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Methodist Spiritual Condition in Georgian Northern England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 September 2014

42 Gledhow Drive, Oxenhope, Keighley, West YorkshireBD22 9SA; e-mail:


John Wesley required detailed records to be compiled of Methodist society members. One extant list is that of the Keighley circuit for 1763–5. This article, breaking new ground in Wesley studies, argues that symbols in this and other catalogues recorded members’ spiritual condition. These symbols are used to analyse recruitment, losses and spiritual change on a quarterly basis. They reveal that although recruitment in the circuit was high during a revival at the start of a new preaching regime, it fell quickly, many members departed and there was little overall improvement in spiritual condition. Recruitment and changes were not uniform across the circuit, pointing to local rather than regional or national influences.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Heitzenrater, R. P., Wesley and the people called Methodists, Nashville 1995, 138Google Scholar.

2 Until 1776 the circuit was officially Haworth, but after the death of William Grimshaw in 1763 was effectively Keighley.

3 Wesley, J., The works of John Wesley: the Methodist societies: the minutes of Conference, ed. Rack, H. D., Nashville 2011Google Scholar, passim.

4 Minutes for 25 June 1744, ibid 126.

5 Minutes for 26 June 1744, ibid. 131.

6 Rack, H. D., Reasonable enthusiast, John Wesley and the rise of Methodism, London 1989, 383–8Google Scholar.

7 Hempton, D., Methodism, empire of the Spirit, New Haven 2005, 4154Google Scholar.

8 Rack, Reasonable enthusiast, 153–7. For a discussion on Wesley's developing understanding of God's prevenient grace at work in the journey of the unconverted towards salvation, a view which countered accusations of Pelagianism, while at the same time opposed Calvinism see also McGonigle, H. B., Sufficient saving grace: John Wesley's Evangelical Arminianism, Carlisle 2001, 318–30Google Scholar.

9 The first schedule was probably made out on 30 March 1741 when Wesley ‘fixed an hour every day for speaking with each of the bands, that no disorderly walker may remain among them, nor any of a contentious or careless spirit’: Wesley, J., The works of John Wesley: journal and diaries, II: (1738–43), ed. Ward, W. R. and Heitzenrater, R. P., Nashville 1990, 189Google Scholar, entry for 30 March 1741. For an example of the 1741 roll for Bristol see frontispiece to Foster, H. J., ‘Bristol Methodist notes’, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society iv (1904), 92–4Google Scholar.

10 See, for instance, using the 1763 Keighley membership schedules, L. Tyerman (possibly copied from C. Everett), ‘List of class members in Haworth, 1763’, undated, MARC, MA1977/486; Moore, B., History of Wesleyan Methodism in Burnley and East Lancashire, Burnley 1899, 55–6Google Scholar; Laycock, J. W., Methodist heroes in the great Haworth round, 1734–1784, Keighley 1909, 255Google Scholar, appendices i–v.; Dawson, J. M. G., Methodism at the grass roots within the great Haworth Round (Wesley Historical Society, Yorkshire Branch, Occasional Paper iii, 1978)Google Scholar, 5; Dews, D. C., A history of Methodism in Haworth from 1744, Haworth 1981Google Scholar, 10; and Cunliffe, N., The beckoning of the west, Blackpool 1992, 37–8Google Scholar.

11 Baker, F., ‘The people called Methodists: 3: “Polity”’, in Davies, R. and Rupp, G. (eds), A history of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, i, London 1965, 240–1Google Scholar.

12 C. I. Wallace, Jr, ‘Religion and society in eighteenth century England: geographic, demographic and occupational patterns of dissent in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1715–1801’, unpubl. PhD diss. Duke 1975, 217–28.

13 Field, C. D., ‘The social structure of English Methodism: eighteenth–twentieth centuries’, British Journal of Sociology xxviii (1977), 199225CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 Smith, J. Q.Occupational groups among the early Methodists of the Keighley circuit’, Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture lvii (1988), 187–96Google Scholar.

