The Beginnings of Methodism in Sticklepath

This small green booklet I believe was collated and written by Bert Stead. (No date but before April 1995 as telephone code is not 01…)

I have not repeated the quotes from John Wesley’s diary or list of Wesley visits.

It is worth mentioning the White Rock up on the Mount at Sticklepath, a granite boulder which is regularly re-painted white, to commemorates the preaching of John Wesley.

After the 5 recorded visits between 1743 and 1746, for the next 45 years, though John Wesley continued to cross and re-cross the county on his visits to Cornwall, Wesley appears to have ignored the village completely.

The following is a transcript of part of the booklet:

“The Rift”

“The reason for the rift between Sticklepath and Methodism was almost certainly a theological one. In 1747 Wesley wrote, and subsequently published “A letter to a Person lately joined to the people called Quakers”, which was a critical examination of Barcley’s standard account of Quaker doctrine. On reading this letter, it becomes clear that the fraternal relations at Sticklepath were bound sooner or later to be disrupted.

Things probably came to a head in June 1749 when Miss Joanna Hawkins, a leading member of the Society of Friends at Sticklepath, felt moved by Divine inspiration to write to John Wesley telling him that he relied too much on the Scriptures and paid insufficient heed to that classical Quaker doctrine, “The Inner Light”, the voice of the Spirit in the heart. The validity of such inner revelation Wesley did not dispute, but he saw clearly that it was extremely dangerous to set it above the authority of Scripture.

Her letter apparently went unanswered. So Joanna Hawkins published it, together with an open letter addressed to all Wesley’s preachers restating the same contention. The result was that henceforth no Methodist preacher could visit Sticklepath with out being involved in fruitless controversy. Rather than do this, it seems they simply stayed away.”

Methodism’s Return to Sticklepath

Not until the very end of the 18th Century did Methodism finally establish itself in this small part of North Devon. Mrs Elizabeth Mallett was converted in 1797 and a small class began to meet in her home in Okehampton. The evangelical outreach was conducted chiefly by local preachers in the Launceston Circuit. Most successful among these was William Trampleasure, a Callington man, who eventually entered the Wesleyan Ministry. The conversion of George Norman of Sticklepath under his preaching in 1800 coincided with Mrs Mallet’s removal to the village, and together they formed the first small Methodist class. In 1810 the Pearse family, serge makers from Horrabridge and staunch Methodists, acquired the Cleve Woolen Mill, and some time later members settled in Sticklepath, including young Thomas Pearse. Another active Methodist, Richard Searle, was appointed manager of the Mill, and when Mrs Mallet returned to Okehampton, the Methodist Society moved to his home and was duly registered at the Bishop’s office in Exeter.

In 1811 the Rev. John Warwick Cloke was stationed at Okehampton to gather the little group of village societies which had sprung up into a new Mission Circuit. At Sticklepath in 1814 William Finch took over the old Manor Wooden Mill and set up the Edge Tool Factory which for the next 150 years was affectionately called “Finch’s Foundry”.

Over the years Sticklepath was to send eight of its sons into the ministry. The first, Paul Orchard, was “called out” in 1813, while four of the remainder were members of the Finch family.

The New Chapel

The first Society to erect its own Chapel was Northlew, where a modest, cob walled building was opened amid rejoicing in October 1815. The rev. James Lancaster, the new Superintendent had but recently arrived, and on the opening day, in addition to three preaching services, the Circuit Quarterly Meeting was also held.

Sticklepath followed in less than twelve months. Their new Chapel, rather more elaborate than Northlew, was opened in 1816. The exact date is not recorded, nor any details of the opening services, but in all likelihood, following the Northlew pattern, it coincided with the Quarterly Meeting which that year met at Sticklepath on July 1st. There is also good reason to believe that at least one of the preachers was Paul Orchard, who, though in Circuit in Ashburton at that time, was certainly present at the Sticklepath Quarterly Meeting.

