From 1742 to 1789, John Wesley came to the North East almost every summer.
In his Journal, he often remarks on the weather, makes crisp comments on the people he preached to and occasionally refers to his own state of health and spirits.
On Monday, April 22, 1751, on his way into Scotland: “The rain stopped while I was preaching in the market-place at Morpeth. We rode from thence to Alnwick.”
Likewise, on May 11, 1752, going to Berwick: “After preaching at Morpeth in my way, though with little present effect, I rode on to Alnwick and preached at the Cross to a far more numerous and more serious congregation.”
And on Monday, May 26, 1756, on a visit from Newcastle to Alnwick: “I rode to Morpeth, where I preached to a small but quiet congregation. In the evening I preached in the new room at Alnwick, but I could scarce be heard, my voice being very weak.”
On Monday May 18, 1761: “At nine I preached to a large and serious congregation at Widdrington. Thence we rode to Morpeth.
“As it was a rainy day, they expected me to preach in the room, but, observing a large covered place in the market-place, I went thither without delay. It was soon more than filled; and many, soldiers and others, stood on the outside notwithstanding the rain.
“At five I preached to the honest, simple-hearted colliers at Plessey, and before sunset reached Newcastle.”
In May 1763, he was in Edinburgh. The General Assembly of the Kirk was in session and many of the gentry came to hear him: “I spoke as plain as ever I did in my life; but I never knew any in Scotland offended at plain dealing. In this respect the North Britons are a pattern to all mankind.”
He rode back by Dunbar and Alnwick, and on June 1: “I went on to Morpeth, and preached in a ground near the town to far the most serious congregation I had ever seen there. At one I preached to the loving colliers at Plessey, and in the evening at Newcastle.”
On Monday, May 21, 1764: “I took my leave of Newcastle, and about noon preached in the market-place at Morpeth. A few of the hearers were a little ludicrous at first; but their mirth was quickly spoiled.”
In May 1766, while spending a week in Newcastle, he: “Preached at as many of the neighbouring places as I could, and on Monday 19 set out northward. About two I preached to the honest colliers at Plessey and in the evening at Morpeth.
“Tues. 20.— About noon I preached at Felton. There were many hearers, though the wind was extremely sharp; and most of them were attentive, but very few seemed to understand anything of the matter.”
He preached at Alnwick in the evening, but the next day the stern evangelist briefly gave way to the cultured tourist: “We spent an hour in the Castle and the gardens, which the duke is enlarging and improving daily, and turning into a little paradise.”
On May 23, 1761: “I rode over to Plessey. I was wet through both going and coming, but I did not repent of my journey.”
On Saturday, May 21, 1768, returning south through Dunbar, Berwick and Alnwick: “About noon, I preached at Morpeth, and in the evening at Newcastle, in the old custom-house, a large commodious room near the quay-side, the grand resort of publicans and sinners.”
Of June 1774, he writes: “Friday, 10th, about eleven, I preached in the little square adjoining the preaching-house in Morpeth.”
On Monday, May 24, 1779: “I preached at five in the Orphan House; about nine at Plessey; at noon at the market-house at Morpeth. Many soldiers who were marching through the town came in... In the evening I preached in the court-house at Alnwick, and at night was no more tired than in the morning.”
On Saturday, May 27, 1780, when he was again coming from Scotland: “At noon I preached in the town-hall at Morpeth and God applied His word to many hearts. In the afternoon I preached to the loving colliers at Plessey, and then went on to Newcastle.”
In May 1784: “Sat. 29.— I should have preached in the town-hall at Morpeth, but it was pre-engaged by a company of strolling players. So we retired into our own preaching-house. In the afternoon I went on to Newcastle.”
On Monday, May 26, 1788, he left Alnwick for Morpeth for the last time: “After preaching at five in the morning... and taking a solemn leave of the congregation; I went on to Morpeth; but was informed the town-hall was totally engaged; the lower part by a company of players, the upper by a dancing-master.
"However, the latter did scruple the having his right; so I preached to the largest congregation I ever saw there.... It was indeed a wonderful season, such as we had scarce had before since we left Bristol.”
An incident at Plessey again shows Wesley’s lively interest in phenomena of every kind. On Sunday, June 5, 1759, he heard a curious report about James Gillies. He preached at Plessey the next day and asked Gillies about it: “He informed me that when he was a little child he learned his Christ-cross row (i.e. an alphabet beginning with a cross); but this he soon forgot.
“Between twenty and thirty he was deeply convinced of sin, at which time, feeling a strong persuasion that he could read, he went into a neighbour’s house, took up a Bible, and read distinctly, which he has done ever since.”
In the same journal entry, Wesley pays us a fine compliment. I think we can safely regard his reference to Newcastle as meaning the whole of the North East: “After preaching, I rode on to Newcastle; certainly, if I did not believe there was another world, I should spend all my summers here, as I know no place in Great Britain comparable to it for pleasantness. But I seek another country, and therefore am content to be a wanderer upon earth.”
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