Lewis, Edward (Ned)
A Diamond in the Rough
Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger by T. Grieves
The late Mr. Ed. (Ned) Lewis, whose photo we give, was won from the hard rock.
’Twas in the early sixties, when Primitive Methodism was beginning to make itself a power in the Choppington district of the Blyth Circuit that the services of the present superintendent minister of the Shildon Circuit, then an evangelist, the Rev. Wm. Gelley, were requisitioned.
Primitive Methodism, though represented by a small batch of men, yet can be said to have been composed of strong, hard-headed Northerners – men of prayer, grit, determination and self-sacrifice.
The weight of odds was against them. There were strong sinners in the locality – noted champions of evil. Sin was most mighty in its strongholds. To the few who would do good the face of the rock seemed impenetrable.
But Primitive Methodism knew that precious gems lay hidden there, and they must work. When these good men saw the young evangelist they were taken aback at his appearance. Tall, slender, and certainly not robust, Mr. Gelley did not look as if he would make much impression upon the face of rock that needed excavating. But whilst being stronger than he looked, also he had, which was, no doubt, better than physical strength, tact.
A start was made. Open-air missions were commenced.
Mr. Gelley, for a few nights, made stirring appeals to the large group of miners that stood outside of the public-house. Amongst these miners stood one man who seemed to be their leader, and also their ideal. He was a spectacle. Dressed in a crankie flannel jacket, corduroy trousers, and a woollen scarf round his neck; his cap doing duty both as a cap and a shade to cover up his black eye, he stood in the front of these men confronting Mr. Gelley listening attentively as he talked. Inquiring as to who this man was, one of the brethren told Mr. Gelley that he was one of the worst characters that they had to deal with, He was the terror of the district. Mr. Gelley used all his best endeavours and persuasive methods upon this ringleader.
The man listened night after night. Gradually his (Mr. Gelley’s) continuity of effort began to take effect. There was movement about this boulder of rock, and, at last, from that impenetrable-looking mass of impedimenta there rolled to the foot of the Cross one of God’s roughest of diamonds – Ned Lewis. In a thumb-nail sketch we would describe him. No education, no culture, strong passion for drink, which begot still stronger passions for all that was low and demoralising. His nature was coarse; his home-training was bad; he never had a chance; and all these things, added to his unkempt appearance, rendered him a very undesirable person to meet.
Surely in Ned the truth was made manifest that where sin is big, grace is bigger. What the police, the prison, the cat-o’-nine-tails failed to accomplish, the great man-tamer, Jesus, with his gentle touch, triumphed.
In describing the dark-day scenes of his life to the writer, telling of his pugilistic encounters, he said, “Wye, lad, aw’ve been pink-eyed for weeks together,” meaning that his eyes were bloodshot through coming In contact with the fists of his opponents. Much of his old nature was carried over into his new life – but under new management. Prior to his conversion he was the life of the public-house, and after he proved to be the life and soul of the various means of grace.
He said some very amusing things, and to-day his sayings are often quoted, and the stories told. Soon after his conversion Ned presented himself at the local tailor’s establishment, and said to the knight of the shears,
“I want a preechor’s suit.”
“A what, sir?” asked the timid tailor.
“A preechor’s suit, man. A big lang coat.”
“Do you mean a morning coat or a frock?”
“Aw divvint knaw,” said Ned; “but aw want one like Mr. Gilmore’s.”(The Rev. H. Gilmore was then travelling in the Blyth Station).
So Ned was measured.
On the Sunday after – which was the chapel anniversary day, and Mr. Gilmore was preaching – Ned presented himself, with a frock-coat suit, a-stand-up paper collar, and a silk hat – the gift of the late brother, Robt. Lawther.
“Wye, Ned,” exclaimed Mr. Gilmore, you look a perfect English gentleman.” “Do I?” said Ned; “if aw look like one aw feel different,” and at the same time Ned couldn’t turn his head for his stand-up collar, and that silk hat being a bit small took some balancing on his head. “Wye, now, Mr. Gilmore, just leuk, I am bratticed reet up ti maw fyce.”
