St. Ives was the primary destination of the Wesleys and their companions when they set out from Bristol in 1743, attracted by the news of a religious society there. Under John Wesley's influence, this became one of his Methodist societies. The society faced considerable hostility in the early days, reflected in the journals of both the Wesley brothers. When the Cornwall Circuit was divided in 1764 it became the head of the Cornwall West Circuit. In 1785 that circuit was in turn divided into Redruth and St.Ives Circuits. Changing demography occasioned the latter being renamed Penzance in 1794. A smaller St.Ives Circuit re-emerged in 1834.
Wesley chapel was opened in 1785 and much altered in 1825. One of its features was a door inserted about 1890 on the left hand side of the chapel into the schoolroom to enable WM evangelist the Rev. Thomas Cook to use his usual 'enquiry room' style. The chapel closed, amid much controversy, in 1993, to become a children's theatre workshop.
George Whitefield came to St.Ives in 1750, and the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion chapel in Fore Street traces its roots to that visit. The society identified with the Connexion until well into the twentieth century, but is now an independent Congregational church.
PM arrived in 1829 and Fore Street Chapel (1831) was for many years regarded as the fishermen's chapel. It possesses three charcoal drawings by the artist W.H.Y.Titcombe: 'Primitive Methodists at prayer', 'A Mariners' Sunday School' and 'Piloting her Home'. The finished paintings for which these drawings were made are at Dudley Art Gallery, Doncaster Art Gallery and Toronto Art Gallery respectively. The former PM circuit is still separate, but with the closure of the chapel at Ninnis Bridge in 1986 it has been a single chapel circuit, now with the same Superintendent as the St.Ives Circuit.
The Teetotal Methodist denomination was formed in St.Ives in 1841, but after a brief history the St.Ives society joined the MNC. Bedford Road chapel, the present town centre chapel, was opened by the MNC in 1900 only yards from Wesley. One of the members of Bedford Road was the shipping magnate Edward Hain MP, mayor of St.Ives and Sheriff of Cornwall, for whom Treloyhan Manor was built in 1892.
The town museum on the Wharf is said to be a former BC chapel. The present 'Bible Christian' chapel at the junction of St.Peter Street and Back Road West was purchased from the Wesleyans in 1858 and extended in 1871. The previous chapel is the 'Sunday School' building some fifty yards away. At Hellesveor on the southern outskirts of the town is a chapel which was originally built by the Wesleyans at Trezelah in the Penzance Circuit in 1905. It was removed stone by stone to Hellesveor in 1937 after Trezelah society closed.
Charles Wesley's Journal:
16 July 1743: 'Between seven and eight I entered St. Ives. The boys and others continued their rough salutes, for some time, at brother Nance's; but I was too weary to regard them.
'Sunday, July 17th: I rose and forgot I had travelled from Newcastle. I spoke with some of this loving simple people, who are as sheep in the midst of wolves. The Priests stir up the people, and make their minds evil affected towards the brethren. Yet the sons of violence are much checked by the Mayor [John Stevens], an honest Presbyterian, whom the Lord hath raised up…
'I heard the Rector [the Rev. William Symonds] preach from Matt. v.20: "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,' &c. His application was downright railing at the new sect, as he calls us, those enemies to the Church, seducers, troublers, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites &c. I had prayed for a quiet heart, and a steady countenance; and my prayer was answered. My calmness was succeeded with strong consolation.'
'Monday, July 18th. I went forth towards the market-house. When we came to the place of battle, the enemy was ready set in array against us. I began the hundredth Psalm, and they beating their drum and shouting. I stood still and silent for some time, finding they would not receive my testimony: then offered to speak to some of the most violent; but they stopped their ears, and ran upon me, crying, I should not preach there, and catching at me to pull me down. They had no power to touch me. My soul was calm and fearless. I shook off the dust of my feet, and walked leisurely through the thickest of them who followed like ramping and roaring lions; but their mouth was shut…'
'I preached at three on Kenegie-downs, to near a thousand tinners, who received the seed into honest and good hearts.'
