The ‘People known as Methodists’ have played a key role in the life of Beverley since the 18th Century. The information that follows is taken from ‘Beverley Methodism – Historical Sketches’ by Rev’d Eric W Dykes published 2004.
Early Methodism – John Wesley
Methodism was established in Beverley in the 1750s, firstly in a house in Wednesday Market where John Wesley preached on his first visit on Saturday July 14th 1759. ‘I preached at eight in Mr Hilton’s yard, near the great street in Beverley; and was surprised to see so quiet and civil a congregation, where we expected nothing less. All the men were uncovered, and the whole audience was attentive from beginning to end; nor did one person give us a rude word while we rode from one end of the town to the other. This, with the large and earnest congregation at York in the evening, made me forget all my labour.’
John Wesley was an Anglican Vicar, born in Epworth, who was inspired by Armenian emphasis on salvation for all, Pietism, Moravian ‘heart theology’ and personal devotion to Jesus to begin preaching in the open air to the many thousands of people who were denied pastoral oversight by the established Church. It was time of great social change and Wesley himself began ‘field’ preaching after seeing George Whitfield preaching to a mining community in Kingswood. George Whitfield himself preached in Beverley in Eastgate in 1860.
John Wesley did not intend for his followers to be dissenters from the Church, but the Church found his teachings – that the Gospels were all important – intolerable. His followers became to be known as ‘Methodists’ due to the methodical way in which they approached worship.
John Wesley’s visits to Beverley
Wesley visited Beverley a total of 16 times between 1759 and 1790 as recorded in his journals. After 1759 he came on:
*Saturday 27th June 1761 ‘I was constrained to leave them (Hull) early in the morning. At seven I preached in Beverley.’
*In July 1761 Wesley records preaching at Beverley on texts – 2 Cor. 8 v 9 and Jer. 8 v 22. This may have referred to the June visit.
*Wednesday 11th April 1764 ‘Between eight and nine I began preaching at Beverley, in a room which is newly taken. It was filled from end to end, and that with serious hearers.’
*Thursday 17th July 1766 ‘In the way to Beverley I called upon Sir Charles Hotham and spent a comfortable hour.’ The Hothams were close friends of the Wesleys and Charles’s hymn ‘Jesu lover of my soul’ was set to the tune Hotham after this family whose estate was in South Dalton but who kept a house in Eastgate.
*Thursday 21st June 1770 ‘I preached at Hull in the evening (20th) and the next at Beverley.’
*Tuesday 23rd June 1772 ‘About Eleven I preached at Driffield. The sun was extremely hot; but I was tolerably screened by a shady tree. In the evening I preached at Beverley.’
*Thursday 7th July 1774 ‘I preached at Beverley and Hull, where the house would not near contain the congregation.’
*Tuesday 13th May 1777 ‘I preached… in the morning at Beverley; and in the evening at Hull, on ‘Narrow is the way that leadeth unto life.’
*Thursday 1st July 1779 ‘ This was the first of eighteen or twenty days full as hot as any I remember in Georgia (USA); and yet the season is remarkably healthy. I preached in Beverley at noon.’
*Monday 30th May-Saturday 4th July 1781 ‘In the evening to York. Hence I took a little circuit through Malton, Scarborough, Beverley, Hull and Pocklington, and came to York again.’
*Wednesday 15th May-Sunday 26th May 1782 ‘I set out for the other side of Lincolnshire… I went by Hull, Beverley, Bridlington; and then hastened to Newcastle upon Tyne.’
*Tuesday 22nd June 1784 ‘About one I preached to a large and remarkably serious congregation at Beverley.’ From notes – ‘Beverley had dinner, conversed, 1 Cor. 13 v 1 etc chaise (travelled in?) Hull.’
*Saturday 17th June 1786 ‘I found Mr Parker at Beverley in a palace. The Gentleman who owned it being gone abroad, it was let at a moderate rent. I preached here at twelve.’ From notes – ‘9.15 Inn; 10 chaise; 11 Beverley, at Mr Parkers, sermon; 12 dinner; Matthew 4 v 10! Christened; 1.30 chaise.’