Ned, with great difficulty, but strong perseverance, managed the morning and afternoon service, but at night he appeared in his short jacket, a woollen scarf round his neck, and his cap took the place of the silk. “Hollua, Ned,” exclaimed the doorkeeper, “where’s your Sunday clothes?”
“Hawd thee tongue, man,” replied Ned. “Thor’s a prayer meeting to-night, isn’t there, and how can a man pray with yon long thing wabbling about his knees, and you paper brattice about his neck? Oh noo lad, aw want liberty.”
Speaking one night on “Christianity manifested in the life,” he said, “Brothers and sisters, aw waddn’t give tuppence for a man that has ti tell his neighbour he’s a Christian; and aw wad put that same price on a man who’s neighbour cannot tell he’s a Christian.” “Christianity in a man’s life,” he continued, “ought to be like butter in the lad’s crowdie – always on the top.” Ned had a very happy way of giving a quiet rebuff, and, though humorous, he did not offend.
Taking a young probationer (who was guilty of over-preparedness in his prayers for public service) by the hand, Ned quietly asked him if he ever, in praying, told the Lord a “funny story.” “No,” said the young man, laughing at the very idea, “why do you ask that?” ’ “Wye noo,” said Ned,” aw thought ye might, because thoo often preaches Him it sarmon.”
Ned was a rigid teetotaller. He knew what drink was by experience. He spoke of drink as a great leveller. “It put men,” he said, “all on a level – on their backs.” The trustees were discussing the advisability of getting “frosted glass” placed in the lower part of the chapel windows; but being in moderate financial strength, they had recourse to cheaper methods of rendering the glass already in non-transparent. One brother moved “That the chapel-keeper be instructed to get some ‘Epsom salts’ and ‘bitter beer’ and mix the two together, and put it on the windows.”
“What’s that ye say there?” asked Ned.
“Salts and beer, Ned. It’s the very thing.”
“Aw move’d off tha board,” said ‘Ned. “It’ll not stop on after the first Sunday neet.” “Nay, nay, Ned, my wife has had some on the pantry window a long time.” “ It’ll nivvor stand here, lads,” replied Ned. “ Tha forst baff Sunday neet thor’ll be half of tha Choppington men here tae lick it off. Aw move’d off tha board.”
Illustrative of his love for reality, we give the following incident.
Going into a brother’s house, on his road to the week-night prayer meeting, he was surprised to find the brother quite unprepared for service.
“Hallo, lad. Whats the matter?”
“Why, Ned, I hardly think I can manage to-night. Bad back – lumbago.”
“What! is that goin’ to stop tha for gannin ti tha meeting?”
“Man; Ned but am about beat.”
“Wye, come on, man. The prayer meeting’s one of the best things I know for lumbago – come on.”
The brother was prevailed upon; and went. They arrived in time for the opening. After the hymn had been heartily sung, the leader asked someone to lead in prayer. Our brother forgot about his lumbago, and, in a happy frame he set off with his prayer, commencing with the time-worn phrase: Oh, Lord, we were glad when they came and said ‘Let us go up to the House of the Lord.’”
Ned, kneeling by his side, interjected, “Oh, Lord, what a big lie he’s telling Tha-aw cud hardly get him here.”
Ned Lewis was a real man. Humorous, droll in his expressions often, but he was “a man.” What more can we say? His death, which took place in recent years, was preceded by a long and wearying illness; but this man, who once was the terror of his day, by God’s grace, in his day of affliction could be resigned and patiently wait the coming of the Angel of God.
Northumbria is better to-day for Ned Lewis’s life.
Rough, rugged, and uncultured, no doubt, yet he was real and intensely earnest. Everything outside of Christianity and the church of his choice had to take second place. As he put it himself, in his experience, it was “Christ first, and other things could fight for second place,”
The power of the Cross in the transformation of man was splendidly demonstrated in Ned Lewis; as in him, from the solid rock there was chiselled a type of man such as only Jesus could fashion and beautify.
I have not been able to identify Ned in census returns based on the information presented in the sketch above. Can anyone point me in the right direction?
Christian Messenger 1904/139
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers