Wednesbury West Midlands Wednesbury is a market town in the West Midlands but historically and in the Wesleys’ time it was in the land locked county of Staffordshire. It is a short distance from the source of the River Tame. Archaeological evidence indicates that there was an Iron Age hill fort and an early medieval hilltop enclosure. In 1004 the area was known as Wodensbyri. In the Doomsday Book (1086) Wadnesberie is described as a thriving rural community. Wednesbury gradually changed from a family strip farming community with grazing on common land to a developing industrial area. Coal pits were dug around 1310. When suitable clay was discovered between the coal seams pottery making became a significant industry. William Paget, the M.P. for Lichfield and Secretary of State for Henry VIII was born 1506 in Wednesbury and was recorded as the son of a nail maker. Hand wrought nails continued to be made until nails were machine made in the early 19th century. The list of trades around the time of the Wesleys’ visits included bakers, blacksmiths, enamel ware coal boxes, patch boxes, snuff boxes makers, silversmiths making shoe buckles, tea tongues, and other items. Other trades recorded are butchers, carpenters, cobblers, colliers, edge tool makers, farmers, glove makers, gun lock makers iron fitters, locksmiths, maltsters, masons, millers, nailers, potters, textile dealers, weavers and wheelwright. In the mid-18th century there were 4 forges in the town. Whilst many of the trades were ‘hand to mouth’ family run businesses in an outbuilding behind their houses others were major industries. The opening of the Wednesbury canal in 1769 allowed coal and manufactured goods to be easily, safely, and cheaply transported to Birmingham. In the 18th century the population was around 3,700 and by 1801 it had risen to 4000. In the 17th and 18th century cruel blood sports were the pastimes for rich and poor alike. There was bull baiting on the High Bullen. Wednesbury was celebrated for cock fighting. The poem The Wednesbury Cocking gives details of the teams, and the viciousness of the sport. The mother society of Staffordshire Methodism Methodist was introduced to Wednesbury by Charles Wesley at the invitation of Frances Ward, the St Bartholomew’s Church Warden, and the underground manager of John Wood’s colliery. The Rev Edward Egginton (1698-1743), was the vicar of St Bartholomew’s Wednesbury from 1719 till he died aged 45 in 1743. Edward Egginton who had heard of the success of Wesley’s ‘Field Preaching’ and his work amongst the miners at Kingswood, was warmly-disposed to the Wesley brothers visiting his parish. John Wesleys says in Modern Christianity Exemplified at Wednesbury that John Eaton, of Wednesbury in Staffordshire, had heard the Rev. Mr Charles Wesley, in the latter End of the Year 1742, preach Salvation by Faith, in the Wednesbury Coalpit Field. Charles Wesley also preached at Holloway Bank, opposite Hawkins Street on the Great Shrewsbury Road when several people were converted. John Wesley urged by his brother Charles made his first visit to Wednesbury on Saturday 8 January 1743 and preached at the market cross which had been renamed in 1742 the Town Hall. The following day he preached at Holloway Bank three times. The Society now had 29 members and 3 days later the number had risen to 100. On Sunday afternoon he went to hear Rev Edward Egginton, preach ‘a plain, useful sermon’. Following the service most of the congregation went with Wesley to the Hollow to hear him preach. In John Wesley’s letter to John Smith in 1746 he says that he visited the vicarage, and that Mr Egginton told him 'that the oftener I came the welcomer I should be; for I had done much good there already, and he doubted not but I should do much more.' Wesley left on the Wednesday having had a trouble free visit Charles in his Journal 20 May 1743 records 'I got once more to our dear colliers of Wednesbury.' The numbers in the Society Charles records are 300. On the Saturday Charles consecrated with a hymn a piece of ground which a Dissenter had given for a preaching-house, he then walked with others to Walsall. Here Charles and his companions met with hostility. Charles Wesley was stoned and beaten to the ground. Charles returned to Wednesbury via a peaceful Birmingham meeting. (For fuller details see Wednesbury riots, 1743-1744). Nelson, John and Whitefield, George also preached in Wednesbury in 1743
Meeting House In 1760 a Wesleyan Methodist Meeting House was built close to one of the notorious cock fighting pits on Workhouse Lane later renamed Meeting Street. It was a square building with a gallery and seated around 350 people. On the 4 March 1760 John Wesley preached ‘in the New House at Wednesbury’. The Meeting House was replaced on the same site by Springhead Wesleyan Chapel in 1812. In front of the chapel was place the ‘horse block’ which was originally the external flight of stairs to the upper room of the malthouse at High Bullen on which John Wesley had preached at midday on 20 October 1743. The 1812 Spring Head Chapel seated 620 people and was opened on 13 May 1813 by Benson, Joseph. The chapel was lit by 5 chandeliers, the central one held 35 candles. These were replaced by gas light in 1828. On 9 January 1843 the Wednesbury Methodist Centenary Celebrations were held in the house in Holloway where John Wesley had held his first Society Meeting. With the increasing population of the town and the growing congregation a new and larger building was required. The second Spring Head Chapel was dedicated 12 November 1867 when Arthur, William was the preacher. The third Spring Head Chape; was built in 1932. This was demolished in 1965. The present Wednesbury Central Methodist Church was built of the former Wesleyan School site.
