In matters of religion, Cradley had a strong Dissenting tradition. In 1770, John Wesley rode to Cradley and addressed an audience "wild as colts untamed; but the bridle was in their mouths"
EARLY NONCONFORMITY IN CRADLEY AND JOHN WESLEY'S VISIT
by N. BIRD
The Rev. Edward Paston, Vicar of Halesowen during the Commonwealth, suffered ejectment when the Act of Uniformity was passed in 1662, but with the connivance of the congregation at Kingswinford Church, he sometimes preached there for his brother who had conformed and was still its Rector.
This preaching had some effect, for soon afterwards a number of this congregation broke away and joined with dissenters of Cradley who had separated from Halesowen Church. They formed a Presbyterian (now Unitarian) congregation at Cradley which worshipped secretly for a time in private houses at Netherend and in a wood (Their Bower) in Bower Lane.
Later, land was purchased just outside the Parish of Halesowen, at Cradley Forge and a place of worship called 'The Meeting House' was built in 1707. The minister at this time was The Rev. Josiah Bassett who had been educated at the expense of Henry Hickman of Oldswinford. This building was burnt down by the Sacheverell rioters in 1715, but was rebuilt with the aid of a government grant the following year. It was sold to the Society of Wesleyan Methodists in 1796 and the proceeds went towards the building of Park Lane Chapel. The initiative of this venture was provided by its minister, the Rev. James Scott whose manuscripts are a reliable source of information about Cradley in those days. A day school was started there as early as 1746.
About the middle of the 18th Century a congregation of Independents, a secession from the Presbyterians was formed. At first it worshipped in private houses, but in 1768 a small Chapel was built in 'Cradley Town,' or the part of Cradley near the High Street to distinguish it from the four other semi-isolated communities which made up the township.
The story of how this Chapel was bought by the adherents of Lady Huntingdon and George Whitefield, taken down and replaced by a new one - now St. Peter's Church, has already been told by Mr. Frank Stevens, our organist.
Out of the dissolved Independent congregation there grew a Baptist Society which used a private house in Butchers Lane for its services, prior to providing itself with a Chapel, on the site of which the present building stands.
It was probably at the invitation of a section of the Cradley Forge Methodists that John Wesley came to Cradley and preached in the High Street.
On this visit he made the following entry in his Journal:
Monday, 19, March 1770 - I rode to Cradley (from Wednesbury). Here also the multitude obliged me to stand abroad, although the north wind whistled about my head. About one I took the field to Stourbridge. Many of the hearers were as wild as colts untamed; but the bridle was in their mouths. At six I began in Dudley. The air was as cold as I had almost ever felt, but I trust God warmed many hearts.
The historic site is the terrace to the left of the lower church yard steps going down. This was called Dungeon Head on account of a jail having been there. On this elevated piece of land there was a large flat stone, slightly raised, from which public proclamations and announcements were made. It was from this stone that Wesley, according to tradition, preached.
During road improvements, about 50 years ago, it was removed and now serves as a coping stone on the top of a retaining wall, towards the top of Windmill Hill, on the left hand side.
Someday it may find its way back to its original site and marked with an appropriate inscription to tell future generations of the connection between Cradley and the Evangelist of world wide repute, John Wesley.
Note by Cradley Links:
This article was first published in the Cradley Parish Church Magazine, July 1953.
The author, Norman Bird, took an active interest in Cradley history, and was a regular contributor to the parish magazine. Deputy Head Master at the Cradley Church Schools for more than 20 years, he died suddenly in the school staff room in the late 1950s.