JOHN WESLEY AND LEIGH
This picture of the Old Town Methodists in 1902 turns up in many family photograph collections in Leigh. Some of these old timers will feature in stories on leighlives.co.uk in the future.
Back row - Frank Bridge, Henry Johnson, Dick Deal, James Deal
Centre row: Albert Going, Tom Ritchie, Richard Harvey, William Kemp, Jape Cotgrove, William Bridge, Tom Robinson, Fred Partridge, Charlie Robinson, Jim Noakes, William Emery
Front Row: Joe Deal, Bob Emery, John Brock, William Oliver, Elijah Risby, Richard Kirby, Daniel Lester, Robert Ford, Pilot Harvey
John Wesley, the great preacher, visited Leigh and laid the foundation for the strong Methodist community in the town. But why did he take the trouble to come to such a small place as Leigh!
Whilst out fishing a number of boats would keep together in the interest of safety. One day when fishing a storm developed and they had to run for shelter. When safely within the harbour walls where they had to stay for a number of days, the Leigh fishermen went into town and happen to hear a preacher man, although they did not know his name! However, they were so impressed with the way he spoke, contact was made, and he was asked if he would consider coming to Leigh. John Wesley, promised to do so, and true to his promise he came to Leigh. Hence the great Methodist connection in Leigh, with four churches, three of which are over 100 years old.
Wesley recorded in his journal on 12 November 1748, "I set out for Leigh, in Essex. It had rained hard in the former part of the night, which was succeeded by a sharp frost, so that most of the road was like glass; and the north-east wind sat just in our face. However, we reached Leigh by four in the afternoon. Here was once a deep open harbour; but the sands have long since blocked it up, and reduced a once flourishing town to a small ruinous village. I preached to most of the inhabitants of the place in the evening, to many in the morning, and then rode back to London."
A year later on Monday 18 December 1749, he " rode to Leigh, in Essex, and spoke in as awakening a manner as I could. On Wed., Dec. 20th, I left the little flock in peace and love, and cheerfully returned to London."
"On Mon., Dec. 10th, 1750, I rode to Leigh, in Essex, when I found a little company seeking God, and endeavoured to encourage them in provoking one another to love and good works".
On 12 November 1753 "I set out in a chaise for Leigh, having delayed my journey as long as I could. I preached at 7, but was extremely cold all the time, the wind coming strong from a door behind, and another on one side; so that my feet felt just as if I had stood in cold water. Tues., 13th, the chamber wherein I sat, though with a large fire, was much colder than the garden, so that I could not keep myself tolerably warm, even when I was close to the chimney."
At this last visit Wesley had been very unwell before coming to Leigh.
His next visit was on 27 October 1755, and gives us an idea of the state of the area. "We set out for Leigh, in Essex, but being hindered a little in the morning, the night came on without either moon or stars, when we were about two miles short of Rayleigh. The ruts were so deep and uneven, that the horses could scarce stand, and the chaise was continually in danger of overturning; so that my companions thought it best to walk to town, though the road was both wet and dirty. Leaving them at Rayleigh, I took horse again. It was so thoroughly dark, that we could not see our horses' heads; however, by the help of Him to whom the night shineth as the day, we hit every turning, and without going a quarter of a mile out of our way, before nine we came to Leigh. Wed., 29, I returned to London."
On 11 October 1756, he came to Leigh, for the last recorded time, "Where we dined, a poor woman came to the door with two little children; they seemed to be half starved, as well as the mother, who was also shivering with an ague. She was extremely thankful for a little food, and still more so for a few pills, which seldom fail to cure that disorder."
Sadly Wesley does not mention a single individual of Leigh by name, although it is thought he stayed with Dr Cook, the apothecary in Leigh.