Other Wednesbury Methodist Chapels The Methodist New Connexion opened a chapel in Holyhead Road, but it only survived for a few years until the building was sold. In 1812 the Primitive Methodist held open air service probably from the Darlaston Society. In 1824 the Primitive Methodists opened a chapel in Camp Street, Wednesbury. Later they built chapels in Vicarage Lane and Lea Brook. The Wesleyan Reform Connexion sometime after 1849 build a chapel in Ridding Lane. This Society became a Free Methodist Church. The chapel was unused for around 20 years when the roof collapsed in 2017. In the Wesley Centre, Wednesbury are Methodist archives gathered and donated by Dr Dingley. Displays include Wesleyana, Bibles and a stone thrown at Wesley during the Wednesbury Riots of 1743-4; also the horse block from which Wesley preached at High Bullen. (See Dingley family).
John Wesley's Journal:
January 1743: 'About four in the afternoon I came to Wednesbury. At seven I preached in the Town Hall: it was filled from end to end; and all appeared to be deeply attentive while I explained, 'This is the covenant which I will make after those days, saith the Lord.' Sunday 9th. The Hall was filled again at five... At eight we met in the place where my brother preached, made, as it were, for the great congregation. It is a large hollow, not half a mile from the town, capable of containing four or five thousand people. They stood in a half circle, one above the other, and seemed all to receive with joy that great truth, 'The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
In the Afternoon Mr. Egginton preached a plain, useful sermon. Almost the whole congregation then went down to the place, where abundance of people were already waiting for us; so that the hollow could not contain them, but was edged around with those who came from all parts. My subject was, 'By grace are ye saved through faith.' Oh that all who heard might experience this salvation!'
[In the next two days over a hundred were joined in a society, and on Wednesday] I took my leave of them in the morning by showing the difference between the righteousness of the law and that of faith.'
April 1743: 'I rode ... to Wednesbury, but found things surprisingly altered. The inexcusable folly of Mr. W— had so provoked Mr. E[gginto]n that his former love was turned into bitter hatred. But he had not yet had time to work up the poor people into the rage and madness which afterwards appeared; so that they were extremely quiet both this and the following days, while I improved the present opportunity...
Yet on Sunday the 17th the scene began to open; I think I never heard so wicked a sermon, and delivered with such bitterness of voice and manner, as that which Mr. E[gginto]n preached in the afternoon. I knew what effect this must have in a little time, and therefore judged it expedient to prepare the poor people for what was to follow; that, when it came, they might not be offended...'
June 1743: 'I received a full account of the terrible riots which had been in Staffordshire. I was not surpriosed at all; neither should I have wondered if, after the advice they had so often received from the pulpit, as well as from the episcopal chair, the zealous High Churchmen had rose, and cut all that were called Methodists in pieces. Monday 20th. Resolved to assist them as far as I could, I set out [from London] early in the morning ... and in the morning, Wednesday, the 22nd, [came] to Francis Ward's at Wednesbury.
Although I knew all that had been done here was as contrary to law as it was to justice and mercy, yet I knew not how to advise the poor sufferers, or to procure them any redress. I was then little acquainted with the English course of law, having long had scruples concerning it; but ... many of these were now removed.'
October 1743: 'At twelve I preached in a ground near the middle of the town... I believe everyone present felt the power of God; and no creature offered to molest us, either going or coming; but the Lord fought for us, and we held our peace.' [That afternoon he found himself in the hands of the mob. See Wednesbury riots]
May 1745: 'A while ago 'the waves' here were 'mighty and raged horribly. But the Lord that dwelleth on high is mightier', and has stilled the madness of the people. I preached ... without any noise or hindrance at all. Sunday 5th. A few persons at first threw some clods: but they were quickly glad to retreat; so that there was no interruption at all while I applied those gracious words of our Lord, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' '
November 1745: 'We did not strick fast till we came to Wednesbury town-end. Several coming with candles, I got out of the quagmire; and, leaving them to disengage my horse, walked to Francis Ward's and preached on 'Fear not ye; for I know ye seek Him that was crucified.' [Sunday] I preached at five and eight... and at four in the afternoon to wellnigh the whole town, high and low, as at the beginning.'
