History of Methodism in North Devon  1871 by J.G.H. of Barnstaple (?Hayman)

Published by Wesleyan Conference Office,

2, Castle-St, City-Road; 

Printed by Hayman Brothers= and Lilly

19 cross St, Hatton Garden, E.C. LONDON.

Sold at  66, Paternoster-Row

Printed Quotation: “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased”

This copy is inscribed “Ann Finch  November 1874 from T Pearse formerly of Sticklepath”

This is not a transcript, just a summary of information relevant to Sticklepath mainly a list of quotes.  Look ups for further information for other areas or possibly names can be given by email: shields_h_f@hotmail.com

PREFACE (by J.G.H. of Barnstaple)

Methodism “had its origin at Oxford, in the early part of the eighteenth century,”

“The Author has sought to make this little volume a history, not only of a denomination, but also of the the general outgrowth of religious feeling and life which resulted from the labours of the early Methodist preachers in North Devon.”

“the spiritual life of the Church has been sustained by a succession of revivals, though they have seldom retained their vigour beyond the age in which their promoters flourished.” 

Wesleyan Methodism is the exception, “which points to  those great principals and doctrines on which it is based, and which forms its spirit and life.”

The early Methodist preachers were members of the established church, noted for “the simplicity and earnestness of purpose with which they devoted themselves to their missionary toil” and the fervour of their preaching and worship. 

The author’s sources include: John and Charles Wesley’s journals, ‘Minutes of Conference’ extending over a century, Methodist Magazines. Histories of Dr George Smith, Dr Abel Stevens, and Jackson’s ‘Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers’, plus district documents.

Gentlemen residing in the various localities who contributed include: Messrs.Pearse of Sticklepath and Hatherleigh; Mr Thomas Evans J.P., of Bideford; Mr Samuel Pearce of Torrington; Rev John Harris of Sidmouth; Mr Thomas Hillman of Exeter; Mr James Courtice of Landkey. Also Rev. William Beal, living at Liskeard.   

“it has been the object of the writer to  exhibit the influence of Christianity on the heart and life; hence especial prominence has been given to those members of the different Societies who have by a consistent walk given practical evidence of the reality of the religion they have professed. 

Chapter One – Introduction (North Devon in the History of religion).

“Here was born the pious and learned champion of Protestantism in the reign of Edward VI – Dr Jewell – who distinguished himself by his able advocacy of the principles of the Reformation, both  in his preaching and writing, and who , on the accession of Queen Elizabeth, was appointed to the bishopric of Salisbury.  Near to this spot, too, by a singular coincidence, was born Dr Harding, Professor of Hebrew at the Oxford University, a man of great learning and ability, who was Bishop Jewell’s bitterest opponent, seven tracts having been written by him in defence of Popery.

The Bishop’s vigorous reply to these was in such esteem that in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, James I, Charles I, four successive Archbishops ordered it to be kept chained in all Parish churches for public use; a copy of which is still preserved in the parish vestry at Tawstock.” 

(According to Hussell, Allen T. North Devon Churches: Studies of Some of the Ancient Buildings. Barnstaple: Herald Press, 1909. Print. That book by Jewell was still chained in a glass cabinet in Tawstock church in 1909)

Regards the coast near Hartland Point 

“William de Tracey, the murderer of the arbitrary Archbishop, Thomas A’Becket, having placed himself under the protection of the Bishop of Exeter, took refuge in this secluded coast, and in the south transept of Morthoe Church there is an ancient tombs on the corner-stone of which is the incised figure of a priest with a chalice in his hand, and an inscription in Lombardic letters – “Sir William de Tracey, git ici Deu del Alme eyt mercy.”

Mention is made of the Druids retiring to this remote district in the face of Roman and Saxons; King Alfred came to plan his resistance to the Danes; Athelstan established his kingdom on the banks of the Taw; it formed the Northern boundary of Cornubia (Cor-nav).

Ancient Druid monasteries were converted to Christian establishments, eg Hartland Abbey, which. Stood on a promontory thought to have been named by Phoenecian sailors in honour of Hercules. 

Much is said of the history of the Mint Church in Exeter. 

