Isle of Wight

East Sussex, London & South-East England

John Wesley stopped off on the Isle of Wight in 1735 due to bad weather, en route to being a missionary in America; his brother, Charles, preached at Cowes.

John first visited properly in 1753; in 1781 he opened the former Town Lane Chapel in Newport. When Town Lane Chapel became too small, it was replaced by Pyle Street Chapel, which closed in 1969 and is now Newport’s ‘Apollo Theatre’.

John Wesley was last in the Isle of Wight when he was 84. He was intending to travel on to the Channel Islands. The first appointment of a Methodist preacher was in 1787. Mary Toms was a Wesleyan Methodist from Tintagel, Cornwall, who joined the Bible Christians in 1817 after hearing William O’Bryan preach - see Innis (Bible Christian) Chapel.

Women preachers were a feature of the Bible Christian movement and Mary became an ‘itinerant’ (travelling preacher) in 1820. Convinced of a calling as a missionary to the Isle of Wight in 1823, she raised the fare without any prior familiarity with the island.

The Isle of Wight was to become a stronghold of the Bible Christian movement (which subsequently became part of the United Methodist Church (see family tree) and thus reunited into today’s Methodist Church in 1932). Look out for their numerous chapels in the island landscape.

Mary stayed in various homes on the island and founded the first Bible Christian ‘society’ at Holly Cottage, Rookley (NB private residence). Mary married a man from Brading, William Warder, in 1824. They initially rented premises in 1837 for a preaching house.

Today, the exterior of the nineteenth-century former Bible Christian Brading Chapel, built in 1867, hides a fully modernised, flexible interior. The church closed in 1967, but a renewal of the Christian community led to renovation and reopening from 1970.

Across the Isle of Wight you can see former Wesleyan churches, including the monumental Garfield Road Church in Ryde, occasional former Primitive and ‘Free’ Methodist chapels, and churches built since the reunion in 1932, such as the stylish, typically late 1950s Lake Methodist Church, or modern Brighstone Methodist Church, opened in 1999.

It is expected that in 2014 works on the island’s oldest and newest churches will be completed. A complete renovation of the second, and oldest chapel in continuous use on the island, will be completed at Godshill, which was originally opened in 1790, with the current (former Wesleyan) chapel opened in 1838. Curved ship’s timbers found in the renovation evidence that the chapel might have been built with wood from a wreck!

The latest Methodist church to be built on the island will also be completed in 2014 at Freshwater, replacing Totland, a former Bible Christian chapel erected in 1904 as a memorial to Mary Toms and fellow preacher, William Bailey.

The early Bible Christians often faced savage hostility, but Methodists have continued to preach hope and reach out with the love of God to the people and visitors on the Isle of Wight.

Explore the Methodist chapels on the Isle of Wight and you will find a fascinating, continuous and continuing story of faithful worship and listening to God. As a result, theirs is a story of historic places and organisations being changed and renewed for contemporary mission, to meet the needs of the island community today – and tomorrow.