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A History of Horncastle by James Conway Walter

His earliest recorded visit to Horncastle was in 1759


[Picture: Wesleyan Chapel]

In 1729 the Rector of Lincoln College summoned John Wesley to resume residence at Oxford, and he became Tutor of the College. In this capacity he was careful to look after the souls, as well as the intellectual training, of those under his influence. The brothers began missionary work in Oxford, about the year 1730, in which they were assisted by a few other kindred spirits. They visited the sick and needy, with the permission of the parish clergy, as well as offenders confined in the gaol. This continued for some time, but gradually John began to long for a wider field for his spiritual energies. He had gathered about him a small band of equally earnest associates, and they went out to Georgia, North America, in 1735, to work among the English settlers and North American Indians. After two years John returned to England, in 1737, and then began the work of his life.

It is said that he was a good deal influenced by the _De Imitatione Christi_ of Thomas a Kempis (of which he published an abridged edition in 1777), {66a} also by Jeremy Taylor's _Holy Living and Dying_; and he imputed his own conversion to his study of Law's _Serious Call_. His "first impression of genuine Christianity," as he called it, was from the Moravian sect, with whom he came in contact at Hirnuth in Saxony, which he visited in 1738, after his return from America; but his complete

"conversion," he was wont to say, occurred at a meeting of friends, in Aldersgate Street, London, where one of them was reading Luther's _Preface to St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans_, the exact time being 8.45 p.m., May 24, 1738.

Though taking an independent course, and appointing only lay workers as his agents, he regarded himself to the end of his days as an ordained minister of the Church of England, and his society as still being a part of it, and he urged all faithful Wesleyans to attend church service once on Sunday, and to receive the Holy Communion at church, it being only after his death that the society's secession became complete. {66b}

The first Wesleyan congregation of about 50 members, some of them Moravians, was formed in London, where they met in Fetter Lane, once a week; the first meeting being on May 1st, 1738, and from that day the society of "Methodists" may be regarded as having begun. {66c} The birth of the sect in Lincolnshire may be said to date from his visit to Epworth, in 1742.

In 1743 he divided the whole county into two sections, or circuits, the eastern and western. Of the eastern Grimsby was the head; this included Horncastle, and gradually comprised some 15 other subsidiary centres, extending from Grimsby and Caistor in the north, to Holbeach in the south.

His earliest recorded visit to Horncastle was in 1759, when he addressed a large concourse of people in a yard, supposed to be that of the Queen's Head Inn, near the Market Place, on April 4th and 5th. On July 18th, 1761, he again preached here, and on July 18th, 1774, he addressed, as his journal states, "a wild unbroken herd." On July 6th, 1779, he says "I took my usual stand in the Market Place, Horncastle, the wild men were more quiet than usual, Mr. Brackenbury, J.P., of Raithby Hall, standing near me." This Mr. Robert Carr Brackenbury remained his firm friend through life; and we may here add that he granted to Wesley the use of his hay loft at Raithby for religious services, further securing the use of it in perpetuity, by his will, to the Wesleyan body, so that the curious anomaly has occurred that, when the hall was bought in 1848, by the Rev. Edward Rawnsley, the house became the residence of an Anglican clergyman, yet bound to allow the loft over his stable to be used for nonconformist worship. In recent years the stable has been unused as such and the loft made more comfortable, being furnished with seats, pulpit, &c


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