Wooton Bassett - Primitive Methodists (1825)

At Wootton Bassett, the missionaries also laboured with great success, notwithstanding the persecutions they had to endure. Mr Heath had the courage to stand up in the main street amidst the crowd who were engaged in the savage practice of “backswording," and in solemn earnestness preached on death and judgment, heaven and hell. The mayor's pious zeal was aroused at this innovation, and he sent a constable to bring the preacher into his presence. His love of civilisation and his regard for public order did not induce him to move a finger in opposition to the disgraceful proceedings and barbarous scenes witnessed around him, but for a Dissenting minister to have the audacity to preach in the streets he regarded as intolerable. The missionary, however, understood the law of the land respecting open-air preaching better than his worship, and after some altercation, “finding nothing whereof he could accuse him," he allowed Mr Heath to depart, who went directly to the place where he had been standing, and finished his earnest and awakening sermon. And an awakening sermon it proved too many. An impression was made upon the minds of multitudes, which was not speedily erased. Numbers from surrounding villages left the town under deep convictions of sin, and with pious resolves to forsake their evil practices. Many of the inhabitants of Wootton Bassett also received much spiritual profit on this memorable day, which led them to seek a saving interest in Christ and enabled them henceforth to walk in newness of life. A long room, which had been employed as a ball-room in connection with a public-house, was soon afterwards taken on rent, and for some time was used as a place of worship. Very exciting scenes were frequently witnessed there. Persecutors often managed to put out the lights, and in various ways to annoy and disturb the serious worshippers. But the work of God continued to prosper. Some of the persecutors were brought before the magistrates and fined; others were brought to the feet of Jesus as suppliants for mercy and became devout associates of those whom they had persecuted. A flourishing society was established, and the cruel and barbarous practice of “backswording " entirely abolished in the town.

From, ‘The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion from its origin, by John Petty, 1860, p181-2.


Additional Information

In 1965 the two Methodist congregations merged and the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was demolished as part of the road widening scheme to provide the mini-roundabout and access road to the new housing development in The Lawns and Borough Fields. As far as I know the chapel was at the junction of Coxstalls and the High Street, more or less where the roundabout is now. The new buildings housing the tanning salon next to the junction were built on the site of an old cottage and I think the chapel was next to that.

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