Methodism is a product of the so called ‘great awakening’ of the 17th century when evangelical reformers from a variety of theological positions like John Wesley, George Whitefield and Lady Huntingdon sought to overhaul the Church of England spiritually and administratively. Early Methodists met in local societies in their homes and held devotional class meetings. These societies were visited by ministers and lay preachers in circuits.
Methodism was particularly popular in east Cheshire and chapels were built throughout the county from 1759. The Methodist movement seceded from the Church of England in 1791, the breakaway Primitive Methodist church was founded in 1811 and by the mid 19th century many Cheshire towns had two circuits, one Wesleyan and one Primitive, each with two or more churches. In 1932 most of the various strands of Methodism combined to form the Methodist Church.
Modern circuits tend to consist of one town and the surrounding rural area. The circuits themselves are grouped into districts, which are the Methodist equivalent of a diocese. District records comprise synod agenda, minutes, handbooks and directories (Cheshire Archives and Local Studies (CALS) reference EMD). Typical circuit and society records might include registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, minutes of stewards and leaders’ meetings, preaching plans and trustees’ minutes (CALS reference EMC and EMS). Methodist marriage registers date only from 1898: from 1837-1898 marriage ceremonies could be conducted only in the presence of the local registrar who then kept the sole record. Methodist churches within Chester are part of the city collections. Other records, including preaching plans, are held at the Methodist Archives and Research Centre, part of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. Details of Methodist churches for which Cheshire Archives and Local Studies hold records are included on Genuki.