Edingale, or Edengale as it was often called in the 19th century, is a village situated about 6 miles to the north of Tamworth and it is here that a Primitive Methodist society was established in 1823. By the middle of the 19th century it was still no more than a village green and a few labourers’ cottages scattered around, one of which was occupied by James Smith, who was known to everyone as “Jim the Ranter”, and his wife, Betty. By this time, Jim was one of a dying breed who had heard the likes of Bourne, Clowes, Benton and others. Of course, the modern preachers could not be compared with them! It was said he lived and revelled in the past and it is highly probable that Jim had been a member of the society there from the outset.
Jim was a short, thick set man not unlike the Dutchman in the paintings of Teniers we are told. He had the hard, boring occupation of stone breaking the monotony of which was relieved in late summer by taking part in the harvesting. While both were small in stature, Jim and Betty were otherwise as different as chalk and cheese. Jim had a “subdued and quiet spirit” but she was quick tempered.
The Edingale society was part of the Burton Primitive Methodist Circuit which, in 1854, comprised 23 societies with a Uttoxeter branch of 9. While we do not know when Jim became a local preacher, by 1854, he had been one for some time since, on the July – October Preachers’ Plan for that year, he is no. 8 out of 63 on the list of preachers headed by the three ministers. Jim is shown as having 5 appointments one being at Edingale and the others at Coton, Alrewas, Lullington and Walton.
As he was the Edingale local preacher, it was Jim and Betty’s role to provide hospitality for the traveller (as they called the itinerant preacher) who arrived during the week to start his commission there. This did not extend to meeting him as he alighted from the train at Croxall station to walk the 3 miles to Edingale nor to giving up their bedroom at the cottage for him. Instead, he was accommodated in the thatched lean to at the rear of the cottage which one traveller described as a “coal hole” for, quite literally, beside the bed and the benches for the services, coal was stored there. On occasions the fare provided some compensation though. Sometimes there were boiled fowls or a roast duck for dinner followed by plentiful tea and plum cake from “under the bed”.
The main room at the property doubled as the preaching room with the congregation seated on the benches brought from the lean to. Not unusually for a Primitive Methodist society, the room would be extremely cramped during services with the preacher’s position being in front of the grandfather clock. However, the cottage was not the only venue where singing, praying and preaching took place and the other could not have been more contrasting! A feature of the village green was the large trees in whose shade the camp meetings were held and we have painted in our minds for us an idyllic scene of a summer’s morning with men, women and children listening to the six or seven preachers charged with taking the meeting.
We do not know when Jim was “called to higher service”. In the early 1870s the Edingale society was in serious decline. The preaching room had gone presumably because of the deaths of Jim and Betty. At the 1872 December Quarterly Meeting, the society was taken off the plan for failure to pay the quarterage. This step was taken following the Meeting’s direction that all necessary means were to be used to persuade the members to pay it as “God’s grace could not be supported without monetary contributions”.
(The author acknowledges the help given by the article “An Eccentric Couple” part VI of a series entitled “Lowly Heroes and Heroines of Primitive Methodism” written by the Rev C H Boden which appeared in The Aldersgate Magazine for 1900.)