Wednesbury: Most unwelcoming to strangers - at least it was in 1743!
Above -Wednesbury Riots engraving, John Wesley's New Room collection
Mob violence was a routine hazard for open-air preachers in the 18th century. Attacks were often incited by local gentry and clergy. In the summer of 1743 John Wesley arrived in the West Midlands to give his support amidst the persecution of Methodists. It was on 20 October 1743 that he faced the Wednesbury rioters. He sought protection from local magistrates and barely escaped with his life. During the riots windows were broken, property was damaged, money stolen, and local Methodists abused and beaten with clubs. After the mobbing there were charges brought against Methodists to say they had instigated the violence. John Wesley published a detailed account of events in his pamphlet, ‘Modern Christianity exemplified at Wednesbury...’ (1745) which can be viewed in the New Room library. In this pamphlet Wesley shares that he will speak the ‘naked truth, in as plain a manner as we are able’ and asks his readers to judge whether these things ought to be so. Wesley lists the damage caused by the rioters which amounts to over £113,000 in today’s money!
The incidences in the West Midlands can be found in John Wesley’s Journal, 15 April and 20 October, 1743. Notably one of the ringleaders of the riot, George Clifton became a Christian following the incident. Clifton was a local prize-fighter, with the nickname ‘Honest Munchin’. A print from an engraving showing the mobbing at Wednesbury can be found in the New Room Museum. It is from an original painting by Marshall Claxton, RA.
Above - Modern Christianity exemplified at Wednesbury - John Wesley's New Room collection