For more than 150 years the building that dominated Pump Street, Worcester, which is the little road that leads from High Street down to the New Street/Friar Street junction, was dominated by an impressive Wesleyan chapel.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a frequent visitor to the city, and for a while came every year. He first preaching here in 1768, when his diary recorded: “There was difficulty to know where to preach since no room was large enough to contain the people and it was too cold for them to stand abroad.”

His Worcester followers soon solved that problem by building a little chapel in New Street, which opened in 1772, but by 1788 a congregation of more than 200 was cramming in – and only 60 of them were men! Wesley’s death in 1791 did not diminish his appeal and four years later the Wesleyans in Worcester bought an old chapel in Pump Street surrounded by tumbledown houses, which belonged to a branch of Independents.

The chapel, together with the housing, was knocked down and a new church erected, but this also proved not large enough and another church was opened in 1813. It had seating for a thousand and cost £6,500. This church was to last a little longer, until 1873, when it too was demolished and replaced by another, which stood until being taken down in 1965. When the new Wesleyan church of St Andrew’s opened in 1968, elevated over a shopping development, it became the fifth church on the site in under 200 years. It is still there today.

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Although Pump Street was the main Wesleyan church in Worcester there were others, notably Boughton Street chapel in St John’s, Bull Entry chapel in the city centre, and Zion chapel in Park Street. There was also a congregation of Primitive Methodists in George Street, which joined with the Pump Street church in the mid-1960s.

Half way down Pump Street comes the junction with The Shambles, one of Worcester’s best known thoroughfares. Originally called Baxter Street, it took its new name in the 17th century from the butchers’ shambles (or stalls) erected at the south (cathedral) end in 1601 for the “foreign” or country butchers who came into the city to sell meat. Attracted by the throng of shoppers were numerous street entertainers looking to make money. Among them were two ragged individuals who sang hymns while coughing, spitting and arguing most of the time and a woman called Mouth Organ Annie who appeared to be well over 70 and did cartwheels down the middle of the street while still playing. Considering this was the era when women’s skirts reached the floor, the cavorting Annie must have been quite a sight and probably not approved of by the worshippers entering Pump Street Wesleyan chapel 100 yards away.