*Thursday 19th June 1788 ‘As soon as the service (at Malton) was over I hasted away and reached Beverley (28 miles) in good time. The house here, though greatly enlarged, was well filled with high and low, rich and poor; and (it being the day of the Archdeacon’s visitation) many of the clergy were there. I rejoiced in this, as it might be a means of removing prejudice from many sincere minds.’
*Friday 25th June 1790 ‘About noon I preached at Beverley to a serious, well behaved congregation, and in the evening to one equally serious, and far more numerous, at Hull.’ (Thomas Taylor, who was then assistant in the Hull Circuit, refers to this visit in his diary. He and many friends from Hull met Wesley in Beverley and dined with him at an inn there.)
Methodist Places of Worship
In 1758 a house in Hengate was licensed for worship. Another house in St Mary’s was also licensed in 1764, also possibly in Hengate.
By 1781, Methodists in Beverley were meeting at the cock pit in Wood Lane, which had been renamed ‘The Beverley Preaching House‘. The land at the side was bought and stables built for preacher’s horses. Worshippers were frequently disturbed and abused; unbelievers would build a dam across the street so the congregation would descend out of the chapel into a flood, wild birds were let loose in the church (their frightened flapping extinguishing the tallow candles) and worshippers would have tar thrown over them. When Wesley heard about this, he wrote to the Mayor of Beverley expressing his concern and suggesting that if the worshippers were not protected, he would inform the King.
Sunday School teaching began at Wood Lane in 1791 – the Methodists made an important contribution to education in Beverley. Children were taught to read and write as well as given moral guidance. It was also the year John Wesley died; his death left a massive leadership shaped hole and the many letters he wrote and miles he travelled were sorely missed. There were 72,476 members in England, organised into Societies, Bands and Classes, plus adherents and helpers and thousands more abroad. Methodists who continued to follow Wesley’s direction closely came to be known as ‘Wesleyans‘, but others who disagreed over leadership, pastoral care, how to celebrate the Eucharist and how the Methodists associated with the Church of England, split and formed other societies.
Methodism after Wesley’s Death (1791)
Even in the early 1800’s, making ends meet was a challenge for Beverley Methodists, despite renting out the stables at the cock pit! But in 1806, the cock pit building was sold and the princely sum of £62 9s 3 1/2d handed over for the new 700-seat Wesleyan Preaching House/Walkergate Chapel, opened 1805. It was enlarged in 1839 to hold 800 – 1000 and a Sunday School (worship was held in the Guildhall while the alterations were made). An organ, costing £300, was installed in 1868. Thomas Thompson of Hull gave the Methodists a house and land fronting Toll Gavel in 1821, extending the site from Walkergate to Toll Gavel. The house was used as a Manse and the land as a burial ground between c1830 and 1858. The Wesleyan Preaching House was knocked down and a new 500-seat Chapel built over the burial ground, facing Toll Gavel in 1892 – that is the fine building which stands to this day, known as Toll Gavel United Church. The Wesleyan Preaching House was demolished and a new Sunday School built in 1903, later called the Wesley Lecture Hall, today known as Toll Gavel United Church Hall.
In 1866, the Wesleyan Preaching House/Walkergate Chapel was the head of the Beverley Circuit – it had separated from the Hull Circuit in 1825. There were 18 other chapels in the Circuit, most were in the surrounding villages, but there were other Wesleyan Chapels in Beverley. In 1822, they built a Sunday School in Holme Church Lane which was also used for services until a Chapel was built on Blucher Lane, Beckside in 1825. This was closed and replaced by the larger 250-seat Flemingate Wesleyan Chapel in 1882, which was soon enlarged to provide a schoolroom. Flemingate was in use until 2005 when it was closed, sold and converted into flats, the organ sold and transported overseas and the remaining members joining Toll Gavel. The envelope of the church remains intact. The Holme Church Lane Sunday School was acquired by the Church Methodists. A Mission Hall in Keldgate for 120 people, was opened in 1899, closed in 1963 and demolished in 1971. The foundation stone can be seen incorporated into the wall of a town-house in Keldgate.
