Durham City

Though physically dominated by signs of Anglican strength - its cathedral and episcopal castle - Durham nevertheless became a lively Methodist centre. Contributory factors were that it was a market town on the old North Road (Wesley's route), had a lively professional and business class and was at the heart of a great coal-mining region. A society was formed in 1743, a year before the first of John Wesley's 22 visits. Charles Wesley came also and on one occasion 'communicated at the Abbey'. From the first there was patronage by the wealthy, such as Miss Mary Lewen, and the support of prosperous lawyers, including Thomas Parker (d.1829), John Bramwell (1794-1882), son of the itinerant William Bramwell and John Ward (1771-1857), though the latter transferred his allegiance to the MNC.

The first chapel was in Rotten Row (1770), replaced by one off Old Elvet, opened by Jabez Bunting in 1808. This was succeeded in turn in 1903 by a Gothic building also in Old Elvet. James Willans, a local businessman, gave £1,000 towards the £11,000 cost and raised £1,450 more.

The MNC presence was supported by Joseph Love (1796-1875), a self-made millionaire who started life as a pit-boy. Bethel Chapel (1854) with its attractive Renaissance front, was largely promoted by him. PM missionaries arrived in 1824 and the first chapel dates from 1825. In 1860 John Bramwell and Sir William Atherton (both sons of WM ministers who had served in Durham) took part in the stone-laying of the PM Jubilee Chapel (1861). Two of its leading members were John Wilson and John Johnson, both leaders of the Durham Miners Association and MPs. The long-standing links between Methodism and the Durham miners were celebrated in the launching of the Durham Methodist Big Meeting in 1947.


John Wesley's Journal:

May 1752: 'I preached at Durham to a quiet, stupid congregation.'

June 1755: 'I … came to Durham, just as Jacob Rowell had done preaching, or rather, attempting to preach; for the mob was so noisy that he was constrained to break off.'

July 1757: 'About noon [I] preached at Durham in a pleasant meadow, near the river's side. The congregation was large, and wild enough, yet in a short time they were deeply attentive. Only three or four gentlemen put me in mind of the honest man at London, who was so gay and unconcerned while Dr. Sherlock was preaching concerning the Day of Judgement. One asked, "Do you not hear what the doctor says?" He answered, "Yes; but I am not of this parish!" Towards the close I was constrained to mention the gross ignorance I had observed in the rich and genteel people throughout the nation. On this they drew near, and showed as serious an attention as if they had been poor colliers.'

July 1759: 'I rode to Durham, and went at one to the meadow by the river-side, where I preached two years ago. The congregation was now larger by one half…'

August 1765: 'I purposed to preach abroad at Durham, but the rain hindered. As many as could hear behaved well, and many felt that God was there.'

July 1766: 'I rode to Durham, and preached about noon on our Lord's lamentation over Jerusalem.'

June 1774: 'About ten [I] preached to a serious congregation at Durham.'

June 1788: 'I preached at Durham about eleven, to more than the house could contain. Even in this polite and elegant city we now want a larger chapel.'

June 1790: 'Here likewise I was obliged to preach in the open air, to a multitude of people, all of whom were serious and attentive.'

  • William Thwaites, Wesleyan Methodism in Durham City (1909)
  • W.M. Patterson, Northern Primitive Methodism (1909)
  • G.E. Milburn, 'Piety, Profit and Paternalism' in WHS Proceedings 44 pp.45-92