'Friday, July 22nd. I had just named my text at St. Ives, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God,' when an army of rebels broke in upon us, like those at Sheffield or Wednesbury. They began in a most outrageous manner, threatening to murder the people, if they did not go out that moment. They broke the sconces, dashed the windows in pieces, tore away the shutters, benches, poor-box, and all but the stone walls. I stood silently looking on; but mine eyes were unto the Lord… They beat and dragged the women about, particularly one of a great age, and trampled on them without mercy… Going home, we met the Mayor, with another Justice, and went back to show him the havoc which the gentlemen and their mob had made. He commended our people as the most quiet, inoffensive subjects, encouraged us to seek for justice, said he was no more secure from such lawless violence than we, wished us success, and left us rejoicing in our strong Helper.'
Sunday, July 17. 'Spoke with some of this loving, simple people, who are as sheep in the midst of wolves. The priests stir up the people and make their minds evil affected towards the brethren. Yet the sons of violence are much checked by the mayor, an honest Presbyterian, whom the Lord hath raised up.'
Sunday, July 13, 1746: 'At St. Ives no one offwered to make the least disturbance. Indeed the whole place is outwardly changed in this respect. Walk the streets with astonishment, scarce believing it St. Ives… Put a disorderly walker, the first of the kind, out of the Society.'
John Wesley's Journal:
30 August 1743: 'In the evening we reached St. Ives. At seven I invited all guilty, helpless sinners who were conscious they "had nothing to pay" to accept of free forgiveness. The room was crowded both within and without; but all were quiet and attentive.
[Next day] 'I spoke severally with those of the society, who were about one hundred and twenty. Near a hundred of these had found peace with God: such is the blessing of being persecuted for righteousness' sake! As we were going to church at eleven, a large company at the market-place welcomed us with a loud huzza; wit as harmless as the ditty sung under my window (composed, one assured me, by a gentlewoman of their own town):
Charles Wesley is come to town, To try if he can pull the churches down.
'In the evening I explained "the promise of the Father". After preaching, many began to be turbulent; but John Nelson went into the midst of them, spoke a little to the loudest, who answered not again, but went quietly away.'
16 September 1742: 'In the evening, as I was preaching at St. Ives, Satan began to fight for his kingdom. The mob of the town burst into the room and created much disturbance, roaring and striking those that stood in their way as though Legion himself possessed them. I would fain have persuaded our people to stand still, but the zeal of some, and the fear of others, had no ears; so that, finding the uproar increase, I went into the midst, and brought the head of the mob up with me to the desk. I received but one blow on the side of the head; after which we reasoned the case, till he grew milder and milder, and at length undertook to quiet his companions…
19 September: 'We were informed the rabble had designed to make their general assult in the evening. But one of the aldermen came at the request of the mayor, and stayed with us the whole time of the service. So that no man opened his mouth while I explained, "None is like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heavens unto thy help, and in His excellency upon the sky.'
April 1744: 'About eleven we reached St. Ives. I was a little surprised at entering John Nance's house, being received by many, who were waiting for me there, with a loud (though not bitter) cry. But they soon recovered; and we poured out our souls together in praises and thanksgiving.
'As soon as we went out we were saluted, as usual, with a huzza and a few stones or pieces of dirt. But in the evening none opened his mouth while I proclaimed, "I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength… I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies." …
Friday 6. 'I spoke with the members of the society severally, and observed with great satisfaction, that persecution had driven only three or four away, and exceedingly strengthened the rest.'
June 1745: 'I preached at five on "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." '
July 1745: 'We then rode on to St. Ives, the most still and honourable post (so are the times changed) which we have in Cornwall.'
June 1747: 'We came to St. Ives before morning prayers, and walked to church without so much as one huzza. How strangely has one year changed the scene in Cornwall! This is now a peaceable, nay, honourable station. They give us good words almost in every place. What have we done, that the world should be so civil to us?'
August 1750: 'We had a Quarterly Meeting, at which were present the stewards of all the Cornush societies. We had now the first watch-night which had been in Cornwall; and "great was the Holy One of Israel in the midst of us." '
July 1753: 'The stewards met at St. Ives from the western part of Cornwall. The next day I began examining the society, but I was soon obliged to stop short. I found an accursed thing among them: wellnigh one and all bought or sold uncustomed goods. I therefore delayed speaking to any more till I had met them all together. This I did in the evening, and told them plain, either they must put this abomination away, or they would see my face no more.
