John Wesley


John Wesley was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, the son of the Church of England rector there. He was the 15th of 19 children, many of whom died in infancy. On 9th February 1709, he was rescued from the burning rectory. His mother described him as

a brand plucked out of the burning

He was strongly influenced by his mother Susanna.

He went to Charterhouse School in London, and then to Christ Church College, Oxford.

He was ordained into the Church of England in 1728.

At Oxford in 1729, with his brother Charles and George Whitefield, he established the Holy Club, a group who spent their day in prayer, study and sober discussion, and who adhered strictly and methodically to religious precepts and practices. They were often referred to as Bible Moths. They were so methodical in their study and devotion that they were nick-named the Methodists.

After a trip to the USA with Charles in 1736, he converted to evangelical beliefs.

He was influenced by the teaching of James Arminius.

On 24th May 1738, he experienced a religious awakening – which he referred to as feeling his heart strangely warmed – and which profoundly changed his life. His brother, Charles, had experienced the same spiritual conversion just 3 days earlier.

He was the founder of Methodism when he began his life-long career as an open-air preacher in 1739.

After breaking from the Church of England, the Wesleys and their followers were persecuted for their beliefs. They were physically attacked and excluded from churches, and they preached wherever they were able. For 50 years, Wesley travelled throughout the country on horseback and preached, often in the open air.

He visited Calderdale – at the request of John Nelson – and preached at Brighouse [1742] when he paid a courtesy call on Rev Dr George Legh and Skircoat Green [1746]. He stayed with the Holmes family at Smith House several times between 1742 and 1790.

In 1747, he visited the Upper Calder Valley for the first time at the request of William Darney. He preached at Stoneshey Gate, Heptonstall.

He translated some Moravian hymns into English.

On 22nd August 1748, he preached at Skircoat Green and at Halifax Old Market – where James Riley was inspired. At this meeting, Wesley was struck by a stone thrown by one of the crowd and decamped to Salterhebble.

In 1749, the first Methodist preaching room in Halifax was opened at Cow Green. The meetings were popular and within 10 years a small chapel was opened in Church Lane. In 1777, this was replaced the larger South Parade Chapel.

On a visit on 17th May 1757, he mentions an earthquake at Heptonstall.

One day, while crossing a bridge in London, Wesley stumbled and sprained his ankle. Some friends carried him to the house of Mrs Mary Vazeille, a friend of Charles, who lived on Threadneedle Street. She was the widow of a merchant, and had several children. In 1751, Wesley and Mrs Vazeille married, but the marriage was unsuccessful, and Mary finally left John.

He visited Heptonstall again on 8th April 1752, and made several other visits later – see Rev Tobit Sutcliffe. In June 1753, Wesley visited Haworth, Heptonstall and Walsden.

In 1755, there was pressure for Wesley to withdraw from the Church of England.

In 1766, he preached at Wesley's Pulpit at Widdop.

He regarded West Yorkshire as the most savage and barbarous of the regions he visited, and wrote that

It suits me best, [for] so many are groaning for redemption


I preached at Halifax to a civil, senseless congregation [1747]

and, on his last visit ...

... a noble congregation ... [1789]

He designed the Octagonal Chapel at Heptonstall.

He wrote over 40 books, and these were sold cheaply so that the poor could buy them.

In 1790, he visited Sowerby and may have preached at Cross Stone Wesleyan Chapel.

In April 1790, he preached his last sermon in the North of England at Mount Zion Chapel, Ogden.

He died in London at the age of 87

See The Bintliff mite box, Octagonal Chapel, Heptonstall, Sally Simpson and Stoneshey Gate, Heptonstall

© Malcolm Bull 2023
Revised 02:53 / 22nd February 2023 / 7284

Page Ref: MMW177

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