In 1797, five thousand Methodists under the reforming principles of Alexander Killam and William Thom, two Wesleyan ministers, decided to form a “New Connexion” of Methodist people. There were certain elements in the Methodism of the time which did not find favour with a number of earnest church members, and therefore, under the leadership of the young Rev Alexander Killam, then stationed at Newcastle upon Tyne, a meeting was finally held at Leeds where the decision to break away was made. And thus the Methodist New Connexion was born.
The little congregation at Newcastle had no chapel in which to worship or to practice their principles and so met in private homes and buildings, led by Rev Stephen Eversfield, one of the first ministers of the New Connexion. It is believed that this congregation had its roots in an earlier secession. Previous to entering the MNC ministry, John Grundell had been invited to undertake the pastoral oversight of a chapel at Byker Bar which had been built by a Newcastle gentleman in 1792 for the purpose of permitting the administration of the Sacrament by Methodist preachers. In Wesleyan Methodism of that time, members were compelled to recieve the Sacrament only in the Established churches, and this was one of the contributing factors of the great secession five years later. As soon as the New Connexion was formed, Grundell became one of its ministers and leaders. He resigned his charge at Byker and it is quite possible that the Byker reformers formed the nucleus of the Newcastle New Connexion. Rev John Grundell became MNC President of Conference in 1799.
The Manor Chare chapel was opened in March 1799 under the ministry of Rev E Oakes. There are no surviving chapel records except for the Baptism register, deposited at the National Archives, but we can glean a little insight into the chapel from the writings of Rev Andrew Lynn who at that time was a boot-maker’s apprentice and whose mother was converted at Carville (in later years she lived at Windy Nook). Writing in 1858 about a Monday evening double lecture in 1816, Andrew Lynn records that the chapel was crowded but the speakers, full of wisdom, could easily be heard. The people were shy and in the prayer meeting afterwards, no one got up to pray.
There is one other slightly earlier reference to the chapel that can be gleaned from the “Tyne Mercury” of 22 August 1815, wherein it is recorded that during the morning service, a monkey managed to get into the chapel causing mayhem. It happened as the congregation were singing. The monkey climbed onto the shoulders of two females in the chorister’s pew. The two ladies trembled and the other choir members got out of tune. The Minister put a stop to the service whilst a number of men tried to entice the animal into a cupboard; the monkey, however, was having none of it and escaped to the gallery where it was finally caught and ejected from the service.
Whilst the congregation were meeting at Manor Chare, the Circuit grew to include Sunderland, Shields, Alnwick and Gateshead. These were formed into separate Circuits just before the congregation moved to their new chapel at Hood Street, in 1836. In 1834, the Newcastle MNC Circuit consisted of Bethel, Westmoor, St Peter’s Quay, Scotswood, Jesmond Vale and William Pit. Denton Burn and a number of other societies were added during the ensuing years. Byker Bar was retained for many years afterwards despite having no membership – perhaps for sentimental reasons. The building later became a mission hall in the hands of others. The Manor Chare chapel eventually became too small for the growing congregation and the Sunday School which commenced in 1811 and various methods were undertaken to raise funds for the new chapel building (see Newcastle upon Tyne: Hood Street Salem MNC)