By 1848 the strength of the movement was sufficient for Runcorn to become a circuit in its own right and to separate from the Northwich circuit. The Runcorn circuit included, as well as the town of Runcorn, the hamlets which were to develop into the town of Widnes, and the Cheshire villages of Frodsham, Helsby and Kingsley. At the beginning of 1848 there were chapels in Runcorn (Brunswick), Weston, Frodsham, and Widnes Dock. At its outset the circuit had about 650 members. 1848 was to prove a busy year for the newly formed circuit. In Runcorn another chapel was opened, this one being Zion chapel in Mill Brow, and mixed day schools were built in the centre of the town in Granville Street. Charles and Thomas Hazlehurst were among the trustees of the school and in 1848 Thomas was appointed secretary1 . In 1851 a new chapel was built in Weston village2 . In the early 1850s the organ at Brunswick chapel was enlarged and was re-opened in 18533 .
The growth of Methodism in Runcorn during the first half of the 19th century had been massive and a high proportion of those attending a place of worship in the middle of the century were Methodists. This growth was so great that, by the time of the Census of Religious Worship of 1851 (the only census of church attendance to ever have been carried out), in the Runcorn registration district more people attended a Methodist chapel on the day of the census in March than an Anglican church4 . Indeed, looking at the various regions of Cheshire, a higher proportion of people attended a Christian place of worship in the Runcorn district that day than in any other region of the county 5.
During 1851 Methodism suffered a secession in Runcorn due to the Reform movement. A total of 155 teachers and scholars left the Wesleyan Methodists in Brunswick chapel to form a new movement, the United Methodist Church. After meeting temporarily in Devonshire Square, they established a chapel seating 500 in Ellesmere Street which was opened in 1854. Its cost is variously reported as being only £2006 or £1,0007 . Much of the work in building this was carried out by chapel members, which accounts for its relatively low cost.
Meanwhile across the river in the small hamlets which were in time to become the town of Widnes, small groups of Wesleyan Methodists were meeting. At the time that John Hutchinson built the first chemical factory in 1847 there were three groups, one meeting at Cronton chapel, which had been built in 1845 and which was some way out of town, another met in an upper room in Widnes Docks and a third was in Farnworth. It was to be in Farnworth that Thomas Hazlehurst first paid for the building of a chapel in 1848. The growth of Wesleyan Methodism in the area during this time was fed largely by further gifts from Thomas Hazlehurst which will be described in detail in a later section.
In Helsby in 1853 a Wesleyan chapel dedicated to the Trinity was built at the Frodsham end of the village. Five years later in 1858 a separate group of Methodists, the United Free Methodists built a chapel, Zion chapel, in the centre of the village 8.
Meanwhile the Primitive Methodists continued to flourish in the area. In 1851 they opened a chapel in Main Street, Halton, prior to which it is likely that members met for services in cottages in the villages9 .