The story of a dramatic conversion
John Massey was a thug – there is just no other word to describe him! He terrorised the whole of North West Leicestershire and we are told his presence was feared at every wake and fair in the area. Massey, being a collier, was strong and notable for the power in his arms and fists and so, when the local squire, presumably one of the Beaumonts, heard that John Wesley was to preach at an open air meeting at Coleorton Moor who better to hire to disrupt the service than Massey and his fellow colliers! They were liberally plied with alcohol by him and armed with “formidable” truncheons.
The gang of colliers was split into two with one group headed by Massey, the commander-in-chief, to the right of and the other, led by his second in command, to the left of Wesley. As always, Wesley was punctual starting the service commencing it, as was his custom, with devotions. Massey posed menacingly but, instead of ordering the attack, paused to listen and we are told that an “arrow of conviction” found lodgement in his heart and tears fell down his cheeks. When the others in the gang became impatient, he told them that if anyone attacked Wesley they would have him to deal with the next morning on the pit bank. No-one wanted to face Massey the following day so the gang melted away and the service closed peacefully.
Following upon his conversion, John Massey became an accomplished local preacher and it seems probable that he was a member of the Tonge society which met in Mr John Hall’s house there. A regular visitor to the locality was Wesley’s heir apparent, Rev John Fletcher, who, on one occasion, had been appointed to lecture at Tonge but was delayed so John Massey stepped into the breach. When Rev Fletcher arrived the house was quite full so, instead of attempting to make his way through the crowd, he decided instead to stand at the back to listen and was greatly impressed by what he heard. At the end of the service, Fletcher shook his hand and congratulated him for his “excellent exhortation.”
There can be little doubt but that John Massey assisted John Hall and others in the missioning of Breedon, Worthington, Diseworth and neighbouring places.
It is difficult to pinpoint the date of Massey’s conversion at Coleorton Moor. While Charles Wesley had visited Coleorton on 24th May 1743 and recorded in his Journal “I preached the Gospel to the poor at Coleorton who heard it with the greatest eagerness”, John Wesley did not record his visit. The incident was related in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for 1856 where the author refers to almost a century having elapsed so it puts Wesley’s visit to around the 1760s when Massey would be in his early 30s. He served his Lord well and did not pass to his reward until 1819 at the ripe old age of 87. He lies buried along with his wife, Deborah, in Griffydam’s Methodist graveyard.
“The church on the hill” Wesleyan Methodist Magazine 1856
“John Wesley in Leicestershire” Joan & Robin Stevenson
“History of the Whitwick Methodists” Eric Jarvis