The Sykes Family of Wetwang

(“Wetwang. A small village meanly built.” - Poulson’s History).

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. Robert Harrison in a series “Our Homes and Families”

THE family is the nation in miniature. What the former is the latter will become. Well and wisely trained, the sons and daughters develop into a noble manhood and womanhood. The home is more vital than any other institution in the land. This was evident to Hebrew parents; they saw that the seed of a nation’s highest and best interests was sown in the soil of family life. This is the basis of society, and essentially determines its strength and stability. It is with this view of the family that the highest ideals of human life are cherished and all legislation is shaped. National wealth is in its citizens, and many of the best citizens have hailed from the cottages of the land. Sir William Ramsey says that “the pastoral epistles show how St. Paul regarded the family as the basis of the original Church.” In conversation with an eminent Frenchman—an exile of Napoleon III.—he said that “the small village churches of France had saved the nation from spiritual disaster. They kept devotion alive among the people.” And who can say how much they have contributed to the continuance of religious life during this terrible War?

How applicable such a testimony is in relation to the village churches of our own land—and eminently so with regard to our Church! Primitive Methodism has a fine record in the rural history of England. No adequate estimate can there be of the good done. One thing is certain—it changed the social and moral condition of the people. What spiritual transformations were achieved! And some of the great industrial movements had their birth in the mind and heart of men who were led to Christ by the fathers of our Church. And what would Primitive Methodism have been but for its village societies? We are largely a rural Church, and what position we have in the towns and cities is to a very large extent the product of the men and women sent from the little Bethels nestling in the nooks and corners of the land. We recall with joy many honoured and successful ministers and laymen whose spiritual life began there. Physically strong, mentally alert, and spiritually equipped, they enriched the churches they joined in the city. We pause to think of what a community we should have been by this had even a small percentage of the people of the villages and towns remained in fellowship with us! Not only in numbers, but socially and religiously our influence in the country would have been beyond calculation. 

East Yorkshire has given much to Primitive Methodism. It has witnessed some of the most striking revivals of religion, and not a few of the finest personalities have been won for God and His Church. Not many village churches could surpass that of Wetwang in the Driffield Circuit. It was our privilege to know some of the most earnest and devout Christian people. They truly loved their Church and lived for its success. And perhaps no family has upheld its reputation more than that of which we write. To have all their nine children (save two, one of whom is a Wesleyan) associated with us, speaks volumes for the character of their home life and their training of their offspring. One thing we do know, they indulged in no unkind reflections upon the Church and its ministry. We should have been surprised had they joined other religious communities. But highly helpful influences dominated the domestic circle, hence the fact that the children belong to the church of their parents.

Robert E. Knowles, in his “Undertone,” makes Stephen Wishart’s mother say, “Whenever you want high society, Stephen, I advise you to come home.” That is just what Tom and his brothers and sisters find when they wend their way to their humble home at Wetwang. To them it was ever the wealthiest place in the land, and is still, and its memories are always as fresh as the dew that betimes lies on its fair and fertile fields around. Of the village Wordsworth’s description is true: “Where earth’s quiet and her face unchanged, save by the simplest toil of human hands or seasons’ difference.” By the toil of human hands the four hundred of its population still live. Those who have known our Church at Wetwang honour the memory of many of its members. They were really representative of high moral qualities that go far to give character to any church, their loyalty was never questioned, always abounding in the work of the Lord, and the singleness of their purpose in spiritual service made their village society rank among the best of the churches in the Great Driffield Circuit. Those who knew them will ever remember with gratitude to God such men as George Bullock, Deed Poll member—in wisdom great, in service constant, and honoured by all who knew him; Thomas Boynton, earnest evangelist, finding his chief joy in the conversion of people to God; and Mrs. John Walker, a true mother in Israel. “These all died in faith, and being dead yet speak.”

On January 13th, 1916, Mr. and Mrs. Sykes celebrated their golden wedding. It was a unique gathering; all their children were present. Their son, Rev. Tom Sykes, referring to the occasion, and thinking of the past of their family life, says:—“As we look back on the hardships, the contracted, uncongenial environment, it is the way that we have come to know the deep reliability of providence.” What an enlightened and worthy view to have of their domestic history!

