Rye, East Sussex

The town of Rye, one of the Cinque Ports like its near neighbour Winchelsea, was visited by John Wesley from the towns along the Kentish border to the north, where Methodist societies already existed as a result of the pioneering work of Thomas Mitchell. Wesley himself came to have a warm appreciation of the local society despite the prevalence of smuggling along that part of the Channel coast. The first Wesleyan place of worship was a former Presbyterian chapel. It was replaced by a purpose-built chapel, provided by John Haddock, a prosperous citizen, and opened in 'Gun Garden' by Wesley himself in1789. Altered in 1812 and 1852, this was destroyed by bombing in World War II and replaced by its Sunday School building of 1901, converted for the purpose in 1954 and still in use.

The Wesleyan return at the time of the Census of Religius Worship in March 1851 recorded 180 free sittings and 370 others. Attendances: Morning187 plus139 scholars; Afternoon 50 scholars; Evening 300.

A chapel also existed throughout most of the 20th century at Rye Harbour to the south.


John Wesley's Journal:

October 1758: ' We rode [from Rottingdean] over the Downs to Rye, lying on the top of a round, fruitful hill. I preached at seven to a crowded audience, with great enlargement of spirit. {Two evenings later] In the evening we had a solemn season.,,,On Saturday evening many were obliged to stand without, though the wind was high and extremely cold.'

October 1771: 'I preached,,, at Rye in the evening, where were many that are "not far from the kingdom of God.'

November 1773: 'I set out for Sussex; and found abundance od people willing to hear the good word; at Rye in particular. And they do many things gladly; but they will not part with the accured thing, smuggling, So I fear with regard to these our labours will be in vain.'

November 1775: 'Several were with us in the evenibg at Rye who had never heard a Methodist sermon before. However, considering the bulk of the congregation, more than a handful of gentry, I earnestly besought them not to "receive the grace of God in vain" The next evening I applied part of the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Many were shaken whn they weighed themselves in the balance.'

January 1778: 'The house was sufficiently crowded, as usual. How large a society would be here could we but spare them in one thing! Nay, but then all our labour would be in vain. One sin allowed would intercept the whole blessing.'

December 1778: 'Here, as in many other places, those who begin to flee from the wrath to come are continually "received to doubtful disputations"; puzzled and perplexed with intricate questions concerning absolute and unconditional decrees! Lord, how long wilt Thou suffer this? How long shall these well-meaning zealots destroy the dawning work of grace, and strangle the children in the birth?'

December 1784: 'The snow… so retarded us in our journey to Rye that we were above an hour in the night. However, the house was well filled, so that I did not repent of my labour.'

October 1788: 'Being informed the service was begun I did not stay to eat or drink, but went directly to the preaching-house, which was sufficiently crowded; and as soon asI I could get through the people, I began with solemn prayer, and then explained and applied that glorious truth, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." '

January 1789: 'At the earnest importunity of our friends, … I went to open the new preaching-house at Rye. It is a noble building, much loftier than most of our houses, and finely situated at the head of the town. It was thoroughly filled. Such a congregation I never saw at Rye before, and their behaviour was as remarkable as their number; which, added to the peaceable, loving spirit they are now in, gives reason to hope there will be such a work here as has not been heretofore. [Next day] I returned to Rye … and in the evening preached to another large and serious congregation.'

October 1790: 'Though the warning was short, the congregation was exceeding large, and behaved with remarkable seriousness. While our people mixed with the Calvinists here, we were always perplexed, and gained no ground; but since they kept to themselves, they have continually increased in grace as well as in number. [Next day] In the evening I preached once more at Rye; and the word did not fall to the ground. In the morning we left this loving, well-united people.'

  • Keith D, Foord, The Methodist Road to Battle (2013)