Isbell, Digory
c. 1718-1795

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He and his wife Elizabeth (c. 1718-1804) were Cornish hosts to John Wesley and the early itinerants in their home at Trewint in the parish of Altarnun. Both were from local families of stonemasons and stone carvers and, from their marriage in 1739, lived at the cottage in Trewint on the edge of Bodmin Moor.

In August 1743, on their way down to west Cornwall at the time of John Wesley's first visit to the county, John Nelson and John Downes discovered the Isbells' house when no inn could be found for food in the nearby village. Elizabeth immediately offered hospitality, apparently in Digory's absence, and she was impressed by their extempore giving thanks before and after eating. On his return, Digory knew his Bible well enough to declare that she might well have been 'entertaining angels unawares'. According to their daughter 66 years later, it may have been on this occasion that Nelson was allowed to preach at the house. Certainly, when returning from west Cornwall, drenched to the skin, he again found hospitality and later preached. Wesley was welcomed there in April 1744, the first of six visits. On his return journey from the west, he, George Thom(p)son, George Whitefield and John Bennet, vicar of nearby Laneast, baptized the Isbells' third child, Hannah.

Possibly as early as April 1744 Isbell built a two-room extension to his cottage for the preachers' use, after reading of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4. Their tombstone at Altarnun describes them as 'the first who entertained the Methodist preachers in this County, and lived and died in that Connection, but strictly adhered to the Duties of the Established Church'. Since Charles Wesley had visited Cornwall in July 1743, this claim to be first cannot be upheld. But the stone remains illustrative of the long-standing allegiance to the Established Church that characterized many traditional Wesleyans well into the 19th century.Their house became a regular preaching place.

The Trewint society dates from at least 1748, meeting at the cottage until a chapel was built at the end of the century. (The present chapel dates from 1859.) The cottage fell out of Methodist use until 1932, when a celebration of Methodist Union was held there. In poor repair, it was threatened with demolition in 1947, but local action, notably by Stanley Sowton, ensured that it became connexional property. It was restored and has been open to visitors since Wesley Day 1950. Further restoration was undertaken in 2016. Services are often held there in the summer and an annual Wesley Day service is held around the porch.


John Nelson's Journal:

[August 1743]: 'Mr. Wesley, Mr. [John] Downes, and I set out for Cornwall. Mr. Downes and I had but one horse; so we rode by turns… One day, having travelled twenty miles without baiting, we came to a village and inquired for an inn; but the people told us there was none in the town, nor any on our road within twelve Cornish miles; then I said, "Come, brother Downes, we must live by faith." When we had stood awhile, I said, "Let us go to yonder house, where the stone porch is, and ask for something"; so we did and the woman said, "We have bread, butter and milk, and good hay for your horse." When we had refreshed ourselves, I gave the woman a shilling; but she said she did not desire anything. I said, "I insist upon it." 'We got to Bodmin that night…'

John Wesley's Journal:

2 April 1744: 'The hills were covered with snow, as in the depth of winter. About two we came to Tremint, wet and weary enough, having been batteresd by the rain and hail for some hours. I preached in the evening to many more than the house would contain, on the happiness of him whose sins are forgiven. In the morning Digory Isbel undertook to pilot us over the great moor, all the paths being covered with snow…'

16 April 1744: 'In the afternoon we came again to Trewint. I learned that notice had been given of my preaching that evening in Laneast church, which was crowded exceedingly. Mr. Bennet, the minister of Laneast, carried me afterwards to his house; and although about seventy years old, came with me in the morning to Trewint, where I had promised to preach at five.'

September 1762: 'About noon I preached at Trewint. It was fifteen years since I preached there before.'

  • WM Magazine, 1809 pp.165-9, 1838 p.317
  • 'Digory Isbell's House at Trewint', in WHS Proceedings, 17 pp.173-74
  • J. Pearce, The Wesleys in Cornwall (Truro, 1964)
  • T. Shaw, Trewint in its Historical Setting (Launceston, n.d.)