Luton First Circuit, Bedfordshire

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by ‘Rhoden’

We learn that the honour of introducing and establishing Primitive Methodism in Luton, belongs to the Aylesbury Circuit, which station, at the March quarterly meeting of the year 1839, resolved to send missionaries to this and contiguous towns.

The missionaries thus appointed were, the Revs. Henry Higginson and Samuel Turner, both of whom were famous in their day for evangelistic fervour and zeal. Henry Higginson was a man of fine appearance, and as a minister, was probably, from the standpoint of education, above the average of his brethren of that day, having had the advantage of eleven years at a Grammar School. Though possessing a striking peculiarity in his utterance, his sermons abounded with wit and eloquence and he was indeed a mighty man in arousing sinners and producing the conviction that led to repentance and conversion. Wherever he ministered the Holy Ghost power seemed to be upon him and crowds would gather and listen to him with eagerness and profit.

April 21st, 1839 – sixty years ago was the day on which Messrs. Higginson and Turner began their evangelising campaign in Luton. They commenced the day at Houghton Regis by singing in the streets; passing on to Dunstable, Mr. Higginson preached in the open air and Mr. Turner delivered an address. Then they proceeded to Luton, and Mr. Turner preached on the Market Hill and Mr. Higginson gave an address. Durng the subsequent week they visited and preached at surrounding villages, and on the next Sunday evening Mr. Higginson preached to a large assembly on Market Hill.

This small and humble beginning soon resulted in the erection of a chapel in High Town to hold about 250 people, at a cost, inclusive of land, of about £330, the opening sermon being preached within seven months from the day the evangelisation of Luton by these pioneers began.

God’s seal was on this work, and it grew so that increased accommodation had to be provided by the erection of a gallery. Mr. Higginson was removed to Marlborough in July, 1839, but others took up and continued the work, Revs. W. Brewer and J. Cook being appointed the first ministers to the town. After one year’s labours, they were succeeded by Rev. H. Green and Miss Goodwin. 

In 1841, the Luton Societies, which had been formed into a branch of the Aylesbury circuit, reported 157 member, and in 1843 it was made into a separate circuit with two ministers, the salary of the superintendent, Rev. James Warnes, being £11 1s. per quarter, and that of the junior minister, Rev. G. Keedle, being £3 10s. per quarter. It appears they had a struggle to raise even those salaries. A small board-bill was allowed the junior minister up to 1847, when it was discontinued and he had to go round the members of the societies to board, having one day for one family and one meal at another person’s, thus saving the circuit the expense of a board-bill. To further assist the funds and help to sustain the ministers, it is reported on reliable authority that some godly women at Standbridge made more plait than ordinarily and sold it to help the preachers. All honour to such women, who, at such personal sacrifice, showed their love for God and His servants in this practical form.

During the first five years of Luton’s existence as a separate circuit, its progress was only slow, but during the respective terms of ministry of the Revs. Henry Pope, D. Harding, and John Hill from 1848 to 1851 greater success was realised, more than 100 increase in membership being reported. Mr. Pope was succeeded in the superintendency of the circuit by the Rev. Sharman, having as his colleague for one year, Rev. John Hill, and for the two remaining years, Rev. J. Smith. Mr. Sharman’s term was distinguished by the erection of High Town chapel in 1852, which has continued until last-year, when it was superseded by the present new and beautifully commodious chapel. After three years’ successful ministry, Mr. Sharman was succeeded by Revs. S. Wilshaw and M. Totten, who remaining only one year, were followed by Revs. J. Parnaby and Murray Wilson, both of whom remained a similar period, their successors being Revs. J. Mules and T. Hayden who remained two years. 

In 1858, Revs. John Phillips and George H. Fowler entered the circuit, the former remaining four years and the latter two, Mr. Fowler being succeeded by the saintly John Fuller, whose zealous labours for four years — his mighty pleadings with God and soul-saving work — are remembered with gratitude to this hour. During the four years of Mr. Phillips’ superintendency, God greatly blessed his ministry and that of his colleagues. This was seen, not only in the conversion of sinners and the addition of church members, but in other respects, for galleries were placed in the chapel, schoolrooms were built at High Town, and chapels were erected at Sharpenhoe and Bendith.

Rev. James Langham succeeded Mr. Phillips for two years, during which much prosperity was enjoyed by the circuit.

Rev. Murray Wilson superintended the circuit from 1864 to 1868, the circuit being divided, and Dunstable circuit being formed with 337 members and six preaching places in 1866. During his ministry here, too, Park Town and Harpenden chapels were built, and what is more unique still, the Conference held its sessions in Luton in 1867. For two years, Mr. Wilson had as his colleague the Rev. J.B. Horberry, and for the remaining time, Rev. W. Kitchen. 

Rev. W. Tubb now became superintendent, and had for his colleagues, Rev. Jacob Pilling for two years, and the Rev. Charles Jupe for the third year, the latter remaining one year with Rev. George Austin as superintendent. These brethren assiduously applied themselves to the work, and several additional chapels were built, and remarkable prosperity in soul saving and additions to the church, were experienced. The Revs. W. Jackson, and G. Newton, served the circuit a year each, as colleagues to the Rev. George Austin, who was succeeded by Rev. J.H. Beckhurst, and wlth whom Revs. G. Newton, T.J. Penrose, and J. Knipe laboured earnestly a year each. At the end of Mr. Beckhurst’s term the circuit had reached its highest points of prosperity, both financially and numerically.

