REVIVALS IN CORNWALL
On my tour of the revival sites of West Cornwall I was surprised to find that there appear to have been more revivals in that part of the nation than anywhere else in the world, except probably Wales. This statement is made from my incomplete knowledge of worldwide revivals, but I have not heard of anywhere, apart from Wales, that comes close. William Haslam (see this website) said that in his experience revivals were happening every year. Now he may have been exaggerating to make a point, but it does seem that there were many revivals between 1790 and 1865; sometimes they were just in one town or village, sometimes they were over the majority of West Cornwall.
I have defined revival on this website as: a) A place where the Kingdom of God has come on earth and b) A place where the Kingdom of God remained after the initiator had left and c) A place where the effect was felt outside the immediate area or people would travel from outside the area to visit
Elsewhere on this website I have covered the lives of some of the people I have come across in my research (William Haslam, Billy Bray, William Carvosso and Samuel Walker), but here I try to give a general overview of revival in this area of Cornwall, particularly from 1740 to 1865. I have to admit that my research has brought to my mind more questions than answers about why revivals begin and end, but I hope that I will be able to revisit this section once I have completed my tour around the United Kingdom. Maybe then I will have more answers, but I suspect I will just have to say, “Well, God is God.”
It is believed that Christianity came to England soon after Pentecost and it thrived here under the Romans. However, we were invaded in the fourth and fifth centuries and Christianity was pushed back to the extremities of the nation - Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Early in the fifth century Patrick was evangelising Ireland and from him came many Celtic missionaries that went into Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Continental Europe. It is difficult to tell fact from myth in the stories of this period, but one of the first missionaries to Cornwall was St Gwinear. He is supposed to have been a pupil of Patrick who landed in the Hayle area from Ireland and who became the first Cornish martyr. There are many Cornish towns named after saints, but it is difficult to know whether some of them are fact or fiction. The most famous Saint is Piran, who is the patron saint of tinners and of Cornwall. It is believed that Piran was Irish and that he came to Perranzabuloe in the sixth century, where his Oratory and Chapel are buried under the sand dunes. St Petroc arrived at Trebetherick, opposite Padstow around 600 and founded Bodmin. These Celtic Christians moved in signs and wonders and spread the gospel throughout Cornwall and elsewhere; so Cornwall, like parts of Scotland, Wales and northern England, was blessed by the Spirit of God at an early time.
Sadly, the demise of the Celtic Church came in 664 at the Synod of Whitby, where the King of Northumbria decided to embrace the Pope and the Roman Church rather than the Celtic Church. In time Roman Catholicism spread throughout the nation and we had to wait over 800 years before the Reformation came.
Scattered all over Cornwall are “Holy Wells”. I do not know much about them, but they were used by pagans long before the Christian missionaries arrived and they were believed to have magical powers. Different wells were thought to have specific healing properties. The website http://www.antipope.org/feorag/wells/hope/cornwall.html gives details of several Cornish Holy Wells. Just as early Christians built churches at formerly pagan sites, they also “Christianised” the Holy Wells, using them to baptise people. One can still see steps leading down into some of them, such as the Well at Sancreed. Again it is difficult to separate myth from fact, so I have decided to exclude them from my website (although I have included two, Sancreed and Madron, for interest sake).
There were many monastic communities that looked after the wellbeing of the Cornish people. Any town that begins with “lan” or “nan” probably had a monastic community originally. There are two ancient chapels included on the site; one at Madron, which was used by pilgrims on their way to the ports on the south coast of Cornwall to catch boats to the Continent, and the one already mentioned at Perranzabuloe.
The Middle Ages
Cornwall was annexed by Wessex in 838 when they were defeated at the battle of Hingston Down. Cornwall did not acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury until 925 when Cornwall was organised into parishes. Gradually all the excesses of Roman Catholicism were imposed and the wonderful days of Celtic Christianity in Cornwall were all but forgotten. Priests were ignorant, teaching Church myth rather than Biblical truth. Bishops were corrupt and immoral, draining the people through taxation so that the Pope and his Bishops could live in luxury. Cornwall was no different from anywhere else in England; the whole country being under the yoke of Rome.
The Sixteenth Century
The Reformation arrived, but just as Cornwall was one of the last places in the country to be catholicised; so it was one of the last places to experience the comparative freedom of the Reformation. One of the main reasons for the delay was that much of Cornwall did not speak English, so did not benefit immediately from either the English Bible or the English Prayer Book, which became widespread during the reign of Edward VI in the middle of the century. It was not until 1603 that English was spoken across the county. By 1640 only Feock and Landewednoc churches still used the Cornish language.
The Cornish did not receive the Prayer Book quietly. Over the centuries they had forgotten their Christian roots and embraced the Latin Mass. Their love of the Roman Church was so great that they marched to Exeter to protest, but they were defeated and their leaders hanged. There were two Cornish martyrs during this century, one a Protestant and one a Catholic. The Protestant was Agnes Prest who was from Launceston. She was burned at the stake in Exeter in 1558 during the persecutions of Queen Mary. She was executed for speaking against transubstantiation and idols. The Catholic was Cuthbert Mayne who was executed in the Market Square in Launceston in1577. He was clearly a Catholic priest and probably teaching Catholicism and saying Mass (a crime in itself), but although the five charges against him were not proved, he was still found guilty. His case went before the Privy Council and then the Bench of Judges who were inclined towards leniency because of the flimsy case, but the Privy Council ordered his execution. Although he was probably, technically guilty, he still did not deserve death.
Catholicism slowly disappeared from Cornwall during the century and Puritanism slowly developed. Anglicanism under Elizabeth, and even more so under James I and Charles I, was much more Anglo-Catholic than it was Evangelical. There were many in England who thought that the Reformation under Elizabeth did not go far enough in bringing the Church back to its New Testament ideals and at the same time they were concerned that it was much too Catholic. These were the Puritans, more or less the Evangelicals of today.
