Primitive Methodists in the New Parliament

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1906

By Geoff Dickinson

Transcription of an Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by J. Hencotes Priestpopple

THE recent marvellous General Election resulted in a considerable accession to the number of Primitive Methodist Members of Parliament. They have all been P.M.’s for years, and are proud of of it, but the transposition of these expressive letters into M.P.’s is significant of much. Personally, we have special cause for pleasure, for our relation to them is almost unique, three of them being local preachers in Circuits at the time when we laboured on them. Modesty, of course, precludes our claiming more than a humble part in their making! No more striking group will be found in the House of Commons. Few members have had a more interesting and varied career, and probably none have more richly deserved the honour. They are men of sterling character and indomitable perseverance, of sound judgment and intelligence, whose long record of useful and valuable services for the well-being of humanity has been crowned by this fresh proof of the confidence reposed in them by those for whose welfare they have done so much. It is matter for gratitude that they are all on the Progressive side. The life of each one of them would furnish interesting materials for a long and valuable paper, but our present purpose is briefly to indicate some of the salient features of the entire group. We shall refer to them in the order in which they entered Parliament.

Alderman John Wilson, M.P. for Mid-Durham comes first. Like his beloved friend, Mr. Thomas Burt, M.P., he was born in the year when, Queen Victoria was crowned. Years, however, do not seem to affect Mr. Wilson, for his colleagues are accustomed to say he is the youngest man among them in almost, every respect. What a career he has had! Motherless at five years of age, and fatherless at ten, he furnishes one of the most striking illustrations of self-help and self culture. He has been sailor as well as miner; and has suffered for his adherence to Trades Unionism. But nothing daunted he held on his way, willingly bearing the sacrifice which generally falls to a pioneer. Joining our Church at a class-meeting was a helpful factor in his development. In a few months he came on the plan in Thornley Circuit, and thenceforward he gave himself without stint or grudging to self-improvement. What tales we could tell of his indomitable pluck and persistence! The result is that he is today one of the best-read and most cultivated men in the House. His library in its contents, character, variety, and value is the despair of his ministerial friends, and must have meant immense self-denial to get together. How he ransacks the second-hand book-stalls! He is not long in any town before he finds one out. 

In 1882 he was elected treasurer to the Durham Miners’ Association, and removed to Durham city. In 1890 he became Financial Secretary, and at present he is the Corresponding Secretary. He first entered Parliament as member for the Houghton-le-Spring Division, in 1885. His first speech was made on Sir Richard Cross’ Mines Bill, introduced that year. The speech so impressed Sir Erskine May, the Clerk of the House, as to prompt him to say, “Wilson is the most eloquent man who has come into the House this session.

The impression so made was deepened year by year, for Mr. Wilson is one of the most even and polished speakers of the day. In the House, as on the lecture and political platform, and in the pulpit, he acquits himself as if to the manner born. Since 1891 he has represented his present constituency, and was, at the late election, returned unopposed. He is a County Alderman, and for some time has filled the high and responsible position of Chairman of the Durham County Council. A man of much versatility, fearless in his advocacy of what he believes to be right, he is a staunch adherent of total abstinence.

Mr. Charles Fenwick, M.P. for Wansbeck Division, was born at Cramlington, Northumberland, in May, 1850. Educated at the local school he descended the coal mine at ten years of age, the family having in the interval removed to Bebside in Blyth Circuit.

At that time ours was the only Church in the village, and young Fenwick became a Sunday scholar, and afterwards a teacher and local preacher. What a circuit Blyth then was I Some facetiously called it a continent! Referring to our old plans we find there were nineteen societies, 912 members, sixty-five preachers including three ministers; the boundary extending from Blyth to Amble. The train accommodation was, however, extremely good. There are now three circuits and five ministers on the same ground. Mr. Fenwick was No. 17 on the plan, and possessing considerable oratorical ability and a marvellously powerful voice, he was in much request for special services, especially camp meetings. He was deeply interested in the school, temperance, and evangelistic work of his Church, and to fit himself for increased service in these spheres engaged all his leisure time. His reading was mainly of a theological and religious type; and he was not more than ordinarily interested in outside affairs, apart from acting as delegate for the Miners’ Lodge. For some time the officials of the Northumberland Miners’ Association had been intent on seeking increased Parliamentary representation in the House of Commons. When nominations were asked for from whom a suitable person should be elected, Mr. Fenwick secured the highest vote out of a group of competitors some of whom were men of striking character and ability. He was nominated for the Wansbeck Division; and in the early part of the contest he continued his work in the pit. Only a man possessing, as he does, a robust frame, could have borne the strain. What joy his election awakened! Now, at length, not simply a man who had been a miner, but a man actually at the time engaged in the mine became an M.P. We believe his case in that respect is still unique. 