Mr. William Sykes, father of the family, was of very humble origin, and for years knew much hardship socially, and very little educational advantage. His forbears were large farmers in the district. He is a man of no pretention, seeking nothing but to do his duty in his humble walk of life. He, with his family, loved the sanctuary and enjoyed its services; Sunday and weekday found him in his place. Of his wife we cannot say anything more praiseworthy and true than that which her son Tom says of her in a letter to us:— “My mother is a woman par excellence.” She came of the Suggitts, of Warter, who were co-workers with that wonderful man of prayer, Johnny Oxtoby. Of keen intellect, strong will and grit, with a large vein of humour , and an impressive personality, she has lived for her children, and while now in feeble health nothing gives her greater joy than the knowledge that they are doing well in life, and in fellowship with the Church. Having lived to see this is indeed the very luxury of her life. Her children call her blessed.

The following record is interesting. John, her son, has been a member since he was sixteen; is a local preacher, society steward and class leader in North Ormesby Church, Middlesbrough Circuit. William joined the Church when eighteen, and is a local preacher in Middlesbrough. He has great gifts, and those who know him intimately believe that his place was in the ministry. He is very popular as a local preacher, and deservedly so. Richard decided very early in life to serve Christ. He is of a quiet and retiring disposition, of great mental power, and, if we accept the testimony of one of his brothers, surpasses them all in ability as a thinker. Be that as it may, he continues in good work as Sunday school teacher in one of our Darlington churches. At the age of twenty Witty became a member. He is a local preacher and doing yeoman service in that wide Kirkby Stephen Circuit. He is the manager of the gasworks of that town. His wife is a member of the highly esteemed Botham family of Hessle, in the Hull Fifth Circuit. Herbert continues at Wetwang, and has been in fellowship with our people from his eighteenth year. He, too, is a local preacher, and finds much work in that Great Driffield Station. Harry abides at home and works on the farm. He is a member with the Wesleyans. The daughters Annie and Mary are living, the former at Wetwang, the latter in Hull.

The Rev. T. Sykes has given a prominent place in our Church, both for the village where he was born and his family, At seventeen he became a member. Since then he has made history, and is still making it. By endowments above the average and strenuous industry he has made his name known throughout the land. Who in those days in the village “knew that in the coming time great things would he achieve” How he loved God’s house was shown not only by his constant attendance, but by his devotion, in its worship. An eager listener to the word, he equally valued the private means of grace. Speaking of the writer, he says, “You were the first preacher I heard, my first superintendent, and you gave the ordination charge to me.” It was not difficult to forecast a great future for this “son of the soil.” With restricted educational advantages and very limited means, he has gained a position of which his friends are proud. By self-culture, desiring to be efficient in the work of the ministry, and above all to bring souls to Christ, he has worthily won the honours that all with pleasure bestow upon him. He possesses more than the average brain power, a most retentive memory, and a strong analytical mind—and the rare gift of continuity. His personal appearance is arrestive, and his voice, though not the most flexible, is impressive. He undertook no light task when he became the Rev. A.T. Guttery’s successor at the Central Church, Newcastle. What a place and repute it has gained among the churches of that city! Those who know say that Mr. Sykes has maintained, and even added to its best traditions. The chief notes of his preaching are its high expository character, its strong and direct appeals to conscience, and its sincere and deep sympathy with the whole range of things vital to mankind. As secretary of the National Brotherhood he will sustain its best interests and achieve success. On November 5th, 1916, he preached in the City Temple. The British Weekly referred to the event in most appreciative terms, and, speaking of the preacher, said; “The attraction of his personality and depth of thought and feeling behind prayer and sermon mark him out as a Spiritual teacher.”

With this testimony we agree, and look forward to a life of increasing usefulness in whatever sphere he may move. In the words of Burns we close:—

“When soon or late they reach the coast,
O’er life’s rough ocean driven,
May they rejoice, no wanderer lost,
A family in heaven.”


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1917/108

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