760s a group of undergraduates met for study, preached and visited the sick and needy for a time, after the manner of the Oxford 'Holy Club'. They were led by the Calvinist Rowland Hill. After his graduation in 1769 the movement was suppressed by the University authorities. It was left to the Rev. Charles Simeon, minister of Holy Trinity 1782-1836, to represent the Evangelical Revival in Cambridge.

The first WM preacher was a working man named Pinder, who walked to Cambridge from Thetford in 1798. Despite some earlier preaching in nearby villages, by 1805 the Cambridge WM society had only a room in the yard of the 'Brazen George' inn. This served them until Barnwell Chapel, Fitzroy Street (later the scene of Gipsy Smith's conversion) was opened c.1818. Despite this hesitant beginning, Cambridge WM Circuit was formed from Bury St Edmunds in 1816. A second cause was established in a former Independent chapel in Green Street; replaced in 1849 by Hobson Street chapel. In 1856 the Fitzroy Street congregation sold Barnwell chapel to the PMs and were united with the Hobson Street society. Later chapels included Hills Road, opened in 1871 in place of a temporary building of 1866, and closely associated with The Leys School. In 1901 the WM Conference appointed a special committee on Methodism in Cambridge, which eventually led to the building of Wesley (opened 1913) at the corner of Christ's Pieces; this became the home of the Cambridge Group (later known as 'MethSoc'). Modernization and reordering of the premises were completed in 1990. Hills Road closed in 1972, when the society was united with that of 'Wesley'. As a contribution to the celebration of Wesley's centenary a hymn was written by Timothy Dudley Smith.

Until 1892 the Cambridge Circuit was in the First London District, and was then transferred to the Norwich and Lynn (later East Anglia) District.

The first PM preacher to reach Cambridge was Joseph Reynolds in 1821, who walked all the way from Tunstall, only to meet with violent opposition and limited success. Cambridge became a Branch of the Nottingham Circuit and, somewhat prematurely, a separate circuit in 1824. A cottage in St. Peter's Street was converted into a chapel, opened in 1823 by William Clowes; it was replaced in 1864 and again in 1914, with a new entrance in Castle Street. Barnwell WM chapel in Fitzroy Street was bought in 1855; this was replaced by the Tabernacle in Newmarket Road in 1875, which struggled with debt and was eventually sold. Other chapels were in Panton Street in the 'New Town' area in the 1860s (sold to the Christian Scientists in 1911) and Sturton Street (1875, with additional premises in 1901 and 1934), which was bombed and rebuilt in 1954.

Restrictions on Nonconformists at Oxford and Cambridge were lifted in 1871. This led to the opening of The Leys School (1875). Wesley House was opened in 1921 for ministerial training and has strong links with Wesley church nearby.

  • Methodist Recorder, 30 June 1904
  • Frank Tice, The History of Methodism in Cambridge(1966)
  • John D. Walsh, 'The Cambridge Methodists' in Peter Brooks (ed.) (1975), pp.249-83
  • David Taylor (ed.), 200 Years of Methodism in Central Cambridge (2005)