For over 250 years, the St Michael’s Church provided the main religious focus for the town. By the 18th century, the established church was being challenged by presbyterianism, methodism and the Roman Catholic church, which all gained strength after many years of suppression.
A presbyterian meeting house operated in Pottergate from sometime in the 17th century. Davison records that the meeting house was rebuilt in 1780, and that the adjacent garden had been used for burials. By the 1870s the old meeting house proved to be inadequate for the size of the congregation and as a result, in 1894, the current church, St James, was built on the site.
In 1731, a branch of the Pottergate presbyterians started meeting in Bondgate Hall. In 1736, a meeting room was built on Bondgate Without. This was expanded in 1768. By the early 19th century, this was in a poor state and so in 1815 a new chapel, Sion Chapel, was built in Willow Walk (now St Michael’s Lane).
From around 1766, another presbyterian group, known as the Burghers, met in a house in Canongate, and later in a house on Clayport. In 1804, a new church was built on the south side of Green Batt. Known as the United Secession Chapel, it was demolished in 1844 to make way for St Paul’s Church. The congregation moved to a new church on Clayport, becoming the United Presbyterian Church.
The Presbyterian Relief Chapel was established in the 1830s in Lisburn Street. It became known as the Second United Presbyterian Church after 1847. In 1888 it became the Baptist Church.
The Methodist Church was established on Chapel Lane in 1786.
The Methodist New Connexion split from the Methodist movement. It initially used a property in Green Batt before moving into a small chapel adjacent to the Sion House in 1804. Later the congregation moved to 18-20 St Michael’s Lane.
Another New Connexion church, Bondgate Church, was established in 1867 in Bondgate Without. This has not survived.
A Unitarian chapel established following a split with the Bethel New Connexion congregation. Initially meeting in a school room in 1816, the congregation moved into the new Ebenezer Chapel in Correction House Yard in 1817. This has not survived.
The Church of St Mary was established about 1835 in Bailiffgate as a Roman Catholic church. There had previously been a chapel on the site used by the Jesuits since the 18th Century. The church closed in 1982 and transferred to the re-consecrated St Paul’s Church on Percy Street, which had been built by the Church of England in 1846 to cope with an increasing population.