There are three main overlapping strands to the history of Methodism in Southampton.

The earliest became the Wesleyan Methodists
The early Methodist gatherings met at the house of Richard Taylor, licensed in 1765 in All Saints Parish by Barnabas Thomas and Joseph Webb. Further licences were granted to other houses in 1777 and 1780. Key families in the rise of Methodism in Southampton were the Fay and Morse families. The Fays had been members of the Above Bar congregation as far back as 1689, and remained primarily attached to Above Bar, but encouraged the Methodist meetings. The relationship between the two congregations was complicated, and at times strained, but by 1791 the pastor of Above Bar, William Kingsbury, agreed to accept the Methodists as fellow religionists.

Following a visit by John Wesley in 1787, John Morse registered his house in East Street for Methodist worship. In 1788, the hostility of neighbours forced the congregation to move to an old auction room in Hanover Buildings. In 1791 there were 70 in the congregation.

The Southampton meeting then became the head of its own Wesleyan Methodist circuit, and moved to Canal Walk Methodist Chapel. This, the first purpose-built Methodist chapel, was built in 1799 on the south corner of Canal Walk and Bell Street. In 1801 the number in the congregation was 75, compared to 21 at Winchester on the same circuit. The building was enlarged in 1823.

In 1849 the foundation stone for a new chapel in East Street was laid by the Mayor, George Laishley, and in 1850 the society moved to this new East Street Methodist Church, which was constructed in very ornate Decorated Gothic style. The architect was James Wilson of Bath and the builder was George Brinton of Southampton. It was situated on the north side of East Street between the Strand and Queen's Buildings and set back from the line of shops, between nos. 28 and 29 East Street.

By 1851 membership of the Southampton Wesleyan circuit was 608, and there were 3 ministers. Other Wesleyan chapels had been built at Bitterne (Chapel Street, perhaps 1809 with a later building of 1823; congregation of 91 in 1851) and Shirley (Church Street), and a number of dwelling houses had been registered as Wesleyan places of worship. Newtown Wesleyan Chapel, Alfred Street was only a Methodist Chapel 1846-1850. Bevois Town Methodist Chapel was built on the triangle of land between Bevois Valley Road and Peterborough Road in 1861, and substantially enlarged in 1906. The church was badly damaged during World War Two and remained empty for many years. It was used as a furniture warehouse for a time, before being purchased by the Sikh community in 1971 and converted to a Sikh temple.The Obelisk Road Wesleyan Chapel in Woolston was built in 1864, to be replaced by the current Woolston Methodist Church in Manor Road in 1934.

In 1925 the large Central Hall was opened, with seating for 1,460, replacing the East Street Chapel.

A second strand of worship were the Primitive Methodists. This began with a mission to Southampton in 1833 by William Harland. James Crabb, a former Wesleyan preacher who had become independent and set up a Seamen's Mission in the town, allowed Harland's group to use his premises until they moved to rented premises in Bridge Street (now Bernard Street). The group built a chapel in St. Mary Street in 1837. It occupied nos. 134 and 135 on the east side of the street between Bevois Street and James Street. The mission became an independent circuit in 1852, incorporating the Primitive Methodist chapels in Nomansland, Romsey and Cadnam.

In 1851 the religious census gives the numbers attending services at St Mary’s Primitive Methodist Chapel as 100 in the morning, plus 78 Sunday school children; 208 in the afternoon; and 208 again in the evening, plus 40 Sunday school children. There was space for 273 worshippers.

By 1884, the congregation had moved to South Front Primitive Methodist Chapel. The original building became the Oddfellows Hall until 1966. In 1975 the basement was leased to the Mermaid Club, which was regularly raided by police because of the films shown there. It later became auction rooms and a parish office.

The chapel in Botany Bay, Sholing, was erected in 1856 and enlarged in 1862, and still exists. Jim Brown quotes the record of a meeting held at Botany Bay in 1864, at which three members were expelled for immorality. A new chapel was built in South-East Road in 1876. Brown gives extensive extracts from the log books of this chapel.

Other Primitive Methodist Chapels include Northam, Shirley, and St Denys.

The third main strand of Methodist worship was the Bible Christians. They were a mainly rural branch of Methodism, but they registered several small preaching places in the town of Southampton, including, in 1851, one of the lodging houses in Simnel Street. They opened the Jubilee Chapel in Princess Street in Northam. This was replaced by the St Mary's Road Chapel. Their Shirley chapel on Stratton Road was opened in 1867. In 1898 they built a further chapel in Manor Road, Woolston, and by 1905 they also had Hightown Chapel. Brown quotes extensively from the records of Hightown.

The Bible Christians joined with the United Methodist Free Churches and the Methodist New Connexion to form the United Methodist Church in 1907.
The United Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church united in 1932 to form the present-day Methodist Church. As there was often more than one local chapel, some buildings closed and merged their congregations. It took time to work through the changes caused by Union, and for a few years there were three Southampton Methodist Circuits: Southampton (St James) based on the Wesleyan Circuit, Southampton (St Mary's) based on the United Methodist Circuit and Southampton (St Denys) based on the Primitive Methodist Circuit. Most of the United Methodist Circuit was outside Southampton, headed by the chapel at Leigh Road, Eastleigh. The only surviving United Methodist Churches (2020) in the Southampton Circuit are Hedge End, and Woolston (Manor Road North)

In the 1960s the decision was made to combine the Hightown and South-East Road chapels on a site at the junction of Butts Road and South-East Road; this became St Andrew's, Sholing.

Other Methodist chapels include an Independent Wesleyan chapel in Broad Street, Kingsland in use from 1857 to 1883, a United Methodist Free Church in Ascupart Street and a short-lived Wesleyan Reform chapel in Lower Canal Walk.

Further reading:
'A Little Society at Southampton: John Wesley Passes Through', 1787, by Vicky Green, in Southampton Local History Forum Journal No. 10, Spring 2003, p26. (HS/h)
The Story of St Andrew’s Methodist Church, Sholing, by Jim Brown. (HS/j) Includes lists of Methodist Chapels.


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