He has been a great success in the House and out of it. He has had six election contests, and at the last election was returned by a majority of 7,176. For four years he was secretary of the Trades’ Union Congress, but vacated the position on finding himself unable to support the proposal to secure an eight hours’ day by Parliamentary enactment. Unlike the rest of the labour representatives he is not secretary to any Trades’ Union, though a member of most of the committees of the Northumberland Miners’ Association. He now resides in Newcastle, and is on the plan of the First Circuit. 

Mr. Horace Rendall Mansfield, M.P. for the Spalding Division’ of Lincolnshire, has been a member of the House of Commons for the last six years. He resides at Broom Leys, Coalville, Leicester, and is the son of Mr. Cornelius Mansfield, contractor, of Stratford. He came as a Christmas gift to his parents in 1864, and so is the youngest Primitive Methodist M.P. Leaving school at the age of sixteen he commenced business in Derbyshire. Rapid progress has distinguished his career, for by industry and foresight he has achieved exceptional success. He has a large and extensive connection as a manufacturer of clay goods, having five businesses in Church Gresley, one at Woodville, and another at Whitwick, in addition to several depots in London, and agents almost all over the World. Some idea of the extent of his undertakings may be gathered from the fact that he employs over fifteen hundred work-people, and over 40,000 tons of coal are burnt every year at his works. He is a Justice of the Peace, and has taken a prominent part in public affairs, having been chairman of the School Board and a member of the County Council and Urban Council. Various social and political movements have had his hearty support; and he has long been regarded as one of the leaders of the Progressive forces in his district. For many years he has been a Primitive Methodist local preacher, and by his voice and presence and monetary gifts has generously supported his Church. A fine presence, affable manner, and fluent style, his addresses which are lit up with humour, anecdote, and illustration make him a great power in the pulpit and on the platform.  

He has filled many of the prominent position in Primitive Methodism, having taken part in the London Missionary Meeting. He married the daughter of the late Rev. W. Rose, one of our respected ministers, and her deeply regretted death a comparatively short time ago, evoked universal sympathy. Mr. Mansfield’s majority in 1900 was fifty-seven, and in 1906 it rose to 1,620. He has just been appointed secretary to the Nonconformist Advisory Committee of the House of Commons.

Mr. David. J. Shackleton, M.P. for the Clitheroe Division of Lancashire, has the honour of obtaining the largest Progressive majority in the country with one exception - 8,207. He was born at Clough Fold, near Haslingdon, on November 8th, 1863. Early in life he removed to Accrington. He had no special advantages apart from good natural ability. His old schoolmaster has stated that he was the brightest scholar in his school. At nine years of age he began work as a weaver, and while working in the mill during the day, he travelled several miles to attend a night school. He had a strong desire to secure a better education, and has always been a voracious reader. His first Trade Union appointment was as secretary to the Ramsbottom Weavers’ Association, which he vacated in the course of fourteen months for a better position in the same capacity at Darwen. He was made a magistrate while still an operative; and only relinquished his seat on the Town Council after being elected to Parliament. He is a life-long teetotaller and a non-smoker. Strength - physical, mental and moral - is manifest in his constitution and life-work He is a capable organiser, and a man of ideas, with the courage to express them in his own forceful and distinctive way. Realising that working men in this country have their fate largely in their own hands, he is anxious that they should take a deeper interest in social and political questions, drink less, and think more.

Workers and employers alike admire his strict integrity and absolute straightforwardness. “Principle,” as one has said, “dominates every thing he does, and he dares to fight when certain he is in the right. More than once he has gone counter to his own class when they were unreasonable in their demands, and under his wise counsels they have avoided many pitfalls.” He entered Parliament at a bye election in 1902, when he was returned unopposed. He is likely to secure a good position in the House, being well versed in labour questions. Among the group known as “The Labour Party,” formerly the Labour Representation Committee, he has a recognised position, being vice-chairman, Mr. Keir Hardie gaining the chairmanship in competition with him only by a casting vote. The Primitive Methodists in Darwen who know him best are specially proud of him. He and his dear wife and family are associated with our Church in that town.

