Although John Wesley visited the county town with Charles Wesley in 1739 and preached in St Mary Arches church, his visits were infrequent until 1773, when the influence of Calvinistic Methodism had waned. George Whitefield visited in 1743 and a Calvinistic congregation under Henry Tanner met in Rock Lane (and later, from 1769, in their Coombe Street Tabernacle. They suffered rioting in 1745. Bishop Lavington's notorious attack on Methodist enthusiasm was published in 1751. On Wesley's recommendation, the old Musgrave's Alley chapel (formerly Trinity Chapel, dating from medieval times) became the home of the WM society in 1778. He preached there in 1779, but ten years later found it 'swiftly running to ruin' and in urgent need of repair. In 1813, encouraged by Dr Thomas Coke, they bought the old Arian Meeting House and built the new Mint Chapel, later enlarged and rebuilt in 1970 and further redeveloped in 2010.. A chapel was opened in 1905 in Sidwell Street, a unique baroque domed edifice of reinforced brickwork and concrete.
In the nineteenth century WM, the Bible Christians and Free Methodists all had chapels there and there was a short-lived PM presence. Seven BC Conferences were held in the town between 1853 and 1905, and one UM Conference in 1915. Samuel Sebastian Wesley, grandson of Charles Wesley, was cathedral organist 1835-41 and is buried in the Bartholomew Street cemetery.
John Wesley's Journal:
August 1743: 'The sermon we heard at church was quite innocent of meaning; what that in the afternoon was I know not, for I could not hear a single sentence. From church I went to the Castle, where were gathered together (as some imagined) half the grown persons in the city. It was an awful sight. So vast a congregation in that solemn amphitheatre! And all silent and still, while I explained at large, and enforced, that glorious truth, "Happy are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered."'
29 August 1762:
'At five I went to Southernhay Green again, and found a multitude of people; but a lewd, profane, drunken vagabond had so stirred up many of the baser sort that there was much noise, hurry and confusion. While I was preaching several things were thrown, and much pains taken to overturn the table; and, after I concluded, many endeavoured to throw me down, but I walked through the midst and left them.'
Dr. Thomas Coke to George Gidley of Exeter, 1778(?):
' Mr. Wesley is still of the opinion that the Minutes of the Conference ought to be complied with [re Musgrave's Alley chapel], in having the seats in the middle, with a rail running through the midst. Will you, therefore,be pleased to see that the alterations be made, if not done already? '
Etheridge, Life of Dr. Thomas Coke, p.58
Entry written by: RFST
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