The Seventeenth Century
Throughout England the quality of minister during the first half of the century was very poor. However, there were signs of Puritanism in Cornwall at this time thanks to the flexible approach of Bishop Hall of Exeter (The Bishop of Exeter had Cornwall in his diocese), who allowed Puritan ministers a bit of leeway. Three times he had to make his excuses to the king for his attitude towards Puritans. This was not the only connection that Bishop Hall had with Cornwall; one of his descendants was Samuel Walker of Truro (see this website) who was an exemplary evangelical minister in the next century.
Under Charles I and his Archbishop of Canterbury the church became more Catholic and tolerance towards Puritanism lessened; the result was Civil War. There were additional reasons for the outbreak of war, but fear of Catholicism was one of the main ones. The King needed money and to get money he needed Parliament to grant it. Unfortunately for the king Parliament was largely Puritan in its leanings, so there was a huge conflict here and the King, believing that he could do no wrong; refused to back down.
The Civil War began in 1642. In Cornwall the nobility was on the side of the King, but like most places, the rest were divided. The war was fought hard in Cornwall and the Royalists had the upper hand until 1644. In 1646 Fairfax swept through the West Country. After the Civil War Cromwell took over the country and an attempt was made to make the Church Puritan. Under his orders many ignorant and lazy ministers were fired and Bible-believing Christians put in their place. The improvement was short lived because after Cromwell’s death, Charles II was restored to the throne and Puritans were persecuted until the Toleration Act of 1689.
Into Cornwall in 1655 walked/rode George Fox (see this website), the founder of Quakerism. Fox was a powerful born again man who walked in the power of Holy Spirit. He had one good meeting as he came into Cornwall and then he went to St Ives with Edward Pyot and another man. While one of their horses was being shod he went down to the seaside. On returning he found an uproar as his two friends had been arrested by a Major Ceeley. The three of them were eventually taken to Launceston Castle where they were held for nine weeks until the Assizes. The charges against them were not proved, but they were fined for not taking their hats off in court and were sent back to Launceston Prison until they paid their fine; something Fox was not inclined to do as it was unjust. They were then thrown into “Doomsdale.” Fox describes it well in his Journal. “A nasty, stinking place, where they used to put murderers after they were condemned. The place was so noisome that it was observed few that went in did ever come out again in health. There was no house of office in it, and the excrement of the prisoners that from time to time had been put there had not been carried out (as we were told) for many years. So that it was all like mire, and in some places to the tops of the shoes in water and urine; and he would not let us cleanse it, nor suffer us to have beds or straw to lie on.
At night some friendly people of the town brought us a candle and a little straw, and we burned a little of our straw to take away the stink. The thieves lay over our heads, and the head jailer in a room by them, over our heads also. It seems the smoke went up into the room where the jailer lay; which put him into such a rage that he took the pots of excrement from the thieves and poured them through a hole upon our heads in Doomsdale, till we were so bespattered that we could not touch ourselves nor one another. And the stink increased upon us; so that what with stink, and what with smoke, we were almost choked and smothered. We had the stink under our feet before, but now we had it on our heads and backs also; and he having quenched our straw with the filth he poured down, had made a great smother in the place. Moreover, he railed at us most hideously, calling us hatchet-faced dogs, and such strange names as we had never heard of. In this manner we were obliged to stand all night, for we could not sit down, the place was so full of filthy excrement.” Fox relates how his imprisonment helped spread the light of God into Cornwall. “And indeed my imprisonment there was of the Lord, and for His service in those parts; for after the assizes were over, and it was known that we were likely to continue prisoners, several Friends from most parts of the nation came into the country to visit us. Those parts of the west were very dark countries at that time but the Lord’s light and truth broke forth, shone over all, and many were turned from darkness to light, and from Satan’s power unto God. Many were moved to go to the steeple-houses; and several were sent to prison to us; and a great convincement began in the country. For now we had liberty to come out, and to walk in the Castle-Green; and many came to us on First-days, to whom we declared the Word of life.”
They were soon moved to a better part of the prison where they had a number of visitors, one of whom was lady called Loveday Hambly. Hambly was a middle aged woman who came with her sister and it appears from the journal that they were both converted. She was a widow who lived on a substantial farm a little west of St Austell and her home became a meeting place for Quakers and a place where their travelling preachers would stay. On Fox’s release in July 1656 he went directly to her home “and had a fine, precious meeting; many were convinced, and turned by the Spirit of the Lord to the Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching.” She suffered much for her faith, ending up in Launceston prison herself. Over the years she was deprived of a lot of her estate because she refused to pay her tithe to the church. Hambly is much thought of by the Quakers and there is a book about her called “A Quaker Saint of Cornwall” by L V Hodgkin, published in 1927. To be honest, there is little in the book about her other than where she was born, lived and died; the rest of the book deals with the characters that were around her.
Fox left the county soon after his release and never returned. He talks in his journal about the many who were converted; he left behind about five groups who met regularly, but Quakerism never took hold in Cornwall. In 1851 there were only 389 Quakers out of a population of 356,641.
Until 1689, Puritans, Quakers and anyone else who would not declare obedience to everything in the Prayer Book of the Church of England, were persecuted with many fine ministers being thrown out of their churches. A document held in Dr William’s Library shows that 46 Cornish ministers were ejected from their churches under the Uniformity Act of 1662. Two thousand good churchmen were ejected in all, which must have surprised many as Charles II had promised religious toleration on his restoration to the throne in 1660. The morals of society degenerated until by 1730 England, including Cornwall was at its lowest ebb with drunkenness and immorality rife among all levels of society, including the church.
The Eighteenth Century
This was the century of the Great Awakening under John Wesley, George Whitefield (see this website for more on these two men) and others. John Wesley was to visit Cornwall 32 times, his first trip being in 1743. At this time there were very few people in Cornwall who did not worship at the parish church. There were a few congregations of Presbyterians and Quakers, but that was all. The spread of Puritanism (Non-Conformity, Dissenting) that had taken place in most of England during the last century had hardly touched Cornwall. There were however a few parishes that had “born again”, Evangelical, Spirit filled ministers in charge; men such as George Thompson of St Gennys, John Bennet of Tresmere and John Penrose of Penryn. In a few years Samuel Walker (see this website) would be in Truro and he would become the leader of the Anglican Evangelical leaders in his area.
