In the early years of the 19th century any religious meeting other than that of the established church had to be licensed. The first record of Wesleyan Methodism in Stockton Heath was in 1828 when a certificate to enable meetings to take place in the house of Edward Fletcher, schoolmaster of Stockton Heath was signed by the Bishop of Chester.
A family named Clarke lived in Stockton Heath from at least the 1820s into this century. ‘Clarke of Stockton Heath’ is shown on the 1844 Warrington Wesleyan Circuit plan; by 1850 he has been joined by W Clarke ‘On Trial’ and 1867 gives us W Clarke snr. and W Clarke jnr. on the plan. Clarke snr. was a local preacher for 50 years.With Thomas Eaton, a Quaker, William Clarke started a temperance society in his own home to help counteract the influence of the brewing industry which obviously held great sway in the village owing to the presence of the Wilderspool brewery of the Greenall family.
In the first half of the 19th Century local Methodists were trying to organise a Wesleyan Society in south Warrington. Walton is mentioned in the Circuit Steward’s Account book for the years 1838-1843 with numbers varying from 6 to 14. The Society then changes to Stockton Heath until 1851 with numbers as low as 4 but once reaching 25. With membership down to 6 for 1851, the society was obviously not sustainable and Stockton Heath came off the plan.
Little is known about the Wesleyans in Stockton Heath in the intervening years and the Independent Methodist tradition was very strong.
However, in the early 1880s, cottage meetings were held in the home of Mr Joseph Whitfield with services conducted by the Revds Eglinton, Beet and Rippon (1880-1884) from the Wesleyan Circuit. A small society class was formed which Whitfield led. He later became an official at Ebenezer and laid a foundation stone for the new church. He died in October 1911, aged 85.
In 1884 the Wesleyans took over The Barn chapel, a large stone building. This was behind the shops on the SW angle of London Road and Walton Road and had already been used by various denominations for worship: Primitive and Quaker (Independent) Methodists and Baptists. It had originally been a clay pipe factory in the late 1700s and the Independent Methodists had used it from 1803 so it had already been well used and in fact was in quite a dilapidated condition.
Continued – “Ebenezer – The First purpose-built Chapel“
(c) Kit Heald