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Redruth

Along with Camborne, and the adjoining area (including Gwennap), Redruth was a flourishing centre of tin-mining when the Wesleys first visited West Cornwall in 1743. Between 1743 and 1789 John Wesley paid 29 visits to Redruth, frequently preaching at the entrance to the Market House in Fore Street. His hosts included Andrew and Elizabeth Harper, and he later published 'Extracts' from Elizabeth's Journal to exemplify Christian perfection. On Sundays he worshipped at St. Euny church outside the town both before and after it was rebuilt in Georgian style in 1765. The rector from 1734 to 1775 was the Rev. John Collins, whom he had known at Oxford. Early Methodism appears to have been centred at Gwennap, but a society may have existed in Redruth as early as 1743. However, as late as 1779 there were more members at Gwennap than at Redruth. In part this may have been because some potential Methodists felt at ease with of the evangelicalism of the curate of Redruth, the Rev. Thomas Vivian.

Until 1765 the whole of Cornwall was one circuit, but Redruth then became the head of the West Cornwall Circuit. By 1766 there was a preaching house in the town, described by Wesley as 'far too small'. Later visits saw him still preaching in the street. Revivals were a frequent occurrence in Cornish Methodism, and after one in 1799 the society membership reached 745. The impressive Wesley Chapel standing over the railway tunnel was opened in 1826 and is the present Methodist Church in the town. George Whitefield had also visited Redruth and was followed by several of the Countess of Huntingdon\'s preachers. By about 1775 a Calvinistic Methodist chapel was established in Jack's Platt. Redruth seems to have nurtured some of the more freethinking elements of Cornish Methodism.

Soon after Wesley's death in 1791 a meeting of 51 representative laymen was convened in the town and adopted a series of resolutions aimed at democratizing Methodism, which were circulated throughout the connexion. These anticipated the future reformed branches of WM which later became the UMFC; but in 1797, when the MNC broke away from the parent body, no schism occurred in Redruth. A serious local secession did occur in 1802, led by local preacher and class leader Dr. William Boase, when up to 300 members seceded. The outward cause of the division was the installing of pews in the Redruth chapel (Dr. Boase's party were against it); but it is likely that this was only the outward occasion, there being deeper feelings now lost to record. Two chapels went with the separatists. This little group seems to have affected Methodism in several places in West Cornwall, including Penzance. It declined after Dr. Boase's death in 1813. Many returned to the old connexion, although others seem to have continued and later allied themselves with the Bible Christians.

However, the early history of the BCs in Redruth was also affected by dissent. William Turner had been briefly a BC itinerant in 1823, but soon resigned, married a former BC female itinerant and moved to Redruth. Here he gathered a society of his own - whether of other dissident BCs or from elsewhere is unclear. It was not until much later that the BCs were able to establish a cause in the town, opening a chapel on Treruffe Hill in 1863. This closed in 1975 and was converted into flats.

In 1825 Turner invited William Clowes to Redruth. From this visit Primitive Methodism was established in Cornwall. Although becoming strong in a few localities, it never really flourished in the county; only about a thousand remained in 1932. Their first Redruth chapel was opened in 1827, replaced by another in 1884, both in Plain-an-Gwarry. Both survive, but in secular use.

The WMA came to the town early and there was a chapel by 1839. The later Lombardo-Venetian style WMA chapel of 1865 on Fore Street reached its centenary before being destroyed by fire in 1973. The older chapel is still in commercial use opposite the car park where once the 1865 chapel stood.

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

June 1745: 'When we came out of the house forty or fifty myrmidons stood ready to receive us. But I turned full upon them, and their courage failed; nor did they recover till we were at some distance. Then they began blustering again, and throwing stones, on of which struck Mr. [George] Thompson's servant.'

July 1747: 'About two I preached in the street at Redruth. The congregation was large and deeply attentive; indeed, there are scarce any in the town (but gentlemen) who are not convinced of the truth.'

