March, John Taylor (1864-1943) of Prestwick

Transcription of article in the series “Some of our Stalwarts” by “A. Rambler”

“THOU’LL dew, lad.” Thus spoke the mystic of Mickleton-in-Teesdale, after hearing Jaan’s brother give the opening prayer at a chapel anniversary in a village within hail of five counties, away in the uplands of Northern England.

“Jaan’s brother,” be it understood, is John T. March, now of Prestwick Colliery, in the Newcastle-on-Tyne First Circuit. Physically he is not lacking in inches, and has a fair supply of bone and muscle, but no superfluous flesh. Since Will Tarn pronounced his judgment of the lad in the village chapel, Jaan’s brother has gone far, and has made good, as the American’s say. It has been a “rocky road.” The lines on his face show that. But he has handled his team well, and he has landed his goods.

John T. March was reared in the same hard school as thousands of other pit lads in the Border Counties. Half a century ago he was born at Crook, one of the centres of the Durham coalfield. His parents were industrious working people, and had a “large small family,” as the local phrase goes—no less than fourteen, eleven of whom were girls. John was the third child of his parents, and there are eight sisters and two brothers still living. The largeness of the family to be kept on one man’s wages compelled John to commence work at a very early age to help to keep the wolf from the door. Just picture this: a growing boy, not nine years of age, in a brickyard, carrying off bricks for his father, who was a brick-moulder. For ten hours every day the child walks on hot “flats,” covering a distance of twenty miles in all, and then has two miles to walk home. Is it any wonder that when on his homeward journey he was so tired he sat down on the roadside and fell asleep? Such was the start — the training-ground for the production of pluck and tenacity—of the man who to-day practically controls the working of four collieries, and has a financial interest in each.

Mr. March has a warm place in his heart for Hunwick, a village near Bishop Auckland. It was there—the family had been residing in the village for a number of years — where a circumstance occurred which created a diversion in the current of his life which had important issues. His people belonged to the Established Church, and all the children went to the Church Sunday School. When about eleven years of age, John was struck at by the Vicar, and kicked when lying on the floor. He has admitted that he deserved all the punishment he received, but he would never go back to the Church Sunday School. Some place of worship his parents insisted he must go to, however, and he went to the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Even now, he thanks God every day for directing his steps thither.

“God’s men,” he affectionately calls them—Christopher Bailey, Thomas Kirton, Joseph Wilson, George Heslop, and others—took an interest in the big, rough, raw lad, and guided him into the way of life. It was in the family circle of Thomas Kirton, with whom he came on to the preachers’ plan, that he learned how to read and love the Bible. To listen to Thomas Kirton’s Bible sermons was a scriptural feast. Passage after passage was dovetailed into each other, and built up in the most wonderful way, working up to a climax. Every subject chosen from the Bible, proved by the Bible, and enforced by quotations from the Bible. Then the look-out for results. If there were no conversions, there were heart-searchings during the homeward journey.

Another contributing factor in the making of young March was a theological class started by the Rev. Joseph Ritson, when the future President went to Bishop Auckland Circuit. In course of time it was decreed that Thomas Bowes and John T. March would have to be put upon the plan, and the young men dared not say “No.” The first appointment of the last-named was like the initial attempt of hundreds of others. He had some notes in his pocket, but was too nervous to produce them, and in about five minutes after commencing came to an abrupt stop. Then came the blessed hymn, started probably by some elder brother who remembered how he himself floundered. Another try, and John “wriggled through some-how.” In spite of his lack of educational training, his progress as a preacher was very rapid, and Will Tarn’s “Thou’ll dew, lad,” was endorsed so fully by succeeding ministers that he was asked again and again to become a travelling preacher; but the youth had sat under Thomas Southron, Robert Clemitson, Joseph Ritson, John Laverick, and A.J. Campbell, and their greatness as preachers gave him such a high ideal of the office that he dared not approach the high calling.

But the young man meant to be something more than a coal-hewer. He was only twelve when he went down the pit, and his subsequent quickened spiritual life led to his intellectual awakening. He determined to study mining. For seven long years after he had fixed that resolve he plodded on, walking long distances to evening classes, and burning the midnight oil while others slumbered. Meanwhile, no preaching appointment was neglected. Part of the time he was superintendent of the Sunday school, and after he was married, and with the help of his capable wife, conducted a young men’s improvement class in his own house. And most of the lads have done well. Many are preachers, one of them a minister.

Through the influence of the late Mr. John Plummer, Inspector of Mines, Mr. March got his first appointment as a colliery official. It was at Lemington-on-Tyne, under the late Mr. Michael Dodd, in 1892. Nor was it “a long way,” in his experience, from Tyneside, “to Tipperary.” Several Newcastle coal-owners soon sent him to represent them at coal-workings in County Kilkenny and Tipperary. In 1903 he left Ireland, and returned to Northumberland, having been appointed under-manager at one of the Choppington Collieries, and then he went to Prestwick. To-day he is manager and agent for East Walbottle and Prestwick Collieries, agent for North Wylam Collieries, and consulting agent for Bullock’s Hall Colliery, and also part-owner of each. During the past decade his achievements have been remarkable.

