Young, James - Jimmy at Christon Bank

Jimmy Young and his donkey

We have just celebrated 125 years of Christon Bank Methodist Church. At a packed service, the minister Gill Welsh reminded the congregation of the story of Jimmie Young and his donkey which appeared in the Primitive Methodist Leader in 1908


One  beautiful afternoon in June, 1908, a Centenary meeting was being held at a picturesque seaside village on the North-East coast, away in Northumberland. We were singing our opening hymn when a trap, containing several Christon Bank friends came along. These were some of the friends who had come to join in the worship, hear the messages, and by promising their contributions give practical evidence of their sympathy with the Centenary movement and their love for their Church. Who are these friends? These are the widow and some of the family of James Young. better known in the North country as ‘Jimmie Young,’ of Christon Bank. Their presence that day set us thinking, and called up much we had heard and read concerning the distinguished dead and his useful past. We would write this down at the beginning. He had seven sons and two daughters, all of whom were associated with our church, five of these sons being local preachers.That father and mother must not only have had their names on the church’s roll they must have made their home a church, and ethically and spiritually revealed to their children the highest and best. Of that mother and father we have heard their big, robust, stalwart sons speak in gracious, grateful terms.

We will leave that open-air meeting and go back some twenty years It is the Sabbath day, and yonder on the Northumbrian highway a donkey and cart with its driver are passing along. It is a somewhat strange scene, for the occupant of that donkey-cart is wakening the quiet rural life by fervent cries of ‘Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! That is James Young. well known throughout all North Northumberland. The Rev. H. B. Kendall, in his valuable and racy history of the Primitive Methodist Church, speaks of certain notable men in Berwick area, and amongst these is one, James Young, with a considerable dash of eccentricity.’ Many who never saw him have heard concerning this marvellous man and his equally marvellous doings. Even the novelist has laid hands on him, and made him one of the striking characters of a fascinating story. Not only, how ever, does he come down to as as odd, eccentric, abounding in quaint sayings and quaint doings, but above all he comes down to us as a noble, true man, who did much for his Church and the rescue of his brother-man. We will write down some records of this man, lest time, that buries so many things, buries these as well.

James Young was twenty-six years of age when he heard James Barras, of Netherton, later of North Seaton, preach. This mention of James Barras makes one pause. If the value and genuineness of conversion depend at all upon the moral and spiritual worth of the human messenger, then James Young was highly favoured, for he found Christ under the ministry of a good man. James Barras was one of a notable hand of Northern laymen. He was the compeer of Tommy Wanless, Robert Wheatley, and other local celebrities. He always impressed us in our boyhood days in facial appearance as a double of Archbishop Temple. A strong, masculine face it was, differing tone from the late Archbiehop Temple in that it wore a more tender, softened expression. James Barras was an earnest, thoughtful preacher, successful especially as an evangelist. We see him now in passionate tones pleading for recruits for the new life. James Young had two difficulties in becoming a preacher, the first being an impediment of speach, “This he overcame, and became at times quite eloquent ;albeit it was of a rugged type, yet eloquent and effective he was. A second and more serious difficulture presented itself. namely. the immense area of the Berwick circuit in those days. It covered then what is now Berwick, Lowick, and North Sunderland circuits. He was a miner, and travelling that continent after a week’s hard toil was impossible. To a life long friend he narrated the incident how he came to possess his well known steed—his donkey. ‘I thowt  I mun hae a Downy (pony), or a donkey. Praise the Lord! I telt the Lord I loved to preach the saving Gospel, but the journeys were ower much, so wad he gie me either a powny or a donkey, for the wark could’nt be dune without.’ In keeping with this, Jimmie prayed. and believed, and looked out for either a ‘Downy’ or a donkey coming from the Lord. Unknown to our good friend, a Christian gentleman in the neighbourhood owned a donkey he no li needed, and thinking it might in some way he useful to James Young, sent it on to him. Its arrival led to the outburst,’ Praise the Lord! My prayer’s answered. And it’s a donkey.’

Jimmie Young and his donkey were known in every town and hamlet in the North. That was the donkey and cart we saw on the highway, and none of the country gentry in their handsome equipages were better known, and certainly none of them more esteemed than our worthy brother and his belongings. With that donkey he traversed and re-traversed North Northumberland, loved and respected by all, and often spoken of as ‘The Bishop of the Diocese’ What stories are told about Jimmie and his companion. Even the local poets must needs break the silence, and a popular poem was, ‘Jimime and his caddy.’ One who knew him well records that on one occasion he started with his donkey and cart to purchase a pig. On his journey he met one who was financially in a tight place, so in place of buying the pig he banded to his needy brother all his money. On the high way that day a voice-might be beard ever shouting, ‘Praise the Lord!’ James Young praising God for the opportunity of helping one in, need and trouble. Some would think it a poor return on the part of Providence that on his return journey his cart should break down. Not so our friend, for his creed was very simple, but satisfactory in all such crises. He knew be had done right, and he believed right doing would end rightly. A friend, a thorough believer in his genuineness, repaired his cart, sent him what covered his generosity to his needy neighbour, and supplied him with funds to relieve the poor he might meet. One brother-minister, who still remains with us, will have good cause to remember ‘Jimmie’s Caddy.’

Journeying to ‘a far distant appointment he made a passing call at our friend’s home, there to be offered the loan of the donkey for the day. The offer was gladly accepted, and the owner watched them depart on their journey. I cannot write down how it was, maybe the donkey elected to its new mount; at all events the rider was deposited on the road. The owner, surveying the scene from a distance, was heard to exclaim, ‘Praise the Lord if the caddy heent pitched him off. A minister who knew him in those days was recently told me the story of his first triumphal entry into the little market town of Belford. This was his first appointment at Belford, some eleven or twelve miles from home. He was unaware of the society steward’s residence at Belford, so he would improve the time by missioning. Astride of his don key he entered Belford singing, Hark the Gospel News is sounding The doors soon opened so that the inmates might see this unusual sight. A laddie looked out of one of these houses, and called out, Mother, here’s a man riding a donkey and singing ‘The Gospel News is sounding. ‘Will this be the preacher?’ It was the home of the society steward, and after a brief open-air mission in this quaint way, he was housed with kind friends

Several of his great grandchildren attended the service and ‘Hark the Gospel News is Sounding’ was again sung.


Primitive Methodist Leader 3 December 1908


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