Penrith - Methodism

  > The first record touching Methodism in Penrith, occurring in local records, is found in the parish register and reads as follows:

"1772 John Hill a Methodist, aged 85 buried."

An honourable record surely, if patriarchal age counts for anything. This would be some six years after Wesley's first visit to Penrith, as spoken of in his journals; and eight years prior to the record of Wesley preaching in Penrith. According to his journals, John Wesley's first visit to Cumberland (Nenthead), was on April 28th 1748 and to Penrith June 30th 1766, of which he says: "about two we reached Penrith." In June 1752 on his way from Barnard Castle to Whitehaven, he "preached at Clifton near Penrith to a civil people. Who looked as if I had been talking Greek." Again May 5th 1780, after preaching at Nenthead to the miners in the morning, he says: "After riding over another enormous mountain, I preached at Gamblesby (as I did about thirty years ago), to a congregation of rich and poor. In the evening a large upper room, designed for assembly was procured for me at Penrith, but several poor people were struck by panic, for fear the room should fall. Finding there was no remedy. I went down into the court below and preached in great peace to a multitude of well behaved people. The rain was suspended while I preached, but afterwards returned, and continued most part of the night." It was on this occasion that Mr Varty, Stagstones - who had given Mr Wesley the invitation and provided the room for preaching - was so much shocked by Mr Wesley spending the ten minutes he had to spare before service, IN SLEEP! May 11th 1786 "Preached at Appleby in the afternoon, and went on to Penrith."

From other sources it would appear that Mr Wesley visited Penrith September 29th 1749, and first preached in 1751, and that his last visit was on May 10th 1789.

Mr William Varty, Stagstones, was one of the first members in Penrith, and was leader of the first class in the town, principally composed of people poorer than himself, and with whom he had to endure a considerable amount of persecution. The meetings were held in a room which was belonged to Mr Varty, and continued so until 1815.

Penrith, when first connected with Methodism, formed part of The Dales Circuit. With Barnard Castle as the circuit town. The sum contributed quarterly to the circuit in 1779 was 4s 6d, and for seventeen years after the amount fluctuated between 3s 6d and nothing, till, in 1796, it regained its former level of 4s 6d, being at the rate of sixpence per member for the nine members. Seven years later the contribution was 15s, and from that period it continued to increase. In 1803 the Dales Circuit was divided, and Brough became head of the circuit, and three years later Penrith became the head of a circuit, with Stainton, Penruddock and Keswick as its subordinate stations, with three ministers and 120 members, twenty only of these being resident in Penrith. In 1818, Keswick and the places in that vicinity found other alliance, and Penrith reverted to Brough Circuit, until 1824 when again Penrith again became head of a circuit, with eighteen stations, three ministers, thirteen local preachers and 347 members.

The local preachers being: J Brownrigg, J Lowthian, W Gowling, R Gate, J Watson, H Moses, E Idel, R Saint, R Alston, T Lowthian, J Lowthian, T Cartmel, J Tallentire.

The work of preacher and local ministers in these days was no sinecure, indeed the distance trudged on foot, the services held, the privations endured, seem to mock the ideas of self denial of these days of greater luxury and easier locomotion. Among the thirteen locals was Mr Robert Gate, a saddler, who was born at Scales under Saddleback, and who frequently trudged as far as Keswick on a Sunday, holding from three to five services on the way and at Keswick, getting no dinner or refreshments, except perhaps a drink of water or milk on the way, and returning home to resume his daily vocation as a saddler on Monday morning. As a result of the self-denying labours of these early Methodists the number of places in 1853, had risen to 35, and the members to 803. In 1871 the Penrith Circuit was divided and Kirkoswald Circuit carved out of the parent circuit, including all the stations east of Penrith, and started with two ministers and 460 members, leaving the parent circuit with two ministers and 421 members.

Below is a comparative table showing the circuits position in seven different years.



