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Methodist Collections

Date range: 18th–21st centuries.

We have recently added a PDF Guide to the Methodist Collections. This guide provides summary information about all our Methodist holdings and acts as an introduction to more detailed catalogues and finding aids.

The Methodist Archives and Research Centre (MARC) was established by the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1961 to house the Connexional records of the Church.

The Centre was originally located at John Wesley’s Chapel, City Road, London, but in 1977 it was transferred on deposit to the Library. MARC holds the world’s largest collection of manuscripts relating to the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley and other members of the Wesley family. In all, the collection comprises approximately 5,000 letters, notebooks and associated papers of the period 1700–1865.

Prominent eighteenth-century Evangelicals, other than the Wesleys, whose personal papers are represented in the collections include George Whitefield (1714–70) , the Countess of Huntingdon (1707–91), Howel Harris (1714–73) and Benjamin Ingham (1712–72). 

In addition, there is a substantial collection of manuscript material relating to John Fletcher (1729–85) of Madeley and his wife Mary Bosanquet (1739–1815): see the separate entry for the Fletcher-Tooth Collection.

The Methodist Archives also include numerous small collections of personal papers relating to approximately 4,000 ministers and lay-Methodists from the eighteenth century to the present. These include Thomas Coke (1747–1814), Joseph Benson (1748–1821), Adam Clarke (1760–1832), William Clowes (1780–1852), Hugh Bourne (1772–1852), Jabez Bunting (1779–1858), John Rattenbury (1806–79), John Ernest Rattenbury (1870–1963), Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury (1878–1962), and Dr Rupert Davies (1909–94).

The institutional records of Methodism are very well represented, with material relating to all the major pre-union Methodist denominations, including the Lewis Court Bible Christian Collection.

The archives of the Methodist Conference and its numerous committees reflect the successive splits and subsequent reunification of the Methodist denominations; there are Conference records for each of the pre-1932 Methodist churches in Britain, the largest and most comprehensive being those of the Wesleyan Methodists. The most revealing documents are the unique manuscript journals of Conference proceedings; these contain significantly more detail than the published minutes.

There are also large archives deposited by the administrative Divisions of the Church, such as the Property Division, the Home Mission Department, the Divisions of Social Responsibility, Ministries,  and Education and Youth,  and the Armed Forces Board.1

The divisional records contains a wealth of information that is of interest to historians of religion, politics, social studies, education and other disciplines, and to a lesser degree, genealogists and local historians. The Property Division archive, for example, includes lists of Wesleyan chapels with details of the date and cost of their construction, while the archive of the Division of Ministries incorporates papers relating to the acceptance of candidates for the ministry. The Armed Forces Board collection contains material relating to the work of Methodist chaplains in Britain and many other countries, including India, Malta, Germany, Gibraltar, Aden, Singapore, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea and Egypt.

In 1791, as part of a restructuring following John Wesley’s death, Methodist circuits were grouped into districts, analogous to Anglican dioceses. The MARC contains an extensive collection of district records, especially for the Wesleyan Methodists, which constitutes the best source of detailed local information about British Methodism held by any repository.

The core documents are the minutes of the district meetings, which typically survive from the early nineteenth century. These contain character assessments of applicants for local preachers, information on ministers and their families, and detailed statistics of chapel and circuit membership.

The MARC holds the world’s largest collection of circuit plans, which record the names of itinerant and local preachers in particular circuits, and can be used to chart the growth and decline of Methodism at the local level.

The Methodist movement has been deeply involved in the education of children and adults since the mid-eighteenth century, and there are several collections relating to these activities. 

Substantial archives exist for the Wesleyan girls schools of Hunmanby Hall in Filey and Trinity Hall in Southport. 

There are major archives of three ministerial training colleges – Handsworth (Birmingham), Hartley Victoria (Manchester) and Richmond (Surrey) – while smaller collections survive for Didsbury and Sunderland Colleges.

The MARC also holds the archives of the Wesleyan Theological Institute, which supervised all the constituent colleges, and of Southlands College, Wimbledon, the Methodist teacher-training institute.

1The archives of the Overseas Mission Department are deposited at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Finding aids

several catalogues are available via ELGAR. other lists are available in hard copy only.

Contact

If you would like information or advice about the Methodist Archive or have any research enquiries, please contact:

Peter Nockles
Assistant Librarian (Methodist Collections)

(tel. 0161-275 3755, email: peter.nockles@manchester.ac.uk)

Guide to Methodist Resources at The University of Manchester PDF