The Cornwall that Wesley came into in 1743 was very wild. There were no roads to speak of, just tracks, and very few in a state to be used by a wheeled vehicle. This meant that communities were very isolated, although things improved from the 1750s with new roads being built. The main income of the Cornish for many centuries came from tin mining and fishing. Agriculture was not productive at this time and the populated areas were not self-sufficient in food. The problem was that they were still ploughing with oxen rather than horses and their ploughing equipment was antiquated. Most people were focusing on mining and were not inclined towards agriculture. The main fishing was for pilchards, but turbot, red mullet and other fish were caught. New machines for the mines increased production substantially. Copper mining was coming into its own and would soon be more valuable that tin.
Mining was mainly in the West of Cornwall; the populations in that area increased because of the mining. The population of Cornwall in 1700 was 105,800; in 1750 it had increased to 135,000; to 194,500 in 1801 and 356,641 by 1851. It was a precarious life for the eighteenth-century miner; there were many accidents and if a mine was flooded there would be no work, and families would starve. Wages were small, and sometimes there were riots because food prices were too high, resulting in many dying of starvation; but the owners made huge profits. Drink was a problem amongst the miners. Due to smuggling it could be obtained cheaply and it was often given at elections to corrupt voters. Elections were full of corruption, which had a considerable effect nationally, because Cornwall had 44 Members of Parliament; way too many for the size of their population. The whole of Scotland only had 45 MPs. Nearly everyone was involved in smuggling in some way, rich and poor, vicars and congregations. Wesley noted in his journal in 1753, ‘the next day I began examining the society at St Ives, but I was soon obliged to stop short. I found an accursed thing among them; well nigh one and all bought or sold uncustomed goods. According to diocesan figures, attendance at churches in 1744 was better than one might expect; however there was a serious problem of non-residence (living in another parish) and pluralism (having more than one parish) amongst the clergy. In many cases, pluralism was understandable because the clergy were paid so badly they could not afford to live on their income from one parish. Samuel Walker was the curate in Truro, not the vicar, so he had to pay half his parish income to the vicar who lived elsewhere. He had to go around begging his congregation for money once each year in order to cover his expenses. He was short of money his whole life. In 1768 around half the vicars were living away from their parishes.
Charles Wesley (see this website) came to Cornwall first in 1743 at the invitation of a blossoming Methodist Society in St Ives that was probably the only one in Cornwall. His brother followed him later in the year. It was a difficult time for them to begin with because a few vicars accused them of being Catholics. This was the time when the Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in England and tried to raise up an army to overthrow the King. Cornwall could easily have been on the Young Pretender’s route, so it was not unnatural for the populace to be nervy; in fact John Wesley was once mistaken for the Prince. However, the panic was over by Wesley’s 1747 trip and he was able to minister from then on with only his usual amount of opposition.
Charles had quite a bit of success from his tour of 1743 according to one extract from his journal. “I preached at Gwennap to near two thousand hungry souls who devoured the word of reconciliation. Half my audience were tinners from about Redruth, which I hear is taken.” Less than a month after his brother leaving Cornwall, John arrived. On this visit, John generally preached to a few hundred people, but at Treswithen Downs he preached to over two thousand. Charles was back the following July, and he was soon writing “Here a little one has become a thousand. What an amazing work hath God done in one year! The whole county is alarmed and gone forth after the sound of the Gospel. Our preachers are daily pressed to new places, and enabled to preach five or six times a day.”
The enthusiasm with which these Methodist preachers were received is perhaps not surprising. The rules of the Church of England at this time, and for the next hundred years, were that you could not preach in another man’s parish without permission. This meant that it was highly unlikely that any of these people in the West of Cornwall would have heard a visiting preacher and few of them would have heard the Gospel truths that were being preached to them. Also, the number of entertainments that these poor miners enjoyed was very few, so I am sure they were eager to see these new-styled preachers.
Wesley made 17 trips to Cornwall between 1743 and 1769. The remainder of his trips up to 1789 were only for a week or two each time, although he never visited without the Spirit of God pouring out. Many thousands came to hear him preach. The biggest crowds were in St Ives, St Just and Gwennap, and they were also the places that he visited most often. Twice he says in his journal that virtually the whole town of St Ives came to his meeting, and at Gwennap he says many times that 20,000 were present; a couple of times he estimated that there were 32,000. These huge numbers were when he was preaching at an amphitheatre that had been created out of some collapsed mine works; a smaller version can still be seen there today. I am very dubious about the numbers that Wesley quotes; he says he calculates the number of square yards available and then says that five people occupy one square yard. If the whole population of Cornwall was 135,000, then nearly 25% showed up at the meeting - unlikely.
I am going to discuss St Just in much more detail now, and when we look at the next century. It is one of the few places in the country where one is still able to see the growth of Methodism from a small meeting to a church. Wesley wanted to preach the Gospel, something most ministers did not do. He wanted to stir up the Church of England which was in a pretty sorry state. He was a Church of England minister and remained one until he died. It was only after his death that his followers formally created a new church. He encouraged his followers to not only meet together, but to also go to the parish church regularly; he himself did this and often preached outside the church after the service he attended had finished. In order to ensure that his people were trained correctly, because they wouldn’t be in the parish church, he organised for them to join societies. These societies were divided into classes of around 10 people, under a class leader that would meet during the week, and they would come together on Sunday afternoon to meet as a society. Full time preachers would go round from society to society on a “circuit”.
St Just is situated one mile from the far west coast of Cornwall and about six miles north of Lands End. I am thankful to Doug Luxford for showing me around the town and for giving me information on its history. The town has been inextricably linked with the rise and the decline of the tin and copper industries; at this time having a considerable population, one comparable to Manchester. Charles Wesley visited St Just three times and his brother 27 times. They would regularly attend St Just Parish Church, as would most of the early Methodists. The parish register records the burial of Elizabeth Thomas in 1889, aged 87 who was the last Wesleyan Methodist regularly attending Holy Communion. One of the places where the Wesleys often preached was at the parish cross which stood roughly where the south west gates now stand. On July 2nd, 1745 John Wesley was arrested by the cross just as he was concluding his sermon. Opposite the church is the former 17th Century inn (Chenhall’s House) where the Wesleys used to stay. Another place where they preached was in the Plain an Gwarry by the clock tower. This medieval amphitheatre was 126 ft in diameter and could hold up to 2,000 people. On Oct 11th, 1743 Wesley preached there ‘to the largest congregation ever seen in these parts.”
