An alarming incident on Wesley’s trail

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John Wesley came to Morpeth at least 24 times, but his Journal does not record every place he visited so he almost certainly came here more often.

His first visit was in 1748. He was threatened by a young man, "at the head of his troop, (who) told me, very plainly and roughly, ‘You shall not preach there’.”

He went on, and although the young man “gave the signal to his companions”, their courage failed and he carried on uninterrupted.

In spite of the fact that Morpeth had plenty of good inns, he never seems to have stayed overnight. It was always a place he called at on his way somewhere else.

A typical example was an eight-day tour that began on Friday, September 8, 1749.

“I reached Newcastle, and, after resting a day... set out to visit the northern societies. I began with that at Morpeth, where I preached at twelve, on one side of the market-place. It was feared that the market would draw people from the sermon, but it was just the contrary. They quitted their stalls, and there was no buying or selling till the sermon was concluded.”

He then went on to Alnwick and Berwick, returning to Alnwick on September 14.

“Hence I rode to Alnmouth, and laboured to awaken a stupid, drowsy people by preaching in the most convincing manner I could. For the present they seemed to be deeply affected; God grant it may continue!”

When he first saw Alnmouth, he described it as “a small seaport town, famous for all kinds of wickedness”, so something must have changed for the better.

“Fri. 15.— I offered ‘the redemption which is in Jesus’ to a more lively congregation at Widdrington.

“Sat. 16.— I preached in Morpeth at noon, in Plessey about five, and then rode on to Newcastle.”

Similarly, on a journey south from Scotland on Monday, June 13, 1757: “I proclaimed the love of Christ to sinners in the market-place at Morpeth. Thence we rode to Plessey.

“After preaching I met the society in a room as warm as any in Georgia. This, with the scorching heat of the sun when we rode on, quite exhausted my strength; but after we came to Newcastle, I soon recovered, and preached with as much ease as in the morning.”

On the Saturday: “I rode to Widdrington, and preached at one to a congregation gathered from all parts.”

He spent Sunday in Alnwick, and attended the parish church as a member of the congregation.

“Mon. 18.— Having an uneasy horse, I was tired enough when we came into Morpeth. But, after resting a while, I was strengthened to preach ‘Christ crucified’ in the market-place, to such a congregation as was never seen there before; and a solemn awe seemed to sit on every face, officers and gentlemen, as well as common people.

"After preaching at Plessey in the evening, I rode back to Newcastle.”

Wesley’s Journal records five visits to Widdrington, but it could never compare with his “honest, simple-hearted colliers at Plessey”.

He often travelled by coach or on horseback, but also had his own chaise.

A chaise was a travelling carriage seating two to four people, all of whom sat facing forward. It was drawn by two horses, with the driver riding on the nearside horse. This allowed the passengers to see in front, there being no coach box to block their view.

Luggage was carried in a trunk boot at the front, or in a smaller one at the back.

Chariots were for town driving and had a coach box. But you could turn it into a post chaise for longer journeys by removing the box.

The following incident took place on June 20, 1774, near Denton Burn.

Leaving Newcastle at about nine: "I set out for Horsley, with Mr Hopper and Mr Smith. I took Mrs Smith (his step–daughter) and her two little girls in the chaise with me.

“About two miles from the town, just on the brow of a hill, on a sudden both the horses set out, without any visible cause, and flew down the hill like an arrow out of a bow. In a minute John fell off the coach-box.

"A narrow bridge was at the foot of the hill; they went directly over the middle of it. They ran up the next hill with the same speed, many persons meeting us, but getting out of the way.

“Near the top of the hill was a gate, which led into a farmer’s yard. It stood open. They turned short and ran through it, without touching."

They smashed through the next gate: "as if it had been a cobweb, and galloped on through the corn-field.

“The little girls cried out, ‘Grandpapa, save us!’ I told them, ‘Nothing will hurt you; do not be afraid’; feeling no more fear or care than if I had been in my study. The horses ran on till they came to the edge of a steep precipice.

“Just then Mr Smith, who could not overtake us before, galloped in between. They stopped in a moment. Had they gone on ever so little, he and we must have gone down together!”

Wesley had no doubt that spiritual forces were behind the incident.

“I am persuaded,” he wrote, “both evil and good angels had a large share in this transaction.”