Methodism round Bollington in the 20th century

I offer some memories from my mother Ada Sheldon, the daughter of John Bradley (who died in 1918) who was one of the founders of the Primitive Methodist chapel at Whiteley Green. Before the chapel was built, worshippers met at a cottage in Adlington, a couple of hundred yards beyond the Windmill Inn. Funds were raised for the building of the Chapel, and my mother was the first baby to be baptised there in 1904. The chapel flourished for many years into the 20th century with well attended worship at 2.30 and 6.30 every Sunday. Chapel stewards included William Kirk who was also a local preacher. He and his family, amongst others were devoted supporters. The annual Sunday School Anniversary in May – round about Whitsun – was one of the highlights of the year. In the morning, many people followed the Alderley Silver Prize band in procession round the houses and farms in the district, singing hymns and collecting donations at each one, in the style of the Manchester Whit Walks. The afternoon and evening services that day were crowded. The decline of the chapel owed much to demographics. The houses round Whiteley Green housed large families in the first half of the century, but as time went by urban drift and smaller families meant that in the second half of the century those same houses were occupied by single, frequently elderly, people.

Primitive Methodism flourished in and around Bollington for just over a century. The impetus came from two sources, firstly the Sankey and Moody revival meetings in this country which encouraged lively worship. The other was the centenary of the founding of Primitive Methodism in 1907. A few years after the death of John Wesley in 1791 Hugh Bourne and William Clowes had held a camp meeting on Mow Cop in 1807 which effectively was the birth of Primitive Methodism. It was decided to hold a camp meeting on Mow Cop to celebrate the centenary, to which my grandfather John Bradley and his family went. My mother had a hazy recollection of it, she was 3 at the time.

There were three Primitive Methodist Churches in and around Bollington, High St, Whiteley Green and the Large Sunday School.. As a child growing up in Bollington I was puzzled by the clear divisions in Methodism, which were apparently socio-economic. It was explained to me that the Wesleyan Chapel was attended by the mill owners, foremen and others, while the factory workers and others attended the Primitives. I don’t remember any joint activities or worship, and as a child brought up in the chapel at Whiteley Green, I never once went in the Wesleyan Church! The Methodist Union of 1932 might never have happened as far as Methodism in Bollington was concerned.

The other Methodist memory from my mother is that in the first world war, the top floor of the Large Sunday School was turned into a munitions factory, a very interesting example of turning ploughshares into swords. In 1917, aged 13, her reward for coming top of her class was to be allowed to leave Water Street school and work on munitions. They hand-sewed calico cotton bags, to be shipped elsewhere to be filled with gunpowder and fired at the Germans. In the year she worked there, she often wondered how many people would be killed by the bags she was sewing.

On 11th November 1918 they were told to stand and look at the Clarence Mill at 11 o’clock. If the union flag was hoisted on the flag pole, it mean the war was over. At 11 o’clock they crowded to the windows and sure enough, the flag went up. They cheered loudly, put down their needles and half finished bags and went home!

Comments about this page

  • My mother was Jean Bradley and I think she met up with you? Would love to make contact again.

    By Carol (Evans) (21/03/2024)
  • And my Grandad , William Kirk, was the founder of William Kirk Ltd, Haulage contractor.

    By Steve Kirk (10/03/2024)
  • To Christopher Hill:

    No, I don’t think so! He was running a family motor haulage business in Whiteley Green, William Kirk. Steve will confirm.

    By Barbara Bilston (26/11/2023)
  • was William Kirk posted to Wiltshire in the Second World War as a member of the Non-Combatant Corp?

    By Christopher Hill (26/11/2023)
  • Yes – and I knew your Dad and Mum quite well. Good to be in touch after all these years!

    By Barbara Bilston (formerly Sheldon) (25/11/2023)
  • William Kirk was my grandfather and up to my late teens I lived in Whiteley Green. Went to Sunday school , afternoon and evening services at the chapel. I also remember Ada Sheldon.

    By Steve Kirk (25/11/2023)

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