[Next day] They severally promiosed so to do. So I trust this plague is stayed.
September 1760: 'When I came to St. Ives, I was determined to preach abroad; but the wind was so high I could not stand where I had intended. But we found a little enclosure near it, one end of which was native rock, rising ten or twelve feet perpendicular, from which the ground fell with an easy descent. A jetting out of the rock, about four feet from the ground, gave me a very convenient pulpit. Here wellnigh the whole town, high and low, rich and poor, assembled together. Nor was there a word to be heard or a smile seen from one end of the congregation to the other. It was just the same the three following evenings…
[Sunday] 'At eight I chose a large ground, the sloping side of a meadow, where the congregation stood row above row, so that all might see as well as hear. It was a beautiful sight. Everyone seemed to take to himself what was spoken. I believe every backslider in the town was there. And surely God was there to "heal their backslidings." …
At five I … found such a congregation as I think was never seen in a place before (Gwennap excepted) in this county. Some of the chief of the town were now not in the skirts, but in the thickest of the people. The clear sky, the setting sun, the smooth, still water, all agreed with the state of the audience.'
September 1762: 'We had our Quarterly Meeting. The next day I appointed the children to meet. I expected twenty, but I suppose we had fourscore; all of the wanting, many desiring instruction.'
September 1766: 'In the evening I preached at St. Ives, a little above the town, to thwe largest congregation I ever saw there. Indeed, nearl the whole town aeems convinced of the truth; yea, and almost persuaded to be Christians.'
August 1768: 'In the evening I preached in the meadow at St. Ives to a very numerous and deeply serious congregation.
[Next day] 'I met the children, a work which will exercise the talents of the most able preachers in England.'
August 1770: 'Here God has made all our enemies to be at peace with us, so that I might have preached in any part of the town; but I rather chose a meadow, where such as would might might sit down, either on the grass or on the hedges - so the Cornish term their broad stone walls - which are usually covered with grass. Here I enforced "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man."
[Next day, Sunday] 'Being desired to preach in the town, for the sake of some who could not come up the hill, I began near the market-place at eight on "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." We had a useful sermon at church, and another one in the afternoon, delivered in a strong and earnest manner. At five I preached again. Wellnigh all the town were present, and thousands from all parts of the country; to whom I explained "The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.
[Next day] 'I was surprised to find that the select society had been wholly neglected. I got a few of them together; but did not find so much as one who had not given up his confidence. At nine I renewed the meeting of the children, which had also been given up for a long season. But so dead a company have I seldom seen. I found scarce one spark of even the fear of God among them.'
September 1774: 'I preached in the market-place at St. Ives to almost the whole town. I could not but admire the number of serious children, as well behaved as the eldest of the congregation. This was a happy meeting; so was that of the society, too, when all their hearts were as melting wax.'
September 1775: 'I went on to our friends at St. Ives, many of whom are now grey-headed, as well as me. In the evening I preached in the little meadow above the town, where I was some years ago. The people in general here (excepting the rich) seem almost persuaded to be Christians. Perhaps the prayer of their old pastor, Mr. Tregosse, is answered even to the fourth generation.'
August 1780: 'I preached in the market-place at St. Ives to most of the inhabitants of the town. Here is no opposer now. Rich and poor see, and very many feel, the truth.'
August 1785: 'In the evening I p0reached in the market-place at St. Ives, to almost the whole town. This was the first place in Cornwall where we preached, and where Satan fought fiercely for his kingdom; but now all is peace.
September 1787: 'In the evening I preached at St. Ives (but, it being the market-day, I could not stand, as usual, in the market-place), in a very convenient field at the end of the town to a very numerous congregation: I need scarce add, and very serious, for such are all congregations in the county of Cornwall.'
August 1789: 'I went to St. Ives, and preached, as usual, on one side of the market-place. Wellnigh all the town attended, and with all possible seriousness. Surely forty years' labour has not been in vain here.'