John Wesley

John Wesley

Founder of Methodism in Cornwall

John Wesley, born on 17th June 1703 was the 15th child of Samuel Wesley, a clergyman from Epworth in Lincolnshire. He was educated at Charterhouse School in London and was nominated by his schoolmaster for an exhibition to Christ Church, Oxford. After completing his BA, Wesley followed the traditions of his family by taking Holy Orders and was made a deacon in Christ Church Cathedral in September 1725. Three years later he was ordained.

However, it was not until 1751 that Wesley formally left the University of Oxford. After years of forming friendships and connections with various women, he finally married Molly Vazeille, a 40 year old widow in February of that year. By marrying, Wesley relinquished his right to continue as a Fellow of Lincoln, married men at that time not accepted as Fellows.

Over the course of the next few decades Wesley strove to build the Methodist movement so that it did not simply fade away when he died. He was probably spurred on to do so after he recovered from life threatening tuberculosis at the age of 51. He continued to travel, spreading the word as far as Ireland.

He began to visit Cornwall in 1743 and small meetings were held in peoples houses while large groups met in the open air. Gradually chapels were built and the Wesleyan Methodists were formed.

John Wesley visited Cornwall 32 times between 1743 and 1787. In 1743 he made an exhausting trip of about six days from London by horseback, frequent stopovers were required. One of these was at Trewint where the owner of a cottage built an addition to their cottage to provide Wesley and his preachers comfort for rest and study. Trewint, near Altarnun, became the centre of a flourishing Methodist Society, but eventually larger chapels were opened, the rooms in Isbell Cottage fell into disuse. In 1950 the Isbell house and the two adjoining rooms were restored and opened to the public as Wesley Cottage in Trewint. In his 1781 visit to Gwennap Pit, Wesley estimated that he had preached to 20,000 people.

Wesley's main preaching was directed at the poor and uneducated miners, farmers and fishermen and their families. The Church of England was the church of the more prosperous. John Wesley preached 18 times at Gwennap Pit, a large circular depression, probably a partial collapse of an underground mine near Redruth. The congregation sat or stood on the inclined sides of this pit which was described by Wesley in his journal as being about 50 feet deep and 200 by 300 feet across the top.

Towards the end of the 1780's, his health began to fail but he continued to give sermons until 1791 when he became very weak. On March 2nd of that year, he died aged 88.

Gwennap Pit       Wesley Cottage       Museum of Cornish Methodism