WHEN evangelist William Seward arrived to preach at Hay-on-Wye in 1740 he bravely faced a jeering, hostile mob. Soon he was dead.

Well over two centuries later he was the reason for the gathering of another crowd - one of complete contrast. The ecumenical gathering at St Mary's Church, Cusop, was witnessing the dedication of a plaque revering his memory.

Born in 1702 at Badsey, Worcestershire, William Seward worked at the Treasury in London and probably succeeded his father, John Seward, who died in 1737, as steward to Lord Windsor.

Among the first converts of the evangelical revival, Seward came under the influence of Charles Wesley in 1738 and the following spring he became the travelling companion of the magnetic George Whitfield as well as Howell Harris.

It was once said that Seward "packed a lifetime of gospel endeavour" into two years, 1738-40, travelling throughout South Wales and the border country.

He joined Whitfield on a trip to the American colonies during 1740 and generously provided money to finance ventures such as a negro school in Pennsylvania. That same year Seward found himself alongside Howell Harris on a preaching tour of South Wales.

Having been manhandled by an ugly mob at Newport the preachers were attacked at Caerleon and Seward suffered severe injuries.

His arrival in Hay on October 15 the same year prompted the jostling and catcalling of another menacing gang supported by some local clergy and magistrates. He attempted singing and prayer but his efforts were soon thwarted.

He died a week after the incident, some saying he was stoned to death in the town and fell praying for his murderers. Others believe he died as a result of an earlier assault in Wales.

The man who had become the first Methodist martyr was buried under an old yew tree in the churchyard at St Mary's.

The moving tribute to Seward in 1978 was sparked by John Isherwood, of Stockton Heath, near Warrington in Cheshire who had visited Cusop two years earlier.

Having read an account of the life of George Whitfield he was aware that the tiny churchyard was the last resting place of a very special man.

Fascinated by the great 18th Century religious revival, Mr Isherwood searched for and found the grave, and on his return wrote to Cusop's vicar, suggesting a memorial plaque.

To his delight, the idea was enthusiastically received and so research into Seward's background was started.

A packed church at Cusop saw the plaque dedication carried out by Assistant Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev Mark Wood, and prayers were led by the Rev AM Roberts, warden of Coleg Trefeca, home in the 18th Century of Howell Harris. Mr Isherwood read the lesson.

And so there were words of praise and tribute where, nearby, many years before there had been shouts of hate and scorn.

Nigel Heins