Mr. John Johnson, M.P. for the borough of Gateshead, entered Parliament after a hotly contested bye-election in 1904. He was born at Wapping, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, towards the close of 1850. He attended school till about the age of ten years, when he commenced work in the mine at Backworth. He lived for some time at Choppington, and then removed to Andrews House Colliery in the County of Durham. Mental improvement had gradually become a passion with him. Such books as Butler’s “Analogy,” Wayland’s “Moral Science,” and works of an ethical, historical, and social character were eagerly devoured. He is exceedingly well read in general literature, and has the happy knack of turning his studies to good account. Being a member of the executive of the Durham Miners’ Association he became treasurer in 1890, and financial secretary in 1897, succeeding in each case Mr. J . Wilson, M.P. Belonging was he does to a family of Primitive Methodist preachers it was not surprising that he, too, became a local preacher. He did excellent work in connection with the Board of Guardians, and had been for some years a County Councillor, when the vacancy occurred in Gateshead. He was at the time practically pledged to contest the south-east division of Durham, at the General Election, but the executive of the division consented to give him up to Gateshead. It is matter of common knowledge that the outlook was anything but promising, but he proved to be a capital candidate, and inspired the confidence of the workers, with the result that his majority was 1205. It says much for his religious standing that during the contest he attended his church in Durham on the Sunday morning and evening, and took part in the prayer meeting. At the election just held he secured 4,525 more than his opponent, the majority being some hundreds higher than any other in the history of the borough.

Alderman Enoch Edwards, M.P. for Hanley, was born April 10th, 1852,Butt Lane, near Burslem, being his home for many years. Receiving the ordinary village school education he became a scholar, and subsequently a Sunday School teacher, class leader, and local preacher. 

Like several of the other labour M.P.s, his relation to our Church has been among the most significant factors of his life. His experiences on the temperance platform and the pulpit gave him that training in public speaking which has made him one of the most impressive and powerful speakers, apt, magnetic, forceful and telling. And this training also prepared him for the wider sphere. In the larger world of labour-leader he began humbly by first of all becoming a worker and official in the local lodge. Here he won his spurs and acquired the ability to lead. He became treasurer, and then secretary of the North Staffordshire Miners’ Association. At a later stage he was appointed President of the Lancashire Miners’ Federation, and subsequently was unanimously elected President of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, which practically includes all the miners in the country except those of Durham and Northumberland. And this by no means exhausts the record of his public services. He has been closely identified with the work of education, having been for almost a decade a member of the School Board. He has also been for many years a member of the Burslem Town Council, and in connection therewith has filled the honourable post of Mayor. He is also a Justice of the Peace. His becoming the victor at Hanley was, indeed, a labour gain in more senses than one! He will be heartily welcomed to the House as a great acquisition. His sterling, manly, Christian character, his sound judgment, ripe experience, and general intelligence, will be of essential service to the country.

Mr. Arthur Richardson, M.P. for South Nottingham, was hero of the splendid fight there, that turned the majority of his lordly opponent which was 1,384 in 1900 into a minority of 800 at the recent election. He is another of the tine products of our Connexion, having been cradled in Primitive Methodism. Both his parents belong to our Church, and like the parents of the Right Honourable Thomas Burt, M.P., delighted to entertain the preachers of all ranks at their home at East Bridgford.

Mr. Richardson has inherited the fine qualities of a godly father and mother, besides enjoying educational advantages superior to many. After leaving the local National School he attended the Newark Grammar School. He is now in his forty-eighth year, and joined our Church at the age of sixteen. He was not long in becoming a local preacher, and is now associated with Nottingham First Circuit. Besides filling the various  offices in the Sunday School he has had considerable experience in business, having built up a large wholesale grocery and provision trade. The close observer and student of human nature and life can hardly have a better sphere than the grocery business as we know by personal experience. What battles may here be fought and victories won! Not a few of the great qualities which make for righteousness and success in life may there find development and expression. Mr. Richardson has also given some time to social and temperance work. His name is, indeed, a household word in the town. He has developed a ready utterance and skill in argumentation, and these qualities are crowned by an ardent enthusiasm for humanity. Questions connected with labour, land reform, and cognate matters have long engaged his serious attention. And when the electors of South Nottingham cast about for a man to worthily represent them in Parliament all eyes centred on Mr. Richardson. He is still young, as politicians reckon life, and we anticipate that he is only at the beginning of a career of great and increasing usefulness in the cause of humanity.

