1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Primitive Methodist Church, The
PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH, THE, a Community of nonconformists, which owes its origin to the fact that Methodism as founded by the Wesleys tended, after the first generation, to depart from the enthusiasm that had marked its inception and to settle down to the task of self-organization. There were, however, some ardent spirits who continued to work along the old lines and whose watchword was revivalism, and out of their efforts came the Bible Christian, the Independent Methodist and the Primitive Methodist denominations. These enthusiastic evangelists esteemed zeal a higher virtue than discipline and decorum, and put small emphasis on church systems as compared with conversions. One of the men to whom Primitive Methodism owes its existence was Hugh Bourne (1772-1852), a millwright of Stoke-upon-Trent. He joined a Methodist society at Burslem, but business taking him at the close of 1800 to the colliery district of Harrisehead and Kidsgrove, he was so impressed by the prevailing ignorance and debasement that he began a religious revival of the district. His open-air preaching was accompanied by prayer and singing, a departure from Wesley's practice and the forerunner of the well-known “Camp Meeting.” A chapel was built at Harrisehead, and a second revival occurred in-Septernber 1804, largely the result of a meeting held at Congleton by some enthusiasts from Southport. One of the after-fruits of this revival was the conversion (Jan. 1805) of the joint founder of Primitive Methodism, William Clowes (1780-1851), a native of Burslem, who had come to Tunstall. Clowes was a man of fine appearance and open disposition, with a compelling personality that found expression in a steady glance and a thrilling voice. He was a potter by trade, and had a national reputation as a dancer.. He joined a Methodist class, threw his house open for love-feasts and prayer-meetings, and did a great deal of itinerant evangelization among the cottages of the countryside. Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834), an eccentric American Methodist revivalist, visited North Staffordshire and spoke of the camp meetings held in America., with the result that on the 31st of May 1807 the first real English gathering of the kind was held on Mow Cop, since regarded as the Mecca of Primitive Methodism. It lasted from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Bourne and his friends determined to continue the experiment as a counterblast to the parish wakes of the time, which were little better than local saturnalia. Opposition from a master potter of the district, who threatened to put the Conventicle Act in force, was overcome, but more serious difficulties were presented by the antagonism of the Wesleyan Methodist circuit authorities. But Bourne and his friends persisted against both Conference and the local superintendent, who issued bills declaring that no camp-meeting would be held at Norton in August 1807. The meeting was held and ten months later Bourne was expelled by the Burslem Quarterly Meeting, ostensibly for non-attendance at class (he had been away from home, evangelizing), really, as the Wesleyan superintendent told him “because you have a tendency to set up other than the ordinary worship” which was precisely the reason why, fifty years earlier, the Anglican Church had declined to sanction the methods of John Wesley. The camp-meetings went steadily on, and their influence is reflected in the writings of George Eliot, George Borrow and William Howitt. The societies which Bourne formed were for a time allowed to go under (Wesleyan) Methodist protection, but the crisis came in 1810, when the Stanley class of ten members declined to wash their hands of the Camp-Meeting Methodists, and so were refused admission. About this time, too (1809), Bourne appointed James Crawfoot, a Wesleyan local preacher who had been removed from the list for assisting the Independent Methodists, as a travelling preacher at 10s. a week, instructing him to give his whole time to evangelization and to get his converts to join the denominations to which they were most inclined. Clowes, who, in spite of his revivalist sympathies, was more attached to Methodism than Bourne, was cut off from his church for taking part in camp-meetings at Ramsor in 1808 and 1810. His personality drew a number of strong men after him, and a society meeting held in a kitchen and then in a warehouse became the nucleus of a circuit, a chapel being built at Tunstall in July 1811, two months after the fusion of the Bourne and Clowes forces. Clowes, like Crawfoot, was set apart as a preacher to “live by the gospel, ” and in February 1812 the name “ Primitive Methodist” was formally adopted, although for nearly a generation the name “Clowesites” survived in local use.
