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.

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