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By Maurice Bizley - 1955.

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THE great power of Methodism came early to St. Agnes. John Wesley mentions the place many times in his Journal, the first being on 5 July, 1747, when he records this incident from Stithians:

" Sunday the 5th we rode thence to St. Agnes. At 2, I preached to a large multitude of quiet hearers, many of whom seemed deeply affected; yet soon after I had done, some began to divert themselves by throwing dirt and clods. Mr. Shepherd's horse was frighted at this and as one of them stooped down leaped clear over him; the man screamed amain but finding himself not hurt, he and his companions poured a shower of stones after him. Knowing nothing of the matter I rode soon after through the midst of them and none lifted up a hand or opened his mouth. About half an hour after 5 I began at Gwennap."

Mr. Shepherd accompanied John Wesley on many of his journeys through Cornwall, acting as guide. It is most probable that Mr. Shepherd belonged to the St. Ives pre-Methodist Society which Wesley found already in existence there.

According to the Minutes of the 1748 Conference, Cornwall formed one Circuit that included Tavistock, Plymouth Dock, Trewint, St. Ewe, Gwennap, St. Agnes, Illogan, etc., St. Ives and the Western Societies. In 1756 there were about 34 Societies in this single Circuit, and it was not until nearly 1765 that Cornwall was divided into two Circuits, East and West, the dividing line being a few miles east of Truro.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, and for 150 years after, St. Agnes was the centre of a big mining area and the Cornish miners were a tough, hard-living race. At first many did not take kindly to the teachings of Wesley, but it is wonderful what a difference a year or two made, for on 24 August, 1750, this entry appears in the Journal:

" I preached in Camborne at noon to the largest congregation I had ever seen there, and at St. Agnes in the evening to a multitude not of curious hearers but of men ' that had tasted of the good word.' "

and on 14 September, 1755:

" About 5, I preached at St. Agnes, where all received the truth in love, except two or three who soon walked away. Then I rode on to St. Cuthbert."

John Wesley visited St. Agnes again in September, j.757 and the entries in his Journal show a further progress.

Friday, September 2nd :

" I rode to St. Agnes. We found the great man, Mr. Donnithorne, was dead. His mother and sister sent to invite me to their house. After preaching, I went thither and was received into a comfortable lodging, with the most free and cordial affection. So in this place the knowledge of God has travelled ' from the least unto the greatest.' "

Saturday, September 3rd :

" Some who live here gave me an account of the earthquake on July 15. There was first a rumbling noise under the ground hoarser and deeper than common thunder. Then followed a trembling of the earth, which afterward waved once or twice to and fro so violently that one said he was obliged to take a back-step, or he should have fallen down and another that the wall against which he was leaning seemed to be shrinking from him. This morning, I talked at large with Mrs. Donythorne, who has her understanding entire, reads without spectacles, walks without a scarff and has scarce a wrinkle at ninety years of age. But what is more than all this, she is teachable as a child, and groaning for salvation. In the afternoon, I spent an hour with Mr. Vowler, curate of the parish, who rejoices in the love of God and both preaches and lives the Gospel."

Sunday, September 4th :

" J.T. preached at 5. I could scarce have believed if I had not heard it, that few men of learning write so correctly as an unlearned tinner speaks extempore. Mr. V. preached two such thundering sermons at church as I have scarce heard these twenty years. Oh, how gracious is God to the poor sinners of St. Agnes! In the church and out of the church they hear the same great truths of the wrath of God against sin and His love to those that are in Jesus Christ."

The references to the death of the " great Mr. Donnithorne " and to the earthquake are very interesting. The earthquake was recorded by Dr. William Borlase in his Natural History of Cornwall and it appears to have been felt from the Scilly Isles as far eastward as Liskeard and Camelford. J.T. who preached at 5 on the Sunday was possibly John Trembath, as he is mentioned by name in a nearby entry, and, of course, Mr. V. refers to the Curate, James Vowler.

Three years later John Wesley was again in St. Agnes, when he wrote this high tribute to James Vowler's successor, the Rev. William Philp (10 September, 1760):

" I had much conversation with Mr. Phelps a man humble loving tender spirit. Between him on the one hand and the Methodists on the other, most of the Parish are now awakened. Let but our brethren have zeal according to knowledge and few will escape both."

In many towns and villages the clergy of the Established Church were not very well disposed toward the Methodist Movement which was sweeping through the country.... '

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