Thompson, John Day (1849-1919)

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909
Rev JD Thompson from the album of William Atkinson
Supplied by Patricia Wales

Early years

John was born in 1849 at South Shields, Co Durham to parents Alexander Thompson and Sarah Ann Day. Alexander was a labourer. John’s grandfather was Rev John Day. John was baptised on 24 June 1849.

Prior to entering the ministry, John was apprenticed to a firm of analytical chemists.


John was the subject of the Connexion’s one case of heresy, brought before the 1896 Conference, held at Burnley, Lancashire. Whilst in Adelaide, John gave an address in 1894 on ‘The Simple Gospel’ in which he attacked the view that it was the duty of ministers to proclaim ‘the Simple Gospel and leave on one side critical questions’ and what came to be called ‘the Social Gospel’. This view was attacked as a deviation from Methodist Doctrine. The main opponents were two former principals of the Manchester Theological Institute, James Macpherson and Joseph Wood. When Conference was asked to adjudicate on the matter, an overwhelming majority resolved that no action be taken on the matter. This case represented a watershed in the transition from early Primitive Methodist evangelism based on the inerrancy of the Scriptures and the cultural revolution in the attitude to biblical interpretation that followed the appointment of Arthur Peake as tutor to the Manchester Theological Institute in 1892.

John served as Secretary of Conference in 1903. He was General Committee Secretary from 1909 to 1914. He also served as a member of the Student’s and Probationer’s Examining Committees. John became President of Conference in 1915.

John was essentially a preacher, and, unlike some who find themselves hard pressed to get ready for the pulpit, he was often so filled with his message that he found himself longing for the opportunity of delivering it, and his congregations were just as eager to hear him. There was in his style an earnestness and a freedom that made his preaching very attractive.

In the period leading up to his death, John was editor of the Holborn Review.


John authored the following.

The doctrine of immortality: its essence, relativity, and present-day aspects , 1908 (Hartley Lecture, 1907)

The church that found itself: the story of our centenary commemoration, 1907-1911 , 1911

The miraculous river: the story of our church for young people


John married Sarah Large (1848-1898) in the summer of 1875 at Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Census returns identify three children.

  • Thomas Alexander (1876-1932) – a PM Minister
  • John Harold (b1878) – an electrical engineer (1911)
  • Archibald James (1883-1892)

John married Kathleen Mary Elizabeth MacMahon (b abt1864) in the summer of 1900 at Liverpool, Lancashire.

John died in 14 April 1919 at Ambleside, Westmorland.


  • Sunderland
  • 1871 Whitehaven
  • 1875 Sunderland
  • 1878 S Shields
  • 1883 Stockton
  • 1888 Harrogate
  • 1892 N Adelaide
  • 1898 Liverpool V
  • 1903 Blackpool
  • 1909 Camden Town
  • 1914 Cambridge
  • 1917 Harrogate
  • 1918 Ambleside (S)


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909/339; 1916/2; 1919/481

PM Minutes 1919/289

R Newman Wycherley, The Pageantry of Methodist Union, 1932, p177

B A Barber, A Methodist Pageant, 1932, p244

K Lysons, A Little Primitive, 2001, p140

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

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers


Comments about this page

  • J D Thompson figures largely in the 2017 book “Change and Decay: Primitive Methodism from late Victorian times till World War 1”, which explores his role and influence in bringing about significant changes in the denomination.


    By David Young (02/12/2017)

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