Cornish Methodism

In the early 18th Century a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Industrialised communities have long appeared to weaken the pre-eminence of the Church of England, and Cornwall's people were moving from land to industry in large numbers, with the growth of mining and engineering.

In 1743 the two Wesleys, Charles and John, began a series of visits which changed the face of the Christian Church in Cornwall. His followers continued to consider themselves members of the established church, but towards the end of his life, they began to move towards separation, a division which was made formal in 1795.

The Church of England remained firmly middle class, and the working classes' allegiance was broken. In the middle of the 19th Century, the 1851 Religious Census for Cornwall shows that 32% of the 50% who attended a service were Methodists, against the 13% of Anglicans. Methodism was growing very quickly despite splits which divided it further, into the Bible Christians, the New Connexion, the Primitives and others. The abundance of chapels throughout Cornwall offer evidence of their enthusiasm and energy.

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Wesleyan Methodism continued at the centre, and eventually reunion took place in 1932. Recent decades have seen declining memberships and chapel closures, but the Methodist Church is still a significant part of mainstream Christianity in Cornwall, and chooses now to explore its common ground with the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Cornish Studies Library (CSL) has an extensive collection of works about the Methodist Church, with the emphasis on Cornwall, and provides a home too for the Library of the Cornish Methodist Historical Association (CMHA), which together comprise probably the best collection of Methodist resources in the south-west. Besides the hundred of books and pamphlets, there are good runs of important journals such as the Methodist Magazine, the Bible Christian Magazine, and the Methodist Minutes of Conference. The Library also offers over 30 local newspapers which report the activities of the numerous Methodist societies down the years, and a constantly growing collection of postcards and photographs depicting chapels and churches.

Some of the journals (with annual indexes) and newspapers (not indexed) can be a useful resource for obituaries for the family historian with prominent Methodist ancestors.  Also - Leary, William.   My ancestors were Methodists (1990).

Cornwall Record Office (CRO) holds parish registers and Methodist registers, and has maps of ecclesiastical parishes and Methodist circuits. It also holds extensive records arising from the management of Methodist premises.

The CSL and CRO resources are available to search on the online catalogues, but the CMHA Library is not. Enquiries may be made via the Cornish Studies Library. For those wishing to join the CMHA, the contact is Mrs Dorothy Biddick, Kenwyn Vean, 19, Higher Trehaverne, Truro, TR1 3RW.  Tel. 01872 274759.

Shaw, T. A history of Cornish Methodism (Truro, DB Barton, 1967)
The Wesleys in Cornwall, ed. J. Pearce. (Truro, DB Barton, 1964)
Haile, Ian    'The Next Chapter. Cornish Methodism 1965-2005'   (pub. Cornish Methodist Historical Association, 2009)