Wakefield Family History Sharing
Walkers History of Wakefield
2nd edition 1939 (privately printed)
In the early part of the eighteenth century 'the need of the hour was a man who would cast out demons of dullness and respectability, and leaving theological disputes to those who cared for them, would go out into the highways and byways and preach the Gospel to all men. With the hour came the man, and the movement which was started by John Wesley, and spread far and wide by his preachings and the eloquence of George Whitefield transformed the face of England'.
An interesting link connects Wakefield with John and Charles Wesley. The two brothers were ordained curates, and John Wesley was admitted to priest's orders in 1728, by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr John Potter, son of Thomas Potter, linen draper of Wakefield. John Wesley's first visit to Wakefield was on November 25th 1743 at the invitation of Arthur Bate, in order to talk with his wife ;but he records 'I soon found I did not come to talk, but to hear'. The following year Charles Wesley said that he was informed by Arthur Bate that his vicar, Rev. George Arnet, had repelled him from the Sacrament and said he had orders from Archbishop Herring of York so to treat all who were called Methodists.
The founder of Methodism in Wakefield was Francis Sctt, a joiner and cabinet maker who had his shop in Scott's Yard, Westgate, and whose descendant Miss Harriet Scott lived in Bond Street until well on in the present century. Wesley writes August 20th 1748, 'At the earnest desire of the little Society I went to Wakefield. knew the madness of the peopole there, but I knew also they were in God's hand. At 8.o I would have preached in Francis Scott's Yard, but his landlord would not suffer it, saying the mob would do more hurt to his hoyse than ever we should do him good ; so I went , perforce, into the main street [Westagate] and proclaimed pardon for sinners. None inretupted or made the least disturbance from beginning to end.'
William Darney, one of the Evangelists, in 1751 published a volume of hymns, one of which is a curious composition, the 37th verse funs thus :-
"On Wakefield cast a pitying eye, for it hath long withstood; and did thy messenger defy, Oturn thou them, O God"
Wesley's next visit to Wakefield was on May 16th 1751. "I rode to Wakefield, but we had no place except the street, Cliffe Hill, which could contain the congretation, and the nosie and tumults there were so great that I knew not where I could preach at all. But I spake a few words and the waves were still".
He was brought before Sir Rowland Winn and the Rev. Henry Zouch, Vicar of Sandal in the large room at the White Hart Inn for preaching in the streets of Wakefield, but was discharged.
From the beginning of his journeys Wesley had friends among the clergy. The Vicars of Halifax and Dewsbury met him on friendly terms, and the Vicar of Wakefield, the Rev. Benjamin Wilson, more tolerant then his predecessor, Mr Arnet, invited him to preach in the parish church on April 12th 1752.
"I came to Wakefield as the bells were ringing, and went directly to Mr Wilson in the vestry ; the behaviour of the congregation surprised me. I saw none light, none careless, or unaffected. Who would have expected to see me preaching in Wakefield church to so attentive a congregation a few uears ago when all the people were as roaring lions, and the honest man (Francis Scott) did not dare to let me preach in his yard lest the mob should pull down his house".
On May 11th 1757, Wesley preached in a meadow near New Wells, Thornhill Street, and walked form Francis Scott's yard in Westgate, up the street, and down Almshouse Lane, dressed in his robes and bands.
"When I began the sun shone exeeding hot, but in a few minutes it was covered with clouds. The congregation was more quiet and serious than ever I saw before. Almost as soon as I had done speaking, the sun broke out again".
It was now determined to build a meeting-house, and for this purpose in 1773, Wesley's old friend, Francis Scott purchased from Edward Popplewell 338 yards of land at 3s per yard, at the junction of a narrow land which led from Kirkgate by the side of a garden until it joined Almshouse Lane and another narrow land Thornhill Lane, which went to the New Wells, then a public bathinb house, and [assed onward through the Ings to Thornes Lane and Kirkgate Bridge. George Street and Charlotte Street were then not made and no buildings of any kind existed near to it. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid by John Wesley on August 30th 1773 and the cost of the building was£500, towards which £202 was subscribed. In an old Trust Account are several interesting items :-
1773, July 28. At mearing land and signing articles of agreement 10d. Bricks 7s 6d per 1000 ; slates 10s per ton ; labourer's wages 1s 6d per day. (Frequent mention is made of drink, it being the custom to supply the labourers with liquid refreshment). A little book and letter from Mr Wesley, postage 7d.
1775, Feb 5. Was borrowed of Mr James Milnes £250, of Mr Francis Scott £50, for both of which summs all the trustees gave their bonds.
1780 July 30. The above £50 was repaid to Mr Scott.
John Wesley opened the new chapel on Thursday April 28th 1774, exactly twenty-two years after he had preached in the parish church, and said -
"What a change is here, since our friend was afraid to let me preach in his house, lest the mob should pull it down ! So I preached in the main street, and there was sown the first seed which has since borne so plenteous a harvest. Six years later, April 10th 1780, in the evening of Monday I preached to a genteel congregation in Wakefield".
He again preached there on July 14 of the same year. His visits after this were frequent, usually once in every two years, his last visit, the sixteenth, being on April 23 1790, less than a year before his death. What changes he had brought about in the spiritual life of his times is difficult to realize.
Wesley never formally severed his connection with the Church of England. The year before he died (1790) he wrote 'I live and die a member of the Church of England. I never had any design of separating from the Church. I have no such design now. In flat opposition to those' (who wish to separate) 'I declare once more that I live and die a member of the Church of England and that none who regrd my judgement or advice, will ever separate from it'.
Dr Zouch, vicar of Sandal, wrote to a friend, 'The Sectaries increaseprodigiously in this part of Yorkshire. At Wakefield no fewer than 6,000 children are instructed on Sundays by Methodist teachers'.
The congregation grew so rapidly that by 1801 it was felt that a much larger chapel was necessary for their accommodation. In 1801, the site of the present Chapel in West Parade was purchased for £537 and the old one sold to the Society of Friends fir £500, whose meeting house it still remains, the total cost of the new Chapel being £3,842.
The chapel was enlarged from 66 feet in length to 96 feet and the vestries were added in 1836. Early in 1880 a renovation of the chapel was begun, the old cloth-lined pews and the benches were done away with, the pews were made alike, the present vestibule with ministers' and choir vestries added.
One of the ministers at this chapel was the Rev. G B Macdonald, whose daughters married Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Richard Poynter, Mr Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling and Mr Baldwin, father of Viscount Baldwin, ex Prime Minister of England.
To read fully the events, read 'Wakefield its History and People' by J W Walker OBE FSA