The first distinct period in the history of Primitive Methodism proper is 1811-1843. It was a time of rapid expansion, marked by great missionary fervour, and may be called the Circuit Period, for even after the circuits were grouped into districts in 1821 they did not lose their privilege of missionary initiative. The line of geographical progress first followed the valley of the Trent. The original circuit at Tunstall no sooner felt its feet than it favoured consolidation rather than extension. But irrepressible like John Benton broke through the “non-mission law,” and pressed forward through the “Adam Bede” country to Derby (which became the 2nd circuit in 1816); Nottingham, where a great camp-meeting on Whit Sunday 1816 was attended by 12,000 people; Leicestershire, where Loughborough became the 3rd circuit, with extensions into Rutland, Lincolnshire and Norfolk; and ultimately to Hull, which became the 4th circuit, and where a meeting which deserves to be called the First Conference was held in June 1819. The Hull circuit during the next five years, through its Yorkshire, Western, North-Western and Northern Missions, carried on a vigorous campaign with great success, especially among the then semi-savage colliers of Durham and Northumberland. During the five years I8IQ~1824 there had been made from Hull 17 circuits with a membership of 7600, and Hull itself had 3700 more. Simultaneously with this work in the north, Tunstall circuit, having thrown off its lethargy at the Wrine Hill camp-meeting on the 2 3rd of May 1819, was carrying on an aggressive evangelism. In the Black Country, Darlaston circuit was formed in 1820, and John Wedgewo0d's Cheshire Mission, begun in 1819, led to work in Liverpool on the one hand and in Salop on the other. From Macclesfield a descent was made on Manchester; from Oakengates in South Shropshire came extensions to Herefordshire, Glamorganshire and Wiltshire, where the famous Brinkworth circuit was established. The succeeding years, however, 1825-1828, showed a serious set-back, due to the lack of discipline. But drastic measures were taken, and in one year thirty preachers were struck off the list. T henceforward, while the Oxford Movement was awakening one section of the people of England the Primitive Methodists were making themselves felt among other classes of the population. John Oxtoby, who evangelized Filey and became known as “Praying Johnny,” was known to spend six hours at a time in intercession. Robert Key at Saham Tony in 1832 won over a young woman who converted her brother, Robert Eaglen, who, eighteen years later at Colchester, proved so decisive a factor in the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The Times of the 27th of December 1830, referring to the disaffected state of the southern counties, said: “The present population must be provided for in body and spirit on more liberal and Christian principles, or the whole mass of labourers will start into legions of banditti-banditti less criminal than those who have made them so, and who by a just and fearful retribution will soon become their victims.” These were the classes the Primitive Methodists tried to reach, and in doing so they found themselves between two fires. On the one hand there was the mob violence that often amounted to sheer ruiiianism, especially in Wessex and the home-counties. On the other hand there was legal persecution all over the country, and the preachers suffered many things from the hands of rural clergy and county magistrates. There are a score of cases of serious imprisonment, and a countless number of arrests and temporary detention. Local preachers received notice to quit their holdings, labourers were discharged, those who opened their cottages for meetings were evicted, and to show any hospitality to a travelling preacher was to risk the loss of home and employment. But the spirit of the evangelists was unquenchable.
At the Conference of 1842 both Clowes and Bourne became supernumeraries with a pension of £25 a year each. Clowes, indeed, had been free from circuit work since 1827, and he continued to pray and preach as he was able till his death in March 1851. Bourne, who worked at his trade more or less all through life, spent his last ten years in advocating the temperance cause; he died in October 1852. The years 1842-1853 mark a transition period in the history of Primitive Methodism. It was John Flesher who chiefly guided the movement from a loosely jointed Home Missionary Organization on to the lines of a real Connexionalism. One of the first steps was to move the Book Room and the meeting place of the executive committee from Bemersley to London. Soon after came the gradual process by which the circuits handed over their mission-work to a central Connexional Committee. The removal to London was proof that the leaders were alive to the necessity of grappling with the rapid growth of towns and cities, and that the Connexion, at first mainly a rural movement, had also urban work to accomplish. The famous Hull circuit long retained a number of powerful branches, a survival of the first period, but by 1853 it had come into line with what was by that time regarded as the normal organization.