Local Preachers


Qu Income
s d





35 19 1





77 6 10





108 18 7





116 0 0

Circuit divided - Kirkoswald taking 460 members





122 0 0





150 0 0





150 0 0

The room which Mr Varty placed at Mr Wesley's service in 1780 was subsequently fitted up as a chapel, with Creed and Commandments on the end wall, and two other smaller rooms were fitted up, one as a class room, the other as "the preachers room," with sleeping accommodation for the travelling preacher when occasion demanded that he should spend the night in Penrith. Dr Coke conducted special revival services in this room in 1807, and gave Mr Varty 5 towards plastering it. Until the death of Mr Varty the room continued to be so used, when they found it was bequeathed to them. The place was surrendered to Mr Varty's sons for 200, to escape the difficulties of such a bequest, and the sons generously presented the site for a chapel in Fell Lane, worth another 200, besides other gifts. Encouraged by this generous treatment the chapel at Sandgate Head was erected in 1815. It cost 1,600 of which sum the society, by their most self-denying efforts, coupled with the gifts from the Varty family, raised 680. The balance of over 900 being provided for by mortgage. Much indeed may be said for this way of managing chapel debts by these venerable ancestors of Methodism, for it was the POOR of this world who first obeyed the Gospel call; and, although the debts they bequeathed have, in many instances, crippled later efforts at extension, yet without them there would have been, in many places, no chapel and no Methodism. In 1832 however the 900 was reduced to 500; and, by a bazaar in 1860, the remainder was swept away. By the generous aid of Mr George Moore, the whole of the chapels in the circuit were freed from debt in 1864.

The premises at Sandgate Head becoming too small for the congregation, in 1873 the new church, in Wordsworth Street was erected, and the old one sold for 700 to Mr R Harrison, by whom it was transferred to The Primitive Methodists. The new church is one of the best in the Carlisle District, and will accommodate about 1,000 worshippers. It cost with lecture hall and vestries nearly 8,000.

Two stained glass windows were placed in Wordworth Street Church in 1892, in remembrance of Mr and Mrs Crone, by their sons and daughters. One on the north side representing "Dorcas presenting garments" and one on the south side representing the "Dedication of the Temple." Mr and Mrs Crone died within twenty-four hours of one another, and were buried at the same time.

The oldest chapel in the circuit, at Morland, was built in 1818; the next, Hutton End, built in 1841. When the division of the circuit took place Penrith retained twelve chapels. In 1893 the number of chapels was twenty-one, of which the late Mr John Pattinson, gave one-Scotland Road-to the circuit, as a memorial of his father in law Mr Gate; whilst another-Clifton-was the gift of the late Mr John Crone. Two Manses Wesley Manse and Epworth House, also belong to the circuit, the former the gift of Mr Crone, whose munificence, to a great extent, enabled the circuit tp build many of the village chapels, as also Wordsworth Street Church, to which alone he contributed nearly 3,000, whilst the connexional funds were not forgotten, since the Thanksgiving Fund received no less than a thousand guineas. Meetinghouse Lane Day School is also circuit property. The total estimated value of the circuit property is over 17,000. The total extinction of the debt on circuit property was accomplished in May 1893, when Epworth House was relieved of 900, by a "Jerusalem Bazaar" in the Market Hall, by which 1,200 was raised.

It may also be of interest to know that there are now (1893) 19 Sunday schools, with 160 teachers and 1,050 scholars; and a day school with over 300 scholars.

There are Temperance societies and Bands of Hope associated with most of the rural societies, and also with the town. At Wordsworth Street Church there is also a Biblical and Mutual Association and a Young Women's Bible Class, organised and conducted for five years by Miss Hannah Pattinson, Arthur Street, but now under the care of Mrs Hunter, Wordsworth street. There is a Good Samaritan Society worked from this centre, which relieves the sick poor irrespective of creed, and is nearly as old as Methodism in the town.


Taken from "History of Penrith" by Ewanian, published 1893



19 June 2015

Original text transcribed by Les Strong.

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