Myers Literary Guide:
JOHN WESLEY (1703 - 1791)
The founder of Methodism had been taken aback at the prevalence of drunkenness and swearing ('even from the mouths of little children') when he first came to Newcastle, but he soon developed a fondness for the town and its people. He preached at the Sandgate on 30 March 1742, as he records in his Journal: 'I never saw so large a number of people together, either in Moorfields or in Kennington... After preaching, the poor people were ready to tread me under foot out of pure love and kindness'.
Wesley made Newcastle the northern headquarters of his Methodist movement, where the Orphan House in Northumberland street (now marked by a plaque) was begun on 20 December 1742. Wesley was living there in 1745 when Newcastle was fortified with some two hundred guns against the advancing Bonny Prince Charlie. He writes at length of this period in his Journal, beginning:
Sept. 20. The Mayor ordered the townsmen to be under arms, and to mount guard in their turns, over and above the guard of soldiers, a few companies of whom had been drawn into the town by the first alarm. Now also, Pilgrim Street Gate was ordered to be walled up. Many began to be much concerned for us, because our house stood without the walls. Nay, but the Lord is a wall of fire to all that trust in Him...It was at the Orphan House that Wesley met Grace Murray, the widow of a Geordie seafarer. Grace nursed him when he was ill here in 1746 and Wesley thought he had found his helpmate at last. However, his relations with women were constantly bedevilled by misunderstanding and Grace wed another. Wesley thereupon impulsively married the widow of a London merchant, who tormented him for thirty years. She was even seen to haul the diminutive Wesley across the room by his hair.
In 1778, we find Johnson and Boswell discussing Wesley's encounter with a Newcastle girl who had seen a ghost. Boswell later taxed Wesley about it in Edinburgh, but reports: 'His state of the evidence as to the ghost did not satisfy me.' Wesley's fantastic energy enabled him to ride some 250,000 miles from his missionary bases at London, Bristol, Newcastle and Dublin. He also preached 40,000 sermons in his lifetime and his literary output was considerable: he issued nearly 400 publications and his Journal contains many references to the North East. He and his brother Charles seem to have visited Morpeth, Alnwick and Berwick on no fewer than 24 occasions. Wesley visited Weardale thirteen times, first on 26 May 1752, during a tour of the North East which had begun on 27 April. He was back there on 8 June 1761 en route from Hexham to Teesdale, having started out from Berwick on 14 May.
His tour in 1764 lasted from 20 April until 24 May. On Tuesday 8 May 1764, he writes:
We rode over wild moors to Wolsingham...In the evening I preached to simple, loving, earnest people at Barnard castle. If all to whom we preach were of this spirit, what a harvest would ensue!Wesley was again travelling round the North east in 1766, this time from Newcastle southwards between 1 and 11 July. He was there again in May-June 1770 and 1772. On 2 June 1772, he writes:
From the top of the next enormous mountain, we had a view of Weardale. It is a lovely prospect. The green gently rising meadows and fields, on both sides of the little river, clear as crystal, were sprinkled over with innumerable little houses, three or four of which... are sprung up since the Methodists came hither. Since that time, the beasts are turned into men, and the wilderness into a fruitful field.He returned to the region in 1776 and again in 1779. He writes in May:
After preaching at Cuthberton and in Teesdale, I went a little out of my way, to see one of the wonders of nature. The river Tees rushes down between two rocks, and falls sixty feet perpendicular into a basin of water sixty feet deep. In the evening I preached to the lovely congregation in Weardale, and the next day went on to Newcastle.He was back in The North East in 1780, 1784, 1788 and also in 1790, the year before his death at the age of 87. Wesley's first meeting-house in Weardale was in Ireshopeburn, where a plaque in the garth to the west of the High House Chapel (1761) commemorates his outdoor sermons under the famous thorn tree near Coronation Cottage. It is this chapel which Wesley calls 'Weardale' in his Journal. Wesley would stay overnight at Lowburn or at Ling Riggs, the home of Stephen Watson.
Wesley had written the Rules of his church in Newcastle, where they were also first printed in 1743 by John Gooding in the Side. For those inclined to complain about the local weather, the much-travelled Wesley's remark in 1759 should give food for thought:
Certainly if I did not believ there was another world I would spend all my summers here, as I know no place in Great Britain comparable to it for pleasantness.Beyond Broad Chare and Love Lane, where Milk Market turns sharply left uphill towards the Keelmen's Hospital, stands a granite obelisk commemorating Wesley's death in 1791.