John Wesley paid twelve visits between 1764 and 1790. Carlisle became the head of the circuit in 1801 and was head of the District from 1805.

A society had been formed in 1769 within the Whitehaven Circuit, and a barn in Abbey Street was used for services until a preaching house was opened in Fisher Street in 1786. Wesley preached in it on his last two visits in 1788 and 1790. It was replaced further down the street, on the opposite side, by the new Fisher Street WM chapel in 1817, and a Sunday School hall was added in 1885. After World War I the chapel was in a poor state, so was demolished and the Central Hall was built on the site, partly funded by Joseph Rank and opened in 1923. Its first minister, until 1927, was the Rev.G.B. Evens, who had been in the circuit since 1914. Services ceased in December 2005, bringing to an end over two centuries of Methodist worship in that street.

The Wesleyans also missioned the populous Caldewgate area and opened a chapel there in 1865, replaced in 1929 by a newly built church in nearby Wigton Road. Further expansion in the city resulted in new churches at Union Street and Currock.

Primitive Methodism arrived in 1822, when an aged woman walked over forty miles to tell her brother-in-law John Boothman, a hatter, of the meetings in Kendal and showed him her prized Small Hymn Book, issued the previous year. After checking her story Boothman allowed services to take place in his warehouse. William Clowes came to Carlisle towards the end of 1822 and, seeing the progress made, a circuit was formed in 1823. In 1826 preachers were sent to Scotland, particularly to Glasgow and then Paisley, where a young boy, Colin Campbell McKecknie, encouraged by his family's young servant girl, started to attend their meetings. Willowholme chapel was opened in 1826, but when the accommodation became unsuitable, a new commodious chapel was opened in Cecil Street in 1852 (closed in 1966). Other PM chapels in the city were opened at Denton Holme and Upperby.

Early WMA enthusiasm, led to the building of the Lowther Street Tabernacle in 1836. Boosted by the influx of Wesleyan Reformers they became a formidable force. Wesleyanism was particularly hard hit, with its city membership of 510 in 1831 being reduced by 1856 to 102. Only towards the end of the century were fortunes reversed.

After Methodist Union in 1932 the Tabernacle closed in 1933 and the UM and PM circuits combined; but it was not until 1958 that a single Carlisle Methodist Circuit was formed. The post-Union Carlisle District to which it belonged was renamed 'Cumbria' in 1978.

As the population grew throughout the 20th century attempts were made to meet their spiritual needs by starting new causes, sometimes in rented property,and later in the building of two churches to serve the large housing estates at Harraby and Morton. These became increasingly hard to maintain as the years passed. On the closure of the Central Hall in 2005 some of its members, wishing to maintain a presence in the city centre, formed a new society at the Tithe Barn of the parish church, St. Cuthbert's. This plus Upperby and the main church at Wigton Road are the basis of the work in the 21st century.


John Wesley's Journal:

April 1770 (Good Friday): 'Notice having been given, through mistake, of my preaching at Carlisle, I was obliged to set out from Whitehaven immediately after the morning preaching. I preached at Cockermouth at one, and then rode on to Carlisle. It was here the day of small things, the society consisting of but fifteen members… As many as could hear behaved with the utmost seriousness.'

April 1772: 'We found a small company of plain, loving people. The place where they had appointed me to preach was out of the gate; yet it was tolerably filled with attentive hearers.'

May 1780: 'In the evening I preached in the town-hall at Carlisle, and, from the number and seriousness of the hearers, I conceived a little hope that even here some good will be done.'

April 1784: 'The Sessions being at Carlisle, I could not have the court-house, but we had a good opportunity in our own house.'

May 1788: 'I never found this society so well united before. The preaching-house, begun three or four years ago, is now completely finished. It is neat, lightsome, and cheerful; but it was very ill able to contain the congregation. Several ministers were there.'

June 1790: 'The work a little increases here. A small handful of people stand firm… Our house would not near contain the congregation, and the word of God was with power.'

  • H.B. Kendall, Origin and History of the Primitive Methodst Church (1906)
  • John Burgess, A History of Cumbrian Methodism (1980)
  • John Huggon in Journal of the Cumbria Wesley Historical Society, No. 73, Spring 2014, pp.6-11; No.74, Autumn 2014, pp.4-12; No.75, Spring 2015, pp.3-12