Metcalf, Ralph (1804-1838)


(With some account of Cotterdale, Middleham circuit)

Ralph Metcalf was born in a little vale called Lunds, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, in June, 1804.  His parents were moral; and about sixteen years ago his mother joined the P. Methodist society, and has remained a steady and consistent member to the present time.

After residing at Lunds about fifteen years, the family removed from their farm there, and after another change or two came to reside at Cotterdale; where, some years ago, the father died.

Cotterdale is a small dale, a kind of inlet among the hills, near the high end of Wensleydale, about five miles from Westmoreland, on the north side of the turnpike road leading into that county.  It is somewhat in the form of an ass-shoe with a bar across the hinder end of it.  Its opening faces the south-east.  There is no road out of it except returning the same way by which one enters.  The hills are an immense height, very steep, and almost inclose the dale; yet their tops can be seen from every part of the dale.  In crossing the bar into or out of the dale, the ascent is considerable.

The lowland at the foot of the hill, or what may be properly called the dale, is about a quarter of a mile wide, and three quarters of a mile long.  It is divided by stone walls into small fields; and the houses, fifteen in number, contain about sixty inhabitants.  Their cattle graze on the sides of the hills and over their tops, where they have miles of uninterrupted range, and feed on ling and coarse grass.

The employment of the inhabitants, as was that of the ancient patriarchs, is among their cattle.  No corn is grown within several miles of the place.  And to fill up their spare time, both men, women, and children, employ themselves in knitting coarse yarn stockings for the foreign trade.

In this little obscure place we have a connexional chapel and thirty members; and there are no public means of grace in the place but those conducted by our society.  And it was in this singularly favoured little spot our dear brother terminated his earthly career.

Brother Metcalf was blessed with a good natural disposition.  From childhood he displayed a remarkably fine spirit; and even before his conversion to God, his life appeared like one continued chain of civility and kindness, which gained him the esteem of those who had acquaintance with him.  He was a kind and affectionate brother, and an obedient and dutiful child to his parents.

When about nineteen years of age he engaged himself as a servant to a farmer, a small distance from Cotterdale, with whom he lived with credit and esteem for seven years and a half.

He then, with his brother John, took a small farm in Cotterdale, and lived upon it in peace and unity to the end of his days, supporting and comforting their widowed mother.

On his return from service to the occupancy of the newly taken farm, Ralph became regular in his attendance upon the P. Methodist’s means of grace; but continued a stranger to saving religion until the beginning of the year 1836, when, by the goodness of the Lord, a blessed revival of religion broke out, and affected nearly the whole of the inhabitants in the dale; a short account of which may not be unacceptable in this place.

Cotterdale being fourteen miles distant from any other P. Methodist society, and only one local preacher within the distance of eighteen miles, we, for several years, had little other foreign help only a travelling preacher once a fortnight on week nights.  My dear mother was leader of the class for several years, and then died in the faith.  The Lord having saved my soul, I was soon put on the preachers’ plan, and appointed to the charge of the little society.

For some years little or no advancement appeared, which caused many hours of sorrow and inward trouble.  But the seed continued to be sown in hope; and at length God, who was pleased to answer the prayers of my pious mother on behalf of my soul, and others of the family, answered the united petitions long offered up in behalf of our little, obscure, and unsaved dale.  The work first appeared at a class-meeting held in my father’s house, when my brother William was suddenly and unexpectedly brought into gospel liberty.  And from that time it began inwardly to work like fire in the bowels of proper materials.  And in about three weeks the Lord broke in upon the assembled congregation.  That divine influence which had been working inwardly burst into a visible flame.  The greater part of the congregation were arrested by the power of conviction, and a cry for mercy followed; and it seemed as if the answer to so many faithful prayers could no longer be delayed.

The following Thursday Bro. North, the superintendant preacher, on some account not coming to his appointment I had to supply for him.  And that night several penitents found liberty; and the good work proceeded till our seven members were increased to upwards of forty; most of whom were made happy in the prayer meetings, which were then held every night; and which sometimes did not break up till morning.

Our praying company being greatly enlarged, and filled with love to God and man, could not contain themselves within their own place, but went forth into a neighbourhood called Mossdale, where the work broke out, and a society of eight or nine members was raised.

Although the greater part were young, nearly all of them have stood their ground.  Two have gone to glory this year; and some are called in the order of Providence to be lights in other places, and eight have their names on the plan as exhorters.

It was in this revival our departed brother was brought to God.  His conversion was sound and clear, and was fully attested by his after life.  His soul was filled with love and with flaming zeal for God’s cause; nor did it abate while life was retained.  He was very fervent in prayer, and a true lover of the means of grace.  His heart was enlarged toward all mankind; and his soul especially travelled in birth for the conversion of his friends and neighbours.

About six months ago he began to exhort, and his name was put upon the plan.  We were expecting him to be a useful instrument in the conversion of sinners and building up the church.  But the great Head of the church, who cannot err, has called him to his reward in heaven, almost at the beginning of his public labours for the church below.

His death was caused by an inflammation of the bowels, which carried him into eternity in five days.  On the Saturday he was in good health, and to all human appearance likely to live many years; but on the following Thursday he was in eternity.  His pain and sufferings were great and excruciating; but he bore all with Christian patience and fortitude; and, during the whole time, was particularly happy in God.

On the Saturday evening he was remarkably happy in the prayer meeting we held in the chapel; and as he returned he sung along the street:-

“There’s a better day a coming,
Will you go to glory with me,” &c.

Almost as soon as he arrived at home he was seized with a heavy sickness; a severe shaking followed.  Medical aid was procured, but all in vain.  I visited him, and found him very happy, rejoicing in God, and longing to depart.

I was not with him to the last, for we having been such close companions, both before and since his conversion, I could not endure the sight of his agonies of pain, or see him depart, leaving me behind.  But others of the members were with him to the last; and they unitedly testify of his perfect resignation, and great rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.  He exhorted all who visited him to follow him to glory; and earnestly prayed, with his dying breath, for all the inhabitants of the dale.

Thus lived, and thus died this child of God, Jan. 18,1838, in the thirty-fourth year of his age.

The church has lost a useful member, the inhabitants a kind and peaceable neighbour, his mother a dutiful son, and the other children an affectionate brother.  But our loss is his infinite gain.  May my last end be like his.  Amen.

John Slinger

(Approved by the Quarter-day Board.)


Primitive Methodist Magazine, 1838.  Pages 344-346.



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