The coming of Primitive Methodism to Chester and Saughall

first Saughall Primitive Methodist chapel
Tim Macquiban 2020


Just over 100 years ago, Saughall celebrated the centenary of Primitive Methodism coming to the area. On 19th June that year they had a demonstration on Whit Monday (a Day beloved in Methodism and other religious groups for celebrating their identity with open air festivals and walks). A garden Party and rally was held in the field of Mr. E. Williams JP at The Croft, with tea from 4pm to 5pm followed by a great public meeting presided over by Alderman William Vernon. in a marquee with a united choir from the three circuits in Chester and district leading the hymn singing. Hundreds attended. 

So what were they celebrating? It was the arrival of PM preachers of the Burland (near Nantwich) branch of the first circuit who came to Chester city and surrounding area, establishing preaching places which in time became chapels and societies. In the Spring of 1819, John Wedgwood inaugurated a mission, starting in Huxley and moving into the city the following year. It is recorded that “the countryside was moved at his coming. His open air and even his early morning services drew crowds”.  From Churton, the preachers moved into the city and to Saughall and beyond. Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Brownsword and others came. Often they preached at the Cross in Chester to hundreds of onlookers, moving down Watergate Street to a yard off it and on to Handbridge (places where there was open ground). Afterwards, sympathisers who became members opened up their humble cottages for prayer meetings.  The first place licensed for worship was in Steven Street in 1821 and the first chapel was established in the poorer neighbourhood of Boughton in Steam Mill Street, on land given by Ephraim Sadler. 

From the beginning the Sadlers were involved in the spread of Primitive Methodism. 

At Huxley, Sampson Turner, another itinerant preacher, visited the farmstead of Ephraim Sadler who with his brother William at Tiverton did much to encourage the early growth of PMism.  From this farm much of the organisation and support for the early causes was orchestrated. It was there that John Sadler, son of Ephraim, was born, who went on to serve 35 years as a local preacher and class leader. He was converted in 1819 under the preaching of Sampson Turner who came to the village saying: “Turn to the Lord and seek salvation”. His tragic life included the early death of his wife and a cattle epidemic in 1843 which virtually ruined him. He died in Kelsall in 1871. 

 By 1822 Chester and its surrounding area became a separate branch of the Burland Circuit as the movement accelerated. In the Spring of 1822 Thomas Brownsword wrote:  “I went to Chester and at eight o`clock preached on the Cross to 500 people. Many seemed much affected.“  After meetings in Watergate Street and Handbridge they had intended to have a meeting in Boughton “  .. but the weather was so unfavourable that we were obliged to divide into companies and go into three houses and hold prayer meetings”.  It must have been such occasions that made them determine to find larger and enclosed premises. So the chapel in Steam Mill Street was obtained, helped substantially by the Rev. John Sadler`s father (John). Here and elsewhere the early PMs encountered much hostility as the rowdier low life of the city “hooted and howled and ran up against the worshippers”. The city magistrates were unsympathetic as they said that it served them right for disturbing the peace of the city. Such was the reputation of the so-called Ranters! But by October 1821 when Thomas Bateman arrived to preach he found the situation much calmer: “Surely the bitter persecution will now drop?”  As we shall hear later, that was a pious hope only! 

By 1824, the cause had grown so fast that Chester was made a separate Circuit with its own itinerant minster stationed. By 1863, it had grown to having three ministers, 80 local preachers, 15 chapels including a new one at Saughall, the second largest society after what was soon to become George Street, the head of the circuit, 27 other preaching places and over 750 members. Such was the contagious growth of Primitive Methodism in its first half century. 


Many of the itinerant preachers who came to lead services and mid week class and prayer meetings were very temporary, some staying as little as 6 months, others up to two years at the most for much of the first half of the nineteenth century. Only one stayed three years in exceptional circumstances. Many of those who served in Chester in the 1820s came from the Burland circuit, covering much of West and South Cheshire. Many of them were native to the area or across the border in Flintshire or neighbouring Shropshire.  Most were young converts, often in their late teens and unmarried. Most were farm workers or related to agriculture, or craftsmen, shoemakers and the like. They served a short apprenticeship as local preachers and then were sent to their stations to commence their ministry. Many had to cover great distances for three or more preaching appointments on a Sunday. Their stipend was meagre; £36 p.a. for a married man (this rose to £50 p.a. by 1851)  and £16 for a single man. To which was added the rent of accommodation and subsistence. 

William Holt was the minister in the circuit when Saughall had its first chapel established in 1831, a cottage subsequently known as , Dorina on Church Road, occupied in the 1960s by Mr and Mrs Joe Reynolds. Before that the Primitive Methodists had met in a cottage near The Towers.  William Holt wrote in the PMM that “On Sunday 15th January 1832, our new chapel at Saughall was opened for divine worship, by Brothers Wedgwood and Bateman from the Burland Circuit. This chapel is eight yards long, six and a half yards wide, and twelve feet high to the square. The whole expense including a coal house amounts to about £112. This chapel is an ornament to the village; the congregations are good and the Lord is reviving his work.” He wrote again in the summer of the increase of work in the circuit: “backsliders are healed, wanderers are reclaimed, and the preachers , leaders and members in general are seeking after holiness of heart and expecting a more general revival … the preaching places have been crowded to excess, sinners have cried for mercy, and the meetings could not be concluded till eleven or twelve o`clock at night.” In another article described the “holy fire burning in the circuit and several of the adjacent villages have caught the flame.” “The barren places are becoming fruitful and the rough places made plain”.  On the 2nd September he recorded that at Saughall : “The Lord was with us and we rejoiced together. Our new chapel here has been a blessing. It is well attended and souls have been converted in it.” A month later on a Sunday afternoon they held a love feast which was the occasion of a lively meeting. 

The 1832 chapel was freehold, held on the connexional deed deposited with William Vickers one of nine trustees who included E Williams JP of The Croft, Thomas Langford, James Shone, Thomas Whitley, Thomas Hughes, William Jones, Richard Hallows, and Richard Frodsham. At that time the population of the village was 480 of which 48 (10%) were PM members. The chapel could seat 108, of which 27 were rented pews and 81 free seating. Of the £120 spent on the building of the chapel, they had a debt of £87 to pay off. The rented pews, six of them, cost £15/15/6d at some later stage. By 1863, when they came to build a new chapel they had reduced the debt on the original chapel to £5. 

You can read more of the story in the attached document


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