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Ask Joan
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Joan Leach is a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

Joan. Who was John Wesley?

Joan answers:

John Wesley's steps outside the Methodist church on Princess Street look ready for him to step onto and preach to Knutsfordians but he would be surprised to find them there if a time machine could whisk him back to 1738, for the steps then were on King Street at The Roebuck Inn which was where Tiffany's is now. He was 'baiting' at the inn, that is, feeding man and horse, on his way from Manchester to Oxford and took the opportunity to give an open-air sermon from the steps 'when all we spake to thankfully received the word of exhortation', as he noted in his diary. His next stop was The Red Lion at Holmes Chapel. When he returned to Knutsford years later he commended the people who listened so attentively and even those who could not hear him stood silently.

Though he was an ordained minister of the Church of England all his life, John Wesley was noted for his open air preaching and is reckoned to have travelled 225,000 miles, mostly on horse back. An oak tree at Booth Bank, Millington was long revered for his preaching there in 1747 and on later visits; a post card of about 1900 shows the tree still surviving. He may have been invited by farming families in the area who were willing to let their barns or dairies be used for meetings A room was licensed for preaching long before there was any Methodist chapel in the Manchester region and delegates met there from a wide area to work out circuit plans and collect subscriptions from as far afield as Chester, Acton, Gadbrook, Davyhulme, Bolton, Manchester and other places.

Alice Cross had a reputation as a termagant, a rough and violent woman until she was converted and demanded of her husband: ' Now, John Cross wilt thou go to Heaven with me? For I am determined not to go to Hell with thee!' A room in their farm house at Northwood, High Legh was made into a meeting room known as the 'prophets chamber'.

The dairy at Okells' farm at High Legh served as a chapel for many years and an emotional scene took place there in 1871 when the aged missionary Robert Moffat after many years in Africa, revisited the place he had known 60 years ago, and stood in tears on the steps as memories flooded back. He had come from Scotland at the age of 17 to be employed as an under gardener for the Leighs at East Hall and although he was expected to attend the local church he risked censure by preferring the simpler services at Okells' farm. One day he went into Warrington and saw a poster about a missionary meeting calling for volunteers for Africa, though it was an old poster and he was too late to attend the meeting he felt it as a call and went overseas.

John Wesley's mission was in England. Roy Hattersley's recent biography (A Brand From the Burning. Published by Little Brown) describes the strengths of Wesley as a brilliant organiser, good preacher and dedicated worker who usually rose at four and could be preaching at five (his hearers must have had a long day too!) he fasted at least twice a week and was fanatically anti-tea, (then it was an expensive item). His family relationships were strained and it was fortunate for him that there was no tabloid press then to rake over his dalliances, for he had been thwarted from marrying the girl he loved.

Wesley preached at Mobberley's Knolls Green chapel in 1785 and the bowl used at that communion service still exists. Knutsford's first methodist chapel was built in the old Market Place in 1796 , five years after his death and Plumley methodist chapel had soil from his grave to mix with the mortar.

Joan Leach 8.11.02