August 1753: 'In the afternoon I rode to Redruth, and preached to a large congregation in an open part of the street. My voice was low, but, the day being calm, I believe all could hear; and after I had done, I felt myself considerably stronger than when I began.'

September 1755 [Sunday]: 'Soon after ten we went to Redruth church… [The rector, John Collins] read prayers admirably well, and preached an excellent sermon on "Christ also suffered, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps."

'At one I preached on faith, hope, and love. I was surprised at the behaviour of the whole multitude. At length God seems to be moving on all their hearts.'

September 1760: 'In the evening I took my old stand in the main street at Redruth. A multitude of people, rich and poor, calmly attended. So is the roughest become one of the quietest towns in England.'

September 1762: 'I preached … at six near Redruth, at gentleman's house, in a large court, shaded with trees. It was so calm that hardly a leaf moved.'

September 1765: 'I preached … at one, in the main street at Redruth.'

[8 days later] 'We had our Quarterly Meeting at Redruth… At six I began on the market-house steps, as usual, to a very numerous congregation; but I had not finished the hymn when Mr. C[ollins] came and read the Act against riots. I said, "Mr. C., I did not expect this from you; I really thought you had more understanding." He answered not, but stood like one astonished, neither moving hand or foot. However, I removed two or three hundred yards, and quietly finished my discourse.'

September 1766: 'I knew not what to do at Redruth in the evening; the house was far too small, and the wind was exceeding high, and brought on frequent and heavy showers. However, I chose the most convenient part of the street; and we had but one short shower till I concluded.

[Next day, Sunday] 'The congregation in Redruth at one was the largest I ever had seen there.'

September 1768: 'At Redruth … I found the people gathered from all parts; and God gave a loud call to the backsliders. Indeed there was need; for T[homas] Rankin left between three and four hundred members in the society, and I found a hundred and ten!'

September 1769: 'In the evening I preached to eleven or twelve hundred people; but there was no trifler, much less mocker, among them. They heard as for eternity.

Next day, Sunday:] We had a very large congregation, and a useful sermon, at church. Between one and two I preached to some thousands in the main street.'

August 1776: 'I joined together once more the select society, who are continually flying asunder, though they all acknowledge the loss they have sustained thereby. At eleven I met fifty or sixty children. How much depends upon these! All tnhe hope of the rising generation.'

August 1780: 'We had our Quarterly Meeting at Redruth, where all was love and harmony.'

September 1781: 'After the Quarterly Meeting at Redruth I preached in the market-place on the first principle, "Ye are saved through faith." It is also the last point; and it connects the first point of religion with the last.'

August 1785: 'At our lovefeast in the evening several of our friends declared how God had saved them from inbred sin, with such exactness, both of sentiment and language, as clearly showed they were taught of God.'

September 1787: 'Between one and two I began in the market-place at Redruth, to the largest congregation I ever saw there; they not only filled all the windows, but sat on the tops of the houses.'

August 1789: 'I crossed over to Redruth, and at six peached to a huge multitude, as usual, from the steps of the market-house. The word seemed to sink deep into every heart. I know not that ever I spent such a week in Cornwall before.

[Four days later] 'I returned to Redruth, and applied to the great congregation, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." I then met the society, and explained at large the rise and nature of Methodism; and still aver, I have never read or heard of, either in ancient or modern history, any other Church which builds on so broad a foundation as the Methodists do; which requires of its members no conformity either in opinions or modes of worship, but barely this one thing, to fear God and work righteousness.'

Sources

  • George Smith, History of Wesleyan Methodism (1858), II p.690
  • John Pearce, The Wesleys in Cornwall (Truro, 1964)
  • John C.C. Probert, Dr.Boase of Redruth (n.d.)
  • A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 4, 'Documents and Source Material' (1988), pp.87-9, 243-4

Entry written by: CCS and TS
Category: Place

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