Woodnorth, Thomas (Abt 1787-1822)

Thomas Woodnorth is best known as one of the two men who, in 1810, each offered to pay 5 shillings per week to allow William Clowes to become a full-time evangelist. As such Thomas is a key figure in the early days of the Primitive Methodist movement.


Thomas is first mentioned in Kendall relating the events of following the visit of the Stockport Revivalists to Congleton on Christmas Day 1804 and the Lovefeast held at Harriseahead shortly afterwards. James Steele, who later became the first Circuit Steward of the PM Tunstall circuit, was present at Harriseahead and took a leading part. Hugh Bourne writes that the mighty outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Harriseahead reached Tunstall and William Clowes, Thomas Woodnorth, James Nixon, William Morris and others were brought to God and became useful evangelists. Clowes and the others became members of James Steele’s class at Tunstall.


We next read of Thomas when Clowes is expelled from the Wesleyan Methodist society. Thomas, James Nixon, William Morris and Samuel Barber, who by that time had been members of on of Clowes’ classes, also left the Wesleyan society and threw their lot in with those worshipping in Mr Smith’s kitchen. The group soon became known as “Clowesites”.

In December 1810, James Nixon and Thomas Woodnorth, described as Clowes brother–in-law, propose to give Clowes 5s per week each so that he can become a full-time evangelist. In his Journals, William Clowes describes Nixon and Woodnorth as 2 pious and zealous friends. Both James Nixon and Thomas worked as potters.


On the first written plan, covering June – September 1911, Thomas Woodnorth is listed as preacher number 8 and was allocated four appointments.

We also know that in June 1811, Sarah Smith invited Thomas Woodnorth to preach in her home at Englesea Brook, thus ‘opening’ the area for the PM movement.

By July 1811, the pottery business was in recession and James Nixon and Thomas Woodnorth found they could not continue to support Clowes from their own pockets. At a meeting held on 26 Jul 1811 in Mr Smith’s kitchen, the Primitive Methodist Tunstall circuit was formally created with James Steele as first Circuit Steward. It is interesting to note that this happened shortly after James Steele had been expelled from the Wesleyan society and it is arguable that he was one of the key organisers in the embryonic movement.

Within the new movement, Thomas Woodnorth continued as a local preacher, moving up to number 6 on the Tunstall plan. In his journals, Hugh Bourne suggests the that the ‘Clowesites’ were not at their best in Camp meetings, being unable to adapt their style effectively. In 1816, Bourne writes that Thomas Woodnorth ‘reformed’ and became a first rate camp meeting labourer.

Grantham, 1819

In 1819, John Wedgwood was imprisoned at Grantham for preaching in the open-air, the first of many Primitive Methodist preachers to suffer this fate. Thomas Woodnorth was so moved by this event that he wrote 170 lines of verse in rhymed couplets. This is recorded in full in chapter 14 of William Clowes Journals.

Of Woodnorth, Clowes writes; ‘ He was no poet, nor the son of one; but the circumstances of this persecution first kindled the muse in his bosom, and he produced the following lines, which I here insert in these memoirs of my life, in memory of a man whose friendship I highly esteemed; and with whom in the unclouded region among sainted spirits, I trust I shall spend a happy eternity before the throne, singing “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us Kings and priests unto God and his Father unto Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen”.


In October 1819, Thomas Bateman records that Thomas Woodnorth fell ill while doing duty as a preacher, and deemed that his preaching days were over. Woodnorth asked friend Darlington of Burland Green to let his son take Woodnorth back to Englesea Brook and bring back someone who could enter into his work. Accordingly this was done and Thomas named the son of a small farmer-innkeeper at Gorsty Hill. The message went to the young man, Thomas Brownsword, who responded and took Thomas Woodnorth’s preaching round. Thomas Brownsword is shown as number 6 on the 1820 Tunstall plan.


Thomas married Mary Rogers (1789-1847) on 7 December 1812 at Wolstanton, Staffordshire – she was the sister of Hannah Rogers, wife of William Clowes, thus Thomas and William Clowes were brothers-in-law by marriage. Thomas and Mary had two children.

  • Ann (b1814)
  • Joseph (1817-1848) – a potter

Thomas was buried on 20 July 1822 at Wolstanton, Staffordshire aged 35.


J Petty, The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, 1880, p43

H B Kendall, Origin and History of the PM Church, vol 1, p45, p105, p110, p124, p130, p197, p257, p517, p518

Joseph Ritson, The Romance of Primitive Methodism , 1909, p90

B A Barber, A Methodist Pageant, 1932, p 34-36

The Journals of William Clowes, 1844

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

Wolstanton Parish Registers

Comments about this page

  • ‘The Death of Thomas Woodnorth: At Tunstal on Thursday senight died Thomas Woodnorth he was a preacher in the primitive Methodists vulgarly called Ranters Connexion. Honourable mention of his death is made because himself and another person, journeyman Potters, devoted five shillings each per week when young men to pay the expenses of William Clowes of Ranter notoriety to go and preach in the hamlets and villages of glad tidings of Salvation, and by whose perseverance in connexion with H & J Bourne of Bemersley and others, upwards of 26 thousand persons have been drawn to relinquish their vicious practices and become useful members of political and civil society. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth.’  (Pottery Gazette  August 3, 1822)

    By Jill Barber (25/04/2018)

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