July 1748: 'At half an hour after six I preached at Wednesbury to an exceeding large congregation; and every man, woman, and child behaved in a manner becoming the gospel.'
October 1749: 'I preached in Wednesbury ... to a nobler people [than at Dudley] , and was greatly comforted among them... How does a praying congregation strengthen the preacher!'
March 1751: 'I preached at Wednesbury to a still larger congregation [than at Birmingham]; but no mocker or trifler appeared among them. How many of the last shall be first! [Two days later] I made an end of visiting the classes, miserably shattered by the sowers of strange doctrines.'
March 1752: 'I preached ... about five ... at Wednesbury, where in spite of all the wiles of Satan and the cunning craftiness of men, the plain, genuine gospel runs and is glorified.'
April 1755: 'The great congregation assembled in the afternoon, as soon as the service in the church was over, with which we take care never to interfere. A solemn awe semed to run all through the company in the evening, when I met the society. We have indeed preached the gospel here 'with much contention', but the success overpays the labour.'
April 1757: 'We prayed that God, if He saw good, would 'stay the bottles of heaven' for the sake of those at Wednesbury. And before we came thither the rain stayed, so that I proclaimed Christ crucified in the open air to such a congregation as no house could have contained. At five I preached to a still larger congregation... As soon as I had done the rain returned and continued great part of the night.'
March 1760: 'In the evening I preached in the new house at Wednesbury. Few congregations exceed this either in number or seriousness. At five in the morning the congregation far exceeded the morning congregation at the Foundery. Indeed, hunger after the word has been from the beginning the distinguishing mark of this people.'
March 1761: 'I made a shift to preach at eight in the morning; but in the afternoon I knew not what to do, having a pain in my side and a sore throat. However, I resolved to speak as long as I could I stood at one end of the house, and the people (supposed to be eight or ten thousand) in the field adjoining... When I had done speaking, my complaints were gone. At the love-feast in the evening many, both men and women, spoke of their experience in a manner which affected all that heard. [After visiting Shrewsbury] By talking with several at Wednesbury, I found God is carrying on his work here as at London... Indeed, so wonderfully was He present till near midnight, as if He would have heled the whole congregation.'
March 1764: 'We came once more to our old flock at Wednesbury. The congregation differed from most that we have lately seen. It almost entirely consisted of such as had repented, if not also believed the gospel. [Sunday] At eight I preached in the room, though it would by no means contain the congregation; but the north-east wind was so extremely sharp that it was not practicable to preach abroad... At five there was such a congregation at Wednesbury as I have not seen since I left London. But I found my voice would have commanded twice the number.'
March 1768: 'I preached ... in the evening near the preaching-huse in Wednesbury. The north wind cut like a razor but the congregation, as well as me, had someting else to think of.'
March 1774: 'I was constrained by the multitude of people to preach abroad in the evening... If we do not 'go on to perfection', how shall we escape lukewarmness, Antinomianism, hell-fire?'
March 1785: 'I could not preach abroad, the ground being covered with snow As many as coiuld crowded into the house. A lovefeast followed, at which many plain people spoke without reserve.'
March 1787: 'As it rained great part of the afternoon most of the congregation could get into the house and I took knowledge of the ancient spirit, although most of our first hearers are gone to rest.'
March 1788: 'I went on to Wednesbury, the mother-society of Staffordshire. But few of the old standers are left: I think but three, out of three hundred and fifteen. However, a new generation is sprung up, though hardly equal to the former.'
March 1790: 'I went on to our old friends at Wednesbury, where the work of God greatly revives. Business has exceedingly decreased, and most of them have left the town. So much more have the poor grown in grace, and laid up treasures in heaven. But we were at a great loss in the evening. I could not preach abroad after sunset, and the house would not near contain the people. However, as many as possibly could squeezed in; and their labour was not in vain.'
* W.J. Wilkinson (ed.), The History of Methodism in Wednesbury Circuit (1894) * George T. Lawley in Methodist Recorder, 15 April 1901 and 3 April 1902
Entry written by: DHR
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