The Inn was the first meeting place for the new Methodist society. By 1746 Charles speaks about the society meeting in the Society House (now called the “Meeting Place”) in North Row, which was used until 1755. At that time Wesley preached on the foundation stone of the next Society House, returning in 1757 to describe it as ‘the largest and most commodious in the county.” This was in Cape Cornwall Street, next to Trelew House.
There are many entries in the Wesley's journals about St Just. I set out here a few examples, but John Pearce in his book ‘the Wesleys in Cornwall” lists all the Journal entries of both John and Charles’ visits to Cornwall.
Charles Wesley stood on a green bank by a plain next to the town on July 31st, 1743 and noted: “About 2,000, mostly tinners, attended, no one offering to stir, or move in hand or tongue.”
Charles Wesley wrote on July 21st, 1744: “Upward of 200 are settled in classes, most of whom have tasted the pardoning Grace of God.”
Charles Wesley commented on July 27th, 1746: “I went to Church at St Just and then to my old pulpit, the large stone by brother Chenhall’s house….Then one began throwing stones.”
John Wesley on September 10th 1743: “I then preached at the cross to I believe 1,000 people, who all behaved in a quiet and serious manner.”
John Wesley on April 7th, 1744: “However some 100s were there (despite the rain). It is remarkable that those of St Just were the chief of the whole county for hurling, fighting, drinking and all manner of wickedness, but many of the lions have become lambs.”
John Wesley on August 18th, 1750: “I rode to St Just, where there is still the largest society in Cornwall; and so great a portion of believers I have not found in all the nation besides. 45 persons I have observed, as they came in turn (they were regularly examined as to where they were spiritually and as to how well they conformed to Methodist discipline), and everyone walking in the light of God’s countenance.”
John Wesley on July 28th, 1753: “We rode on to St Just; and found such a congregation at six in the evening as we used to have ten year since. I did not find any society in the county so much alive to God as this. Fifty or threescore have been added to it lately, and many children filled with peace and joy in believing.”
John Wesley on September 12th, 1762: “Hence we rode to St Just where I spent two comfortable nights, the congregation being very large, evening and morning.”
John Wesley on August 23rd, 1776: ‘the congregation, both morning and evening, was large; and great was our rejoicing in the Lord.”
Despite the large crowds that came to listen to Wesley, the numbers in the society were not great and they declined from over 200 to 45 in six years. One can only speculate the reasons for this. It seems that many of those who came to listen only came out of curiosity or something to do. Samuel Walker of Truro mentions that 800 came to enquire more after services, but only 80 became members of the church, so he confirms a lot falling away. The people who joined the societies were the really serious. However, that is not the whole story, as there was a wider circle of supporters who attended the services although they were not society members, and another group who attended less frequently.
Wesley sometimes talks in his Journal about problems in a society due to not enough discipline or preachers only visiting occasionally. Speculating again; it must have been one thing for people to hear Holy Spirit inspired messages from Wesley once every year or two and another to get into the nitty gritty of society life. Wesley seldom preached without the power of God and he must have really stirred up the hearts of the congregation, but then he would depart, leaving people to depend on the local leader, who might have fallen well short of Wesley in anointing and power. I have so far been unable to find society attendance records from 1750 to 1775 to match them up to what Wesley says in his Journals; they would make very interesting study. Wesley did not visit Cornwall in 1758 or 1759. He wrote a letter in 1760 saying “I am now entering into Cornwall which I have not visited these three years, and consequently all things in it are out of order.” Society numbers dropped from 1,700 to 1,200 in that period, but by his death they had risen to 4,000. Four thousand does not seem much fruit from 32 visits, but during those 46 years probably two generations would have died and as mentioned above society numbers only tells part of the story. It is likely also that the faith of many in the parish churches, who did not join the Methodists, would have been stirred up.
Despite Wesley insisting that his people continue going to the parish church and his dedication to the Church of England, local evangelical ministers such as Samuel Walker of Truro found the Methodists disruptive. Walker was a much respected minister; his opinions were noted in church circles and he had some very definite views about Wesley and Methodism. There were three main problems that concerned him - some erroneous doctrines, the desire of some leaders to persuade Wesley to separate from the Church of England and the existence of Methodist lay preachers. Walker could not agree with Wesley “on the definition of faith and way of coming at assurance which follows from it …they have thought believing to be feeling and faith by them hath been placed in the affections instead of in the heart.” Walker also disagreed with Wesley on Sanctification, believing it to be an ongoing work rather than an act of faith that immediately cleansed the soul from all sin.
Separation from the Established Church was a real issue at this time with Wesley being pressed by some of his leaders to make the break. Walker was in regular correspondence with Wesley on this matter, setting out clearly with his usual thoroughness, the matters that were in question. Wesley seems to have respected and appreciated the correspondence with Walker. He finally came to the same view as Walker that there would be more harm than good in separation and it was not until after his death that the break finally came.
Walker also did not like the itinerant preachers who went around Cornwall preaching in any parish they saw fit. As mentioned already, ministers did not like people invading their parishes, it was a breach of Church order. Walker wanted “As many of your preachers as are fit for it might be ordained and that the others might be fixed to certain societies and that in my judgement, as inspectors and readers, rather than preachers.” He saw the itinerant preachers as being a church within a church and therefore unacceptable. He was also concerned that many of them were not knowledgeable enough for the work they were trying to do. Walker was particularly concerned about Methodist Societies being in Evangelical parishes; he wanted these societies to be handed over to the vicar. Wesley never set foot in Walker’s parish as he knew Walker was doing a fine job, but there was Methodist interference in other parishes run by good evangelical ministers. Wesley never agreed to Walker’s suggestions on itinerant preachers. It is understandable that Wesley wanted to hold on to his preachers, as the quality of vicars was so poor. He needed good people to look after the new converts, but it was inevitable that they would cause a rift in the Church. He also did not accept Walker’s suggestion that “Methodist societies formed in Evangelical parishes should be handed over to the care of these enlightened incumbents.” We do not seem to know why Wesley did not accept this suggestion, but it is my belief that Wesley knew very well that an enlightened incumbent today could be dead or move away tomorrow and what would become of his people then? (These three points are dealt with fully in the books mentioned below)
From this point Walker and Wesley agreed to disagree and went off in their separate directions, while still retaining respect for one another. Wesley said “Gladly could I embrace my dear brother…but I am content to let him work. I will pray for him wherever I go, and for the success of that work the Lord is making him an instrument to carry on.”
