This year marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Methodism in Tamworth. We know this since it is literally etched in stone. As one enters the vestibule of New Life Central Methodist Church Tamworth. there is a memorial at one time erected in the former 1816 Bolebridge Street chapel which commences as follows
“Sacred to the memory of Samuel Watton who died Dec 28 1795 aged 64 years and Ann Watton his wife who died Dec 14 1806 aged 75 years.
They opened their house to receive the Methodist Preachers in this town in 1771”
Samuel was one of the two children of Thomas Watton, a nailer, and his wife, who had arrived in Tamworth from Gornal. He had followed in his father’s trade and rather like Dick Whittington had decided to seek his fortune not in London but in coalfields and burgeoning industries which were springing up around them in North West Leicestershire
Writing his recollections, a century later in 1871 his eldest grandson, Thomas, relates that Grandfather then went on tramping as a nailer to Whitwick and there, or at an adjoining village met with his wife, a good woman, a Methodist of the name of Stephenson or Stevenson or Stemson and brought her here to Tamworth.
Ann’s maiden name was, in fact, Stinson. It was not in Whitwick he met her. It was in the hamlet of Gelsmoor in North West Leicestershire situated some 4 miles to the east of Ashby de la Zouch. She was the 4th child of William Stinson, colliery bailiff at Coleorton Moor mine, and his wife, Elizabeth. Just when Samuel and Ann were married is not known but it would be around 1756 or 1757 as Thomas, their eldest child, was baptised in January 1758 at St Editha’s Church in Tamworth where they were living.
Thomas was also mistaken in stating that Ann was a Methodist, While John Wesley had visited Selina Countess of Huntingdon at Donington Hall on two occasions in the early 1740s, it was Rev’d Walter Sellon, curate of Breedon on the Hill and Smisby from 1759 onwards, who was the spark that ignited the fire of Methodism throughout North West Leicestershire. What is likely is that Samuel and Ann were converted as a result of what they saw and heard on visits to see her parents and family and that it was not by chance but by design that they opened their home to preachers who were known to them.
Methodism took root in Tamworth and it was not long before the early Wesleyans began to yearn and pray for a house of their own in which to meet. Their prayers were answered when Sir Robert Peel, first baronet, offered land in Bolebridge Street, Tamworth on which to build the chapel or Meeting House which opened in 1794.