The period 1853–1885 (where typical names are W. and S. Antliff, Thomas Bateman and Henry Hodge) finds Primitive Methodism as a Connexion of federated districts, a unity which may be described as mechanical rather than organic. The districts between 1853 and 1873 were ten in number, Tunstall, Nottingham, Hull, Sunderland, Norwich, Manchester, Brinkworth, Leeds, Bristol and London. Conference-the supreme assembly-was a very jealously guarded preserve, being attainable only to preachers who had travelled 18 and superintended 12 years, and to laymen who had been members 12 and officials 10 years. This exclusiveness naturally strengthened the popularity and power of the districts, where energy and talent found a scope elsewhere denied. Thus Hull district inaugurated a bold policy of chapel-buildings; Norwich that of a foreign mission; Sunderland and Manchester the ideal of a better educated ministry, Sunderland institute being opened in 1868; Nottingham district founded a middle-class school; Leeds promoted a union of Sunday-schools, and the placing of chapel property on a better financial footing. The period as a whole had some anxious moments; emigration to the gold-fields and the strife which afflicted Wesleyan Methodism brought loss and confusion between 1853 and 1860. Yet when Conference met at Tunstall in the latter year to celebrate its jubilee it could report 675 ministers and 11,384 local preachers, 132,114 members, 2267 chapels, 167,533 scholars and 30,988 teachers. Over-seas, too, there was much activity and success; Work begun in Australia and New Zealand prospered, and the former country finally contributed over 11,000 members to the formation of the United Methodist Church of Australia, New Zealand with its 2600 members preferring to remain connected with the home country. In the United States there had been a quiet but steady growth since the first agents went out in 1829 and Hugh Bourne's advisory visit in 1844. There are now three Conferences-the Eastern, Pennsylvania and Western, with about 70 ministers, 100 churches and 7000 members. The Canadian churches had a. good record, consummated in 1884 when they contributed 8000 members and 100 ministers to the United Methodist Church of the Dominion. In January 1870 the first piece of real foreign missionary work was begun at Fernando Po, followed in December of the same year by the mission at Aliwal North on the Orange River in South Africa. This station is the centre of a polyglot circuit or district 150 m. by 50 m., and there is a membership of 1731 and an efficient institution for training teachers; evangelists and artisans. In 1899 another South African mission was started, ultimately locating itself at Mashukulumbwe, and a few years later work was begun in Southern Nigeria. Since 1885 Primitive Methodism has been developing from a “Connexion” into a “Church,” the designation employed since 1902. At home a Union for Social Service was formed in 1906, the natural outcome of Thomas Jackson's efforts for the hungry and distressed in Clapton and Whitechapel, and of similar work at St George's Hall, Southwark. Other significant episodes have been the Unification of the Funds, the Equalization of Districts and the reconstruction of Conference on a broader basis, the Ministers' Sustentation Fund and the Church Extension Fund, and the enlargement and reorganization of the college at Manchester. This undertaking owes much to the liberality of Sir William P. Hartley, whose name the college, which is a school of the Victoria University, now bears. The Christian Endeavour movement in Great Britain derives, perhaps, its greatest force from its Primitive Methodist members; and the appointment of central missions, connexional evangelists and mission-vans, which tour the more sparsely populated rural districts, witness to a continuance of the original spirit of the denomination, while the more cultured side is fostered by the Hartley lecture. In celebration of the centenary of the Church, a fund of £250,000 was launched in 1907, and this was brought to a successful issue. Statistics for 1909 show 1178 ministers, 16,158 local preachers, 212,168 members, 4484 chapels, 465,531 Sunday scholars, 59,557 teachers. In the United States there were, in 1906, 101 church edilices and a total membership of 7558.
See H. B. Kendall, The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church (2 vols., 1906); and What hath God Wrought? A Centenary Memorial of the P.M. Church (1908).