Wesleyan chapels

the 1873 returns

The Wesleyan Methodist Church built a lot of chapels during the nineteenth century, and it was thought important to have a record of which chapels the church owned, which it rented, and how many people each could seat. This last statistic appears to have been calculated on the basis that Wesleyan bottoms were between 18 and 20 inches wide.

The book reproduced here, Returns of accommodation provided in Wesleyan Methodist Chapels was the first survey carried out, in 1873.

For ease of use there are three files:

The introduction (click here) explains why the statistics were complied, and includes two tables giving an overview.

England North and Scotland (click here) includes all the Wesleyan Methodist Districts north of the River Trent, plus Lincoln. Please note that all Leicestershire came under the Nottingham and Derby District, so is in this file.

England South and Wales (click here) includes all the Wesleyan Methodist Districts south of the River Trent, except for Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.

It represents a snapshot of Wesleyan Methodism at the point where the leadership had decided to “encourage aggression in respect of chapel-building” (p iv of the returns), and besides showing where the Wesleyan chapels were, is very useful in also showing which Circuits and Districts they were in. This should help you track down the remaining records of any chapel.

It was decided that having this level of information on chapels was useful, so the Wesleyans published further statistics for 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 and 1931.

Following Methodist Union in 1932 information continued to be published every ten years. The first such guide for the united church was Methodist church buildings: statistical returns including seating accommodation as at July 1940 . It contains a full list of chapels with details of which branch of Methodism built them, and is probably the most complete list of Methodist chapels. This has now been digitised and added to the My Methodist History site: click here

John Wesley said “Let all preaching places be built plain and decent, but no more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable”, but building chapels did cost money. Much of this was raised locally but one of the strengths of Methodism is that it is a national organisation.  As early as 1817 there was a Fund for distressed chapels, to help local congregations who were in difficulties, and in 1855 the Wesleyan Chapel Committee was set up. They were responsible for these statistics, but they also produced an annual report which gives a great deal of information about chapel building, and usually includes illustrations of some of the recent chapels, not all of which conformed to Wesley’s injunction.  The Methodist Archives and Research Centre in Manchester hold copies of these reports.

Comments about this page

  • Wesleyan Accommodation Returns

    The 1873 Accommodation Returns were the first in a series. Subsequent volumes were produced for 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911, and 1931. There is a full set at John Rylands Library, University of Manchester under the reference MAC Lawson. These volumes are especially useful where the survival of local records has been poor. In particular, substantial changes in seating capacity often serve to indicate change in the building: an extension, the insertion of a gallery, or even a complete rebuild.
    These publications were based on information provided by each circuit on printed forms. These forms contained four sections or schedules numbered I to IV. The printed summaries are based on Schedule I.
    Schedule I Returns showing the number of sittings provided in Wesleyan Methodist Chapels in the [name] Circuit, [date]. The entries were arranged in columns for when built; if enlarged, when; number of additional sittings obtained by each enlargement; name of chapel; township; parish; county; average number of inches allowed per sitting; the number of sittings available for letting; the number of free sittings; the number of sittings set apart for children (this figure could include some of the free sittings as well as dedicated child seats which means that in some cases the total of the three figure could exceed the actual number of sittings available); total number of sittings.
    Schedule II Returns showing the number of sittings provided in Wesleyan preaching places not being the property of the connexion The entries were arranged in columns for when first acquired; name; kind of building; township; parish; county; average number of inches allowed per sitting; the number of sittings available for letting; the number of free sittings; the number of sittings set apart for children (this figure could include some of the free sittings as well as dedicated child seats which means that in some cases the total of the three figure could exceed the actual number of sittings available); total number of sittings.
    Schedule III Returns showing Wesleyan chapels or preaching places in course of erection. The entries were arranged in columns for when would the building be occupied; name; kind of building; township; parish; county; average number of inches allowed per sitting; estimated number of sittings; whether the new building will supersede one in existence or be additional.
    Schedule IV Return showing all Wesleyan chapels and preaching places given up since [in 1873 this date was 30 March 1851 ie the date of the national ecclesiastical census now held at the National Archives under the reference HO129 and available as a fee download. Subsequently it was the date of the previous returns]
    Part 1 Chapels and preaching places superseded by new erections or other preaching places
    Part 2 Chapels and preaching places not superseded by new erections or other preaching places.
    The entries were arranged in columns for name; kind of building; township; parish; county; estimated number of sittings; name of new chapel or preaching place or reasons why abandoned or given up.
    The only complete set of returns is for the year 1931 and is held at John Rylands Library, University of Manchester under the refence DDPD2. They are filed in the same order and use the same numbering system as the printed summary and are bound in four volumes:
    DDPD2/1 Circuits 1-204
    DDPD2/2 Circuits 205-391
    DDPD2/3 Circuits 392-584
    DDPD2/4 Circuits 585-764
    Copies of the returns for this and other years occasionally survive locally, often tucked into volumes of Trust/Property Schedules

    By G W Oxley (02/05/2019)

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