Methodism in Ashbourne

The beginning of Methodism in Ashbourne

The preacher, Thomas Hanby was 21 years old, a native of Barnard Castle, Co. Durham, who had very recently received God's call to preach the Gospel, while staying in Leeds.

He writes: "In 1754 Brother Mitchell desired me to come and help them in the Staffordshire Circuit for a few months. I made an excursion into the wilds of Derbyshire, preached at Wootton, near Weaver Hill, the Ford, Snelson, and Ashboume, where there had been no such a being as a Methodist preacher. I had often found a great desire to preach in that town, but was at a loss how to introduce myself. However, I providentially heard of a serious man, Mr Thomas Thompson, who kept the toll-gate about half a mile from the town. I took Thomas White with me, from Barton Forge. We came to Mr Thompson's, and introduced ourselves in the best manner we could. He informed a few of his neighbours that there was a preacher at his house. Accordingly Mr Hurd's family, Mr Peach's and a few others came in the evening; I suppose as many as they durst invite.

I talked to them, and expounded a part of the eighth chapter of the Romans. I found much liberty in my own soul, and the power of God rested upon the people, who were deeply affected. I stayed a few days, preaching morning and evening to as many as the house would hold. Miss Beresford condescended to assemble with us, and the Lord opened her heart, as the heart of Lydia. When I had been preaching Christ as a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, she cried out 'O precious gospel! O precious gospel' From that time she continued steadfast growing in grace, till the Lord took her in glorious triumph to Himself.

I left Ashbourne for about a fortnight, to visit my new friends in Snelson etc. -- and returned again. I now found I must preach no more at the toll-gate house: the commissioners of the road had forbidden my friend, Mr Thompson to admit me. But Mr Hurd, a gentleman farmer, by the desire of his family, whose hearts God had touched, suffered me to preach at his house. It was now that a furious mob arose while I was preaching, and beset the house, and sprang in among us like so many lions. I soon perceived that I was the object of their rage. My mind was variously agitated, yet I durst not but cry aloud as long as I could be heard; but at last I was overpowered with noise. Some of my friends, in defending me, were bleeding among the mob, and with difficulty I escaped out of their hands. But as Mr Thompson, Mr lsaac Peach, Mr Hurd's family, Miss Beresford and a few others remained steady, I was constrained to repeat my visits, till the Lord gave us peace. Mr Thompson grew in the knowledge and love of God, till the Lord took him to Himself.

The Methodist Society (ie. the present Ashbourne Church) was formed on Tuesday, 8th April, 1755 when John Wesley visited Ashbourne for the first time. He was on his way from Barton-under-Needwood to Hayfield, and arrived in Ashbourne at 7. 00am. He tells us in his Journal, 'I preached to a deeply serious congregation. Seventeen or eighteen then desired to join in a society to whom I spoke severally. I was well pleased to find that near half of them knew the pardoning love of God. One of the first I spoke to was Miss Judith Beresford -a sweet but short-lived flower.'


These quotations are from John Wesley's Journal and are part of a letter that Judith Beresford wrote, in October 1756, to John Johnson, one of Wesley's preachers. They show so clearly the faith and motivation of the first generation of Methodists.  


"Christmas 1750, I was advised to partake of the Lord's Supper. I knew it was right, but was conscious of my ignorance and unfitness for it. About this time there was a great talk of Methodism, and a cousin of mine was brought to seek the Lord. I went to visit her in January 1751, and told her, before I came away, I knew I was not what I ought to be, and should be glad to be instructed. From this time we carried on a correspondence, and by degrees light broke in upon my heart. In 1753 and 1754 I had great outward afflictions, and at times strong inward conflicts. Towards the end of 1754, I began to feel my hope decline; and for several nights in secret prayer I was in strong agony of spirit. The Lord, while I was upon my knees, stripped off all my fig-Ieaves. At the same time He showed me the all-sufficiency of Christ Jesus to save sinners, to save me, the chief; and I was enabled to cry out, 'My Lord and my God! I have redemption in Thy blood'. From this happy time I went on my way rejoicing, though I was at times grievously assaulted, both by the stirrings of my old corruptions, and temptations from the devil.  


"In the beginning of the year 1755 we had preaching near Ashbourne. This I had wished for long; and now I was honoured with suffering a little for the name of Christ. At first I was rather ashamed but the Lord strengthened me; and so great a blessing did I find by conversing with these dear people that I feared none of those things which I did or might suffer. My acquaintances were now less fond of my company, and they that looked upon me shaked their heads." Her health began to fail very soon after this. Johnson writes, "When she altered for death, she called for her mother and brothers, to each of whom she gave an earnest exhortation. Then she said, 'Now I have no more to do here; I am ready to die. Send to Mr. Wesley, and tell him I am sorry I did not sooner believe the doctrine of perfect holiness. Blessed be God, I now know it to be the truth!' After greatly rejoicing in God for two days more, she said one morning, 'I dreamed last night I heard a voice, Christ will come to-day for His bride. It is for me. He will come for me to-day.' And a few hours after, without one struggle, or sigh, or groan, she sweetly fell asleep. Her eyes were still lifted up to heaven, till her soul was released, with so much ease that I did not know when she drew her last breath." Wesley comments, "So died Judith Beresford, as it were a hundred years old, at the age of four-and-twenty. a sweet, but short lived flower". She was one of our forebears in the faith in Ashbourne, a young lady of some fortune, who was not ashamed to be associated with the despised Methodists.

Trevor Staniforth

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