Friday, 9 October 2009

Methodists in east Bristol.

Wesley's "New Room in the Horsefair, Bristol, U.K.


Any history of “The people called Methodists” is inextricably linked with my home City of Bristol.

It was in the communities of Hanham and Kingswood, on the eastern fringes of Bristol, that John Wesley first preached in the open air, in 1739.

He was there at the behest of fellow Church of England Priest, George Whitefield, to preach to the coal miners who lived in a pitiable state, and who were ignored and despised by official religion.

Wesley’s first open air “pulpit” was at a place now called Hanham Mount - four miles east of where I grew up. He also preached at a place called Rose Green (now a housing development). Rose Green is but 8/10 mile from my childhood and young adult home.

It was also in Bristol that John Wesley built what he called a “New Room”, in the Horsefair. This was a place where he could live when in Bristol, and where he could preach.

And in Bristol, Wesley laid hands on another Anglican Priest, Thomas Coke, to make him Superintendent of the Methodist work in America.

In 1944 I was baptised in Eastville Methodist Church, Bristol at a time when east Bristol was hopping with Methodist Churches.

Within a 2 mile radius of my home there were at least fourteen Methodist Churches. I can name some of them from memory.

Whitehall Methodist Church;

Easton Road Methodist Church;

Tudor Road Methodist Church;

Bethesda on Church Rd, Redfield AND, just down Church Road, the Redfield Methodist Church;

Speedwell Methodist Church;

Eastville Methodist Church, AND, just up Fishponds Road, the Eastville Park Methodist Church.

There were three Methodist Churches where Lower Ashley Road intersected with Mina Road. (All three were torn down in a spate of Urban Renewal when the M32 motorway cut a swath through working class east Bristol to connect the City Centre with the M4 motorway.) They were replaced by the aptly named “Trinity Methodist Church”.

Now, in this same radius, there are but four Methodist Churches.

Why the decline?

1. English Methodism had divided into more than three groups following the death of John Wesley. So there might be two or three “Methodist” Churches from “rival” groups in the same area. In 1932 the three main groups (Wesleyan, United, and Primitive) were re-united. Thus the “rivalry” ended and it was obvious that in some neighbourhoods a merger of formerly rival congregations made sense.

2. My own experience shows me that too many local Churches were dominated by older “gate-keepers” who were unwilling to allow change. For instance – in the 1960s I did some “local preaching” in east Bristol Methodist Churches, including the Eastville Methodist Church at which Mum and Dad had been married, and where I had been baptised. I was happy to be there for Dad and Mum’s sake, but it felt like a “time warp”. The local leadership led the congregation as if nothing had changed between 1935 and 1965.

3. English religion is tied up with “class”. The leadership classes of local Methodist congregations were separated from their local communities by issues of class: - e.g. “Middle Class” leaders in “Working Class” neighbourhoods.

4. Religion is more a matter of sociology than theology, no matter what preachers, pastors, and priests say.


This proud Bristolian, baptised in a Methodist Church offers you the following links.

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