John Wesley's first visit to this market and textile town was in November 1739, following the death of his brother Samuel, who had been headmaster of Blundell's School since 1732. Samuel's gravestone is now fixed to the east wall of St George's parish church. Between 1750 and 1789 Wesley often preached there and founded a society which met in a room in St Peter's Street from 1752. Tiverton was the centre of the Devonshire Circuit formed in 1753. A surviving circuit book shows that in 1778 it still covered much of Devon and part of Somerset. St. Peter Street chapel was built in 1814, with a columned porch added later.
Tiverton was one centre for William O'Bryan's breakaway movement, the 'Arminian Bible Christians'. The Bible Christians themselves opened their St. Andrew's Street chapel (later a Pentecostal church) in 1887.
John Wesley's Journal:
September 1750: 'At eight I preached to twice as many people as were present when I was here before; but even this congregation was doubled at one and five. The meadow was then full from side to side, and many stood in the gadens and orchards round. It rained in the day several times; but not a drop fell while I was preaching.'
25 September 1751: '…a large number of serious people were waitng for me. The sons f Belial were likewise gathered in large numbers, with a drummer at their head. When I began spealing, they began drummng and shouting; notwithstanding which I went through my sermonn, to the no small mortification of Satan's servants and the joy of the servants of God.
'I would have walked home without delay, but our brethren constrained me to step into a house. One of the merchants of the town quickly folloowed me, wiyth a constable and one or two servants, who took me between them, carried me through all the mob, and brought me safe to my own lodgings'
30 September 1751: 'I preached at six on those words in the Morning Lesson, "We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for, as concerning this sect, we know everywhere it is spoken against." [Acts 28:22] A drunken man made a little noise, but a clergyman present desired the town clerk to stop him, which he did immediately. Then the mob of footmen began, having procured a horn, and greatly increased their numbers. But a party of townsmen undertook them, and scoured the streets of them in a few minutes.'
August 1775: 'In the evening I preached in the dreary preaching house at Tiverton. The people appeared as dull as the place. Yet who knows but that many of them may again hear the voice that raiseth the dead?'
September 1789: 'In the evening, the Independent minister offering the use of his meeting-house, far larger than ours, I willngly accepted his offer. The congregation was far the largest I have seen in Tiverton for many years.'
Entry written by: RFST
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