It is difficult to identify when the revivals were in Cornwall at this time although I have read of one in St Just in early 1782, when within six months membership had increased from 181 to 300. Does one say that Wesley brought revival every time he visited? I do not think so because in between his visits numbers sometimes seem to fall away. There seems to have been a revival at St Just between 1751 and 1753 because numbers increased substantially and Wesley was not responsible. I suspect that this would have happened from time to time in other parts of West Cornwall as well. Every time he visited Gwennap there were 20,000 (according to Wesley’s calculations) plus at Gwennap Pit; does this show revival? Again I do not think so because the numbers of converts do not seem to have been many. Wesley obviously was used by the Lord to wake up the Cornish and Methodism seems to have been particularly attractive to the miners and fishermen of that county. I hope there will be more opportunity to give this some more study in years to come.
The Nineteenth Century
I am taking Wesley’s last visit in 1789 as the end of the eighteenth century. There is much more information available in this century as there are at least three autobiographies written at this time by men heavily involved in Cornwall.
The conversion experience was in three parts. Firstly, the people were brought to a ‘conviction’ of their sin which often brought them to tears and crying out for mercy. An example is given by William Carvosso (see this website) regarding his own “conviction” in 1771. ‘the Word quickly reached my heart. The scales fell off from my eyes. I saw and felt I was in ‘the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” I had such a sight of the damning nature of sin and what I had done against God that I was afraid the earth would have opened and swallowed me up. I then made a solemn promise to the Lord that if he would spare me I would serve him all my days.”
The next stage was ‘conversion’. This could happen in minutes or months; and it could come with great emotional turmoil, or through a still small voice. There would be recognition of what Christ had done on the Cross; that their sins were forgiven through nothing they did, but through the Grace of God. Carvosso suffered a lot for many days in his struggle to find mercy, but he finally had the breakthrough he was fighting for. “In the midst of the conflict, I said, in answer to the powerful suggestions of the devil; I am determined, whether I am saved or lost, that while I have breath, I will never cease crying for mercy. The very moment I formed this resolution in my heart, Christ appeared within, and God pardoned all my sins and set my soul at liberty. The Spirit itself bore witness with my spirit that I was a child of God.”
Finally, there was ‘sanctification’, which Walker was in disagreement over. Wesley believed that it was one act of faith that brought one into a state of holiness and purity; Walker believed it was an ongoing work.
1794. Joseph Benson did a tour of Cornwall in the summer of this year and he preached to large receptive congregations. In Redruth many were convicted of their sin and hundreds remained the whole night in the chapel. Someone commenting on a meeting said, ‘the impression still left on some persons, thirty six years afterwards, was deep and hallowed beyond example.” Some sixty thousand were estimated to have heard him during that month, although I would imagine several people heard him more than once, the distances between some meetings being only a few miles. It seems likely from Carvosso’s biography that he was taken to a new level in Christ through these meetings and his wonderful ministry (as a Methodist circuit teacher) seems to have begun from this date.
1799. The Methodists were in the habit of taking part in “Love Feasts” every quarter and the Lord sometimes used these to begin some move of Holy Spirit. According to Owen Davies, who was probably the leader of the Penzance circuit, his people had recently been extremely generous with their offerings to the poor and so fervent in their prayers that Owen thought that the Lord would reward them. Then at their Christmas love feast, ‘the Lord began to breathe on the dry bones, in such a manner as never was seen before in Penzance.” About 100 were added to the society and, ‘the flame of love which was kindled in the hearts of our brethren who came from various parts of the circuit, that night was carried into their respective societies, and soon spread through the whole.” The Lord chose a time when the different societies met together so they could take the flame back with them. This could not have happened in the Church of England at that time because there was no cross-pollination between parishes. Owen gives an example of this, “At Zennor, in one night, about twenty stout-hearted sinners were constrained to cry aloud for mercy; and some found ‘the pearl of great price.” Since which time, that society, which consisted of about seventeen members, is increased to 100, about sixty of whom profess to have received the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins.” He also reports that by Easter, St Ives; that had had 160 members for many years; in a few weeks had increased to 550.
Owen continues, “Perhaps there never was a greater reformation in any parish than there is now in St Just. Within three months, instead of revellings and frantic mirth, which it was famous for, almost all the inhabitants seem concerned for their souls; many are deeply convinced of their lost state.” About 300 were added to that society and 1,100 to the circuit in three months, and the work was still continuing. Many of the leaders were often working through most of the night.
John Hodgson gives an account of what happened in the Redruth circuit that was about 20 miles from Penzance. Many societies had been praying for revival for a few months before it broke out at Christmas. They had experienced frequent signs that something was about to happen and this encouraged them to press forward. He reports “I shall never forget that memorable time which we had at the close of last year in Redruth Chapel. At midnight, while I was giving out the hymn, I was so affected, that I knew not how to proceed. So clearly did I see the willingness of God to save sinners, that many times in the concluding prayer, I was obliged to stop and almost the whole congregation was overwhelmed in tears.” The following week the revival broke out in Truro and members were more than doubled to 280. All the societies in the circuit increased substantially, 2,500 people were added in total.
Hodgson gives an account of the beginning of revival in Whealrose. A young girl had been in great distress for many hours and would not rest until the Lord spoke peace to her soul. The day after she went to her work, but her companions began to mock her on account of the distress she had felt; but so far from being discouraged, she immediately kneeled down and prayed for her persecutors. Her prayers were answered: the hand of God laid hold on them; many of them cried aloud for mercy, and continued so to do till one of our friends came by and took the distressed into Whealrose preaching house, where they continued, with many more who assembled with them, until daylight next morning, during which time many found peace with God.” He also reported that the lives of those affected were mightily changed and was very apparent to all.