“religion had … sunk to a very low ebb; but a gracious re-acting influence and power was in preparation, and soon mercifully appeared in the labours of the Wesleys and Whitefield.  As the tenets of the latter harmonised with the views held by the Congregational Churches, the influence of his labours was especially felt by them… whilst the mission of the Wesleys was to evangelise the rude and unlettered masses of their countrymen.”  (page 11)

Chapter 2. First visits of the Wesleys.

“The Home-Mission work of the Revs. John and Charles Wesley may be said to date from 1739.  At first they were permitted to occupy the pulpits of parish churches, and when these were closed against them they ministered to a too-long neglected people on commons and in public thorough-fares.”

“Rude mobs” often sent by the parish officials hampered their work. “it was pretended  that the Wesleys were either Jacobites or Jesuits in disguise”

“The Journals of John Wesley contain records of several visits to Devonshire. The death of Samuel Wesley, in November, 1739, at Tiverton brought John and Charles to that town on a visit of condolence to the widow of their departed brother.  Mr Samuel Wesley was at the time of his death head-master of Tiverton Grammar School, previous to receiving which appointment he was a junior minister at Westminster.” 

Samuel had not been convinced by his brothers religion but  several days before he died he had become assured of the grace of God through Christ.  John and Charles went forth therefore “on their great commission to revive in the Church of England the great doctrine of the reformation, and to preach the “glad tidings” of salvation to the neglected masses” (Page 14)

“In the autumn of 1743, the Wesleys made their first visit to Cornwall in the pursuit of their evangelical labours.  Their route lay through the village of Sticklepath, on the Northern side of Dartmoor, the first place in Devonshire which gave a welcome to Wesley and his coadjutors.” (page 14)

“ The means of locomotion at this period were of the most primitive description, being some ten or eleven years previous to the formation of the turnpike road to Okehampton.  In the district  wheeled carriages were scarcely known: farmers’ wives rode to market on horse-back with their well filled panniers, followed by their husbands with strings of pack-horses maiden with grain and other farm produce : or, perhaps, farmer and”dame” rode together on one trusty horse, accoutred with saddle and pillion, – the string of pack-horses behind being led by the servant man attired in his smartest smock.” (Page 14)

“On the 22nd of September, 1743, – the year preceding the first Methodist Conference – there were seen two men on horse-back, just emerging from Greenhill-Lane and carefully descending Sticklepath hill.  One of them had the habit and appearance of a clergyman, about 40 years of age, – the other was younger, and seemingly one accustomed to labour.  Just at that time an elderly man wearing the dress of a Quaker, was walking up the hill towards the Lady’s Well, accompanied by three others.  The Friend accosted the strangers, and at once recognising the clergyman, asked him,- “Is not thy name John Wesley?”  (Page 14-15)

“John Wesley’s account of this visit is thus recorded in his Journal: – “1743, Sept. 22 – As we were riding through a village called Sticklepath one stopped me in the street and asked me abruptly ‘Is not thy name John Wesley?’  Immediately two or three others came up, and told me I must stop there.  I did so, and before we had spoken many words our souls took acquaintance with each other.  I found they were called Quakers, but that hurt me not, seeing the love of God was in their hearts.”  (page 15)

“A few weeks after, John Nelson visited these Friends.  He was with them on the Sabbath , and speaks of some awakening under his preaching.

In the following Spring, – April 1, 1744 – Wesley says:- “I rode to Sticklepath.  At one I preached in an open space on, ‘This is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.’  At five I preached again.  Many of the poor people followed me to the house, and we could not consent to part till we had spent another hour in exhortation, and prayer, and thanksgiving.” He preaches the next morning at five, and then proceeds on his journey to Launceston.  On his return, on the 16th of the same month, he says:

“In the afternoon I came to Sticklepath.  I preached at five in the evening – the house was crowded.  After a short exhortation and prayer I commended them to the grace of God.”

(page 15)

“In July of the same year Charles Wesley visited Sticklepath.  Speaking of the Quakers he says: “My heart was drawn out to them in prayer and love, and I felt that ‘He that doeth the will of my Father, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’  On this visit he was accompanied by Mr Meriton, a Church clergyman, and John Slocombe, who afterwards became an itinerant minister.  They were also met here by Mr. Benet, rector of Laneast, who entertained them the next day at his house near Trewint.

