Great Yarmouth Market Place - Howell Harris (1760)

After the attempt by Mr Olivers, we have no account of any other being made to bring Methodism into Yarmouth till the year 1760. Scotland having been in a state of rebellion, and the whole nation being still under alarm, Howell Harris, a gentleman of South Wales, proposed to raise a number of men for the defence of his country: The Government accepted of his offer, and his men were joined to a regiment in which he was made an officer, and sent to Yarmouth.

As he was a man of eminent piety and had preached the gospel in the Principality, he inquired, on coming to Yarmouth, if there were any Methodists in the town. The tale of Mr Olivers's visit was soon told to him.

But though it could not fail to grieve him, he was not daunted. He was resolved to try, and adopted the following plan: He employed the town-crier to give notice, that a Methodist preacher would preach at the Market-place at a particular time of the day. Thus attention was speedily excited; and king mob, as savage as a Siberian wolf, was all on the alert in rallying his forces. The people seemed as fully bent on resistance, as if an army had been preparing to storm the town and to destroy it with fire and sword. Stones, brick-bats, bludgeons, blood, filth,—whatever happened to be in the way,—they appear to have seized, and with these weapons they repaired to the place of the expected encounter, breathing out threatenings, and vowing that if the preacher came there, he should never return alive. Howell Harris had contrived to be exercising his men at a little distance from the spot just at the time. When the clock struck, he discharged his men from their duty; and repairing to the crowd, as if he knew nothing of the matter, he began with apparent unconcern to inquire into the cause of such an immense concourse. They told him, that it had been announced for a Methodist preacher to deliver a discourse at that hour, and added, "It is well he has not made his appearance, as he otherwise would certainly have been put to death." Mr Harris made them a suitable reply, the best he could devise for his purpose, which was to obtain a hearing. He then proposed, that if they would favour him with their attention, he would himself sing a hymn, and pray a little, and also give them a few words of advice. He mounted a table, which was obtained for the purpose; and his men, several of whom were serious, surrounding him with their arms, joined him most devoutly in singing and prayer. The novelty of this scene excited astonishment; and the presence of armed men, that were ready to defend their officer and friend, who was preaching in his regimentals, struck terror into the mob, and prevented the execution of their wicked designs.

Mr Harris, having thus broken the ice, continued to preach in the same way, and without any particular molestation: And God so blessed the word of his grace, that many persons were convinced of their sins, and induced to seek God. Mr Wesley takes notice of this in his Journal in the following words: "Tuesday, Jan. 20th, 176l, I inquired," he says, "concerning Yarmouth, a large and populous town, and as eminent both for wickedness and ignorance, as even any seaport in England. Some had endeavoured to' call them to repentance, but it was at the hazard of their lives. What could be done more? Why, last summer, God sent thither the regiment in which Howell Harris was an officer. He preached every night, none daring to oppose him, and hereby a seed was sown. Many were stirred up to seek God: And some of them now earnestly invited me to come over. I went this afternoon and preached in the evening. The house was presently more than filled; and, instead of the tumult which was expected, all were as quiet as at London. Indeed the word of God was quick and powerful among them, as it was again at six in the morning. At eleven I preached my farewell sermon. I saw none that was not deeply affected. O, fair blossoms! But how many of these will bring forth fruit to perfection?" A military officer, it seems, can sometimes do more in propagating the gospel, than the regular preachers of God's most holy word!

As it was Mr Wesley's invariable practice, like that of the apostles, to form those persons into societies who were awakened by the public ministry, it is probable he at this time himself formed the first Methodist society in Yarmouth. With him it was a maxim, that " where there was regular preaching, but no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connexion, the consequence would be, that the people would soon be faster asleep than ever." I wish some of our regular hearers may notice this, as either they or Mr Wesley and St. Paul, must be vastly wrong.

From, 'A history of Methodism in the town and neighbourhood of Great Yarmouth', by Abraham Watmough, published in 1826, Chapter 3.