Mr. John Wilkinson Taylor, M.P. for the Division of Chester-le-Street, was the victor in a peculiar and difficult three-cornered fight in which a Liberal, a Unionist, and himself were engaged. A serious illness during the contest kept him at home for the greater part of the time, but be secured the first place by a majority of 3,100 votes. It was what is called a labour gain, though he has always been an advanced Liberal. He was born at Sunderland, in the year 1855, and was early left an orphan. Removing to Dipton, he served his time as a colliery blacksmith. The work proved too heavy for his constitution, and after a time he set up as a printer, and gradually developed a good business in that populous district. Having become Sunday School teacher, temperance worker and local preacher, he had indicated considerable speaking power. 

He is one of the best preachers in the Burnopfield circuit - a circuit which has long held a high position for the quality of its preachers. Social enterprises claimed his time. He is President of Annfield Plain Co-operative Society, member of the Board of Guardians, Chairman of the District Council, and a member of the Durham County Council. As he retained his connection with the Durham Mechanics’ Association, he was elected Treasurer and then Secretary and Agent of that body. The Durham Trades’ Union Federation brought him before his present constituency. He has always been a student. Theological works claiming most of his attention at first, he has gradually widened his literary outlook, and he has now a fair acquaintance with English literature.

We have kept Alderman L.L. Morse, M.P. for the Wilton Division of Wiltshire, to the last simply because he was the last elected. What Primitive Methodist is not familiar with the name of Mr. Morse, of Swindon! He is really more a Connexional man than any of the others.

Born in 1853, he was the son of a local preacher, Mr. Charles Morse, of Stratton, Wiltshire. He was educated at the High School, and then entered upon a successful business career at Swindon. For many years he has been a local preacher, and has taken a deep, practical interest in all projects which have made for the progress of Primitive Methodism in the locality. He has frequently represented his district in the Conference, and besides filling a number of other Connexional positions, he has been Chairman of the Metropolitan Missionary Meeting, and Vice-President of the Conference. Though quiet and retiring by nature he has occupied a large place in our church life. He attended both the Ecumenical Methodist Conferences, and at the last one gave the invited address on “Systematic and Proportionate Giving" a principle which has governed his own practice for many years. Recognising that a Christian has an important part to play in social, municipal, and political affairs, he has given much time and attention to them. For fifteen years he was a member of the School Board, and his experience gained in that position made him a determined opponent of the Education Act of 1902. He has been an alderman for some years, mayor in 1901, a Justice of the Peace over a decade, and a member of the Wiltshire County Council. With so splendid a record it is no wonder that he was selected to lead the progressive forces in the attack on the Tory stronghold of Wilton where Captain Morrison, the Unionist member, had a majority of 841 at the previous election. 

Mr. Morse, by his splendid presentation of advanced Liberal ideas, was enabled to oust his opponent by securing 724 votes more than he. Long may he be spared to adorn the doctrine of Jesus Christ in the high places of the earth as he has so well done in the other sphere !

Nine good men and true have in this paper passed before us, and our regret is that we are not able to say there are ten. How gladly would we have welcomed Alderman Adam Adams as an M.P.! But, alas! the fortunes of election warfare were not so favourable in his case. He contested the Horncastle Division of Lincolnshire, and made, as we all know he would, a gallant fight. But the odds were greatly against him. There was a majority of 1,340 to work off. His gallant efforts did not secure victory, but his opponent only obtained a majority of 150. All honour to this Primitive Methodist local preacher, who in many a fight for freedom and righteousness has led the van! 

What a fine member of Parliament he is capable of making! He has a splendid record of noble and heroic services behind him. There is hardly a single worthy cause that has not secured his able advocacy and support. We trust the day is not far distant when we shall be able to congratulate him on, becoming a member of the House of Commons.

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine1906/312

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