John Wesley first visited Hertford in March 1763 on his way to Norwich. He found his congregation ‘quiet and attentive’, so the expected ‘disturbance’ did not take place. Two or three years later an enthusiastic young preacher, Benjamin Colley, came and preached in the market place and was arrested by the mayor for causing disorder. But one of his hearers,, Abraham Andrews, was impressed by both his message and his bearing, joined the Methodists, and started a school for the local children in a room which was also a meeting place of the Methodist society by the time of Wesley’s visit in November 1768.
Forced by heavy snow in February 1772 to deviate from his usual route, Wesley found the children at the school very responsive, but his evening congregation much less so; and later that year a divided society and a ‘stupid and senseless mob’ gave him cause for concern. By 1775 there was a better response to his preaching, but on his final visit in October 1778 he writes of ‘poor desolate Hertford’ and dismisses them as ‘fifty or sixty dull creatures’ who ‘heard with something like seriousness’.
Abraham Andrews remained a leading figure throughout this difficult period, especially at Cole Green, where he bought a house, registered it for worship, and handed it over to the local society when he left for America in 1793.
During the early years of the 19th century a room in Castle Street seems to have been in use, possibly until Bethel Chapel was opened in Back Street (now Railway Street) in 1827. When the Wesleyans left this in the 1850s they took over a chapel from the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion at the other end of the street (later occupied by the Primitive Methodists) before eventually opening the present chapel in Ware Road in 1865.
John Wesley's Journal:
October 1763: 'I began preaching between ten and eleven. Tose who expected disturbance were happily disappointed, for the whole congregation was quiet and attentive. I doubt not but much good may be done even here if our brethren live what we preach.'
November 1768: 'About noon I preached at Hertford, in the new room, to a large and serious congregation. The mayor's usage f Mr. Colley for preaching in the market-place, with Mr. Colley's firm ad calm behaviou, was te means of convincing Mr. Andrews, who built this room at his own expense.'
January 1772: 'I spoke exceeding plain in the evening on the narrow way that leadeth to life. But the men were very different from the children; they were affected just as much as so many horses.'
December 1772: 'Last year there was a fair prospect there; but the servants of God quarelled among themselves, till they destroyed the whole work. So that not only the society is no more, but even the preaching is discontinued. And hence those who had no religion before are now more hardened than ever. A more stupid and senseless mob I never saw than that which flocked together in the evening. Yet they softened by degrees, so that at last all were quiet and, as it were, attentive.'
January 1775: 'Even at poor, dead Hertford was such a concourse of people that the room would not near contain them.And most of them were deeply attentivewhikle I explained these awful words, "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.'
December 1777: '… Hertford where (for once) I saw a quiet and serious congregation.'
October 1778: 'I preached at noon to fifty or sixty dull creatures at poor, desolate Hertford; and they heard with somethiing like seriousness.'
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