At the Conference of 1877 the Revs. E.C. Pritchard and R. Ducker came to the circuit, both of whom were soon much beloved for their labours and successes. During the first year, Mr. Pritchard undertook the erection of  a minister’s house in Wenlock Street, and in the Spring of 1879, arrangements were made for a division of the circuit, Mr. Pritchard remaining superintendent of Luton First circuit with three chapels and 290 members, and the Rev. R. Ducker taking the  superintendence of Luton Second circuit with six chapels and 231 members.

At the expiration of three years, Mr. Pritchard left and was succeeded by Rev. Murray Wilson, who, after two years’ acceptable labours, was followed by Rev. R.R. Connell. Mr. Connell continued his labours here for five years – a longer period than any other Primitive Methodist minister has ever laboured in Luton. He threw himself with much heartiness into his work, his quiet humour and wit, and his assiduous labours, together with his sociability, gathering to his help numerous sympathetic friends. The main achievement of Mr. Connell’s ministry was the purchase of the plot of land on which the new High Town church was erected last year, though considerable success was achieved in the reduction of chapel debts, and the raising of funds for other purposes, besides the addition of numerous church members. Mr. Connell was, and still is, very popular with the Lutonians.

He was succeeded in 1887 by the Rev. Jos. Harding whose ministry was considerably appreciated. When Mr. Harding left the circuit the Rev. John Smith became its minister. It was hoped that at this time the new chapel at High Town would be built. Some steps were taken in this direction, but the scheme was not undertaken. After two years, the Rev. Arthur Beavan became superintendent, and though his ministry was highly appreciated, yet he only remained two years.

In July 1895, the present minister, Rev. Thomas Humphris took charge of the circuit and by the blessing of God and the hearty co-operation of the officials and members, the circuit has considerably improved. Shortly after his arrival, steps were taken to build new school premises, and thoroughly renovate the Cardigan Street chapel, involving an outlay of £700. This has given our denomination an excellent set of premises in this part of the town. Meanwhile, plans and speci?cations were in course of preparation for the proposed new church at High Town. Ultimately the plans of Messrs. J.D. and  J. Mould of Bury and London, were accepted, and the erection of the building was placed in the hands of Mr. D. Parkins of Luton, who has built a church of which the High Town friends are justly proud. It is convenient and commodious, an ornament to the town and a credit to the Connexion, the cost being upwards of £3,000.

The trustees are engaged in the alteration and adaptation of the old premises for greater convenience in school work, and before Mr. Humphris leaves next July, on the completion of four years’ successful ministry, the Seagrave chapel will be enlarged. These schemes have involved much labour, £1,500 having been raised for High Town alone during the past two years. There is a splendid congregation at the High Town new church every Sunday, and a magnificent Sunday school, consisting of nearly 900 teachers and scholars. The circuit membership numbers 344, and the circuit revenue per quarter, £60.

The Rev. Thomas Humphris is a native of the Banbury circuit, having been born at King’s Sutton in 1850. He was early sent to a Primitive Methodist Sunday; school, where he rose step by step till he became superintendent. He was converted at the age of 14, began to preach before he was 15, and had been a local preacher seven years when he was called into the ministry. His first station was Kingston-on-Thames where he spent one year, and was then removed to Lympstone in the Exeter station. Here he spent three years and completed his probation. Since then he has travelled on the following stations: Wishaw, Truro, Stroud, Bath Second, Portsmouth, Stepney Green, Richmond, Kingston-on-Thames (second time), and Luton.

Mr. Humphris gives considerable attention to his pulpit duties, and is careful in his preparation for pulpit and platform services. His most popular services at High Town have been his monthly sermons to young people, which have always been numerously attended. He is a strong Christian Endeavourer, never absenting himself from the Endeavour meetings unless absolutely obliged by some other engagement. He is also a Good Templar, and earnest advocate of the temperance cause, is highly respected by the other denominations in Luton, and has occasionally filled their pulpits with great acceptance. He has also endeared himself to our own people in Luton First Circuit, and is held by them in great esteem.

Amongst the leading members and officials of the Luton First Circuit may be mentioned Mr. J. Giltrow, who for 40 years has been a member of High Town church, a local preacher 30 years, and superintendent of the Sunday shool 18 years. His grandfather, John Giltrow, was one of the earliest members  of Luton Primitive Methodism. For upwards of three years Mr. Giltrow has been a member of the Luton school Board, and has recently been elected to the position of Vice-Chairman of the Board. 

Councillor James Bone became a member 42 years ago, and has been a local preacher 30 years. A few years ago he was elected a member of the Town Council, also a member of the Board of Guardians. Last year he was a delegate to the Leeds Conference.

Mr. F. Edwins, another local preacher, has been a member 41 years. He has filled the office of school treasurer, circuit steward, and has been twice delegate to District Meeting, and once delegate to Conference.

The present circuit steward, Mr. F.C.W. Janes, son of the late Joseph Janes, one of the pioneers of Primitive Methodism in Luton, has been connected with High Town church for many years as a teacher and local preacher.

There are numerous other worthy brethren associated with High Town church who have contributed much to the development of our denomination in that town, and with greater facilities and scope for aggressive work now provided for this Circuit, we anticipate achievements in spiritual and numerical success that shall materially eclipse those of the past.


Christian Messenger 1899/115

Note: Ann Goodwin married Rev. Henry Green – the two travelling preachers appointed to Luton in 1840 as part of the Aylesbury Circuit.

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