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History of Stourport Wesley Methodist Church

      The first Methodist Society was formed in Stourport in 1781 by John Cowell, a local coal merchant, and friends. It grew slowly and by 1787 they had built their first meeting house. On 25th May of that year John Wesley visited Stourport and the local Methodists were inspired and their numbers increased. This led them to purchase some land and build a new chapel in 1788, which is part of the present structure we have today. John Wesley returned to preach at the chapel on 21st March 1788 and a plaque is in place to commemorate this.

      In October the same year the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence so the chapel was now 'a proper place for the worship of almighty God, for Protestant Dissenters'. John Wesley returned again to preach at the chapel on 18th March 1790 and noted in his journal 'now full twice as large as it was two years ago'. Unfortunately he was not impressed with the congregation who started talking all together as soon as he finished speaking. He said that he would not come again until they mended their ways! Later he relented, and was due to come and preach on 18th March 1791 but sadly died on 2nd March.

      By the turn of the century Wesley Methodist Church was thriving. In 1805 a new preacher's house, the present meeting room, was added to the building. It was during this period that it was decided by the membership (99 people) that the building needed to be extended. Over £550 was spent on the extensions, which included the chancel and choir stalls on one side and a large gallery on the other. It was at this time that the locations of the pulpit and entrance were changed. Gas lighting was installed in 1824; one of the first chapels to acquire such luxury, and in 1835 an organ was installed.

      This underlined the growning importance of Wesley Chapel as a place of worship, guided and influenced by a number of rich and influential families, ubdoubtedly the most well known being the Baldwins. They were fully involved with the life of the chapel, putting in not only their time, but their money as well. The Baldwins were circuit stewards, sunday school superintendents, organists and general benefactors. A Baldwin built the present Schoolroom (1874-1875) and another Baldwin the old manse in Prospect Road in 1878. It was of course one of the Baldwin descendents (Stanley) who later became the Prime Minister.

      In 1896 major alterations took place in the Chapel, the most notable being the marble and alabaster work incorporating the pulpit, communion area and the front of the choir stalls. This was erected by Thomas Ward in memory of his father. At the turn of the century the membership had reached 179 with over 300 Sunday School scholars.

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