1814. This is known as the ‘Great Revival’. It began in Camborne and soon spread throughout West Cornwall, adding 5,000 to the societies. People showed great excitement in revival meetings with much shouting, singing and leaping in the air. Onlookers could always find things to complain about because there was a lot of flesh as well as Holy Spirit in these meetings. It is the same today when the Glory of God shows up; some people who are not experiencing manifestations copy those who are. A business man who happened to be in West Cornwall at the time of the revival wrote that at first everything seemed confusion with all the weeping and rejoicing. However he continued, “On a nearer approach, however, to the persons thus affected, and on careful attention to their individual exercises, this seeming confusion vanished; each was found to mourn or rejoice apart;and each might be interrogated, instructed, exhorted, comforted and prayed with, as if alone.”
Francis Truscott relates what happened in two letters he wrote, one on February 26th, only a few days after the start of the revival, and the second on March 18th. Initially, two people were touched by God at a society meeting on February 13th and eight more the following Thursday at a prayer meeting. On Sunday the 20th, “At two in the afternoon, just as Mr Morris had finished his sermon, multitudes began to cry earnestly for mercy and continued praying and praising God till evening preaching at six.” There were services each day the following week (and for the following seven weeks) which did not end until 2.00am, 5.00am and even 9.00am. The majority of people affected were under 28 years old and part of the labouring class. Truscott reports, “Among the spectators there are but few scoffers: most who witness these proceedings are struck with an awful and solemn reverence, being persuaded that they are the effect of a divine cause; and many who came to scoff, remained to pray! Every hour, almost, brings us new reports of the extension of this good work in every direction, for some miles around us.”
On February 26th he spoke at Tuckingmill and at six he found the chapel full; many had been there all day and everywhere people were crying for mercy or praising God. It was so noisy he could not preach, so he ministered amongst the people. The next day he found that some had been praying all night. For the next five days the chapel was occupied day and night. He went around the circuit over the next few days, being unable to preach in most places because of the work Holy Spirit was doing. He summarises ‘that this is a genuine and most glorious work of God, becomes every day more and more evident. The excitement of growing zeal for God’s Glory, - fervent brotherly love, - concern to maintain intercourse with heaven, - with various other pious dispositions, which our most confirmed Christian friends have witnessed during this revival, prove that the influence upon their minds is truly divine.”
The business observer quoted above returned to the Redruth area 14 months later and made a point of investigating the results of the revival. He was careful only to include “indubitable facts” in his assessment and continues, “From these it appears, that throughout the populous and extensive neighbourhood where the revival has generally been prevalent, the places of worship among the Methodists continue to be so numerously attended, as to require the erection of new chapels, or the enlargement of old ones, almost universally; that a spirit of fervent and animated devotion remarkably pervades all their assemblies; that, by far the greatest number of those who have been brought under a religious profession, during the last fourteen months, still evidence the rectitude of their minds by the personal, divine and social virtues manifest in their conduct.”
Despite this wonderful work of God, as usual, many of those added to the societies fell away. It was stated that the numbers added during the 1782 revival in St Just were greater than most and yet as far as permanent results were concerned, it was one of the least productive. With regard to the 1814 revival, there was an increase in membership of over 50%, but by 1821 there were fewer members than in 1813. Why did this happen? As with the previous century, we can only speculate. Perhaps some of the convictions and conversions were more flesh than Spirit; perhaps after the excitements of the revival people did not like the relatively boring chapel services; some would have died or moved away; maybe a number did not like the strong discipline that was exercised within the societies and so were exercising their faith at home.
1818. William Carvosso tells of another revival; “I proceeded to Mousehole where I rejoiced to see the mighty works of God displayed in convincing and converting sinners. I intended to stay only a week (he was there seven weeks) but the work of the Lord broke out among them and the friends would not let me go. In my usual way I went preaching from house to house and I believe God never blessed my feeble efforts more than at this time. There was gracious work in the Sunday school. None but those who have witnessed such a revival can form any idea of it.”
1821-2. Carvosso tells in his journal of other local revivals. Towards the end of 1821 there was an outpouring that began with the conversion of two brothers in Camborne. Then in 1822 he was in Kehelland; ‘the news of our coming excited some curiosity among the people, so that the house was crowded within and without. The power of God descended and many sinners were pricked in heart: this was a drop before the shower. The Lord began a gracious work among them and some of the most wicked and notorious sinners in the neighbourhood were awakened. Trejuthan, a spot which had remained barren and unfruitful for a number of years, now became a garden of the Lord. For some days the cloud of mercy hung over it; and so plentifully poured its precious contents on dry ground that the deep concern for the salvation of souls seemed to draw off the people’s attention from every other object.”
1823-4. A minister of the Helston circuit reported that, ‘some indescribably affecting scenes have occurred during this revival of religion; - parents with open arms embracing their once disobedient children; - some whole and large families brought into the household of faith; - others, hoary headed sinners, deeply and powerfully convinced of sin, and obtaining mercy in the mines where they pursued their daily occupation; - and persons at the plough so blessed, during their labour, with a sense of the pardoning love of God, that the lanes and fields resounded with the praises of the Lord. This has not been the work of a week, or a month, but has proceeded gradually through the last two years; and still the Glory has not departed from us.” From the society attendances for 1824 it seems that the revival stretc..hed from Helston to St Agnes. At Stithians they met every day for eight weeks. By 1827 membership of the societies had declined but was still significantly above the levels of 1822.
1827. Revival came to the St Austell area and W. Lawry reports in a letter on what happened. He comments that revivals were not uncommon in Cornwall and often there is some dross mixed with the pure ore, but this revival had less flesh than most. In Sticker there was such an effect on people that at the time of the annual festivities the landlady of the pub told someone, ‘the feast is removed to the Methodist Chapel; all the people have gone thither, and I advise you to follow them.” Lawry says, “In no instances has there been any irregularity or noisy commotion; but a steady, deep, and awful feeling of God.” He makes a comment that must have concerned every leader during revival, “Not less than 150 persons have of late joined the Mevagissey society. How many of these will endure to the end? They will require much pastoral care; and, thank God, there are among our leading friends in this society many individuals who are highly qualified to watch over these souls and to train this sacramental host of God’s elect.” Also he writes, “Our love feasts are indescribably blessed. In order to form any just notion of one of these meetings, you should be present, to see how every countenance glows with heavenly love and joy.” The whole area around St Austell was touched by revival.
