John Wesley visited the town twenty times, usually en route to Norwich. There was a Methodist meeting a year prior to his first visit in 1758 and he encouraged them to build the twelve-sided 'great round meeting house' in Maidenburgh Street (1759, rebuilt 1800). When its successor, Culver Street chapel (1835), was refronted in 1900 the Trustees resolved that the wording on the façade be changed from Chapel to Church 'in order to conform with modern usage'. It in turn was replaced by The Castle (1970) on a nearby site. In 1768-69 Francis Asbury was in charge of the Colchester Circuit, which had been formed in 1765. The pulpit from which both Wesley and Asbury preached is preserved at Castle Street.
The former PM chapel in Artillery Street is now Spurgeon Memorial Evangelical Church, commemorating the conversion of Charles Haddon Spurgeon there in 1850.
John Wesley's Journal:
October 1758: 'I preached at four on St. John's Green, at the side of a high old wall (a place that seemed to be made on purpose), to an extremely attentive audience; and again at eight in the morning, … and at four in the afternoon. In the hours between I took the opportunity of speaking to the members of the society. In three months here are joined together a hundred and twenty persons. A few of these know in whom they have believed, and many are sensible of their wants. [Sunday} 'At eight the congregation was very large, and I believe God made his word quick and powerful. At four in the afternoon we had a Moorfields congregation. Many of the baser sort stood at a distance; but they made no distrurbance, knowing the magistrates are determined to suffer no riot at Colchester.'
December 1758: 'I found the society had decreased since L[awrence] C[oughlan] went away; and yet they had had full as good preachers. But that is not sufficient. By repeated experiments we learn that, though a man preach like an angel, he will neither collect, nor preserve a society which is collected, without visiting them from house to house.'
March 1759: 'In the evening, and on Sunday morning, the house contained the congregation tolerably well; but in the afternoon I was obliged to go out, and I suppose we had on St. John's Green five or six times as many as the room would contain. Such is the advantage of field-preaching. [Next day] 'On examining the society I found that, out of the hundred and twenty-six members I had left in October, we had lost only twelve, in the place of whom we have gained forty; and many of those whom we left in sorrow and heaviness are now rejoicing in God their Saviour.'
December 1759: 'I went to Colchester, and on Sunday the 23rd preached in the shell of the new house. It is twelve-square, and is the best building of the size, for the voice, that I know in England.'
October 1763: 'I rode to Colchester, and found a strange ferment in the society, occasioned by the imprudence of ----, who had kindled a flame which he could not quench, and set every man's sword against his brother. I heard them all face to face, but to no purpose; they regarded neither Scripture nor reason. But on Thursday evening, at the meeting of the society, God was entreated for them. The stony hearts were broken; anger, revenge, evil-surmising, fled away. The hearts of all were again united together, and His banner over us was love.'
February 1766: 'I found the society here slowly recovering from the mischief done by offence and disputing together. I had great liberty of speech, both morning and evening; and God seemed strongly to apply his word. Surely they will at length learn to bear one another's burdens; then will "the desert rejoice, and blossom as the rose". '
March 1767: 'I rode to Colchester, and found more life there than for several years. Why should we despair of seeing good done In any place? How soon can God turn the wilderness into a fruitful field!'
November 1767: 'I went to Colchester, and spent three days very agreeably among a quiet and loving people. All their little misunderstandings are now at an end. Yet they had not the life which they had once; a loss of this kind is not easily recovered.'
February 1769: 'I rode to Colchester, and had the satisfaction of seeing such a congregation, both this evening and the following, as I never saw in that house before.'
November 1772: 'the congregation in the evening was a little smaller than that at Norwich. The next evening I took an exact account of the society, a little increased since last November. But most of them were hard beset with poverty. So indeed they were ever since I knew them; but they are now in greater want then ever, through scarcity of business. Few of our societies are rich; but I know none in the kingdom so deplorably poor as this.'
November 1773: 'I preached … at Colchester, where I spent a day or two with much satisfaction among a poor, loving, simple-hearted people.'
January 1782: 'Being informed that, through the ill-conduct of the preachers, things were in much disorder at Colchester, I went down, hoping to "strengthen the things which remained, that were ready to die." I found that part of the class-leaders were dead, and the rest had left the society; the bands were totally disolved; [early] morning preaching was given up; and hardly any, except on Sunday, attended the evening preaching. This evening, however, we had a very large congregation, to whom I proclaimed "the terrors of the Lord." I then told them I would immediately restore the morning preaching; and the next morning I suppose a hundred attended. In the day-time I visited as many as I possibly could, in all quarters of the town. I then inquired who were proper and willing to meet in band; and who were fittest for leaders either of bands or classes. The congregation this evening was larger than the last; and many again put their hands to the plough. Oh may the Lord confirm the fresh desires He has given, that they may no more look back!'
November 1782: 'In order to strengthen this poor feeble society, I stayed with them [from Tuesday] till Friday, preaching morning and evening, and visiting in the day as many as I could, sick or well. I divided the classes anew, which had been strangely and irregularly jumbled together; appointed stewards; regulated temporal as well as spiritual things; and left them in a better way than they had been for several years.'
January 1785: 'I set out for poor Colchester, to encourage the little flock. They had exceedingly little of this world's goods, but most of them had a better portion.'
September 1786: '…We took chaise, and about one came to Colchester, where, Mr. Brackenbury being exceeding weak, we thought it best to stay till the morning. 'In the evening the house was thoroughly filled, and many received the truth in the love therof; so that I did not at all regret my stopping here.'
October 1790: 'I went to Colchester and still found matter of humiliation. The society was lessened, and cold enough; preaching again was discontinued, and the spirit of Methodism quite gone, both from the preachers and the people. Yet we had a wonderful congregation in the evening, rich and poor, clergy and laity… So that I trust God will at length build up the waste places.'
The Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson, ed.Thomas Sadler (1869) pp.19-20:
'At the same time that I thus first heard the most perfect of forensic orators [Lord Erskine] I was also present at an exhibition equally admirable, and which had a powerful effect on my mind. It was, I believe, in October 1790, and not long before his death, that I heard John Wesley in the great round Meeting-house at Colchester. He stood in a wide pulpit, and on each side of him stood a minister, and the two held him up, having their hands under his armpits. His feeble voice was barely audible. But his reverend countenance, especially his long white locks, formed a picture never to be forgotten. There was a vast crowd of lovers and admirers. It was for the most part pantomime, but the pantomime went to the heart. Of the kind I never saw anything comparable to it in after life…
'…After the last Prayer, he rose up and addressed the People on Liberality of Sentiment, and spoke much against refusing to join with any Congregation on account of difference of opinion. He said, "If they do but fear God, work righteousness, and keep his commandments, we have nothing to object to.'