Burslem, now part of Stoke-on-Trent, was in John Bennet's round in 1744. John Wesley's first visit was in 1760. The first chapel (1765) was replaced in 1801 by one on Swan Bank (called 'Duck Bank' by Arnold Bennett, who was baptized there in 1867). For many years this was a centre of social work and after major reconstruction in 1949 became the Burslem Mission (rebuilt 1971). Five WM and Methodist Conferences have met in Burslem.
Enoch Wood, who produced the best-known bust of Wesley, was a member of the Burslem society.
In 1798 John Ridgway built Zoar Chapel for the MNC society (one of eight formed in the Potteries within six weeks of the first MNC Conference in 1797). It was replaced by Bethel, Waterloo Road (1824), with the Dr Cooke Memorial School (1877), commemorating Dr William Cooke, at the rear.
William Clowes was born in Burslem in 1780. A PM society was formed in 1819, with a chapel built in 1822. Their acquisition of the former MNC Zoar chapel in 1842 left the trust with a grave financial burden. Clowes Memorial (1878) fell victim to mining subsidence and was replaced by Clowes Church, Hamil Road (1959).
The Burslem Sunday School, founded in 1787, broke with WM in 1836 over the Conference decision to restrict Sabbath teaching of reading to the Bible. The new chapel built at Hill Top (1837) joined the WMA in 1848. Only the imposing pillared portico now remains.
John Wesley's Journal:
March 1760: '… a scattered town on the top of a hill, inhabited almost entirely by potters, a multitude of whom assembled at five in the evening. Deep attention sat on every face, though as yet accompanied with deep ignorance. But if the heart be toward God, He will, in due time, enlighten the understanding. [Sunday] 'I preached at eight to near double the number, though scarce half as many as came at five in the evening. Some of these seemed quite innocent of thought. Five or six were laughing and talking till I had near done; and one of them threw a clod of earth, which struck me on the side of the head. But it neither disturbed me nor the congregation.'
March 1761: 'I … preached at half-hour past five, in an open place on the top of the hill, to a large and attentive congregation, though it rained almost all the time and the air was extremely cold. The next morning (being Good Friday), … as well as in the evening, the cold considerably lessened the congregation. Such is human wisdom! So small are the things which divert mankind from what might be the means of their eternal salvation!'
June 1763: 'I preached to a large congregation at Burslem. These poor potters, four years ago, were as wild and ignorant as any of the colliers in Kingswood. Lord, Thou hast power over Thy own clay.'
March 1781: 'How is the whole face of this country changed in about twenty years! Since the potteries were introduced, inhabitants have continually flowed in from every side. Hence the wilderness is literally become a fruitful field. Houses, villages, towns have sprung up. And the country is not more improved than the people. The word of God has had free course among them. Sinners are daily awakened and converted to God, and believers grow in the knowledge of Christ. In the evening the house was filled with people, and with the peace of God. This constrained me to prolong the service a good deal longer than I am acustomed to do.'
March 1784: 'I reached Burslem, where we had the first society in the count[r]y; and it is still the largest, and the most earnest. I was obliged to preach abroad. The house would but just contain the societies at the love-feast, at which many, both men and women, simply declared the wonderful works of God.'
March 1786: 'Cold as it was, the multitude of people constrained me to preach abroad; but I believe none went away… We have scarce seen such a time since we came from London. The place seemed to be filled with His glory.'
March 1787: 'Observing the people flocking together, I began half an hour before the appointed time. But, notwithstanding this, the house would not contain one half of the congregation. So, while I was preaching in the house to all that could get in, John Broadbent preached in the yard to the rest. The love-feast followed; but such a one as I have not known for many years… Indeed, there has been, for some time, such an outpouring of the Spirit here, as has not been in any other part of the kingdom; particularly in the meetings for prayer. Fifteen or twenty have been justified in a day. Some of them had been the most notorious, abandoned sinners in all the country; and people flock into the society on every side - six, eight or ten in an evening.
April 1788: 'The work of God still prospers exceedingly. Sinners - men, women and children - are still convinced and converted to God every day; and there are exceeding few that draw back, as they are much united in affection, and watch over each other in love. 'In the evening, before the time of preaching came, the preaching-house was more than filled. Finding it could not contain one half of the people, I ordered a table to be placed in the yard, where they stood very patiently, though the wind was very high and very cold. Afterwards I spent a comfortable hour witrh the society, who completely filled the house.'
Entry written by: JHA
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