We in Crediton cannot claim that John Wesley preached or stayed here but his Journals and diary give three references to Crediton which are of interest.
Wednesday, April 18th 1744
Before eight (a.m.) we reached Crediton (or Kirton), or rather the ruins of it; for the houses on both sides were all in ashes for several hundred yards. Lighting on a serious woman, I asked “Are the people of this place now warned to seek God?” She answered, “Although some of them perished in the flames, the rest are just as they were before, cursing, swearing, drinking, playing and making merry, without God in their thoughts.” She added, “No longer ago than Thursday last the men who were rebuilding one of the houses were bitterly cursing and swearing one at another, and two of them above the rest, when an arch they were under fell, and crushed these two, with all their bones in pieces.” Will ye not at length hear the rod, and Him that hath appointed it? Wesley was on his way from west Cornwall to Minehead where he took a boat for the four hour crossing to Aberthaw, South Wales. He had preached at Sticklepath on the 16th.
The sight of our devastated town obviously made an impression on Wesley. This is not surprising as it was only a few months after one of Crediton’s most terrible fires - that of Sunday, 14th August 1743, when the fire raged from eleven in the morning until eight in the evening.
The Universal Spectator’ told its readers “There is not a house standing in all the town from ‘The Sign of the Lamb’ to the uttermost end of the Green, which is half a mile, together with all the backlets, lanes, byways, linhays, gardens and apple-trees, the apples roasting as they hung.”
Fires were not infrequent in Devon towns in the 18th Century. F.D. Gentry, in “Take care of your Fire and Candle” (p 124) lists nineteen in the Crediton area between May 31st 1832 and September 18th 1893, the last of which destroyed five cottages at Shobrooke.
Such disasters brought local folk together in a common concern to help the afflicted. Arthur Warne, in “Church and Society in Eighteenth Century Devon” (p 104) wrote, “when Crediton was devastated by a disastrous fire in 1743, with damage at lowest estimate of £50,000, a local committee was set up of an equal number of churchmen and dissenters”. The petition for subscriptions, signed by the vicar and the Presbyterian minister, ended with these words. “In this cause, thank God both churchmen and dissenters are happily and heartily united.”
Wednesday and Thursday, 28th and 29th September, 1748.
We found great part of the congregation still waiting for us (at Plymouth). They attended again at four in the morning. At five we took horse, and by easy riding, soon after eight came to Tavistock. After I had preached we hasted on, rested an hour at Oakhampton (sic), and soon after sunset came to Crediton.
We could willingly have stayed here, but John Slocombe had appointed to meet us at Cullompton. Soon after we set out it was exceeding dark, there being no moon nor stars. The rain also made it darker still, particularly in the deep, narrow lanes. In one of these we heard the sound of horses coming towards us and presently a hoarse voice cried “What have you got?” Richard Moss understood him better than me, and replied, “We have no panniers.” Upon which he answered, “Sir, I ask your pardon,” and went by very quietly.
There were abundance of turnings in the road, so that we could not easily have found our way at noonday. But we always turned right; Nor do I know that we were out of the way once. Before eight the moon rose. We then rode cheerfully on, and before ten reached Cullompton.
(Richard Moss, Wesley’s companion, was a convert who lived at the Foundery, London, as a servant, He was able to convince the highwaymen they were not worth robbing.)
Thursday, September 1st 1785 (Entry in Diary, not Journal).
12 Crediton, dinner. 12.30 Chaise. 3 Tiverton,
(Would that we knew who entertained him on that day. His timetable did not allow leisure after the meal, Wesley was now in his 83rd year, and he travelled by chaise rather than on horseback).