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Wednesbury riots, 1743-1744

The Wednesbury society, established in 1742, was known as 'the mother society of Staffordshire Methodism' and included members from Darlaston, Walsall and West Bromwich. Charles Wesley preached there as early as the autumn of 1742 and John Wesley followed in January 1743 - the first of 33 visits between then and 1789. The vicar, the Rev. Edward Egginton, was at first friendly and supportive, until injudicious criticisms by one of the itinerant preachers, Thomas (not Robert) Williams, turned him into an implacable enemy. Mob violence, incited by local gentry and clergy, first broke out at Walsall, spreading to Darlaston and later West Bromwich. Homes were damaged and plundered, families victimized.

John Wesley arrived to give his support in the summer of 1743, but an appeal to the law proved fruitless. On 20 October, during a fresh outbreak, Wesley calmly faced the Wednesbury rioters, only to find himself in the hands of a rival mob from Walsall. He sought protection from the local magistrates in vain and barely escaped with his life. One notable result was the conversion of a ringleader, the local prizefighter George Clifton ('Honest Munchin'). But violence continued until early 1744, reaching a climax of destruction and looting on 7 February. Belatedly the authorities were alerted and the storm of persecution subsided. In answer to charges that the Methodists had instigated the violence, Wesley published a detailed account of events, Modern Christianity exemplified at Wednesbury... (1745)

Sources

  • John Wesley, Journal, 15 Apr & 20 Oct 1743
  • S. Lees, in WHS Proceedings, 4 pp.153-59, 198-200
  • J. Leonard Waddy, The Bitter Sacred Cup: the Wednesbury Riots 1743-44 (Bognor Regis, 1976)
  • Charles H. Goodwin, A Dismal Notoriety: the rise and progress of Methodism at Wednesbury (Cannock, 1994)
  • Charles H. Goodwin, 'Vile or Reviled? The causes of the anti-Methodist riots at Wednesbury in the light of New England revivalism', in Methodist History, 35:1 (October 1996) pp. 14-27

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Place

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