Methodist New Connexion (1797 – 1907)
In 1796, a Methodist preacher also born in Epworth, Alexander Kilham, was expelled by the Wesleyan Conference (Conference is the ultimate decision-making body of the Methodist Church). Kilham wanted complete separation of Methodism from the Anglican Church, free election of class-leaders and stewards and equal representation of the laity with ministers at Conference. He formed the Methodist New Connexion, taking 5000 people with him, eventually growing to 40,000 members. There was no New Connexion Chapel in Beverley, although a room in Turner’s Yard, Lairgate was opened in 1842 with a congregation described as New Connexion Methodist and a temperance branch of Primitive Methodists. A New Connexion Chapel was opened in Dunswell in 1817 and closed in 1968.
Primitive Methodism (1811-1932)
The strongest non-Wesleyan group was Primitive Methodism which arose under William Clowes (who visited Beverley) and Hugh Bourne. Both were expelled from the Wesleyan Conference for non-compliance, both were inspired by American revivalist open-air ‘camp’ meetings. Such meetings were held on the Westwood and in the ‘Market Place’. Primitive Methodism was particularly strong in working class areas, played an important part in the formation of Trade Unions and supported female emancipation and women preachers. The original ‘Prim’ chapels were small and humble buildings, most of which were replaced or demolished. The first ‘Prim’ Chapel proper was built in Wednesday Market in 1825 for 400, eventually being demolished and a new one built in 1867 to accommodate 700 worshippers plus a Sunday school. It was closed in 1955 when structural problems were discovered and the congregation joined with Toll Gavel Church, which had a declining congregation of Wesleyans; Wednesday Market was later demolished. In its hey-day it was a centre for culture as well as a multitude of worship services and during WW2 it was used as a Forces Canteen.
A school was opened by the ‘Prims’ in Norwood in 1881 which was also used for services and became known as a ‘Mission’ Hall. A chapel adjoining the school was added in 1901, Norwood Chapel which is used today. Money was always tight and a loan was sought for the building of the chapel from the ‘Prims’ own charity, Chapel Aid Association, which was started to assist debt-ridden chapels – Chapel Aid still exists. Band of Hope meetings, the Sunday School and the temperance movement flourished and fellowship for young and old alike still continues to this day with Sunday worship, Monday Friendship Club, Wednesday Nippers, First Friday Creating Space for God, Norwood Nites Community Cinema, Friday coffee mornings and LGBTI Inclusive Worship.
Church Methodism (1825 -1830)
Unique to Beverley was the attempt to establish Church Methodism. Mark Robinson, a draper, Local Preacher and Class Leader who belonged to Walkergate Chapel wanted Methodism to be a kind of Order within the Anglican Church. He didn’t approve of the separating of Beverley from Hull and didn’t like the fact that governance was in the hands of the Annual Conference and itinerant preachers and lay people had no input. In 1825, Robinson’s movement opened a chapel in Cherry Burton shortly followed by one in Landress Lane. Despite the lack of members, it seated 800! It lasted 5 years and was demolished in 1840. There is also reference to the Church Methodists using the Wesleyan Sunday School in Holme Church Lane which they acquired in 1829. This building was later used by the Minster as a school in the 1840s, was later owned by a temperance society and then by the Particular Baptists.
