Belton, North Lincolnshire

The large Methodist church in Belton, North Lincolnshire, is a testament to the early importance of Wesleyanism here – just a couple of miles from the famous Epworth. John Wesley mentioned that he had supporters here as early as 1742 and he preached here several times, initially with success. Despite this, his history here had its variations!

However, on returning he found that the place had been ‘poisoned’ by John Harrison and Richard Ridley, who had taken up Moravian heresies including opposition to attending church and taking the sacraments. A person he identified as ‘H F’ ‘saw the Devil in every corner of the church, and in the face of everyone who went.’ So when Wesley preached here in 1749 it was only to ‘a few’.

He returned in 1752 but this time ‘felt an uncommon degree of the presence of God, among a handful of poor despised people.’ Wesley noted that numbers were low due to the funeral of a man who ‘emphatically poor though while he lived he possessed (not enjoyed) at least a thousand pounds a year.’ This was a reference to Richard Popplewell of Temple Belwood, who had risen to great wealth after his father Richard had profited from the Axholme drainage schemes as the last solicitor to the Isle Commoners, a post which he ruthlessly exploited and for which he kept no accurate accounts. Popplewell’s mother was tried at Lincoln in 1694 for arson and riot against a hated local enemy – but to avoid a capital punishment a ‘deal’ had been done. Wesley loved to reflect on the spiritual poverty of wealthy men. The old historian of the Isle said that Richard was ‘a very strange character, and hot-headed and perverse as his mother.’

There was still division here when he returned in 1780. This time Calvinistic preachers from the Lady Huntingdon Connection had ‘set everyone’s sword against his brother’ by spreading doctrinal disputes.

Then in 1786 one of the most famous incidents in his career occurred. Three small children, all six or under, fell into a village well where they stayed for half an hour or so until fished out insensible. Wesley advised that they be rubbed with salt and, though the youngest died, the other two revived.

Altogether Wesley is known to have preached in Belton six times, including twice in two days in 1784.

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