The Chapel was built on the site of a house and garden where John Langmead, whose family had been Quakers, had lived. The site cost £50 and the erection of the Chapel £263. Subscriptions and collections at the opening raised £147, leaving a debt of £166, a heavy burden for a society of only 13 members.

Sad Division

The opening ceremonies of both the Northlew and the Sticklepath chapels were marred by controversy. At Northlew the chosen preacher was taken ill, and, at very short notice, but with the newly arrived Superintendent Minister’s approval, a Methodist Local Preacher from Cornwall was invited to deputise. He was William O’Bryan, who had been conducting successful evangelistic services in the Stratton-Holsworthy area.

Until the opening day itself no one knew of the sharp disagreement which had arisen between O’Bryan and the Methodist Minister at Stratton, nor were they aware that the previous day at Shebbear, by setting up an independent Society Class, O’Bryan had taken a step which was bound ultimately tosever him and his followers from the Methodist Connexion.

In the months that followed an attempt to compromise at Northlew by having a Bryonite preacher one week and a Wesleyan preacher the next, broke down. The Rev. James Lancaster was told at a special District Meeting that he should no longer countenance O’Bryan or his followers, and the matter was on the agenda of the Sticklepath Quarterly Meeting.

Two of the protagonists were young men, Harry Major from Northlew who knew and respected O’Bryan, and who eventually became a leading Bible Christian minister, and Paul Orchard who roundly declared that O’Bryan was “a troubler in Israel!” The controversy grew increasingly bitter and shortly after Northlew Chapel was taken over by the Bryanites, while Sticklepath remained Wesleyan.

This sad episode has left its mark on sticklepath Chapel deeds.

Seven trustees had been selected, respected leaders from around the Circuit, and the deed was drawn up with reference to the 1784 Methodist Deed Poll which secured the Chapel for the Methodist Connexion and gave the Conference the right to appoint the ministers. In the event five out of the seven “objected to execute the said deed of bargain and sale”. This refusal to sign was without doubt, a direct result of the O’Bryan controversy.


The Society in Okehampton had been meeting in a rented room above the Star Inn. In 1814 the Society steward failed in business and the landlord of the Inn took the pulpit and forms in lieu of unpaid rent.

The minister who had been residing with the Steward moved to Sticklepath which became the head of the Circuit from 1814 to 1819 and again in 1825 and 1826. The remnants of the Okehampton Society continued to meet in the home of Mrs Mallet until her death in 1824 when it ceased altogether.

The Trust at Sticklepath was renewed in 1824. A strip of land adjoining the Chapel was sold for £50, and the retiring trustees, George Pearse, father of Thomas, and Richard Searle, donated a total of£58.18.4 This together with other money received reduced the Chapel debt to £30, which, however, still remained when the Chapel celebrated its Jubilee.

In 1826 the fortunes of the Circuit began to revive with the return of William Trampleasure as minister. He was “now old and grey in the service”, but the fire still burned, and crowds again attended his preaching. A revitalised Okehampton resumed its place as head of the Circuit, and the other societies showed steady growth.

In 1838 Sticklepath Chapel was enlarged. Then in 1866-7 on a site donated by Thomas Pearse, the Sunday school building was added, and the Chapel was completely refurbished. It was at that time that the bell in its little turret was installed. It cost £7.17.2 and the rope 1s3d. The tablets with the Ten Commandments cost £12 and were the gift of Miss Pearse. A granite cross affixed to the front gable of the chapel is said to be of mediaeval origin but where it came from and when it was erected no one seems to know.

Shortly before his death in 1875, Thomas Pearse wrote his third account of the beginnings of the Okehampton Circuit. The manuscript concludes:

“I have just now passed my 81st year and I believe the world is much better than when I was young, and this is in a great measure through the influence of Methodism in all its branches”


William Trampleasure entered ministry 1801, and died 1846, Paul Orchard entered ministry 1813, died 1856 (from MyWesleyan Methodists website Jan 2022).