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Evesham

Evesham was one of the seven circuits listed for the first time in the Minutes of 1746. It extended from Stroud to Shrewsbury and was renamed the 'Staffordshire Circuit' in 1748. In 1770 it was absorbed into the Gloucestershire Circuit and then into the Worcestershire Circuit, formed in 1788. Evesham eventually became head of a separate circuit in 1810. The Stratford-on-Avon Circuit was formed from it in 1825, but briefly reverted to Evesham in 1835. The present Stratford and Evesham Circuit was formed in 1985.

Evesham Methodism began in the village of Bengeworth on the east bank of the Avon and now part of the town. It was probably started by Thomas Canning, headmaster of Deacle's School. The school building in which the society met still stands in Port Street. Charles Wesley found an established society there in 1739. As late as 1786 a Mrs. Canning (not Thomas's widow) was giving hospitality to visiting itinerants. On John Wesley's first visit on 4 October 1739 he stayed with Benjamin Seward at the Manor House (now the Evesham Hotel).The growth of the society was slow. Wesley paid at least 35 visits. They were not always peaceful. On 24 June 1742 he besought the members not to 'tear each other to pieces by disputing'. On 21 March 1753 he attempted to preach out of doors, but a rabble with a fire engine forced him to retreat to 'our own room'. In March 1761 he found the society 'almost shrunk to nothing ... almost without help until Mr. Mather came'. (A local historian identifies him as the builder who owned a timber yard in Swan Lane; but the reference must be to the itinerant Alexander Mather.) Over the years Wesley preached in the former Bengeworth parish church, in All Saints, Evesham, in Evesham town hall, in the room in Deacle's School and in the grounds of the Manor House. In July 1777 he stayed with the vicar of Bengeworth, Thomas Beale, in the Manor House, Seward's former home. Beale was a friend of Lady Huntingdon and also of John Fletcher. Wesley called him a 'pious, candid, sensible man' and on another occasion referred to him as 'that amiable man'.

The first Methodist chapel was in Capon Pot Lane (later known as Chapel Street), opened in 1808 and registered for worship in 1812, seating 200. A manse was built at the rear. By the early 20th century a larger building was needed and the present church, at the river crossing from Bengeworth to Evesham, was opened in 1907. Nearly a century later, in 2002, it became the first church in England to win an Eco-Congregation Award for green initiatives. It was badly affected by the flooding in the summer of 2007.

The only evidence of other Methodist denominations in Evesham is of a WR chapel in the Market Place, listed in the UMFC Hand Book for 1877, but later acquired by the Congregationalists.

Quotations

Charles Wesley's MS Journal:

[18 August 1739:] 'On Saturday afternoon God brought us [to Bengeworth]. Mr [Benjamin] Seward being from home, there was no admittance for us, his wife being an opposer, and having refused to see George Whitefield before me. At seven Mr. Seward found us at our inn and carried us home…' [Monday, August 20]: 'I now heard that the mayor had come down on Sunday to take a view of us; and soon after an officer struck a countryman in the face without any provocation. A serious woman besought the poor man not to resist evil, as the other only wanted to make a riot. He took patiently several repeated blows, telling the man he might beat him as long as he pleased. 'Took a walk with Mr. Seward, whose eyes it has pleased God to open, to see He would have all men to be saved. His wife, who refuses to see me, is miserably bigoted to the particular scheme [i.e. 'election'].'

John Wesley's Journal:

October 1739: 'About three in the afternoon I came to Mr. Benjamin Seward's at Bengeworth, near Evesham. At five I expounded in his house (part of the thirteenth chapter of the first of Corinthians), and at seven in the school-house, where I invited all who "had nothing to pay" to come and accept of free forgiveness. In the morning I preached near Mr. Seward's house to a small serious congregation on those words, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." '

Charles Wesley's Journal:

15 March 1740: 'Between two and three we came to Bengeworth. I sent for Mr. [Benjamin] Seward. Answer was returned that he had taken physic, but would send his brother Henry to me. Mr. Henry followed me to Mr. Canning's, and fell upon me without preface or ceremony: I was the downfall of his brother, had picked his pocket, ruined his family, come now to get more money, was a scoundrel, rascal, and so forth, and deserved to have my gown stripped over my ears…. All letters, I find, have been intercepted since Mr. Seward's illness; his fever called madness; his servants set over him as spies, etc. Be sure he is to know nothing of my being here! But I mean to give him a hint of it tomorrow, by shouting from the top of the wall...' [Next day] 'I waited on Mr. Mayor… He was a little warm at my not coming before. I gave him the reason, and added that I knew no law of God or man which I had transgressed. If there was any such, desired no favour. He said he should not have denied me leave to preach, even in his own yard. But Mr. Henry Seward and the apothecary had assured him it would quite cast his brother down again. I said it would rather restore him for our gospel was life from the dead… I … asked the mayor whether he approved the treatment I had met with. He said "By no means"; and if I complained, he would bind the men over to answer it at the sessions. I told him I did not complain, neither would I prosecute them, as they well knew.'

John Wesley's Journal:

June 1742: 'At eight I preached [at Evesham]. There were many who came with a design to disturb the rest; but they opened not their mouth. [Next day] 'I spent a great part of the day in speaking with the members of the society, whom in the evening I earnestly besought no more to tear each other to pieces by disputing; but to "follow after holiness", and "provoke one another to love and to good works".'

Charles Wesley's Journal :

May 1743: 'The Society walk as becometh the gospel. One only person I reproved; not suffering her any longer, notwithstanding her great gifts, to speak in the church or usurp authority over the men.'

July 1745: 'The first night I preached at Cirencester; the two next at Evesham, where I found the Society increased both in grace and number.'

Charles Wesley's Journal :

Sunday, 27 May 1750: 'Accepted the mayor's offer of the town-hall. The door was quite open. Many gentry and others listened to the word of life. So again in the evening. Rejoiced with the Society, whose enemies God has made to be at peace with them.'

John Wesley's Journal:

March 1753: 'I preached in the town hall at Evesham. At the upper end of the room a large body of people were still and attentive. Meantime, at the lower end, men were walking to and fro, laughing and talking, as if they had been in Westminster Abbey. [Next day] 'After dinner abundance of rabble gathered near the town hall, having procured an engine, which they exercised on all that came their way. So I gave them the ground and preached at our own room in great quietness.'

March 1761: 'We rode to Evesham, where I found the poor, shattered society almost sunk into nothing. And no wonder, since they had been almost without help, till Mr. Mather came.'

March 1764: 'I never before saw so quiet a congregation in the town hall, nor yet so numerous. I designed afterwards to meet the society at our room; but the people were so eager to hear that I knew not how to keep them out. So we had a large congregation again. And again God gave us his blessing.'

March 1768: 'As all was hurry and confusion on account of the election, I was glad Mr. D[avies] asked me to preach in his church, where we had a large and exceeding quiet congregation. How long has winter been at this place! Will not the spring at length return?'

March 1776: 'About noon I preached in the town-hall at Evesham to a congregation of a very different kind [from the "loving people" at Worcester]. Few of them, I doubt, came from any other motive than to gratify their curiosity. However, they were deeply attentive, so that some of them, I trust, went away wiser than they came.'

July 1777: 'The church [at Bengeworth] was tolerably filled. Afterwards I went down with Mr. Beale to his house, the same in which Mr. Benjamin Seward lived three- or four-and forty years ago…'

Entry written by: SJH
Category: Place

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