Grigg, George in Hertfordshire
George Grigg spent a relatively short period of his ministry in Hertfordshire, but it was clearly a very influential time for Primitive Methodists in the county. Certainly, he seems to have played an important part in the establishment of permanent Primitive Methodist societies and chapels in Watford and St Albans.
We can learn something of George Grigg’s experiences in Watford from the pen of the editor of the Watford Times, a local newspaper which commenced publication in 1891. In October and November of that year, the editor decided to make a number of visits to local churches and chapels in Watford and he published a number of articles about what he found. In November 1891 he paid a visit to Queens Road Primitive Methodist Chapel and spent some time “perusing some manuscript written by the late Robert Martindale” from which he “derived considerable edification”.
His article, in the 22 November edition, read (in part) as follows: “G Grigg, writing in Dr Antliff’s ‘Book of Marvels’, says, ‘From St Albans I turned my attention to Watford, where a small society had been formed by my predecessors. It was on Sunday evening, in 1842, that I took my stand on a spot where there was no public thoroughfare’. The writer goes on to narrate that while the service was being conducted with ‘great propriety’ it was CUT SHORT BY TWO POLICEMEN ordering him off. He objected to go, so the policemen dragged him into the public street and said he was to go to the police-station. ‘Well’, he said, ‘then let us go cheerfully together’. So taking their arms in his he commenced singing ‘O for a trumpet voice’, etc. He sang so loudly that after a short time the policemen released him and beat a retreat and he then returned and concluded the service in peace.
On the following Sunday he was singing at one end of the Butchers’ Shambles when the superintendent of police, a sergeant and two privates came up and ordered him off. He declined to go and the superintendent gave the command, ‘Arrest him and take him off to the blackhole’. Away they marched, the superintendent going before shaking the gaol keys and he in the middle singing ‘Wicked men I need not fear’, etc. He was placed in the inner of the two compartments which was reserved for those who were guilty of high crimes. But he occupied his time in singing and praying and preaching to the people through the bars of his cage. Shortly after nine o’clock the police came and entreated him to leave, but he declined to do so unless he was held prisoner and taken before the magistrates the next morning. This the superintendent engaged to do. In the morning, however, the police did not come to his lodgings, so he went to the police-station and told the superintendent that if he did not take him to the police-station [sic] he would take the superintendent. Thereupon they went to the Justice-room. Here Grigg refused to give an undertaking not to preach again in the streets and the magistrates thereupon committed him to the Hertford House of Correction for three months, with hard labour. But Grigg pointed out that even if he had been guilty of blocking up the public thoroughfare the offence was an indictable one and should be tried at the Quarter Session. He added ‘And if you do commit me, I will meet the indictment by counsel, and it may be you may SECURE A PARTIAL JURY who may return a verdict against me, then you will come down on me for expenses. I will first pay my own attorney and counsel, and then I shall have to pay yours. But, gentlemen, it will be by imprisonment; and when I come out I shall come back and preach in your streets again’. Finding he meant what he said ‘the chairman, who was the vicar of the parish, took his hat and walked away. He was followed by two others, who were parsons, and another, who was a brewer. Then the police disappeared and I was left alone. I walked out, went to my lodgings, and in the evening preached in the open air in peace, and from that time we were never interrupted by policemen. Several got converted and joined our Society in the town; and although thirty years (nearly half a century now) have passed since we had this conflict with the police and magistrates the Society in Watford still lives.”
This account of George Grigg’s encounter with the law is corroborated (or, perhaps, merely recycled) in a report published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine for 1866 which was written by Thomas Russell, then the minister at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Sopwell Lane, St Albans. Speaking of the efforts that were made to mission Watford in the early 1840s, Russell says that “here a stand was effected, but opposition rose, and brother George Grigg was put in the lock-up, but he preached to the people through the gratings of his prison door, and many wept.”
In 1843, George Grigg moved the short distance north from Watford to St Albans. He was only appointed to this station for a year, but it was a critical time for the local society. Writing in the Primitive Methodist Magazine for 1844, Brother Jonah Champion, Grigg’s successor at St Albans commented as follows: “St Albans is an ancient town containing seven or eight thousand inhabitants. Here Primitive Methodism had, for some time, to struggle with great difficulties, principally from the want of a place sufficiently large to contain the congregations which assembled to hear the word of life. But while Brother Grigg was stationed on the mission, certain premises were taken, a part of which was fitted up for a preaching room; and here many souls have been converted to God. In October last, a protracted meeting was held, which had a good effect; and soon afterwards the converting work broke out powerfully. On Sunday, November 19, several souls were brought to God; and from this time till December 21, nearly thirty were saved, twenty-two of whom have joined the society; and the good work still progresses. Since I came to the mission we have enlarged the preaching room; and although it will contain seventy hearers more than it would before it was enlarged, yet the congregations cannot be accommodated. We are expecting an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit from on high.”
Petty (The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, pp.462-463) also makes reference to “certain premises” being rented and partly “fitted up for a preaching room”, although there is nothing to say what or where these premises were; however, it seems that acquiring the use of a meeting place of any sort was something of a catalyst for the society in St Albans, as Jonah Champion’s report testifies. Petty also records that the society, believing this success to be a sign of further growth to come, decided to build “a commodious chapel”. This is a reference to the chapel in Sopwell Lane, which was constructed in 1844, after George Grigg had moved on. The Sopwell Lane chapel appears to have been the first Primitive Methodist chapel erected in Hertfordshire; the building still stands, having had many uses since the Primitive Methodists ceased to occupy it in 1875. In 2011, it was converted to a dwellinghouse. It is true, from what Petty says, that the building of the chapel “was an imprudent step, and unhappily involved the trustees and the society in serious difficulties. A succession of disasters ensued, which rendered this chapel case one of the most painful and distressing which the connexion ever experienced, and which greatly impeded the progress of the mission”.
However, it can be seen that the failure of the society at St Albans which resulted from this “succession of disasters” is not one that can fairly be blamed on George Grigg, even though, during his short time at St Albans, he may have encouraged the members to consider the building of a chapel. But George must be given the credit for the ‘powerful converting work’ that resulted in the considerable saving of souls that took place in 1843.