On the 2nd September, 1746, we find John Wesley again at Sticklepath, and on the 16th of the same month another visit is recorded.  One cannot but be struck with the marvellous character of the journeys made by him, – well compared to the rapid progress made by travellers on swift dromedaries in Eastern countries.  In his day the roads were most wretchedly kept, being covered with deep ruts and large stones; but mark the rapidity with which this itinerant speeds his way to preach the everlasting Gospel!  Just refer to his Journal.

On Monday, September 1st, he starts from Bristol to Middlesay, near Bridgewater.  Early next morning he is off to Sticklepath, through drenching rain, and reached the village the same evening.  The next day (Wednesday) he is at Plymouth, then rapidly makes his way through Cornwall, visiting towns and villages on the south coast, and on Saturday we find him at St Just, near Land’s End.  On his return (taking the north side of the county,) he leaves St. Ives early in thee afternoon and preaches in the open air at a place called Bray, at six, and later in the evening at Sithney, the moon shining full on the congregation ere the service is ended.  On Sunday morning, at the same place, he preaches again at eight; at Port Kellis at one; at Gwennap Pit at four; and at night we find him at St Columb.  On Monday morning he preaches at Camelford; at mid-day at St Mary Week church near Stratton; and in the evening he is at Laneast Church below Launceston.  On Tuesday he preaches in the evening at Plymouth Dock, and also the next morning (Wednesday) at five o’clock.  On the same day at ten he addresses a large concourse of people in a field near Tavistock; in the afternoon he preaches at Sticklepath; and at nine at night, weary and exhausted, he reaches Exeter.”  (Last line of page 15 – 17)

Five years after the first visit to Devon, in 1750, North Devon first appears in the minutes of the Methodist Conference as a circuit.

Note it is not just the weather and unruly crowds and mobs but also falls from their horse, sometimes with fairly lasting injuries, they have to contend with.  


Chapter 3 “The Gould Families”


Chapter 4 “Early Missionary Labours”

Page 53, the Trethewey family are mentioned.  

“Among the Ministers who laboured in the West of England at this period, in the latter part of the last century, and whose memories are still held in veneration and respect, are Thomas Trethewey, in 1794, whose son and grandson have successively laboured in the Barnstaple Circuit”.

Page 54 more of Thomas Trethewey:

“Mr Trethewey succeeded Mr. Lessey in the Collumpton Circuit in 1794.  He was a native of St Stephen’s Branwell, in the East of Cornwall.  Before his union with the Methodists he was a zealous adherent of the Established Church, and such was the opinion entertained of him that when he consented to attend the cottage services in the village, some of his neighbours, influenced rather by example than reasoning were heard to affirm that the “new sect everywhere spoken against” must be right, or otherwise he would not have joined it.  

His early attachment to the Church of England was indeed strong, and continued unabated to the end of his life; but when once made a partaker of experimental religion he found a congenial home in communion withe Methodist Society.  This occurred during a gracious revival of religion in his native village in 1783.  Becoming deeply affected at the ignorance and depravity which prevailed on every side, he soon began to hold meetings for prayer in the surrounding villages, and afterwards to preach the gospel to the people, devoting a considerable portion of his  time to the work, until, in the year 1790, he was called to enter on the more important duties of the Methodist ministry.  He travelled for 8 years, when he was obliged to retire from active work in consequence of great bodily infirmity; but he continued to preach and visit the sick, as the state of his health would permit, until 1812, in which year he died at the age of fifty-four.


Chapter 5 Clovelly, Hartland, and Buckland Brewer

Note at this time the living of the clergyman in Church of England was usually in the gift of the Lord of the Manor or equivalent.  

“it was not convenient for the patrons of the livings to have a minister of too pious a mould, and very frequently the benefices were reserved for the second son of the ‘Squire, or a near relative, irrespective of his qualifications for the sacred office, intellectually or morally – (it was not expected that a clergyman should be a strictly religious man.)

