John Wesley and the Ritchie Family
John Wesley visited Otley on some 20 occasions and struck up a great friendship with the Ritchie family, who he stayed with on most of his visits at their house on Boroughgate. Most of Wesley’s journeys were made on horseback and he travelled between four and five thousand miles a year. He was a more than competent rider and it was his custom to read as he rode. His longest recorded journey was in June 1750 where he started at 4am and was not in bed until midnight – nearly 20 hours in the saddle.
There is a story that one of Wesley’s horses died in Otley and was buried in the parish churchyard. Opposite the northwest corner of the Parish Church can be found a peculiar triangular stone, commonly known as the ‘donkey stone’, which is where the horse is believed to have been buried. Quoting from Wesley’s own journal on Sunday 5th May 1782: “One of my horses having been so thoroughly lamed at Otley that he died in three or four days. They buried him in the churchyard there being no other place. So Robert rests”.
John Ritchie was born in Edinburgh and served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy. He left the navy soon after the Battle of Portobello in 1739. He made his way to Bramhope where he married Beatrix Robinson, daughter of the local miller. After the birth of their son John Junior, they moved to Otley where Beatrix gave birth to a daughter in 1754, Elizabeth. John set up his own practice in the town and was a class leader and circuit steward. On his death in 1780 Wesley hastened to Otley to preach the funeral sermon to a packed congregation at the parish Church. His widow survived him by 28 years and both are buried in the parish Churchyard.
Elizabeth is nationally famous in the Methodist story. In her earlier days she was attracted to John Wesley as a man, but not by his teaching. This changed after a meeting with the curate Rev James Illingworth, who instructed her on the natural depravity of man. She was converted by her 18th birthday and became a class leader in 1775. In 1777 her life was threatened by tuberculosis, which brought Wesley to her bedside four times during the year. She was still frail in 1784 but recovered soon after and began to travel the country with Wesley, acting as a counsellor to women. By 1791 she had become a member of the Wesley household, was present at his deathbed, and in his will received his gold seal, a gold pin, and a silver fruit knife. Over the next ten years she was active in Otley, London and the West Country. Elizabeth died in 1835 and was buried in London at the City Road Chapel Ground.