Polwarth, James (1856-1903)

Transcription of obituary published in the Minutes of Conference by J.T. Barkby

JAMES POLWARTH was born at Berwick-on-Tweed on April 21st, 1856, and was the third of seven children. His father and mother were connected with the Presbyterian Church, the minister at the time being Dr. Cairns, so well and widely known in later years as Principal Cairns, one of the most powerful and popular preachers of the Presbyterian Church. 

While the subject of this memoir was but a boy the family removed to Shankhouse, in the Blyth circuit, and as there was no Presbyterian Church in the village the children were sent to the Primitive Methodist Church. It was under the ministry of this Church that our brother passed through the crisis of conversion, and later became a Sunday school teacher and local preacher. His gifts and devotion to the church were soon recognised, and in 1880 he entered the Sunderland Theological Institute, a candidate for the Primitive Methodist ministry. Here his natural bent for study received considerable stimulus, and at the feet of the Rev. T. Greenfield, of whom he always spoke in tender and affectionate terms, he acquired methods of study of immense value. 

At the end of the College term he was sent to Sunderland to supply for three months for the Rev. T. Guttery, who was ill, the remaining nine months of the year being spent at Pateley Bridge. From here he went to Biggleswade, where he remained for 12 months, and then to Romford, where he spent four most happy and successful years. It was while here that he married Bertha Garner, of Bedford, a woman in every way worthy of him, and to whose thoughtful and self-sacrificing devotion he owed so much. 

The work at Romford told on him, and as there were signs of a physical collapse he went to Ventnor in the hope that the more kindly climate of the Isle of Wight might restore him. Here he remained for two years, when, on the advice of his doctor, he removed to Pateley Bridge, it being thought that the North would suit his constitution better. Unfortunately this made no difference, and at the end of 12 months he was compelled to superannuate. For a time the lived at Starbeck, in the Harrogate circuit, where he did much to help to build up the church, and finally he settled down in Harrogate.

At the Grimsby Conference, in 1899, he was appointed Connexional Treasurer. This appointment put new heart into him, and both he and his friends thought that better days had dawned. Alas! the improvement was but transient. Unfavourable symtoms soon began to show themselves, and after much suffering the doctors. decided to amputate his left arm in the hope of improvement. But the fell disease of consumption had taken too firm a hold on him to be thus shaken off, and on the morning of Saturday, December 5th, 1903, he went to join the ‘Choir invisible of the Immortal dead.’ On the following Tuesday a Memorial Service was held in our Dragon Parade Church, Harrogate, in which several ministerial friends took part, and an address was delivered by the writer of this sketch, after which his remains were put to earth in the Harrogate Cemetery, there to rest until the day break and the shadows flee away. 

By his death Primitive Methodism has lost a great deal, He was a man of exceptional intellectual ability, of wide and deep culture, and high Christian character. He was a successful preacher of the Gospel, one who, out of a well-stored mind, brought forth truths new and old, truths made real and revivified because he had himself tried them and proved them true. He was a man of genuine devotion to the Church and the interests of humanity, a true-hearted brother and friend, and a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ. He was a man who suffered and knew how to suffer, and who in suffering became acquainted with some of the deep things of God. A wide circle of friends mourn his loss, but his rest is well-earned,


James was born on 21 April 1856 at Berwick, Northumberland, to parents James, a labourer (1871), and Elizabeth.

Before entering the ministry James worked as coal miner (1871). Whilst superannuated, James also worked as an assurance agent (1891).

He married Bertha Garner (1861-1942) in the summer of 1885 at Bedford, Bedfordshire. Census returns identify two of three children.

  • Maggie (Margaret) (1887-1946) – a sorting clerk and telegraphist (1911); a private secretary (1940)
  • Greville McDonald (b1890) – emigrated to USA in 1911; an automobile machinist (1920)    

James died on 3 December 1903 at Harrogate, Yorkshire.

Bertha and Maggie emigrated to USA in 1916.


  • Sunderland
  • 1882 Baldock
  • 1883 Grays & Romford
  • 1889 Pateley Bridge
  • 1890 Harrogate
  • 1892 Harrogate (S)


PM Minutes 1904/31

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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