What is Primitive Methodism?

Photo:Hugh Bourne and William Clowes

Hugh Bourne and William Clowes

Englesea Brook Museum

Photo:A plate commemorating the centenary of the first open air camp meeting at Mow Cop in 1807

A plate commemorating the centenary of the first open air camp meeting at Mow Cop in 1807

Photo:First Primitive Methodist chapel, Tunstall, 1811

First Primitive Methodist chapel, Tunstall, 1811

Englesea Brook Museum

Photo:Lorenzo Dow, an American evangelist who inspired Hugh Bourne with the idea of holding camp meetings

Lorenzo Dow, an American evangelist who inspired Hugh Bourne with the idea of holding camp meetings

Englesea Brook Museum

Photo:Sarah Bembridge, nee Kirkland (1794-1880), who became the first woman to be a Primitive Methodist minister in 1816

Sarah Bembridge, nee Kirkland (1794-1880), who became the first woman to be a Primitive Methodist minister in 1816

Englesea Brook Museum

a short introduction

By Jill Barber

The 19th century working class movement known as Primitive Methodism, originated in the Potteries, where an open air ‘camp’ meeting was held at Mow Cop in 1807, igniting a passion for the love of God which quickly spread across the Midlands. By the end of the century there were over 200,000 members.

Industrial revolution

In the context of the growing democratisation and sense of dislocation caused by the Industrial Revolution, it appealed primarily to miners and mill hands, farm labourers, and workers in developing factory towns. In rural areas, Primitive Methodists often came into conflict with the Squire and Anglican clergy, who saw them as a threat to the established order. 

A people's movement

Hugh Bourne and William Clowes are credited as the founders, but it was a people’s movement, with a network of local societies and travelling preachers.  Some were great characters, such as Eleazor Hathorn, a one legged veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and John Oxtoby, known as ‘Praying Johnny’.  Women had an important role, like Sarah Kirkland, who at the age of 21 went to Nottingham, and preached to a huge crowd in a disused factory in Broad Marsh.

Self worth

Primitive Methodism gave people a sense of self-worth and a desire for self-improvement. Chapels provided education and an opportunity to develop skills in public speaking and leadership. It also provided an alternative way of life, based on moral values, which helped raise families out of poverty.

Social justice

The conviction that God’s love was for all, led to a concern for social justice, and many Primitive Methodists became involved in politics, as trade unionist leaders, Chartists, and later as Labour MPs. George Edwards, who championed the cause of farm labourers in Norfolk, is typical of the early trade union leaders who developed their passion and leadership skills through the Primitive Methodist Chapels.  Started his working life at the age of six, he was illiterate until he found faith and embarked on a journey of self-education, as he recounts in From Crow Scaring to Parliament.

Persecution

Thomas Russell, known as ‘the Apostle of Berkshire’, was even imprisoned for his faith.  Sent to Berkshire in 1829, he faced violent opposition, and burst a blood vessel preaching in the open air, trying to be heard above the noise. People were afraid to invite him to hold services in their homes because they faced threats of loss of work and eviction. His perseverance eventually paid off, and Berkshire became one of the strongholds of Primitive Methodism.

What's in a name?

Also known as ‘Ranters’, for their enthusiastic preaching, ‘Primitive’ Methodists were so called because they wanted a return to an earlier, purer form of Methodism, as founded by John Wesley, based on the early church. In 1932 Primitive Methodists joined with Wesleyan and United Methodists to form the Methodist Church, which continues to promote faith and justice in contemporary society.

 

This page was added by Jill Barber on 06/06/2012.
Comments about this page

Thank you for this fascinating potted history Jill. I am keen to trace the threads of family beliefs and values as they seep down through the generations. Understanding them in the social context of the day is most illuminating. As well as adding colour to family history, it helps me to understand how I came to be me!

By Lynn MacFarlane
On 24/10/2012

At the Methodist Church I attended as a youngster, the congregation still attended the 'prims' on a Sunday (and still do today). Why? Well the village of Dove Holes in Derbyshire is adjacent to the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith. If people said they were going to Chapel on Sunday, did they mean the town or the church. The distinction of Prims left nobody in doubt as to where they were going.

By L-Alan Marchington
On 16/11/2012

I was born in 1932( the year of the amalgamation of the methodist churches) My mother was brought up a Wesleyan and my father a Primative Methodist, they worshipped in a United Methodist Church when they got married. Is this significant?

By harry clay
On 03/03/2013

I like the comment about self-worth. My great grand-parents founded a primitive chapel in Winchmore Hill, Buckinghamshire. My grandmother married a young man who was born in Barthomley and had twelve children. Two of her sons married Catholic sisters from Liverpool, a daughter embraced the Catholic faith to marry and others left religious belief behind. She always attended the Methodist church in Stockport but never lost contact with any of her children and they all lived happy and fulfilled lives. I think her tolerance and integrity may have come from the enlightened way she was brought up in the 1860's and 70's.

By Sue Johnson
On 28/05/2013

I was intrigued to read that Primitive Methodism evolved in the Potteries, not too far from where I live now in Cheshire. My family originated in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and specifically in the farming villages between Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard; a second cousin has traced family history back to the time of Shakespeare. On moving to more industrial-type employment Luton and then Dunstable, my great-great-grandfather and, particularly, my great-grandfather became pillars of the Dunstable Primitive Methodist Church. On joining with the Wesleyans in 1932 the family seemed to have lost touch with Methodism, my great-grandfather having moved to west London and dying there shortly afterwards. Having recently "discovered" Englesea Brook I will certainly be visiting there and trying to find out more about the Primitive past of my ancestors.

By Philip Poulton
On 03/04/2014

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