So Methodism in Crediton was not the direct fruit of Wesley’s labours. It Is to Exeter that we must look for our origins and early growth. The story is told by Elijah Chick in his “A history of Methodism in Exeter and its Neighbourhood” (1907). He writes that during the 18th century Methodism in Exeter was not strong.
This is hardly surprising considering the degree of persecution to which they were subjected. The London Morning Post of May 16th 1745 reported a disgraceful incident which took place at the Methodist Meeting House behind the Guildhall on May 6th. 1745.
The congregation was pelted with filth and every person was beaten up and their clothes torn. Some of the women were lamed and others stripped naked and rolled in the gutter, their faces smeared with lampblack, flour and dirt. The rioters entered the Meeting House and interrupted the minister with obscene language and fell upon him in a furious manner with blows and kicks.
Dr. Leslie Church, in his book ‘More about the Early Methodist People’ points out that the author of the article was not himself a Methodist and gave an entirely independent and spontaneous description of the scene. The writer explains that he would not have “taken up his pen in defence of the Methodists had they not been daily and openly treated in Exeter with such murderous violence and abuse as would have made even pagans to have blushed,”
Despite persecution Methodism was not stamped out and the cause made steady progress over the next 50 years.
More important within the Devon circuit were Tiverton and Cullompton, the latter being head of the circuit until 1807. In this period the Methodists held occasional services in Crediton. One of the early ministers, William Aver (1797-8), preached in the old meeting house (the Presbyterian, later Unitarian) on the text 1 Corinthians 14:8 “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle”. Chick and Venn give conflicting information about this service but are agreed on the text. And we do know that Mr Ryan and Mr Kerslake obtained a licence for a preaching room in Dean Street.
A room on the ground floor of a house in Dean Street was licensed on April 15th. 1808. The owner was Mr. Samuel Laimbeer, who let it to a Mr. Collier. The signatories were Mr. Laimbeer, Mr. Miles (?) Ryan, William Pope, Samuel Kerslake, William Tapper and Richard Blake, Mr Ryan, a local preacher living in the neighbourhood, preached in Crediton and Fordton, but no settled work had been done.
Between 1798 and 1808 the Exeter Society had increased very rapidly and become far and away the most important in the neighbourhood. So in 1808 it was placed at the head of a circuit. William Fowler and James Spinks were the first preachers with William Beal as missionary. Crediton was the first among the new places opened up because of his work. He was invited by Mr Samuel Kerslake and took for a preaching place, a large room, “the refectory of the ancient deanery.” ‘Uncle Jim’ Berry, who died in 1901 aged 96½ remembered services being held there. Mr Berry was converted at the age of 70 and taught in the Sunday School class until he was over eighty. Mr Browning remembered it as still in use for Sabbath School purposes as late as about 1850. Services were held there until the chapel on Bowden Hill was opened in 1816.