Last Updated on April 22, 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Quite literally a stone’s throw from one of Cornwall’s busiest roads, the A30, lies a small dwelling. Wesley Cottage is pretty and quaint, and yet behind this humble exterior belies the important role that the abode played in the progression of what was to become a major religious movement in the 18th century. Here’s a quick history of Wesley Cottage, Methodism, and John Wesley.
About John Wesley’s Cottage
The small end of terrace cottage is located in the small hamlet of Trewint, near Altarnun on the edge of Bodmin Moor, just a few hundred metres from the A30 dual-carriageway. A very simple building that through chance became an important location in East Cornwall during the advancement of the Methodist Movement in the mid 18th Century.
John Nelson and John Downes
It was in August of 1743 that two of John Wesley’s lay preachers, John Nelson and John Downes, stopped at Trewint in search of refreshment on their long journey further west. They enquired after an inn only to be told there were none in the area and so happened upon the Isbell’s small abode.
Digory, a stonemason by trade, was not at home but Elizabeth his wife offered the preachers sustenance. Before they left to continue on their journey they prayed without the use of a Prayer Book which was something Elizabeth had never encountered.
Before leaving, John Nelson asked if he could preach from the cottage on his return journey and it’s estimated that three hundred people attended this service. No mean feat when you consider that Altarnun Parish was, and still is, very sparsely populated and people had to travel from far and wide.
John Wesley and the Methodist Movement
John Wesley’s ministry included much preaching outdoors to large groups of people and meant that he travelled tirelessly for a great part of his life; he’s believed t0 have travelled about 250,000 miles mainly on horseback and is quoted as saying, ‘The World is my Parish’.
He, along with his brother Charles and George Whitefield, founded the Methodist Movement. However, they all continued to be members of the Church of England. By 1791, the year of his death, the Movement had grown to more than 72,000 followers in Britain and a further 60,000 in the United States.
John Wesley at Trewint
John Wesley stayed at the Isbell’s Cottage on numerous occasions, as did his itinerant lay preachers and so Digory Isbell built a small extension onto his cottage which comprised of a ‘Prophet’s Chamber’ and a small bedroom upstairs.
This ‘Prophet’s Chamber is thought to be the smallest Methodist place of worship in the world and is today owned and maintained by the Methodist Church.
The Isbell’s cottage continued as an important meeting point for the Methodists in East Cornwall right up until 1795 when a chapel was constructed in Altarnun. Incidentally, this was also the year that Digory passed away and he, along with Elizabeth, are buried in the graveyard at Altarnun Church.
Nearby Attractions to Wesley Cottage
Altarnun – A sleepy little village on the fringes of Bodmin Moor. The ancient village Church of St Nonna is the resting place of Digory and Elizabeth Isbell and also inspired Daphne du Maurier’s disturbing character Francis Davey, the Vicar of Altarnun, in Jamaica Inn. On a happier note, the church is where Doc Martin, played by Martin Clunes in the TV series of the same name, got married!
Jamaica Inn – Although rather over-commercialised and the museum perhaps a little overpriced, it’s perhaps worth a quick visit for diehard Daphne du Maurier fans.
Bodmin Moor – Wild and rugged moorland scenery. A great place for walking and also the location where several Poldark scenes were filmed.
Lanhydrock House – Just 20 minutes by car this fabulous National Trust country house andthe estate is well worth a visit. It offers an intriguing glimpse at the social divide in the Victorian era – the upstairs/downstairs setup.
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Judith Steffler says
My 7th generation great grandparents are Digory and Elizabeth Isbell. It was wonderful to read this piece of history and link my family. Thank you
Sophie Nadeau says
Thank you so much for your lovely message! We’re glad that you enjoyed the article 🙂
Malcolm Sidney Isbell says
Hi, my name is Malcolm Isbell and I am a direct descendant of Digory & Elizabeth Isbell. In 1950 my father Arthur Thomas Isbell was invited to open the cottage after restoration as a museum.
Although I was only 5 at the time, I remember it well. Many people attended, Journalists and photograpers and worshipers recorded the events and a feature was publihed in Picture Post, the Hello magazine of the 1950’s
We are very grateful to all those who supported and assisted in the restoration of this historic, spiritual site which will be visited and enjoyed in the future. I have visited the cottage on a few occasions but as I live in Surbiton,Surrey, I am many miles from Trewint. On my visits I experienced a peaceful,spiritual, serene feeling and felt history radiating from the very fabric of the building. Long may it remain.
Sophie Nadeau says
Hello, Thank you so much for your lovely comment and for taking the time to read our article. What a wonderful memory to have and it really is a very special location.