Birstall Wesleyan Methodist Church
The following source list was originally available only on paper in one of the West Yorkshire Archive Service offices. It may have been compiled many years ago and could be out of date. It was designed to act as a signpost to records of interest on a particular historical subject, but may relate only to one West Yorkshire district, or be an incomplete list of sources available. Please feel free to add or update with any additional information.
Also known as St John's Methodist Church.
John Nelson, a stonemason from Birstall heard John Wesley preach in the open air at Moorfields in London and was converted to Methodism in June 1739. He returned to Birstall and began preaching around Yorkshire in December 1739 and founded the first Methodist society in Yorkshire at Birstall 1741.
John Wesley visited Birstall in May 1742 and Charles Wesley stayed at Birstall in autumn 1742. John Wesley visited Birstall thirty times between 1742-1789; in 1766 he was able to preach in the graveyard of Birstall Parish Church and in 1781 he preached in the Parish Church itself- the clergy in charge of the church at these periods seem to have become supporters of Methodism.
The first purpose-built Methodist preaching house in Yorkshire was built in Birstall 1750-7151; John Nelson helped to build it and the first service in it was held in August 1750 before it was finished. John Wesley preached in it in May 1751.
Birstall Methodist Circuit was established c1765 and at first included Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Holmfirth and Denby Dale.
John Nelson died in 1774.
The chapel in Huddersfield Road was enlarged in 1782 and a Sunday School run jointly by the Wesleyans and Church of England was established in 1812 using rented premises- the earliest being a room above a shop in Chandlers Hill. A separate Wesleyan Sunday School was built in Chapel Lane in 1826 and the chapel was rebuilt in 1846.
A day school was built in School Street in 1868; this later became Birstall Council School and then Birstall First School. The school is now known as Birstall County Junior and Infants School.
In 1885-1886 the Sunday School was rebuilt and from 1933 the church was known as St John's Methodist Church.
The congregation ceased to use the chapel for worship and used the Sunday School building instead from 1968.
The chapel was threatened with demolition in 1982 and again in 1988.
Various uses for the chapel suggested in the 1980s-90s include a factory, photographic studio, theatre, nursing home, offices. It was finally converted into offices in 1994.
NB The little building in the graveyard known as John Nelson's Study was built after the chapel opened in 1751- he used it for meeting people and studying.
Records relating to this church can be found at the West Yorkshire Archive Service: Kirklees office under the reference number KC273/5.