THE EARLY TIMES
The Celts, who were the first inhabitants of the Isle of Wight, were idol worshippers, even worshipping the earth, sun, moon, fire, etc. The Romans, who next took possession of the Island, were renowned for their worship of gods - it was said that it was as easy or easier to find a god than a man! The worship of idols continued to be practised in the Isle of Wight until the introduction of the Christian religion in 686AD. Its introduction was brought about, essentially by Caedwalla, King of the Saxons, who conquered the Island. The opinion is held that a certain Bishop Wilfred blessed Caedwalla's enterprise and was himself, the first to preach the gospel in the Island, at Brading, where he had his first convert to the Christian faith, and where the first place was built for Christian worship.
The first Non-conformist Church, the Congregational church in Newport, was formed, following the passing of the Act of Uniformity by the Government, in 1662. Its first Minister was the Rev. Robert Tuchin, who had previously been the parish vicar but who was ejected from the C of E for his Non-conformity. The Baptists also did noble work in establishing Nonconformity in the Island, first at Wellow in 1801, then at Newport. The Rev.John Wesley paid his first visit to the Island on July 10th, 1758 and preached in the open air at Newport. He came a second time in that year in October, when most of the inhabitants of the Island's capital town, together with many from neighbouring villages, were present to hear him preach. He also came a few times after and found that the work of God was prospering in the Island. The first appointment of a Methodist preacher was in 1787.
When Mary Toms was busy bringing the Christian message in the Scilly Isles, a Captain Caws, a Methodist from Bembridge, was introduced to her and he pleaded with her to come to the Island to preach the Gospel, because of the spiritual darkness and destitution the people were in. The following descriptions of life in the Island in 1823 will reinforce the requests of Capt. Caws and Mary Toms response to them.
"Mrs O'Bryan says that when she visited the Island about this time on an evangelical tour, she was told on good authority that there were only one or two in several parishes who knew their sins were forgiven". William Strongman, a fellow worker with the illustrious William M. Bailey, writing from the Island in the month of June 1824, said he was persuaded that there was no county in any part of the kingdom where he had been, which was so destitute of the power of godliness as the Isle of Wight, and that a minister of another denomination had told him that, out of a population of about 31,600 persons, he doubted if there were 100 who knew anything about the converting grace of God. In many parts of the Island, the people were notorious for Sabbath breaking, swearing, smuggling and drunkenness, while the Dissenting preachers, who conducted services in cottages, by the roadside. and on the downs and commons, met with rough treatment and fierce persecution. On June 11th, 1826, Rev. Richard Uglow was conducting a service on St. George's Down, Arreton, when the vicar and clerk of the parish came upon him, while engaged in public prayer and the vicar cried out in an angry and loud tone 'This is an illegal meeting and as a magistrate of the peace I command you to disperse'. The parson had sworn in the clerk of the parish, so that, should his services be required, he might be legally equipped. Mr Uglow, however, continued to pray fervently for the enraged parson. The prayer over, he was taken into custody by the clerk-constable. This done, the clergyman sent word to the village, informing his parishioners that there would be no service that afternoon, as he was going to take the man, whom he now had in custody for conducting a religious service on St. George's down, to Newport, to appear before the magistrates to answer for his conduct in this matter. This was done and Mr Uglow was served with a summons to appear in court on the following Saturday, which he did, and several Non-conformist friends with him, as a united protest against the intolerant interference with the religious liberty of the people. The Rev. Mr.Franks, a Baptist minister, especially interested himself in the case. The magistrates soon discovered that their colleague, the parson, had put himself in an awkward fix, as they failed to discover that the evangelist was guilty of any law-breaking in the matter, and therefore acquitted him as an innocent man. This enraged the vicar very much and the fact was a source of mortification to him that Mr Uglow could, if he so wished, enter an action against him, which would have placed the vicar within the grip of the law. Mr Uglow, however, was too much of a Christian to retaliate towards the vicar. Those who had assembled on St. George's Down to hear Mr. Uglow preach were not intimidated by the vicar and his clerk, for, when Mr Uglow was marched off to Newport, four or five local preachers and others, continued the service. The question for them was - were they doing the right thing and were they acting for the glory of God and the salvation of souls? If so, despite persecution, their duty was plain. Their mission was to preach the Gospel to sinners and the greater the people's sins, the more they required it. This is how the first Bible Christians on the Isle of Wight started preaching the gospel of salvation. They were often in danger of losing their lives from the heavy missiles thrown at them by enraged men. Rev. W. Bailey said on one occasion that he believed he had enough stones and brickbats thrown at him to build a chapel. I heard an old lady say that when she was a girl, she attended a service conducted by Mr Bailey on Chale Green, and that while he was praying, a man who had been encouraged to do it by the vicar of the parish and some farmers, threw a stone at him and cut his head. Mr Bailey continued to pray most fervently, especially for the conversion of the man who had thrown the stone. The blood ran most profusely from the wound all the time, until a woman who had come all the way from Niton to attend the service, wiped it from his face and tried to staunch the wound. Mr Bailey's prayer was answered in the man's conversion and he was accustomed to say that he would not mind having his head cut again if it would lead to another sinner's salvation from sin.
The Rev. John Dyson, in his history of Methodism in the Isle of Wight says ' The carnel mind was aroused and showed its bitter enmity in various forms of mortifying, sometimes severe, persecution. Drums, tin kettles, horns or any discordant thing was brought into use to drown the preacher's voice, while a shower of rotten eggs, sticks and stones, with now and then a live animal, or any other offensive missile, fell with annoying and dangerous effect on the preacher and his audience. The dresses of the congregation were fastened together, that they might be torn when they separated, ferocious animals were turned loose into the worshipping assemblies, sparrows were turned loose to put out the lights, the top of the chimney was covered with a lid and the door tied to suffocate with smoke, those who were imprisoned.' One thing that makes one sad, as far as the persecution of the Bible Christians is concerned, is that the clergymen, for the most part, were the main cause, little thinking what the Bible Christian movement would grow to be in the Island, little thinking that it would become such a power for good and that it would attain in many respects such a position as would not disgrace even the State church of the country".