Chester and Primitive Methodism

John Wesley’s use of the word ‘Primitive’ to refer to early Methodists on his last visit to Chester in 1790, was remembered by ‘a farm labourer who was born at Stapleford’. This was James Crawfoot, whose grave is in Tarvin churchyard.

First PM missionary

James Crawfoot who was employed by the Bournes as an evangelist and who lived a sort of hermit life in Delamere Forest, was the first missioner to come to Chester on behalf of this new denomination. That was very likely in December 1800, but Chester proved just as hostile to this ‘attack’ as it had been to Wesley when he first came in 1752.

First PM society

In the Spring of 1821 there came another ‘Prim’ in the person of Thomas Brownsword, who appears to have approached the city gradually. Preaching in the villages round about before making his assault on the city itself, in this way his message came before him through the conversions and subsequent conversations following the village meetings. It is as well to say this new movement came from the direction of Huxley and Burland and in fact when a preaching place became a reality in Chester the name of this city appeared at the bottom of the Burland plan (29 April 1821).

The fact that the date of the formation of the first PM society in Chester came within six weeks of Thomas Brownsword’s having visited the City speaks itself for the impact of the message he brought. Records say that he preached to about 500 people at Chester Cross at 8 o’clock on the morning of Sunday 18 March 1821. This meeting was followed by a prayer meeting in a yard in Watergate St, and at 10 o’clock an even larger gathering was preached to in Handbridge.

There is a description of ‘rowdy elements’ assaulting worshippers at early PM meetings in Chester, but by December 1821 one of the travelling preachers was able to record that things had quietened down, and his own record reads, ‘The work prospers much in this ancient city now. Thank God!’

1st Chapel

The two earliest preaching places were a room in King Street and the house of Thomas Ellis in Steven Street, Boughton. The latter was the forerunner of the first Chapel which was opened on 2 May 1824 in Steam-Mill Street, Boughton. A month after this Chester was made a circuit itself with three ministers and 38 preaching places.

Circuit plans

A glance at the block of a plan for the early part of 1825 reads strangely these days for on it we find the names of Wrexham, Tarporley, Whitby (Ellesmere Port, Kelsall, Cefn (Ruabon) and Pentrobin, all places that now either give their names to circuits or are in other circuits. A later plan includes Buckley. From the middle to the later 1800s we find that Chester had two circuits, known as Chester 1st and Chester 2nd. The former had George Street at its head, whilst the other had the Commonhall St Chapel at its head (forerunner of Hunter St) the only Methodist Chapel within the city walls.

The Commonhall St plan contained 18 place names, though some of the names are those of other societies which met in preaching houses in the countryside and did not grow beyond that stage, most of the names are those of the present Hunter St and Tarvin Road circuits.

In December 1890 we find the Chester 3rd circuit appearing with Boughton (Tarvin Road) society at its head. Excepting that the designation of the circuits changed, Methodist Union in 1932 brought only slight change to the three circuit picture. The Aldford society, which was the remaining link with the Chester United Methodist circuit, found a new home within the fold of the Hunter St circuit.

Sunday School in 1863

In 1863, Chester celebrated the marriage of the Prince of Wales. Documents record the numbers of children from City schools taking part in the procession on 10 March 1863. There were 220 medals given to pupils from the Primitive Methodist Sabbath School.


Rev W J Roberts (?), Notes (Typescript), c1960 [Chester Archives, CR55/176]


Comments about this page

  • Chester Record Office has a dozen copies of a 39-page booklet(eleven as document CR55/175 and one catalogued separately) entitled “Chester Primitive Methodist Centenary 1819-1919”. As well as giving a lot of informative history, it also contains an image of the Steam Mill Street chapel which was built in 1823 and used for nearly 40 years.

    By David Young (04/04/2017)

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