Methodist churches often went through many changes in name and location, mostly they were named after the street it was on. The society would begin in informally, meeting in a member's house or rented rooms. If members raised sufficient money, they would buy a chapel or land to build on. Sometimes the society started as a Sunday school and a chapel was added later - known as a school-chapel. If the church closed, its members would join another society or societies might join together to form a new church.
Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials
Most of the pre-1837 Methodist registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, along with other Nonconformist registers, are held at the National Archives. When the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in 1837, Nonconformist registers were gathered and authenticated as true and legal records. Before this, the records carried legal importance as records of life events. Nonconformist records were not always taken by authorities (the government, the courts, the armed forces) to be valid. Because only the Anglican parish records had unquestionable legal validity, many Nonconformists got married in the parish church, even before Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 made it the rule, and many also baptised their children in the local parish church.
Many Nonconformist registers were still created however and the majority of them were handed in after 1837. They have been microfilmed and we have those relevant to our area. These can also be searched at BMD Registers.
Full details of our Methodist holdings, covering pre and post-1837 registers (on microfilm or in original form) are listed in our:
After the introduction of civil registration, Nonconformists could legally get married in their own churches, but churches weren't allowed to keep their own marriage registers. Instead the registrar would bring the civil register to the church and make a record of the marriage, ensuring there was only one record, not two. This changed in 1898 by an Act of Parliament, which allowed Nonconformist churches to create their own marriage registers.
Methodist churches rarely had their own burial ground, but there are a few examples of Methodist burial grounds in the city. The more significant ones are:
- Cheetham Hill Wesleyan Cemetery, burials 1815 to 1968 (MFPR 1949-1951)
- Irwell Street Chapel, Salford, burials 1829 to 1857 (M196/5).
- Great Bridgewater Street Chapel, Manchester, burials 1800 to 1854 (MFPR 225 or 277). The chapel and graveyard were removed for construction of Central Station. Transcripts of monumental inscriptions made in 1895 are in the archive (accession 2003/10).
- Withington Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, also known as Old Moat Lane burial ground. Some monumental inscriptions 1835 to 1874 (MFPR 1975)
Records on microfilm are available on the ground floor at Central Library, no appointment needed.
Many Methodists formed trusts for their chapels to provide themselves with legal status and protection. The Trustees would be responsible for the chapel building and the related finances, which often included the debt that the Trust incurred through buying or building the chapel.
Records created by the Trust include minutes of the Trustees' Meetings, the Trust Treasurer's accounts, the pew rent accounts, legal documents such as title deeds and registration papers (as place of worship and solemnization of marriages).
The Society was the membership of the church and was divided into classes that met regularly. Each class had a leader responsible for collecting donations to help with the chapel debt. The leaders also met regularly to discuss Society matters.
Records created by the Society include minutes of the Leaders' meetings, society steward's accounts, minutes of various committees and membership records, such as registers of members and class books.
In 1974 the Methodist church went through reorganisation, at a national and local level. Within the local church the Trust and the Society were merged to form a Church Council. The Council has various committees reporting to it, such as the Property Committee which took over the responsibilities of the Trust.
Minutes of the meetings of the Church Council and its committees are the records typically found.
Sunday schools were an important part of the Methodist work. The cause often started as a Sunday school and a chapel was added later.
Records of the Sunday school include teachers' meetings minutes, account books, attendance registers, cradle rolls (a record of the children's birthdays) school inspectors' reports.
Methodist church records often include records of various societies and clubs formed by the church members, for example, sick and burial societies, drama societies, brass bands, social clubs, youth clubs, football teams, cycling clubs.
Church members sometimes set up a local branch of a national organisation, for example, the Band of Hope, which was a temperance movement, or the Wesley Guild, which was a movement of Christian fellowship, its members meeting for social and cultural purposes as well as devotional.