Thomas Cherry of Swaledale formed a society in 1768 under the leadership of James Millar, a local mason. John Wesley made the first of nine visits in 1770. He was made a freeman of the burgh in 1772 and preached at the opening of the preaching house known as the 'Totum Kirkie', the only octagon in Scotland still in use, as well as the oldest place of worship in regular use in Arbroath. The 'Lifeboat Window' is a memorial to the crew, drowned in 1953, of whom the captain and two others were members.
John Wesley's Journal:
May 1770: 'At seven in the evening I preached at Arbroath (properly Aberbrothwick). The whole town seems moved. The congregation was the largest I have seen since we left Inverness; and the society, though but of nine months' standing, is the largest in the kingdom, next to that of Aberdeen…
'I have seen no town in Scotland which increases so fast, or which is built with so much common sense, as this.'
May 1772: 'In th evening I preached in the new house at Arbroath… In this town there is a change indeed! It was wicked to a proverb; remarkable for Sabbath-breaking, cursing, swraring, drunkenness, and a general contempt of religion. But it is not so now. Open wickedness disappears; no oaths are heard, no drunkenness seen in the streets. And many have not only ceased from evil, and learned to do well, but are witnesses of the inward kingdom of God, "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."
[Next day] 'The magistrates here also did me the honour of presenting me with the freedom of their corporation. I value it as a token of their respect, though I shall hardly make any further use of it.'
May 1774: 'I know no people in England who are more loving and more simple of heart than these.'
May 1776: 'I returned to Arbroath, and lodged at Provost Grey's. So for a time we are in honour! I have hardly seen such another place in the three kingdoms as ts is at present. Hitherto there is no opposer at all, but ever one seems to bid us god-speed!'
June 1779: 'We went on to Arbroath, where was near as large a congregation as at Dundee, but nothing so serious. The poor Glasites here, pleading for a merely notional faith, greatly hinder either the beginning or the progress of any real work of God.'
June 1782: 'The house at Arbroath was well filled with serious and attentive hearers. Only one or two pretty flutterers seemed inclined to laugh, if any would have encouraged them.'
May 1786: '… a large congregation was deeply attentive while I appied "To him that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even what he assuredly hath." '