From 1852, the Registrar General was supposed to produce a list of all buildings registered for public worship (which excluded the established church). The 1867 list appears to be the only one published. The Wesleyan Methodists had 5,424 registered places of worship..
In interpreting the list it is necessary to remember that registration was not compulsory. As registration was valid until cancelled, however, there may be duplication: i.e. both the old and new chapels in a place may be listed. We have also discovered that the official location, as recorded by the General Register Office, may not be the same as the name by which the chapel is commonly described in Methodist sources, or indeed by those who habitually worshipped there. One particular problem of interpretation is the various splits in Wesleyan Methodism in the mid nineteenth century. A number of groups set out to reform the movement and although they eventually left, or were forced to leave, they continued to believe that they represented the “true” Wesleyan faith. In some cases such a large proportion of the membership of a chapel were reformers that they kept the building. Even if the registration was changed, the original certificate may have been retained. In other cases they built a new chapel, but called it “Wesley”, which may have led the Registrar to misattribute the building. There is evidence of under-reporting: at least 200 of the chapels which are now listed buildings, for which there is firm dating evidence from before 1867, do not appear on this list. The areas of significant under-reporting (more than 10%) appear to be Oxfordshire, Derbyshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire.
The official statistics for Wesleyan Methodist chapels in England and Wales are consistent: 5682 in 1851, 5424 in 1867, 5750 in 1869. When the Wesleyans publish their own account in 1873, however, the figure rises sharply to 7485.
Bearing all that in mind the list does illustrate the variation in strength of the denomination across England and Wales.
The maps illustrate this. The density of coverage of Wesleyan chapels is highest in the industrial north of England. The map showing population per chapel brings out the relative lack of impact at this time in south central England. The third map illustrates data from the 1873 accommodation returns and illustrates the importance of Wesleyan Methodism in Cornwall, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Bedfordshire where over 15 per cent of the actual population could be seated.
The chapels registered before 1867 are listed, and mapped on other pages by county.