Wednesbury is well remembered for the riots and anger caused during some of John Wesley's visits to the town. His brother Charles Wesley came in 1742 and preached at Holloway Bank, making several converts who met regularly and encouraged John Wesley to come to the town to preach. His first visit took place on Friday 7th January 1743 and during the evening he gave a sermon at the Market Cross building. The following day he preached 3 times at Holloway Bank and the number of Wesleyans in the society reached 29. By the following Tuesday, the number of members had increased to 100.
His next visit in April was very different due to hostility fuelled by the Parish Church vicar, Edward Egginton. When he visited again in May the membership had reached 300 and a march was arranged to Walsall. During the proceedings a hostile crowd gathered showing much opposition. By the end of the month things went from bad to worse when rioting began on 30th May. During the riot the windows of John Adams? house in Darlaston were broken.
As a result, Mr Adams, and the Chief Constable of Wednesbury, along with prominent Methodist Francis Ward, the underground manager in John Wood's colliery, went to obtain a warrant from the magistrate.
The mob became more hostile and they were stoned. The magistrate refused to issue a warrant and Francis Ward was savagely manhandled by the crowd.
John Wesley greets the Wednesbury mob.
Three weeks later a crowd from Wednesbury and Darlaston assembled in Wednesbury churchyard and proceeded to attack the houses of the local Methodists. The damage was most extensive in Darlaston. The disturbances continued for the next 8 or 9 months and Wesley recorded his thoughts on the matter in his journal on 18th February 1744:
?Ever since the 20th of last June the mob of Walsall, Darlaston and Wednesbury, hired for that purpose by their betters, have broken open their poorer neighbour?s houses at their pleasure by night and by day; extorted money from the few that had it; took away or destroyed their victuals and goods; beat and wounded their bodies; threatened their lives; abused their women (some in a manner too terrible to name) and openly declared they would destroy every Methodist in the country ? the Christian country where His Majesty's innocent and loyal subjects have been so treated for eight months and are now by their wanton persecutors publicly branded for rioters and incendiaries.?
He briefly visited Wednesbury on 22nd June but did not appear publicly. His next visit, however would be very different. At midday on 20th October 1743, he preached from the now famous 'horse block' at the High Bullen (in reality a flight of steps leading to the upper floor of a malt house) without incident. He then went to Francis Ward's cottage and while he was there the mob arrived but soon moved on. He now felt it was time to leave, but was persuaded not to do so.
By 5 o?clock the mob returned and surrounded the cottage with cries of 'Bring out the minister!' The mob's leader entered the cottage to see Wesley and soon quietened down. Wesley then went out to talk to the crowd who asked him to go with them to see the magistrate at Bentley Hall. He consented to do so and along with some of his colleagues and the crowd of 300 or so they proceeded to see Mr Lane at Bentley Hall. Mr Lane told them to go home and be quiet, but this was not good enough for the crowd who then escorted Wesley to see another magistrate, Mr Persehouse in Walsall. Mr Persehouse had retired for the night and so the crowd decided to go home. At this point they were attacked by a mob from Walsall, into whose hands Wesley fell. His captors were very hostile and while they were deciding what to do next, Wesley began to pray aloud. The leader of the mob was so moved by his words that he had a change of heart and they let Wesley and his friends go. That night they returned to Wednesbury after having a lucky escape.
In November violence broke out in West Bromwich, and later in Darlaston after Vicar Egginton's visit. He got the town crier, Thomas Winsper to announce that the Methodists must come to the Crown Inn and sign a recantation or expect to have their houses pulled down. This threat was the start of the events that took place in Darlaston during the following January and February. On 13th, 14th, and 23rd January a great mob gathered in Darlaston and fell upon several people who were going to Wednesbury and also on the wife of John Constable of Darlaston. Constable obtained a warrant against the offenders for criminal assault on his wife, but only one person was arrested. When he was brought before the magistrate, the magistrate declined to act. As a result the mob sacked Constable's house on the 30th of the month and he and his wife took refuge with a friend. The mob then threatened the friend?s house and so the Constables were forced to flee.
The next day a mob assembled at Church Hill, Wednesbury but left after hearing that some of the Methodists were preparing to defend themselves. Wesley himself came to the town and preached the next day without incident. He stayed until the morning of Monday 6th February and was accompanied on the first part of his journey by James Jones a fellow Methodist preacher. On Jones? return he found his fellow Methodists in prayer, having heard that a mob would arrive the next day from Darlaston and elsewhere to plunder the house of every Methodist in the town.
At 8 o?clock the next morning Jones addressed his fellow Methodists, and as he was doing so the news came that the mob had already entered the town and had begun to break into the houses. Jones himself went into hiding and left for Birmingham early the next day. The mob entered each of the leading Methodist?s houses, breaking windows and window frames, smashing everything inside and generally wrecking the place. Anything of value was taken away. No resistance was offered and most people fled, only some of the children remained, not knowing what to do.
The mob's ring leaders threatened to sack any of their employees who did not join them in the riot and offered to cease rioting if the members of the Methodist society would sign an undertaking to never invite or receive Methodist preachers again. They did not receive a single signature.
The next day similar outrages were carried out at Aldridge, but this time the returning mob was relieved of their spoils by a group of responsible citizens who took the goods to the Town Hall and invited the owners to come and collect them. Some of the victims unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a warrant against the principal rioters, but none of the local magistrates would comply.
Wesley stated that 33 people had suffered damage to their property with an estimated loss of over £500. F.W. Hackwood suggests that 13 of the victims lived in Wednesbury and that their losses amounted to £325.16s.6d. The disturbances which were not confined to this area where clearly well planned and organised beforehand. Some members of the mob were forced to participate by their employers and others may have taken part in order to steal goods from the houses.
Things began to quiet down, and although Wesley visited and preached in the town on several later occasions, it all went off peacefully. On 15th March 1761, he preached before a crowd of between 8,000 and 10,000 people in Monway Field. The rise of Methodism in the town greatly benefited from the increase in population due to the industrial expansion in the area. Meeting Street is named after the Wesleyan Chapel that was built there in 1760 and remained in use until 1813.