Wesleyan Reformers (1849-1856) and Wesleyan Methodist Association (1836-1856)
The Wesleyan Reformers used a building on Well Lane as a Chapel, presumably the Temperance Hall, which was replaced by Trinity Lane by those who merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Association/Association Methodists. The Wesleyan Reformers were led by 3 ministers who were expelled from the Connection due to growing resentment of the increased centralisation of power. Association Methodists were led by Samuel Warren of Manchester. In 1840, the Wesleyan Methodist Association was said to have a chapel in Toll Gavel, which was replaced by a chapel in Wood Lane which was recorded closed in 1856. In 1857, half of the Wesleyan Reformers joined with the Wesleyan Methodist Association to form the United Methodist Free Church, the remainder continued as the Wesleyan Reform Union and continue to this day independent of the Methodist Church. There are no Independent Methodists today in Beverley.
In 1929, the Irish Methodists were said to use a room in Wilkinson’s Yard, Toll Gavel.
United Methodist Free Church (1858-1926)
The United Methodist Free Church built the chapel in Trinity Lane in 1856 which is now the Masonic Lodge. It seemed to be linked with chapels in Driffield and Kilham but there were constant arguments about funds. The ruling body of the UMFC was The Assembly (not Conference) and the Minister was not totally responsible for the Circuit Plan or the Chair of any meetings (without specific invitation from the meeting) as in Wesleyan Methodism.
United Methodist Church (1907 – 1932)
In 1907, the UMFC merged with Methodist New Connexion and Bible Christians to form the United Methodist Church, worshipping in Trinity Lane. Funds were constantly in short supply and in 1919, the Freemasons approached the UMC to purchase the building. It was sold to them in 1926 for £1000. The debts were paid off and most of the remaining members joined Toll Gavel Church.
Methodist Church (1932 onwards)
In 1932, the Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists and and United Methodists merged to become the Methodist Church. There was a membership of 869,000 in the UK. In 2015, there were fewer than 200,000 members in the UK, more than 300 in the Beverley Circuit, but world-wide there are 60 million with 20 million adherents.
In 1961, Toll Gavel Church members agreed to ‘church planting’ on Beverley’s new housing estate at Swinemoor. Queen’s Road Church was dedicated by Rev F Pratt Green, who was Chairman of District and writer of several Methodist hymns. Finances became a problem and after 20 years, with the church unable to support its own pastor, declining congregations and vandalism, it was closed in 1982 and later demolished.
Toll Gavel United LEP
In September 1976, the Methodists at Toll Gavel and members of the United Reformed Church at Lairgate agreed to form s Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP); the church became known as Toll Gavel United Church. The United Reformed Church was created in 1972 by the uniting of the Congregational Church of England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England. The Lairgate Congregational’s congregation had dropped to circa 30 members by 1976, their church needed major repairs and Toll Gavel was delighted to welcome new worshippers.
Toll Gavel Church itself has been altered over the years to accommodate changing needs and give more flexible space for worship, drama, music and meetings. It is said, the acoustics in Toll Gavel United Church are the best in Beverley! In 1999, the pews were removed downstairs and replaced with comfortable, individual seats; the foyer extended to create a cafe area, new toilets and disability access and a new, removable communion rail put in place around a raised area below the ornate pulpit. The Hall has also been altered over the years with new toilets and kitchen and meeting rooms refashioned for many different uses. Recently (2017) the Hall has had a new floor and upgraded heating.
Toll Gavel United Church offers extensive fellowship and service to the community of Beverley and beyond through its Centre Cafe which is open weekday mornings and Coffee Mornings on Saturdays in the Hall. It hosts its own Baden Powell Uniformed Organisations and is the home to many choirs (its own Esperion Singers as well as Beverley Community Choir, Beverley Male Voice Choir as well as several others). On Monday mornings, babies, toddlers and grown-ups alike enjoy Messy Church in the Hall and Tuesday mornings sees Mums and their Newborns meeting in the Church. There is a Men’s Group, a ’99 Club’ Social Group and a Social Responsibility Group. Toll Gavel is a Fairtrade Church with its own Fairtrade Shop.
There are many worship opportunities throughout the week, Bible study groups and prayer groups led by Presbyters or Local Preachers. See Worship section for more details.