John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788) brought Methodism to Cornwall during the 18thC. John Wesley in particular is credited with spreading this new religious teaching during the years 1743-86 on his many visits to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, preaching to the miners, fishermen and farmers who led hard and impoverished lives. His message was of hope through faith in God, he was concerned about the intellectual, economic and physical well being of people, opposed to slavery and interested in social reform. This all proved very popular with the Cornish, and Methodism was more popular in Cornwall than anywhere else in England.
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Wesley Cottage, Trewint, Launceston is where John Wesley first stopped on his 6-day journey from London to Cornwall in 1743. The cottage was then owned by a stonemason, Diggory Isbell and his wife Elizabeth. They offered Wesley and his companions’ food and shelter, a few weeks later when John Wesley returned about three hundred of Isbell’s neighbours turned up to hear him preach. Diggory Isbell built a two room ‘Prophets Chamber’ on the side of his cottage for Wesley and his fellow preachers to stay and preach in when they came to Cornwall. In 1950 the cottage was restored, renamed Wesley Cottage and opened to the public. Today it is the centre of Methodism in Cornwall, as well as retreats, study days and services, Wesley Day Celebrations are held in May each year on the Sunday nearest to the 24th to mark John Wesley’s conversion on 24th May 1738.
In the village of Alturnun, Elizabeth and Diggory Isbell are buried in the churchyard, the old Methodist chapel is now a private house but there is still a bust of John Wesley above the door.
Gwennap Pit, Redruth is one of Methodism’s iconic sites, the conical pit was formed when a mine shaft collapsed, it was here that John Wesley preached 18 times from 1762-1789 to an ever increasing audience who were drawn to these open air meetings where he offered them comfort, security and hope through faith. In 1806 4 local miners and a mining engineer transformed the pit into the amphitheatre that you see today as a memorial to Wesley. The area is now part of the Cornish Mining and World Heritage Site and is a place of historical, spiritual and global importance. Services are held throughout the year.
Gwithian Chapel, Hayle is the last remaining thatched Methodist chapel in Cornwall and was restored in 1999. Open to the public it contains documents and photographs and during the summer Sunday evening services are occasionally held.
William O’Bryan (1778-1868) was born William Bryant in Luxulyan, Cornwall. He changed his name to O’Bryan to emphasise his Irish ancestry. He had converted to Wesleyan Methodism but in 1815 he founded the breakaway group the Bible Christian Methodist movement. The remote Innis Bible Christian Methodist Chapel, Lanivet was built in 1820 by O’Bryan in a former Quaker cemetery on land which was owned and farmed by his Quaker forefathers. His mother Thomasine was buried here in 1821 and the Chapel holds a service on the 2nd Sunday of every month. O’Bryan left the group after a dispute in 1832 and sailed across the Atlantic many times to try and establish a church in America. In 1902 the Bible Christians merged with the United Methodists.
Billy Bray (1794-1868) was a Cornish tin miner and for 43 years a Bible Christian Methodist preacher who was renowned for his exciting preaching. He built three of his own chapels, the only one remaining is the ‘Three Eyes’ Kerly Downs Chapel, Baldhu which is just near to Truro, Cornwall’s only city. The chapel had 3 prominent ‘eyes’ or windows when it was built in 1836. It is now maintained as a memorial to Billy Bray with several services held throughout the year.
Penrose Chapel near Padstow is a tiny chapel built in 1861 by the Bible Christian Methodists. It is built of local slate and the interior is virtually unaltered and has a rostrum with a rare panelled enclosure. Penrose chapel only seats about 35 people and it is only one of 6 small chapels in Cornwall that has still got its complete set of box pews.
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Chapel Street, which was built in 1814, is one of the largest churches in Penzance and can seat about 1800 people. There are many Methodist churches and chapels to visit on a tour of Cornwall which was once the most Methodist county in England, many are still in active use, others are private homes while some are now memorials to John Wesley and his fellow preachers.