The Return from the Primitive Methodist society at Mill Street, Chester to the 1851 Census of Places of Public Religious Worship records that they met in a chapel built in 1824. It could accommodate 380 worshippers and the average evening attendance was 250. On Census Sunday attendance was less than normal because many people had colds and there were attractive services elsewhere.
The Return was completed by Henry Brining, the steward, of Russell Street. Although the return identifies the chapel as Mill Street, it was more widely known as Steam Mill Street. Thanks to David Tonks for the transcript.
Christopher Wells tells us more about the chapel
In 1819, Joshua Reynolds and John Wedgewood led the first Primitive Methodist missions to Chester. Two years later, the first society was formed, meeting initially as a house-church in the home of Thomas Ellis in Steven Street, Boughton, about a quarter of a mile east of the city centre. Later they moved to a room in King Street within the city walls.
Then, in 1823/4, they built the first Primitive Methodist chapel in Chester in Steam Mill Street, near Steven Street in Boughton. The property was described as a plain brick building of five bays, unfortunately located in ‘a discouragingly violent neighbourhood’ . ‘Its construction burdened the society with debt and the early years were clearly precarious’ . For more information, see Reference .
I have not been able to find an old map labelling it, but I am fairly sure that its footprint is shown on an 1875 map , opposite Baker’s Court and just north of Chapel Street. Its entrance seems to be at the east end, accessed through an alleyway from Chapel Street. Two houses are joined to it on the south side; is the larger one Chapel House (see below)? The return for ‘Mill Street’ chapel in the 1851 Census of Places of Worship [shown below] almost certainly refers to the Steam Mill Street Chapel. The chapel is listed in the 1867 Register of Places of Worship , even though the first George Street chapel had been built by that time to replace it – was it still in use after 1863?
An image of the chapel survives in a booklet held in the Chester Record Office .
The first independent Chester Circuit for Primitive Methodists was formed in 1825/6, with this chapel as its head. The circuit consisted of 36 places of worship and, by 1832, it reported 390 members .
The Public Record Office London holds church records of this chapel for 1825-37 and the Cheshire Record Office holds Baptism Registers from 1845.
The 1857 Post Office Directory for Cheshire  contains the following entry:
- Steam Mill street, Bars, Boughton.
- Frost Francis Aylmer & Sons, millers (Steam mills)
- Long Robert, shopkeeper
- Swindley Robert, shopkeeper
- Brown James, shopkr. & salt mrchnt
- PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHAPEL, ministers various
In 1861 some of the workers from Steam Mill Street decided it was time to leave; they looked for a site in Newtown and found one at the junction of George Street and Gorse Stacks (see Chester George Street PM chapel (built 1862/3)). Three Chester local papers for early April 1863 carry a notice of an auction on 11th April; Lot 1 was the old chapel, described as:
‘All that CHAPEL and VESTRY situate [sic] on the east side of Steam Mill-street, in the parish of St. John the Baptist, in the city of Chester, now or late in the occupation of the Trustees of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, and all the pews, seats, and sitting places, and the pulpit and other appurtenances in and belonging to the same Chapel; together with the COTTAGE adjoining to and at the back of the said Chapel, now in the occupation of W. H. Duke.’
William Duke appears in the 1861 Census; he was age 50, a Tobacco Pipe Maker, living with his wife and three children at ‘Chapel House’, Steam Mill Street.
On later maps, the chapel building appears to have been split. The 1871 Census has a very faint entry for No. 10 squeezed in between the entries for Nos. 8 and 12. It was an uninhabited building; the description is very difficult to read, possibly ‘—– press-shop’.
Steam Mill Street still exists (with what are presumably its original cobbles) as do the original Steam Mill buildings dating from 1834 (now split into business units) alongside the Shropshire Union canal.
1. Search British History Online; then Browse catalogue>Victoria County History – Chester>A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions>Churches and religious bodies: Protestant Nonconformity>Methodists>Primitive Methodists
4. Chester Record Office holding “Chester Primitive Methodist Centenary 1819-1919”, reference CR55/175.
‘Bicentennial History: Wesley Methodist Church, Chester’ by Brian C. Heald 2012 available online at: https://d3hgrlq6yacptf.cloudfront.net/5f1aef020f71c/content/pages/documents/1504869973.pdf