There was also a move of God at the Hayle circuit this year. The minister, John Robinson waited for a year before he reported on it because he was aware there could be a big falling away of converts. He reported that there were additions all over the circuit with a total of 600 and after a year, with several deaths and people moving away, 500 were still in church fellowship. The work was still going on at the time of writing.
1828. William Carvosso visited Mousehole and a revival began. He had been ministering all over West Cornwall during the revivals mentioned above and his experiences can be read in his Journal. Unfortunately, he only learned to write in 1816, so he does not journal his experiences in the revivals of 1794, 1799 or 1814.
He records that he found Mousehole very quiet but this soon changed. “After this meeting in the chapel a general concern took place in the minds of the people. The prayer meetings were crowded by hundreds of attendants, and all the enquiry was, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ This extraordinary visitation from above continued four months and the “revival at Mousehole” resounded far and near. Vast numbers, moved by different motives, came from a distance of many miles to see the wonderful works of God. Thus the heavenly fire was carried to different villages and societies in the circuit. This revival was carried on in the best order I ever saw one in my life. Mousehole now appears like a new town. Instead of scores of men of different ages standing in groups on the cliff, talking about worldly things and idling away the Sabbath as they used to do, there are now scarcely any but such as seem to ‘to remember the Lord’s day to keep it holy.’ During the four months I was with them there were very few houses in Mousehole that I did not visit. It was astonishing to all the friends, as well as to myself, how the Lord supported my strength. (He was 79) Day and night I was employed in visiting, instructing, exhorting and in praying with the distressed.
1832. The minister of the Penzance circuit reported on this revival. He says that in autumn 1831 numbers throughout the circuit increased and they were expectant of something happening. The revival began in Zennor on November 11th where a few were saved every week in the circuit. At the Quarterly meeting on December 27th they decided to have a weekly meeting of leaders and to have prayer meetings or society meetings after every sermon. On January 8th the Spirit broke out at St Buryan and all over people were saying that they were having powerful prayer meetings. In St Just they had their regular meeting on February 18th, but they had many more members than usual. For many years they had about 430 members, but now the Spirit poured out and many were added. The chapel was full and meetings went on into the early morning. “On the Monday night they had such a prayer meeting as had never been known in St Just, so many were present and all so deeply affected.” Down the road at Trewellard hundreds stood in the open air, not being able to get into the chapel. In Nanquidno, close to St Just a barn could not contain them, less than half could get in so they had their meeting by moonlight upon a moor. On March 11th, The St Just chapel was, in the morning, if possible, doubly filled. Upwards of 1,200 people were present; and all were bathed in tears…At night the chapel was crowded almost to suffocation.” From the end of the service at 8.00pm hardly anyone left and till nearly 11.0pm ‘the people were crying for mercy in every part of the chapel, both in the gallery and below.”
He reports later that, ‘the oldest Methodist in the St Just parish never saw anything to equal it. More than 300 souls have been saved and added to our society during the last few weeks, and the work is still going on.” All the area west of St Ives and Penzance was affected; people from all areas of society but very few under 18 were saved.
1834. The circuit of St Austell reported that, “we have been favoured, during the last six weeks, with a copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s influence.” This move of God went to the surrounding areas as well as St Austell itself.
1838. The minister of the Camborne circuit reported that, “a revival of equal extent and depth I have never witnessed.” And then, “As near as I have been able to ascertain, for the last eleven weeks, we have had about one hundred conversions weekly.”
This is a good time to return to the town of St Just. As discussed above, we can see the history of Methodism in this town. After the 1799 revival the Society House in Cape Cornwall Street was extended to become the first chapel. This building was incorporated into the existing building, which was the old Wesleyan Sunday School built in 1888. Because of the increase in membership after the 1832 revival a new chapel was needed and this was opened in September 1844 on Chapel Road; it was later enlarged in 1860. Chapels were also built in Trewellard and Nanquidno as a result of the revival. The decline in tin mining from the 1860’s was a dreadful blow for Cornwall and it never recovered. Economic depression set in and many emigrated. Between 1871 and 1881 the population of St Just decreased by 26% and in the ten years to 1885 the membership of the chapel went from 656 to 395.
This description of St Just can be applied to many towns in West Cornwall. Over the seventy years to 1833 bigger and bigger chapels were built all over the area as a result of the various revivals; but with the emigration and reduced attendance, many of the chapels became surplus to requirements and have sadly, been converted into flats.
The proliferation of chapels was aggravated by the splits that happened within the Methodist Church. Sadly, as soon as the Methodists became a Church they lost their bite; the same thing happened when the early Church became an organisation. The result was that some of those who still had the “fire” were dissatisfied with the status quo in the organisation, so they separated and formed their own church. The Primitive Methodists split in 1811 and made quite an impact in England, but by the time they arrived in Cornwall the Bible Christians were in place, so they never made much ground here. One place they did have an impact was St Ives. Joseph Grieves arrived in 1829 and he soon had a number of followers; how many of these were new converts, as opposed to disaffected Methodists, is unknown. Land was donated and a chapel was built with the congregation’s help on Fore Street in 1831.
1839. There was a revival at the chapel for nine days and nights and 240 were added to the congregation.
William O’Bryan. Bryant, or as he called himself later O’Bryan, was born at Gunwen in Luxulyan in 1778. He gave land for a chapel to be built at Gunwen and he helped build it. He had a zeal for evangelism; writing “I felt a deep sense of duty laid on me to seek the wandering souls of men.” He put himself forward as a candidate for ministry but was refused, probably because he was unable to work with others. He proposed a radical revision of the Methodist constitution, believing, amongst other things that preachers should be supported by voluntary giving and not by set payments from the society. For this he was expelled by his society in 1810. He started to preach in areas where there was no society and soon had a following. After a few years evangelising on his own he formed the Bible Christians in 1815. There were revivals in half a dozen places in Cornwall and by 1851 there were 21,661 followers in Cornwall; six percent of the population. People were drawn to the Bible Christians because they were less authoritarian than the Methodists. O’Bryan’s association with his denomination was short; he could not get on with people and spent a large part of his life in America.
