The Grace of God
The most recent of the Old Mansfield Society's series of books about the history of the town is "The Grace of God", by David J. Bradbury and Pauline Ashton. It tells the history of the religions that have found a place in the town. It is not just about religion though. The various religions had an influence on education, buildings and personalities in Mansfield. Some short extracts follow:
Mansfield is fortunate to be closely associated with George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends. As early as 1647, he came to the area and met Elizabeth Hooton of Skegby, who was to become one of the inspirations of the movement. Later that year, as he was "walking by the steeple-house side in the town of Mansfield" (steeple-house being his term for a church) he realised how "people and professors... fed upon words, and fed one another with words; but they trampled upon the life...", a revelation which struck a chord with many people and he became known as "a young man that had a discerning spirit". Following another vision in 1848 of "a great crack to go throughout the earth" and an earthquake (which he understood as the necessary shaking of the ground before the seed of God could be planted) he went again to Mansfield "where there was a great meeting of professors and people". Here as he prayed, the very building itself seemed to shake, which greatly impressed the academics. He was less lucky on later visits to the town- on one occasion he wished to speak with the local magistrates, but failed to find them, and on another, when he tried to preach in the church at Mansfield Woodhouse, the congregation assaulted him, even using their Bibles as weapons.
Did John Wesley ever preach in Mansfield, as he did in so many places throughout the country? His diaries make no mention of the town, but on at least two occasions his journeys took him along the road north from Nottingham, so he would have stopped a while, perhaps for a meal at the Swan or the long-lost Crown in the Market Place. His one-time associate George Whitefield (who created a separate "Calvinistic" version of Methodism) is more specific, recording that he preached in Mansfield and Sutton in May 1750. Anyway, Mansfield was quickly incorporated into the Sheffield Circuit of the new Wesleyan Methodist denomination, then transferred to the newly-created Nottingham Circuit in 1776. Many years later, an old lady recalled her mother Mary W's moment of decision in 1788, when a lay preacher from Nottingham, John Adams, gave a sermon at the pump in the Market Place, near the bottom of Leeming Street (a Puritan replacement for the former market cross). Having attended Whitefield's Tabernacle in London, young Mary had "felt persuaded that a poor uneducated girl like herself must be among the reprobates, and this persuasion cost her years of unhappiness... until she heard Mr Adams proclaim a full, free, and present salvation".