The old market town (with an influential Quaker element) was greatly enlarged by the development of railways and engineering in the nineteenth century. The seeds of Methodism were sown through the witness of John Nelson on his way north as an army conscript in 1744. In 1753 local preachers and a former Moravian lady helped to establish a society, which met in hired premises until the building of the first chapel on Bondgate in 1778. Originally part of the Dales Circuit and then transferred to Yarm, it became the head of a separate circuit in 1805. John Wesley made ten visits between 1761 and 1788, preaching on the first occasion at the home of the Allan family, Blackwell Grange, just south of the town. The handsome new Bondgate chapel (1813), followed by purpose-built Sunday and day schools, signalled the growing strength of WM. Industrial expansion led to further chapels (e.g. North Road, 1872) later in the century.
William Clowes introduced PM in 1820. F.N. Jersey and Samuel Laister were other PM pioneers in the town, the latter soon to die from his labours. In 1822 the first PM chapel in Co. Durham was opened on Queen Street, from where missions went out to many surrounding villages. The zenith of PM's progress was the opening of the Greenbank chapel in 1879 under the ministry of Hugh Gilmore. At that same time the Christian Lay Churches were establishing a cause in Darlington and took over the Queen Street PM chapel. The WMA built Coniscliffe Road chapel, which was later strengthened by WR seceders. The MNC was represented by Victoria Road chapel, a late development built in 1884 with the help of a gift of £1,000 by the widow of Joseph Love. Chapel building continued in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the town grew. One striking development was the bold conversion in 1932 of Elmridge, a former Quaker mansion, into a splendidly appointed chapel through the generosity of Mr G.M. Harroway.
John Wesley's Journal:
June 1761: 'Here we were under a difficulty again; not half the people could come in, and the rain forbade my preaching without.But at one (the hour of preaching) the rain stopped, and did not begin again till past two; so the people stood very conveniently in the yard, and many did not care to go away. When I went in they crowded to the door and windows and stayed till I took horse.'
May 1777: 'I have not lately found so lively a work in any part of England as here. The society is constantly increasing, and seems to be all on fire for God. There is nothing among them but humble, simple love; no dispute, no jar of any kind Many of them already know that 'the blood of Jesus Christ' hath 'cleansed them from all sin.'
May 1779: 'I came to Darlington, and found some of the liveliest people in the north of England. All but one or two of the society are justified, great part of them partakers of the great salvation, and all of them seem to retain their first simplicity, and to be as teachable as little children. [Next day] 'I preached in the market-place, and all the congregation behaved well but a party of the Queen's Dragoons.'
June 1780: 'It is good to be here; the liveliness of the people animates all that come near them. On Friday evening we had a lovefeasr, at which many were greatly comforted by hearing such artless, simple accounts of the mighty works of God.'
June 1784: 'We had a sound, useful sermon at church. At eight I preached in our own room, designing to preach abroad in the afternoon; but the rain prevented.'
June 1786: 'I was obliged in the evening to preach abroad. Afterwards we had a lovefeast, at which many plain people spoke the height and depth of Christian experience in the most plain and artless manner.'
June 1788: 'We had a lovefeast in the evening, at which several spoke deep experience in a plain, artless manner; and many were greatly comforted, and stirred up more intensely to hunger and thirst after righteousness.'
Phoebe Palmer, Four Years in the Old World (1866), pp.471-2:
'Darlington has more of a Quaker population than perhaps any other town in England for its size. It sent the first Quaker representative to Parliament that was ever in the house.'