A HISTORY OF METHODISM IN WIGTON
John Wesley’s first recorded visit to Wigton was on May 30th 1757. He wrote “I rode to Wigton, a neat, well built town on the edge of Cumberland. I preached in the Market place at 12. The congregation was large and heavily attentive.”
Wigton lay on Wesley’s route between Whitehaven and Dumfries, a journey he undertook many times, crossing the Solway Firth at low tide.
He visited Wigton again on May 21st 1759 and on April 27th 1761 when he tells us more about his Wigton congregation.
“I preached at eight in the Market place at Wigton. The congregation when I began consisted of one woman, two boys and three or four little girls, but in a quarter of an hour we had most of the town. I was a good deal moved at the exquisite self-sufficiency which was visible in the countenance, air and whole deportment of a considerable part of them. This constrained me to use a very uncommon plainness of speech. They bore it well. Who knows but some may profit?”
His last recorded visit was on Monday May 6th 1776 when he preached at Cockermouth and Wigton before going on to Carlisle where he “preached to a very serious congregation.”
It is probable that by the beginning of the 19th century a Methodist Society was well established in Wigton and probably met in the homes of its members but increasing numbers soon made it necessary to find a larger meeting place. Such a building was found, in 1819, in Strong’s Lane (or Tickell’s Lane) near to the old bus station site. The tenancy was short lived and larger premises were found in Meeting House Lane – a building that had been used and was to be used by several other denominations.
In 1828 “a neat and commodious chapel, galleried on three sides” was opened in George Street. “Beneath the chapel is a schoolroom and three small cottages. It is hoped that the chapel will prove a blessing to the thousands.” It was built at a cost of £600 and was in use until 1883 after which it was converted into houses.
The Rev. Thomas Thomas arrived in Wigton in 1881 and it was not long until he decided that “the present chapel is in a very dilapidated condition, uncomfortable, situated in a back street, with no vestries, and the Sunday School is set in a dark and damp cellar.” Consequently he began looking for a site for the building of a new chapel. He found what he thought was an ideal site – part of the garden and orchard of Westmorland House (now the Thomlinson Junior School). This belonged to Mr. Isaac Pattinson who was prevailed upon to sell the plot of land for £243 10s. The estimated cost of the new chapel was £2000 and work began in May 1882 and the new chapel was opened on Wednesday May 2nd 1883. At the start of the day £98 7s 6d was still needed to clear the debt but by the end of the day £99 0s 10d had been contributed – 13s 4d more than was needed.
In April 1957 the Primitive Methodist chapel in New Street was amalgamated with the congregation at High Street.
By 1972 the interior of the church had deteriorated into a rather dilapidated state and it was decided to redesign the whole area. A false ceiling was created, new windows were installed and the main entrance was enlarged. The pulpit, organ and choir seating were re-arranged. The cost of these improvements was £4,000.
By the end of the 20th century it became evident that certain major repairs (particularly to the roof) were urgently needed and also access and toilet accommodation for the disabled did not meet the requirements of the law.
An ambitious scheme was drawn up to transform all areas of the church. The pews were removed to be replaced by chairs, the floors were levelled throughout, the false ceiling was
removed, the storm damaged roof was completely relaid, a new heating system was installed, a new main entrance was created at
the side of the church, extra toilets were provided, the kitchen was refurbished, two new rooms were created upstairs and a new PA and audio visual system was installed. This scheme cost £405,000, which came from grants, donations and fund-raising. Work began on March 24th 2003 and was completed by the end of the year. The building is now used by a variety of organisations, including other Christian churches, and the church has extended its own activities with the appointment by Wigton Circuit of a Children and Family Worker.