15 Foster, ‘Bristol’ 92–4.

16 J. Wesley, ‘Names of members of the societies’ [London, Apr. 1742–6], MARC, MA1977/503, Colman collection of Wesleyana, Box 1.

17 See Rack, Reasonable enthusiast, 212–14.

18 AKR: catalogued while in Temple Street Methodist Church, by Baker, F., ‘Wesleyana at Keighley, pt ii’, Proceedings of Wesley Historical Society xxiii (June 1942), 135Google Scholar.

19 ‘Blackburn circuit list of members 1788 to 1808’, Lancashire Record Office, DDX2761 (photocopies of papers deposited by Norman Cunliffe).

20 PCS.

21 BSB.

22 SRM.

23 Wesley, J., The nature, design, and general rules of the united societies in London, Bristol, Kings-wood, and Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne 1743Google Scholar.

24 See J. Wesley, A plain account of Christian perfection (1777), repr. Peterborough 2007, 55–9, where Wesley gave advice to his preachers regarding the examination of members claiming to be sanctified.

25 Minutes for 14 May 1746, Minutes of Conference, 179.

26 In Wesley's language, his ‘assistant’.

27 Minutes for 16 Nov 1749, Minutes of Conference, 234.

28 J. Bennet, ‘Minutes of the early Methodist Conferences’, 1744–8, MARC, MA1977/429, minutes for 6 June 1748; minutes for 6 June 1748, Minutes of Conference, 225.

29 Minutes for 12 Aug. 1766, Minutes of Conference, 324.

30 Ibid. 338.

31 Minutes of Conference, 866–7 [‘Large’ Minutes, 1763].

32 Each catalogue was tabulated to provide the number of members recorded in the current minutes (Minutes of Conference, passim) and in many cases a summary was written up on the final page.

33 For an analysis of the circuit during the eighteenth century see R. A. Schofield, ‘Anatomy of an early Methodist circuit: the Great Haworth Round, 1740–1780’, unpubl. MSc diss. Oxford 2009. This paper expands one chapter of the dissertation.

34 KCA.

35 See Minutes of Conference, 295–7n. The Minutes for the 1763 Conference (19–23 July 1763), were not printed.

36 Income was not at the time received by Grimshaw from the societies in Cumberland, so it is difficult to determine whether he had exercised any control over them.

37 The farthest-flung society was at Bracken Hill, to the east of Longtown, Cumberland, and four miles from the Scottish border: AKR, 77. For the location of all the societies in 1763 see Schofield, ‘Haworth’, 80–6.

38 Laycock, Methodist heroes, 249.

39 Jackson, T., The lives of early Methodist preachers chiefly written by themselves, 4th edn, London 1878, iv. 27–8Google Scholar.

40 Additional evidence that he was the superintendent comes from the accounts (KCA) which he countersigned, and the payments made to him showing that he remained in Keighley.

41 See Atmore, C., The Methodist memorial: an impartial sketch of the lives and characters of the preachers who have departed this life since the commencement of the work of God among the people called Methodists, cheap edition, London 1871, 82Google Scholar. Fugill had already escaped conviction by his peers in 1758 on unproven charges: minutes for 12 Aug. 1758, Minutes of Conference, 282.

42 The forty-three societies did not include any in Cumberland, and contributions from that county were not made until 1767.

43 AKR.

44 KCA. Expenditure was recorded by the senior steward and countersigned by Fugill.

45 Minutes for 6–9 Aug. 1776, Minutes of Conference, 454–6.

46 For the most of the time each preacher in turn, other than Fugill, did not receive payment from circuit funds. It is assumed that this was when they worked in the Whitehaven area and were supported locally: KCA, 1763–5.

