We have just had the Christian festival of Easter, and that reminded me that one of the most well-known Christian men who ever lived, John Wesley, used to come to Chesham 250 years ago. This is the story...

Chesham at the time of Wesley

Chesham of Wesley’s day was a small town. Chesham is very different now, but bits of the town with which Wesley must have been familiar with, still survive here and there in the High Street, and especially in Church Street. By the time he came to Chesham, John Wesley was probably the best loved man in England. Rather than be a vicar with a church in one place, he declared that the world was his parish. Every year he travelled some 4,500 miles on horseback, visiting large and important towns, but also small towns like Chesham. To understand why he came we need to look at some background.

John Wesley

John Wesley was born in 1703, and trained for the Anglican (Church of England) ministry at Oxford. Along with some friends, he joined a university Christian group, which was a group of men who read the Bible and tried to apply it in their lives. These men were given the nickname of the “Methodists” really as a joke because they took their faith methodically, and followed the method of the Bible.


In 1728, John Wesley became an Anglican priest and in 1738, he had a great spiritual conversion experience. As a result, from 1739 he and others, such as his brother Charles, and George Whitfield, preached to huge crowds of people around Britain, especially outdoors. These men, travelled all over Britain preaching the basic Christian message. In their preaching, they spoke of a living faith that was a relationship with God. They said that through Jesus, his death on the cross dying for people’s sins (which is recalled at Easter), and his resurrection people could be reconciled to God. This message, often called the Gospel, attracted crowds of thousands of ordinary people everywhere he went.

Methodism was originally the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Preachers rode by horse around groups of churches, in a riding circuit, and so groups of Methodist churches were (and still are) called circuits.

Evangelical Revival

The resulting national upsurge in religious faith, was called the Evangelical Revival. Evangelical Christians are characterised as those who have a personal faith, and express their faith personally through holiness, and values like honesty and integrity, and in society through social action. This led to them to abolish slavery, reform prisons, improve working conditions and start schools. It was the evangelical movement which first allowed women to preach.

Methodism in the Chilterns

John Wesley first came to the Chilterns in 1739. He would come by horse from Oxford and he preached regularly in High Wycombe, where the first Methodist chapel in Buckinghamshire was built in 1766. It was at High Wycombe Methodist church that Hannah Ball formed the first known Sunday school in Britain in 1769.

Chesham Methodist Society

In 1765 a Methodist Society was formed in Chesham which met at the home of Edward Pinchbeck, and then a meeting room was used “adjoining the dwelling house of Ann Calwell”. In January 1768 they met at the home of John Hopwood. In 1786, John Hopwood converted Edward Pinchbeck’s storehouse in Church End, into a chapel. It was near the now long-lost Two Brewers pub in Church Street. The Methodist meeting was registered at Easter, 1768 as “late a store house but now fitted up in a proper manner for the purpose”.

John Wesley in Chesham

John Wesley kept a journal, and from this we know that he first visited Chesham in 1769, and came again in 1771, 1772, 1774 and 1775. He would ride by horse to Chesham from High Wycombe probably via Amersham. We would stay in Chesham with the Rev Thomas Spooner, who was Chesham’s Independent (Congregational) minister from 1748-79. He lived at High House, (now 77a) High Street, Chesham. When Wesley came to Chesham, the Methodist chapel was too small to hold all the people who wanted to hear him, and the Rev Spooner let the Methodists use the Independent (now the URC) chapel in the High Street which had been built in 1724.

In his diary for Tuesday January 17, 1769 Wesley wrote: “I rode to Chesham. Our own room being neither so large nor so convenient, Mr Spooner, the Dissenting minister, gave me the use of his meeting. There was a great number of hearers. They were very attentive, and I doubt that was all.”

John Wesley would stay as a guest at the home of Rev Thomas Spooner, who would stable his horse, before riding to London the next day.

John Wesley died in 1791 aged 87. Four years later in 1795, the Methodists severed their links with the Church of England to form a separate denomination, which became the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion. There are still Methodist churches in some of the towns and villages of Bucks.

In the footsteps of John Wesley

In May 1957 Rev Ronald Crewes decided to recreate John Wesley’s horse ride and dressed as John Wesley he rode through Amersham. Today as you walk down Chesham High Street you can pass the original building where John Wesley stayed which is in the 77a. High Street, former Manse to the Independent minister, which for a long term served as Chesham’s post office. Behind it, where there is now parking, was stabling where he kept his horse. On one side of this house is a pub called Generals Arms pub and on the other side is the United Reformed Church, which is on the site of the former Independent Chapel where John Wesley used to preach to large congregations when he was in Chesham.