Hewitson, John (1849-1907)

A Builder of our Church: An Appreciation

Transcription of Sketch in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Robert Foster

There are some men who go down into the depths unremembered, after a mis-spent or uneventful life, scarcely making a ripple on the surface of the waters; while others are followed by ever widening circles of influence, that go beyond human ken. The subject of this sketch, in measure, belonged to the latter class; for it was not only given to him to earn good repute throughout the Sunderland and Newcastle District, but his name and work influenced largely the Connexion.

John Hewitson was born on January 1st, 1849, at Darlington. He had the good fortune to begin his life in a religious home; both his parents being godly Primitive Methodists. It is well nigh impossible to over-estimate the value of such an asset in starting. The writer of this sketch was similarly favoured, and remembers with undying gratitude what an important factor it became in the shaping and moulding of his character, in days when habits were formed, and the whole nature was plastic and receptive to its surroundings. The presentation of religion under a cheerful guise, example wedded to precept, the family altar, the sanctities of a well-ordered homestead, and the implanting of a reverence for God’s house, these are of priceless value, and impart a bias in the direction of a good and useful career.

His parents were poor in the conventional use of the word, frugality and severe economy being necessary to the rearing of the family. Chiefly was this felt by the parents in their inability to give their children a liberal education, or more than the veriest rudiments as an equipment for the battle of life. John Hewitson afterwards regretted this loss, and correctly regarded it as a handicap, and special disadvantage, alike for success in business and the enrichment of life. Yet even such a defect has a compensatory side. How often do we see individuals of indomitable energy breaking the bars of unhappy circumstance, and winning the prizes denied to those who have been born in the lap of luxury. To some extent our departed friend experienced this, and had his reward.

At an age as early as fifteen he joined our Church at Queen Street, Darlington, and having put his hand to the plough never looked back. I am not aware that he ever struggled through any Slough of Despond, or found himself in Doubting Castle. Imperceptibly, as the heart of Lydia was opened at the prayer meeting by the riverside, he made his choice, by the surrender of himself to the claims of the Unseen, and fellowship with the Christ of God. Home having become to him the vestibule to the larger church of redeemed and sanctified men and women, he could sing,
“He drew me, and I followed on, charmed to confess the voice divine.”

In the year 1870, being only twenty-one years of age, he came to Newcastle, and very soon afterwards two events occurred which gave complexion and volume to all the years that followed. One was he began business for himself as a master slater, and after fluctuations at times of an adverse character that severely tested his belief in a special providence, he reached smoother water, and at last became a prosperous man in business. The other event was his marriage with Miss Varty who belonged to a well-known and respected family in the neighbourhood of Alston, some of whom came to Newcastle, and became identified with the history of our City churches, Mrs. Hewitson, now a widow, has met with universal sympathy in her great loss, for she with her late husband dispensed unbounded hospitality in their home, and she took a great interest in all he attempted and succeeded in doing.

Our departed brother having identified himself with Nelson Street Church, soon found scope for his energies and enthusiasm. It was not for him to be satisfied with the absorption of all his faculties in response to the question, “What shall we eat, what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?” There came to him a vision of service, of ministry for others, that in its evolution proved a spiritual discipline.

He was appointed a class leader, and his sympathy with the young life of the Church led him to find a sphere of work in the school. That sympathy grew as the years went past, till he was appointed superintendent, which office he held for about twelve years – only terminating with his death.

Childless himself, he was, par excellence, the child’s friend, and having shown an interest in the Orphanage, it seemed natural when a vacancy occurred, he should be appointed District Treasurer. With an abandonment characteristic of the man, he threw himself whole-heartedly into the task of organisation and the kindling of enthusiasm; giving without stint his own time, labour, and money; whipping the laggards, and praising those that did well; so that at the end of his five years of office he had raised the district contributions to double what they were when he began. Faithful service in few things is, by an eternal law of the spirit world, the precursor of promotion to rulership over higher things; so when John Hewitson heard the call to become Connexional Orphanage Treasurer he responded, and addressed himself with such vigour and tact to the larger office, that success was achieved. Although the Institution at Alresford was doing good work, and he never failed to commend it, and as we have seen worked for it with a fervour that left nothing to be desired, yet, he in common with many others looked upon it as being on too small a scale to meet the growing needs of the Connexion, while the difficulties of access to it were a great barrier to its appreciation and work.

Seeing this, Mr. Hewitson with others obtained sanction to look out for a site in the North to build a second Orphanage, and with a few others stood bond at the bank for a piece of ground at Harrogate. This venture met with the approval of Conference, the cost being £5,500, with the understanding that the purchase money of the site should be realised before any building was put upon it. We are only telling a well-known story in saying that, supported by a small band of willing workers, John Hewitson strenuously set himself to wipe out this debt; his great love overcoming all difficulties, and finding joy in sacrifice at such an altar, he had the pleasure before he passed away of seeing about the whole of the debt extinguished.

It was indeed a fitting crown to a useful life, and we who knew how much that and other work for his own Church had taken out of him, in vitality and nervous force, cannot but say of him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our brother had great joy in gathering round his table not only the widening circle of his friends, but the poor and those who had come as strangers to the Church, giving them a welcome that they highly valued; while all kinds of people sought his advice, which he freely gave. To those in need he was a friend indeed. The writer spent two hours with him on the night previous to his death, neither of us thinking that the shadow was so near at hand. We had noticed for some time past a shrinkage going on that was ominous for one not much past the prime of life. At last, and suddenly the end came on the early morn of March 22nd, 1907, at the age of fifty-eight.

On the day of interment a service was held at the Central Church, the church that he loved so well, and for which he had laboured so faithfully. The building was crowded, and the  communion rail filled with his fellow-workers, ministerial and lay. The Rev. A.T. Guttery gave an address of a sympathetic character, and the Rev. John Hallam, who represented the General Committee, spoke at the grave.

“He has out-soared the shadow of our night.” “There can be no mansion of the universe which shall not be to him a home, no Governor who will not accept him among His servants and satisfy him with love and peace.”


John was born on 1 January 1849 at Darlington, Co. Durham, to parents Abraham, a foundry labourer (1851), and Jane.

He married Ann Varty (1849-1929) in the spring of 1873 at Newcastle upon Tyne.

John died on 22 March 1907 at Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland. His estate was valued at almost £35k.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/903

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

Comments about this page

  • I am delighted to read this article as John Hewitson was a relative of mine, and I drive past Jesmond Cemetery every morning and think of him. My great grandfather was his nephew.

    By Ruth Baldasera (18/10/2019)

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