47 Foster, ‘Bristol’.

48 Anon, ‘Signs of grace’, Wesley's Chapel Newsletter viii/31 (1934), 1517Google Scholar.

49 Baker, ‘Polity’, 241.

50 Wesleyan Methodist Church: Hastings circuit: circuit schedule book, 18221836, East Sussex Records Office, NMA 8/3/1. The preacher was James Johnson.

51 BSB, 1781.

52 Wesley, J., Minutes of several conversations between the Rev John Wesley, A. M., and the preachers in connexion with him, containing the form of discipline established among the preachers and people in the Methodist societies, London 1797Google Scholar, repr. 1850, 79–80.

53 A number of accounts of revival in circuits around the country are recorded in The experience of several eminent Methodist preachers with an account of their call to ministry in a series of letters, written by themselves, to the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., ed. N. Bangs, New York 1837, passim.

54 In the Keighley circuit book the spiritual condition of 115 members, all from the Whitehaven society, was unrecorded, but the address data was by far the most detailed. This may indicate that the visitation was not made by Fugill, but John Pawson, his local assistant, who may have kept the spirituality information to himself. For Wesley's views about the state of the society in Whitehaven see The works of John Wesley: journal and diaries, IV: (175565), ed. W. R. Ward and R. P. Heitzenrater, Nashville 1992, 473, entries for 21–4 June 1764.

55 See Hall's circuits and ministers: an alphabetical list of the circuits in Great Britain with the names of the ministers stationed in each circuit, together with the appointments to departments and other offices from 1765 to 1912, ed. T. G. Hartley, London 1912, 607–8.

56 The 115 members in Keighley were entirely from the Whitehaven society.

57 But for missing data, Blackburn could have been comparable to Keighley.

58 Fugill commenced his catalogue in November 1763, only three months after his arrival: AKR, 1.

59 The membership of Sussex circuit increased by 16% between 1774 and 1776: SRM, passim. There was also early competition from Lady Huntingdon's Connexion which founded a major cause in Brighton in 1761, expanding into a number of villages to the north of the growing town: Harding, A., The countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, Oxford 2003, 4851Google Scholar.

60 Since the frequency is unknown for societies with two or three visitations, it is unwise to attempt to compare them over time with others with a more regular pattern.

61 Recruitment is regarded as the first appearance of a member in the lists. It is accepted that some will have been absent through work or illness at the first visitation and present at the next, thus being wrongly classed as new recruits. As a check on this, thirteen of the 503 initial members were present at the first visitation, missing at the second, but reappeared at the third. If the same number were missing at the first visitation, the figure of seventy new faces would be an overstatement and a total of fifty-seven may be closer. Note, though, that Fugill did not count absentees into his membership total.

62 The figures calculated and annotated on the catalogue by Fugill: AKR. Statistics were not published until 1766 (Minutes of Conference, 319) when the Keighley round, with 1,536 members, was the fourth largest. At that Conference five of the twenty-six English circuits did not submit membership numbers, confirming Wesley's concerns about such things.

63 See minutes for 20–3 Aug. 1765, Minutes of Conference, 310, and 890 [‘Large’ Minutes, 1770].

64 For a statement from John Wesley, written out ‘at his desire’, concerning the roles of class leaders, stewards, preachers and the superintendent (‘assistant’) following some obvious trouble within the society (‘But here the leaders, who are the lowest wheel but one, were got quite out of their place. They were got at the top of all. Above the stewards, the preachers, yea and the assistant himself’) see Dublin society membership book, 1769, 40, MARC, MA1977/429.

65 Wesley, J., The works of John Wesley: journal and diaries, V: (1765–75), ed. Ward, W. R. and Heitzenrater, R. P., Nashville 1993, 55Google Scholar, entry for 4 Aug. 1766.

66 Laycock, Methodist heroes, appendix i.

67 Ibid. appendix iv.

68 AKR, Income, 1763–76.

69 SRM, 1774–6.

70 PCS, 1787–8.

71 See, for examples, Laycock, Methodist heroes, 254–5, 268, 284–5, 307, 314.