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Friday Update Number Eighteen

Posted on 30 July 2020

As we head into August we’ve added 17 new catalogues and 344 new archival descriptions to Borthcat as we continue to divide our time between working from home and our phased return to campus.

Over the past week staff have begun retroconverting our large collection of methodist records, comprising records of methodist chapels in York and the surrounding area.  The typewritten finding aids range from archives of 1 or 2 items to many hundreds, dating from the 18th century to the present, and they form an important part of the Borthwick’s records of religious nonconformity.  The story of methodism in York is believed to have begun in 1744 when a soldier and early convert to the teachings of John Wesley was quartered in the city. Meetings were held that same year in the house of Margaret Townshend in Spurriergate and by 1747 a methodist society had been formed in York, with regular meetings held in the Bedern and on Coney Street.  In 1753 John Wesley himself preached in a house on Newgate, near the Shambles, and between 1761 and 1790 he preached in York a further 15 times.

Unfortunately the records for the earliest dedicated methodist chapel, situated on Peasholme Green, have not survived.  The bulk of the surviving methodist archives date from the early years of the 19th century, with a small number of 18th century items.  The archives include administrative and financial records, lists of members, registers of baptisms and marriages, and architectural papers relating to the erection and extension of chapel buildings as the congregations grew in size. As members of an evangelical movement, methodists were active in their local communities and in addition to such core records can be found a wide range of materials telling the story of the social and cultural life of the chapels, from men and women’s clubs to schools, literary committees, wartime canteens, musical groups and social welfare projects.  

The largest methodist catalogue to be added so far is that of York Central Chapel, which was founded as Centenary Chapel in 1739 to commemorate one hundred years since the beginnings of methodism.  Built on St Saviourgate, the chapel could accommodate 1,500 people and the building included schoolrooms and bandrooms.  The chapel was expanded in the 1860s, reflecting the popularity of methodism in the city, and remains in use today.  You may even have spotted it being used as a filming location in a recent series of ITV’s ‘Victoria’!  

We will continue to bring you new insights into our methodist collections over the coming weeks but in the meantime we’ll leave you with a glimpse of our return to onsite working - as we work through our backlog of copying orders and get reacquainted with the strongrooms after a long 4 months away