The Independent Methodists: A History

By John Dolan

The definitive history of Independent Methodism, from its beginnings in the 1790s to the present day.

ISBN: 9780227679838


The Independent Methodists have never been a large denomination, and even in the Northwest of England, their heartland, their history is little known. From the beginnings of the movement shortly after the death of John Wesley, the author describes the formative influences in the first half of the nineteenth century – Methodist, Quaker and Revivalist – that shaped it, giving it a distinctively lay character unusual in Methodism. The social and political factors that affected its development, such as the Peterloo Massacre, the Beerhouse Act and Chartism are explored. Early Independent Methodist societies often arose from breaches in Wesleyan Methodism over radical politics, and they also differed from the Wesleyans in allowing writing to be taught in Sunday Schools. Other societies came into being through the attraction of a ‘free’ ministry, particularly in communities where poverty was prevalent; this attracted some dissident Primitive Methodists.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Independent Methodism took on the characteristics of a denomination, with a connexional structure. Dr Dolan examines the involvement of the Independent Methodists in wider society and their contribution to public life. Five Independent Methodists became MPs, while many others held civic office as mayors, aldermen and councillors.

For over a hundred years, the denomination has involved itself in the ecumenical movement, climaxing with the decision in 2004 to enter into a covenant partnership with the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Dr Dolan explores many aspects of Independent Methodism, including its theology, which veered between conservative evangelicalism and theological liberalism. He also shows how attitudes towards ministry have changed over 200 years.

For over two centuries Independent Methodists have maintained their distinctive threefold standpoint. John Dolan, one of their number, has written a comprehensive study of the movement. It has entailed tracking down the primary sources, published and unpublished, for a host of autonomous chapels, many of them extinct, and making a sustained analysis of the developing trends in their corporate life. The task has been pursued with an acute awareness of the changing social and religious climate they inhabited. The resulting account is thorough, persuasive and illuminating. One of the most fascinating pieces in the Evangelical Nonconformist mosaic has now received its due.
From the Foreword by Professor David Bebbington

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 320

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Dr John Dolan is honorary archivist of the Independent Methodists, and is minister at Stockton Heath Independent Methodist Church, Warrington.


Foreword by David Bebbington

Introduction: Methodism at the end of the Eighteenth Century

The First Phase, 1796-1860
1. Methodist Lay Revivalist Sects 1796-1815
2. Social and Political Factors 1815-60
3. The Shaping of the Movement 1815-60

The Second Phase, 1860-1927
4. From Sect to Denomination 1860-1927
5. The Wider Interface: Independent Methodism in its Contemporary Context 1860-1927

The Third Phase, 1927-2005
6. An Established Denomination 1927-1960
7. Adapting to a Post-Christian Culture 1960-2005


1. An Address to the Independent Methodist Churches, 1815
2. Rules of the Independent Methodist Missionary Society, 1825
3. The Testimony and Principles of Union, 1855
4. Methodist Union, An Independent Methodist Response, 1903
5. Temperance Policy 1900
6. Statement of Faith and Practice 1927
7. Statement of Faith 1984
8. Statement of Practice 2000
9. Missionaries sent out during 1826
10. Primitive Methodist groups defecting to Free Gospelism 1830-55
11. Independent Methodist Day Schools
12. Statistics 1871-2001



Endorsements and Reviews

Dolan’s narrative is extremely useful not only in drawing attention to a hitherto largely overlooked body, but also in providing further illustrations of general trends common to much English nonconformity. … Dolan provides valuable insights into a far too neglected example of working-class evangelicalism.
Journal of Theological Studies

Dolan combines a sympathetic approach with a historian’s skill, dodging none of the difficulties. This is a fine piece of research which fills a gap in evangelical Free Church history. I heartily commend it.
Methodist Recorder