And in the midst of all this toil and responsibility his grip of the work of the church has been positively extraordinary. As his professional engagements expand, his fist tightens on the things in which his soul delighteth. And the grip of that fist is something to know. God—Jesus—sin—salvation—heaven—hell are not academic speculations with him. When the fire blazes in his soul, and the molten thoughts pour out, conventions vanish, and he is a magnetic marvel. In a country town, where the station road meets the main street, and where male gossips assemble, there was an open-air meeting one summer Sunday evening. A camp meeting had been held that day, and the exercises had been free and forcible. The exhortations at the station road-end were on the usual lines, and the attention was respectful on the whole. Perhaps there were a few flippant young men lined along the pathway a few yards away. When John March entered the ring he rose to the greatness of his strength. He broke through the circle, and paced in front of the line, the while uttering warnings and pleadings with arresting intensity. It was a moment of unusual power.  Astonishment fell upon the young men, and they seemed as if bound to the spot on which they stood, deep seriousness depicted on all their faces. One young fellow was about to light a cigarette when John approached, but he was so amazed that he stood as one petrified with the cigarette in one hand and the match in the other. Few who witnessed that scene will forget it. Pearson Ellis will most certainly remember every detail.

When in the South of Ireland, Mr. March preached three Sundays out of every four during his ten years’ residence. He found a chapel at Boulea, in Tipperary, built in the time of John Wesley, and for two and a half years he preached there every alternate Sunday, the minister from Kilkenny taking the other Sunday. Being in Thurles one day, he came across a Methodist chapel used as a store-room by a tradesmen. His soul rose in revolt at the sight. Finding the tradesman, whose mother, then over eighty years of age, was an old Methodist, he engaged to preach in the chapel, if they would clean it out. This was done; and, notwithstanding that Thurles was sixteen miles from his home, John went and preached there every Sunday for fifteen months. Then the Clonmel Circuit took the place over, with a congregation of about sixty persons, and stationed a young man in the town.

During this mission our stalwart made the acquaintance of Adam John Cooks, an influential gentleman in Thurles, and services were started in his drawing-room on Sunday nights, resulting in much good to the villagers and farmers. These meetings went on for years and, inspired by them, Mr. Cooks’ family spent much time and money in evangelical work in the South of Ireland.

Moving to County Kilkenny, Mr. March joined the Gurteen Methodist Church. There was only a service once a month at Gurteen, when the minister came. John quickly altered that state of things by holding a service there every Sunday morning; then he re-opened Coolbawn, about two miles away, preaching there at four in the afternoon, and next took Castlecorner at six in the evening. All the three chapels were renovated at considerable cost, which was liquidated in a very short time. Best of all, souls were saved, and many young men rallied round him. Some of these were made local preachers, and conduct services until this day. Thanks have been showered upon him for his work in Ireland. And still they come. He deserves them all.

But home is home, and home methods, home songs, and home faces have a peculiar sweetness known only to those who have been in exile. Choppington is in the famous Ashington Station; just the kind of atmosphere John T. March loves. The Radicals were fighting Mr. Balfour’s Education Bill when he got back to Northumberland, and he got into it. Then there occurred an Urban District Council election, and he was hoisted to the head of the poll. Greater far than these was a revival, the most remarkable in the history of Choppington Society.

Everything had gone slow in the society for a long time, and some of the members got concerned about the state of affairs. A society meeting was held, and a member moved that “we have a revival.” The meeting was unanimous. “But it needs something more than a resolution,” chimed in John March. The pits happened to be working barely half-time, and he suggested that the members meet each morning when the pits were idle for prayer and meditation. This was done, and cottage prayer meetings and outdoor missions followed. For months this went on, and the work grew, there being converts every Sunday night. Then the help of Miss Butters was got, and many transformed lives this day testify to the grandeur of that work of grace.

There was no Primitive Methodist chapel or society at Prestwick when John March got there a few years ago, but a cottage was good enough for a beginning, and it was put on the plan of Newcastle First Circuit. In a short time a dwelling-house was transformed into a chapel, and the society has now twenty-five members. It is not necessary to add that this eager and able workman in the kingdom of God is one of the outstanding men in the Sunderland and Newcastle District. As a matter of fact, there cannot be many places in the three Border Counties in which he has not preached or rendered some other service. More power to his elbow!


John was born on 23 July 1864 at Crook, Co. Durham, to parents Thomas March, a brick maker (1881), and Annie Taylor. He was baptised on 23 August 1864 at Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham.

Census returns identify the following occupations for John.

  • 1881 labourer at brickworks
  • 1891 coal miner
  • 1901 mining engineer in Ireland
  • 1911 colliery manager
  • 1921 mining engineer
  • 1939 mining engineer retired

He married Elizabeth Morley (1866-1938) in late 1887 in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Registration District, Northumberland. Census returns identify six children.

  • Annie (b1890) – a sick nurse (1921); married Robert H Pickering, a master tailor (1939), in 1924
  • Thomas Morley (1896-1944) – a colliery clerk (1911); mining engineer (1921)
  • Bessie (b1898) – a typist (1921)
  • Patrick John (1899-1980) – mining student (1921); colliery underman (1939)
  • Norah (b1903) – married John M Wallace, a painter (1903), in 1934
  • William (Willie) (b1907)

John died in the summer of 1943 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1915/217

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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