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Alnwick, Northumberland

The first Methodist preacher to visit the town was probably John Trembath, as early as 1744. Charles Wesley is said to have preached there during a northern tour towards the end of 1746. Having heard a denunciation of Methodism during a sermon in the parish church on the text ‘Beware of false prophets...’, he preached in the churchyard on ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’. John Wesley, on the first of many visits in July 1748, preached at the Cross, but commented that 'all were moved a little, but none very much'. However, Alnwick became a regular preaching place on his two-yearly journeys to and from Scotland and he compared his hearers favourably with those at Berwick, describing them in 1759 as 'having the power as well as the form of godliness'. Whitefield in his turn paid the first of three visits in 1750 and in due course the society was troubled by disputes over predestination. But later on the itinerant John Pritchard spoke of them as ‘a loving, tender and affectionate people, who received my testimony with thankfulness and love’.

A house on the north side of the market place was adapted for preaching services. By 1750 the Methodists were renting rooms in a house in Bondgate. In 1755 a small chapel was built in Green Batt at the end of Correction House Lane, to which a gallery was added in 1783. In June 1786, following a revival, Wesley laid the foundation stone of a new chapel in what became Chapel Street. Despite Wesley's disparaging reference to it on his next visit, in 1788, as a 'scarecrow', it remains in use, having been altered in 1891.

Prominent members of the early society included James Bowmaker, master bricklayer and builder, grandfather of James Everett (who was born in the town). James Hindmarsh, innkeeper at both Alnwick and Dunbar, was appointed by Wesley as writing master at Kingswood School in 1766, with his wife as housekeeper; he was an itinerant from 1771 to 1783, but both he and his son Robert then joined the Swedenborgians. Edward Stanley, father of Jacob Stanley (President of the Conference in 1845), became a local preacher.

At first in the widespread Newcastle Circuit (apart from one year, 1777, as an independent circuit), Alnwick became part of the Berwick Circuit formed in 1783, and then from 1789 was head of the circuit. Merging with the Amble ex-PM Circuit in 1947, it survived as the Amble and Alnwick Circuit until 1970.

Alexander Kilham was in the circuit 1795-6, at the time when he was expelled from the Connexion. His sympathisers opened Bethel MNC in 1804 ( replaced in 1869 and closed in 1960).

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

July 1748: 'After dinner we rode to Alnwick, one of the largest inland towns in the county of Northumberland. At seven I preached at the Cross to as large a congregation as at Newcastle on Sunday evening. This place seemed much to resemble Athlone; all were moved a little, but none very much. The waters spread wide, but not very deep; but let the Lord work as it seemeth Him good.'

September 1749: 'At Alnwick, likewise, I stood in the market-place in the evening, and exhorted a numerous congregation to be always ready for death, for judgment, for heaven. I felt what I spoke; as I believe did most that were present, both then and in the morning, while I besought them to 'present' themselves 'a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.'

April 1751: '… (it being too wet to preach at the Cross) some of our friends procured the Town Hall. This, being very large, contained the people well; only the number of them made it extremely hot.'

April 1753: 'I spoke severally to those of the society, and found they had been harassed above measure by a few violent Predestinarians, who had at length separated themselves from us. It was well they saved me the trouble, for I can have no connexion with those who will be contentious. These I reject, not for their opinion, but for their sin; for their unchristian temper and unchristian practice; for beiung haters of reproof, haters of peace, haters of their brethren, and, consequently, of God.'

May 1755: 'In the evening I preached in the new room at Alnwick; but I could scarce be heard, my voice being very weak.'

June 1757: 'At five, the court-house being too small, I was obliged to go out into the market-place. Oh what a difference is there between these living stones and the dead unfeeling multitudes in Scotland!'

June 1759: 'We had a sound, useful sermon at church, and a serious, well-behaved congrergation. I preached in the market-place about five, and I trust God applied the word, "Ye must be born again."

May 1763: 'I rode to Almwick, and was much refreshed among a people who have not the form only, but the spirit, of religion, fellowship with God, the living power of faith divine.'

May 1770: 'At seven I preached in the house; at four and at seven in the market-place; but the multitude was so great that I doubt many could not hear. I then met the society, and we seemed to breath the same spirit with him [William Coward] that was just entered into the joy of his Lord.'

May 1772: 'I went on to Alnwick, and preached in the town hall. What a difference between an English and a Scotch congregation! These judge themselves rather than the preacher; and their aim is not only to know, but to love and obey.'

May 1780: 'We had a happy season at Alnwick, with a large and deeply attentive congregation.'

June 1786: 'I was desired to lay the first stone of the preaching-house there. A very large congregation attending, we spent some time on the spot in solemn prayer and singing praise to God.'

May 1788: 'I was a little surprised at the new preaching-house (in which I preached in the evening), exactly resembling the meeting-house we hire at Brentford. Had they no eyes? Or had they never seen any English house? But the scarecrow must now stand without remedy.'

Sources

  • J.H. Braodbent, 'Methodism in Alnwick, from 1744 to 1791', in WHS Proceedings, 7 pp. 63-69, 88-96
  • T.J. Howells, The Scarecrow Still Stands, Mr Wesley: Chapel Lane Methodist Chapel, Alnwick, 1786-1986 (Hexham 1986)

Category: Place

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