“The churchyard was a general meeting-place for commercial transactions both before and after the service, auctions were announced from the tombstones, hunting appointments were arranged, and on “Revel Sundays” the barbarous wrestling matches which were to take place in the ensuing week were publicly proclaimed, and the prizes exhibited”

Clergy were not really held as respected by the majority of illiterate labouring poor. These evangelistic fervent bible based Methodists therefore brought a wave of religious belief with little requirement for ‘tithes’ etc


Chapter 6 Continued Missionary Effort – Rev William Beal


Chapter 7 The Revival of 1810


Chapter 8 SouthMolten and its neighbourhood 

(info regards Huxtable family)


Chapter 9 Hatherleigh

(mentions Mr Glascott, last of the Wesley friends/ministers, life written by George Pearce but no mention of Pearse)


Chapter 10 Formation of the Barnstaple Circuit. Extensive Chapel Erections

“Previous to the year 1813 North Devon had been included in the Plymouth District, but at the Conference of that year the Exeter District was formed, which comprised the Circuit towns of Exxeter, Taunton, South Petherton, Axminster, Barnstaple, Dunster, Okehampton, Ashburton, and Brixham; with William Horner as the first chairman. 

The following is a list of the ministerial appointments to the Barnstaple Circuit, with the number of members at the commencement of each year, from 1813 to 1816:-

1813 – Robert James, James Thomas, and John Wevill.   No. of members 413

1814 – Henry Trick, William Slinger, and John Wevill.  No. of members 409

1815 – William Worth, John Harris, and Henry Olver.  No. of members 409

1816 – William Sleigh, John Harris, and Henry Olver.  No. of members 492” (page 123)

Page 130:

In 1816, a chapel was erected at Sticklepath, near Okehampton, honoured as being the first place to which the Wesleys were welcomed in North Devon,) chiefly through the exertions of Mr. Searle, a Local-preacher in the Launceston Circuit.

As early as 1798, Mr. Trampleasure, a Home-missionary, was employed in the neighbourhood of Okehampton, and was made the instrument of much good.  Before entering the regular ministry he was  engaged by the Launceston Circuit to preach in the extensive rural district lying between that place and Bideford.

In the prosecution of his work he had to submit to much opposition and ill-treatment.  In the parish of Bridgerule he was forcibly enlisted as a soldier, but, like John Nelson, he refused to fight, and obtained his discharge by the kindness of a Quaker gentleman who paid the required fine.

On one occasion, while preaching at Bideford, he was thrown over the Quay into the river; and at another time received similar, even rougher, treatment from a mob at Okehampton.  Among those who embraced the truth through his instrumentality was Mrs. Mallett, a woman of great energy and zeal, who became a prominent member of the Church at Sticklepath, and subsequently at Okehampton.

In 1813, a young man named Paul Orchard, entered the itinerant work from this place.  His son,  the Rev. Paul Orchard, is still actively engaged in the Wesleyan ministry.

Mr. Croscombe who is mentioned elsewhere in connection with the Society at Bideford, also came from this neighbourhood.

Mr. Searle became a resident at Sticklepath in 1810.  He at first opened his house for the preaching of the gospel, and subsequently succeeded in erecting a chapel which was consecrated to Divine worship, in the summer of 1816, by the Rev. James Jones, Superintendent of the Tavistock Circuit.

The village of Sticklepath contains about fifty families, and lies on the borders of  the parishes of Belstone and Sampford-Courtenay.  On the outskirts of the latter parish is an episcopal chapel, the remains of what was in former times a Chantry.  This chapel, which is five miles from the Parish Church, is a very old building, probably of Saxon origin.  Services were formerly held only twice in the year, viz., at Easter and Michaelmas, when the clergyman received his dues from certain estates, on which occasions the Minister and his clerk came in state to the village with their books and other church furniture.  Since the restoration of the old building, however, a service has been held once every Sunday, and by an arrangement made with the Rector, the Church of England and Wesleyan services do not interfere the one with the other, being held alternately in the morning and afternoon.

The late Rector was a man of thoroughly liberal views, and his worthy successor belongs to the same school.  Under the fostering care of the Peare family and others the cause has been sustained, with great spiritual  advantage to the village and neighbourhood, and the chapel there, with its recent improvements, and the commodious schoolrooms attached, are highly creditable to the spirit and liberality of the congregation.