1843/4. There was a Bible Christian revival in the village of Carfury. There are only a few houses there now, including the Chapel that was built as a result of the revival and the school room that was the original meeting place. During this revival three men came to the Lord who became leaders in the Bible Christians. A very well known Bible Christian was Billy Bray (see this website) who was a tin miner, an incredible evangelist and chapel builder.
The Methodist New Connexion split off in 1797; the Primitive Methodists in 1811; then the Wesleyan Methodist Association in 1834; lastly, the Wesleyan Reform Union in 1849. They then united together in two stages; in 1907 and 1932. By 1851 Wesleyan Methodists were 20.5% of the Cornish population, Bible Christians 6%, Wesleyan Methodist Associations 3.1%, primitive Methodists 2%, Methodist New Connexions .2% and Wesleyan Reformers .2%.
1851-4. All the revivals mentioned so far have been connected with Methodism, but there was a remarkable Anglican revivalist living in Cornwall; who, when was saved, spread revival in most of the places he visited. His name was William Haslam (see this website.)
Haslam had been vicar of Perranzabuloe before he was ‘born again’ and in 1846 he moved to Baldhu. He wanted to reach the hearts of his congregation, to do them some real good but he did not know how. In all his teaching and ministrations there was a lot of form but no substance, because he himself remained unsaved. Over the next few years the Lord worked on him; slowly waking him from his slumber. One day his gardener became converted, an event that deeply saddened Haslam as he thought he was deceived. He was called for several times by the gardener, who was badly sick, but he did not want to go. Eventually, he paid his servant a visit and began to tell him how deceived he was, but the gardener exclaimed “Oh, master! I am sure you do not know about this or you would have told me, I am praying for the Lord to show it to you. I mean to pray till I die and after that if I can, till you are converted.”
Haslam was very disappointed and discouraged as nobody seemed to listen to what he said; something was wrong. He visited his friend Robert Aitken, a remarkable man who was vicar of Pendeen in the far west of Cornwall. He told his friend about his gardener and his disappointment. “‘Well,’ he said, if I were taken ill I certainly would not send for you. I am sure you could not do any good for you are not converted yourself.” They discussed for some time his spiritual state, particularly the difference between the natural conscience and the work of the Spirit. Haslam went to bed and stayed up reading a book that discussed precisely this issue. At breakfast the next morning they continued their discussion and he went home with his mind in torment. “I endured the greatest agony of mind for the souls I had misled, though I had done it ignorantly.” He was in despair for three days, and when Sunday arrived he wondered if he should take Aitken’s advice to close the church until he was converted. He decided to read the morning prayers and then dismiss the congregation. On reading the Gospel he decided to say a few words about the passage and as he spoke “I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul. Whether it was something in my words, or my manner or my look, I know not; but all of a sudden a local preacher, who happened to be in the congregation, stood up and putting up his arms, shouted out in the Cornish manner, ‘The parson is converted, the parson is converted, Hallelujah!’ and in another moment his voice was lost in the shouts and praises of three or four hundred of the congregation.” As the uproar subsided he found at least twenty people crying out for mercy, including three from his own house.
This happened in 1851 and for the next three years the church and area were in revival. Haslam had been determined to do everything in order with no shouting, crying, etc..., but those thoughts went out of the window when he realised what Holy Spirit was doing in their midst. The church was full to bursting that evening as the word had got around that the ‘parson is converted’ and he preached the Gospel to mostly full houses for some time to come. The following morning a pastor visited who had heard that Haslam had been converted in his own sermon and he did his best to make him recant what he was saying even commenting that he could see madness in his eyes. Seeing that he was not making any headway the visitor ordered his horse and said “I cannot agree with you and will oppose you as hard as I can.” Then mounting, he started off, but after a few steps he pulled up and turning around said, “Haslam, God stop the man who is wrong.” Haslam said “Amen” and the visitor rode off. On the following Friday the visitor broke a blood vessel in his throat or chest and did not preach again; only being able to speak in a whisper.
The revival went on apace with many coming into salvation. Haslam records in his biography his mission trips to Perranzabuloe, Mount Hawke, Veryan and Golant where the Glory of God poured out, I am sure that he visited many other places in Cornwall; lighting revival fires. On Mount Hawke common several hundred fell on their knees at the same time; it was as if Jesus had walked through the crowds diagonally. It was pointless continuing his sermon, so for an hour he ministered to ‘the slain of the Lord” and then, those interested in more went to the school room. On his arrival there he found that the only way in because of the crowds was through a window. After he had left at 10.00pm, the meeting went on day and night for eight days.
In Veryan, after lively meetings in the church, there was a meeting the following day in a barn two miles away and like the church; that too was crammed to the rafters. At one point in the meeting a large man fell to the ground shouting out for God’s mercy. Almost simultaneously there was a universal outcry; the whole place was filled with a confused din of voices; some were praying, some shouting, some singing and some exhorting at the top of their voices. The poor vicar was dismayed and took him outside to talk to him as he hoped that things would get back into order if Haslam was not there. A little later they went back in but the tumult was still going on and some lads on seeing him cried out, “‘The parson is here! The parson is here!’ and in a moment we were surrounded by a number of happy people who were so demonstrative that they made the poor vicar tremble with a strange fear.” Upon being asked if he would return the next day the vicar said, “‘Oh no, on no account. One night of this work is quite enough – more than enough.’ A man then said ‘Never mind, we will carry it on. This revival will not stop for a week or fortnight for certain.’ This was terrifying news for the vicar, who turned and looking at me with astonishment said reproachfully, ‘How did you do it?’” Haslam told him that it was nothing to do with him and warned him that he knew of some people who were brought under heavy judgement for hindering a revival. The next day it was announced that there would be a meeting in the Methodist ch