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Discussion Forum : Revivals And Church History : MARTHA THOMPSON - THE FIRST METHODIST IN PRESTON

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Joined: 2011/9/26
Posts: 915



Martha Thompson (1733 - 1820) was born in Preston in the eighteenth century. She was well educated and at nineteen had completed her apprenticeship to be a ‘mantua maker’ i.e. a dressmaker.

When Martha’s mother died, her father re-married and the home became an unhappy place. She wished to leave and wrote to a former Prestonian – a wealthy lady living in a London mansion – for a position on her domestic staff. Her application was successful.

Martha travelled all the way to London in a carrier’s cart: a long, uncomfortable, arduous journey. She found that time passed quickly and pleasantly for the first two years in her new position and she attended a local Anglican church. London, however, held no attraction for her.

One day her mistress sent her on an errand and passing through Moorfields she came upon a large, motley crowd – drawn from all walks of life. In their midst stood a preacher: small, rather thin, wearing a neat wig and a clergyman’s gown. The crowd sang a hymn, after which the clergyman took out his pocket Bible and preached with great power. His message was, "You must be born again." The effect of the sermon on Martha was riveting. The crowd dispersed, with Martha going on her way to complete her errand. She was late arriving back home and her mistress furiously demanded an account of herself. Martha described what had delayed her. Her mistress warned Martha never again to listen to the preacher, who would fill her head with outrageous thoughts.

The preacher was, in fact, John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman who, when the churches closed their doors to him, was forced to preach in the open air.

For days Martha pondered what had happened, reading her Bible and praying. On her next half holiday she went again to Moorfields and saw the crowds and the preacher. She joined in the hymns and listened to Wesley’s invitation to repent and become a new person in Jesus Christ. Martha told her mistress and the servants about her conversion. Every day she continually sang hymns as she worked, which annoyed her fellow servants and they sent a deputation to the mistress, saying Martha must be going mad. Doctors were sent for. They questioned her, then reported she was suffering from ‘religious mania’ and stating she must be removed to Bedlam – the mad house.

Martha was bored in Bedlam, with nothing to occupy her. One day the master came into her room and Martha noticed his coat was torn: she asked for needle and thread and mended the coat to perfection. The master was so pleased and, as a way of a ‘thank you’, allowed her to do menial tasks. One day, working in the kitchen, she found paper, pen and ink and sat down to write a letter to Mr Wesley, explaining her plight. However, there was no one to deliver the letter so Martha folded it and placed it in her pocket. Some time later a visitor came to Bedlam; a smart gentleman. He talked with Martha and told her he was a Methodist. Martha spoke of her circumstances and about the letter. The visitor told her John Wesley was in London and he would take her letter to him.

Next day two doctors, sent by John Wesley, came to assess Martha: they declared she was of sound mind and could be released. They reported their findings to John Wesley, who sent a message to Martha: on her release she had to meet him at a certain place. Wesley took her to the home of Methodist friends, who took care of her until he was ready to leave London and head north. Martha’s wish, of course, was to return home to Preston.

When John Wesley was ready to head north he went for Martha on his horse and she took her seat on the pillion. Each day they travelled a few miles, resting and taking food at inns along the way. Wesley had preaching appointments in Stafford and on reaching there he put Martha on a stagecoach to Manchester, where she caught a carrier’s cart back to Preston. On arrival she immediately went to her father’s house; he was so pleased to see her after not knowing where she was.

After a few days Martha learnt of a handloom weaver called William Livesey, who had started a small Methodist Society six miles away in Hoghton. Every Sunday she walked the twelve miles there and back for the privilege of joining the fellowship.

Martha became friends with the landlady of The Dog Inn in Church Street, Preston. By this time Martha had gathered others interested in Methodism and she set up a small society in an upper room of this inn. William Walmsley became the leader and travelling preachers visited.

Martha also set up in business as a dressmaker, became prosperous and used her influence to promote Methodism. She married Mr Whitehead, a brass founder and button maker. They had several children and in time one of her grandchildren became mayor.

The Methodist community grew and eventually a church was built in Back Lane, off Orchard Street, where John Wesley came to preach.

Martha outlived her husband and was eighty nine when she died.

 2021/5/9 10:37Profile

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