When the chapel was first erected, Sticklepath was at the head of what is now the Okehampton Circuit, and continued so for some years.  Besides the services held in the village, there is preaching at South Zeal, one mile east; at Belstone (where there is a chapel), one mile and-a-half west; and at Halford, two miles and-a-half north.

The only remains of the Quakers referred to in the fourth chapter, is their burying-place which is still used by villagers.  In it was erected about twenty years since a memorial-stone in commemoration of their hospitality to the Wesleys, of which we have given an exact transcript. 


At the Conference of 1826, Mr. Trampleasure was appointed to the Sticklepath Circuit, and during his residence here his attention was specifically directed to Okehampton.  Towards the close of his ministry, in the year 1828, a young tradesman named Philip Brook was brought under religious concern.  Being in ill-health, he disposed of his business and removed to Exeter, in order that he might obtain medical advice.  He died shortly afterwards, and left £150 in his will towards the cost of erecting a chapel.  A shell of an unfinished house was hired at a yearly rental, and fitted up with pulpit and seats.  In this place the worship was continued for thirteen years, until the opening of the present commodious chapel, in May, 1842.  The inaugural services were conducted by the Rev. J. Wood, and the Rev. B Carvosso.  The total cost of the building, including the schoolroom, was about £800.

It is probable that Okehampton will ever remain a missionary Circuit, the population being sparse, and extending over a distance of nearly twenty-four miles along the northern side of Dartmoor.  Besides the erections at Okehampton and Sticklepath, there are chapels at Moretonhampstead, Chagford, Broadley, Northlew, Folley, Winkleigh, Southcott, Belstone, and Bridestowe.  Services are also held at South Zeal, Hewton, Halford, and Maldon.  In these fifteen places there is accommodation for nearly 2,500 persons, and most of the chapels are well attended. 


Chapter 11. The Connexional changes of 1815 and their influence on North Devon

An interesting chapter explaining the death of  Dr. Coke, on a voyage to India in 1815, brought about a change in direction from Home-Mission to funds going to Overseas mission.  The fledgling communities in North Devon suffered.  

In 1813 the Vicar of Shebbear, who lived in West Cornwall, appointed a curate Rev. Daniel Evans.  He converted/encouraged  the Thorne family but was stopped in preaching by Dr Pelham the bishop.  

This left space for William O’Bryan to become a missionary in Devon and East Cornwall, “with his intense ardour on his evangelical labours”. “being an earnest and stirring preacher attracted great attention” – not being appointed to Wesleyan ministry he formed his own Bible Christian Society.   By 1829 however the Bible Christians did not want him to be their head and he resigned. 

(Note the dissent affected Sticklepath just as Chapel was built).

“During fourteen years the Societies had increased to 7,599 members with 62 ministers and 22 women preachers.”

Doubled by 1843 and by 1864 >25,000 members. 

Separated from Methodist body 1792, rejoined after this book written. 


Chapter 12 Progress of the work – the third persecution in Torrington


Chapter 13

Barnstaple and Bideford Circuits.  Revival at Bideford

Just to note H.B. Trethewey was appointed to the Barnstaple circuits 1833, 1834, 1835


Chapter 14 Barnstaple – revival and extension. Rev. John Smith

Around 1833 the place of worship was far too small, but encumbered with debt. Nevertheless a program to rebuild began. 

“The Rev. Humphrey B. Trethewey, the then resident minister, zealously promoted the undertaking, and the work was carried out under his personal superintendence.  It may be truly sad of his that he was “in labours more abundant”, fulfilling his course as a preacher and pastor, yet promoting the material interests of Zion – building up the spiritual house, and, at the same time, erecting a temple for the honour and worship of God.”

The enlarged chapel re-opened in 1835, the membership continued to grow.

“The name of Humphrey Trethewey is remembered with much respect and affection.  His father was one of the early Methodist preachers in the Missionary district in which Barnstaple was included in the year 1795, and his son (Rev. Thomas Thethewey), in the third generation, represented the family name at the opening of the new chapel at Barnstaple in 1869, as one of the Ministers of the Circuit – the first Superintendent of the Ilfracombe Circuit on its division from Barnstaple.”


Chapter 15

Extension and Progress in Holsworthy Circuit  


Supplementary Notices of the Progress of the Work from the Centenary year to the present time


Ilfracombe and Lynton