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The Wesley Historical Society Welcomes You and Values Your Interest

The Wesley Historical Society was founded in 1893 for the advancement of interest in the history of all branches of the Methodist Church.

Rev John Wesley
1703 - 1791

Rev John Wesley
'I look upon the whole
world as my parish'

Rev Charles Wesley
1707 - 1788

Rev Charles Wesley
'God buries His workmen,
but carries on His work'

Wesleyan and Methodist heritage is an integral part of the history of countries worldwide and we welcome everyone who is interested in their own roots, culture and history to visit the pages in this web site.


Local History. New publication. December 2022. Methodism in Great Britain and Ireland: A Select Bibliography of Published Local Histories. By Dr Clive Field. See below

The Wesley Historical Society are pleased to welcome Dr David Ceri Jones as their new President.   


It is a great honour to have been recently elected as the new President of the Wesley Historical Society, having served the society as editor of its Proceedings since 2011.

 I am a Reader in Early Modern history at Aberystwyth University in Wales, and have published extensively on the history of early Methodism, especially of the Welsh and Calvinistic varieties, and am currently producing an edition of the letters of George Whitefield.

 The WHS is one of the oldest, largest and most active of the many denominational historical societies. Yet, as with many societies, we are only slowly emerging into the post-Covid world and getting back to something resembling normal. I'm excited to be stepping into the President role at this particular moment, and looking forward to reviving and re-energising many of the society's activities in the months and years to come. Do keep a close eye on these webpages for advance notice of new events and publications.


Do you have a query? See the "Frequently Asked Questions" on the About Us page.




One of the principal characteristics of the Primitive Methodist Connexion was their holding of Camp Meetings, or open air prayer and preaching days. It was this that precipitated the expulsion from the Wesleyan Connexion of the leaders of what was to be the Primitive Methodist movement. The charge brought against Hugh Bourne was that 'you have a tendency to set up other than ordinary worship.'

Troughstones Hill, near Biddulph. Camp Meeting held July 9 1809.
(The hill so called because of its unusual profile resembling a trough).


               At the end of last year I heard a lecture where the speaker sought to link Camp Meeting sites with established sacred places. The speaker asserted that 'the architectural setting of most early Methodist worship was nature itself- the grass for its floor, the trees for its columns, the sky its roof and a rock or a hillock for its pulpit (1),' but tried to create a link with ancient holy places.

               My perception was that the hearers were unconvinced with the sacred space link. Undoubtedly in certain locations in the choosing of a prominent hilltop site was often one that coincided with a peak that had existing sacred associations. Two examples might be The Wrekin in Shropshire or Beacon Hill Woodhouse Eaves in Leicestershire. However for the most part it appeared to be a destination that only needed a simple instruction to find it.

The illustration above is of a hilltop near Biddulph which I am not aware had earlier sacred associations, but was conveniently located, easily understood, and owned by a farmer sympathetic to the cause. Moreso because the unusual configuration of the rocks meant that the hearers were sheltered from winds and so could hear. It was the public utility of the site that counted.

               Two sample local papers were examined to shed further light. Typically The Teesdale Mercury reported on Barnard Castle Camp Meetings simply in a field on the Darlington Road, and the Epworth Bells, on Epworth camp meetings reporting on a recreation ground 'Thurlow' in Epworth itself. These supported the assumption that it was the utility of the location not the sacred associations that counted.

               At the end of July I will be attending a Camp Meeting. It will not be a day of preaching and praying, more of an open air service special. The location - an easily accessible and readily located piece of land, in 2023 with car parking!

David Leese


(1) Dolbey, George W., The Architectural Expression of Methodism: the first hundred years (London,

   Epworth Press, 1964, p22.

























The Education Acts from 1870 onwards made increasing provision to support denominational schools, which were predominantly Anglican, by taxation. Nonconformists considered this to be unfair as they would have to pay taxes to fund a religious education with which they disagreed. Particularly after 1902 they launched a Passive Resistance movement which gained popular and political support across the country. Some who refused to pay were imprisoned, many had good seized by bailiffs. The nonconformist opposition was led by Baptist pastor John Clifford, and it is suggested that the 1902 Education act was one of the reasons why Balfour's conservative government lost the 1906 general election.

The postcard cartoon illustrated above seeks to make fun of the ambiguous position of some churches which whilst themselves accepting taxpayers' money opposed the principle.

         It is thought the first high profile objector was Harvey Adams China Manufacturer of Longton, who in 1872 was acclaimed as 'the school rate martyr of the Potteries.' He challenged the principle in court. The Methodist New Connexion March magazine of that year recognised his action but was less than fulsome in the commentary- 'Mr. Harvey Adams of Fenton, a member of our own denomination - refused to pay the school rate assigning conscientious objections to denominational education.' He was though in good company because the Birmingham Town Council refused to levy a rate.

There are many examples in later years, for example Joseph  Bottomley, Photographer and Wesleyan local preacher of Epworth, annually refused to pay the rate, had the same picture seized by bailiffs, and annually bought it back for himself in auction. He was satisfied he had made his point.


David Leese.




The following book is now available exclusively via Amazon (search in 'books' under 'Field, Methodism in Great Britain and Ireland')., £13.99 (paperback) or £14.99 (hardback)



FIELD, Clive Douglas: Methodism in Great Britain and Ireland: A Select Bibliography of Published Local Histories, Oxford: Wesley Historical Society and Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, 2022, xvii + 389p.,  



'Methodism has been a dominant force in the religious landscape of Great Britain and Ireland since its emergence in the eighteenth century. Its development has been richly documented in terms of the careers and achievements of the Wesleys and other connexional leaders. Yet it was at the local level that the 'lived experience' (social as well as spiritual) of Methodism was most evidenced, through the members and adherents of individual societies and chapels and in Methodist schools and colleges. This volume offers the first systematic bibliography of local histories of Methodism. It cannot be comprehensive (for, at its peak, there must have been at least 17,000 chapels and other preaching places in the British Isles) but it does list around 4,000 of the most important publications on local Methodism from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. They are arranged topographically, according to current civil administrative units, and with a cumulative index of place names.'















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