Pelton Fell: John Batey of Pelton Fell (1829-1911)
‘They have always been my people’
John Batey was born at Churchlands, about two miles from AllendaleTown, Northumberland. When he was four years old he was taken to Catton Primitive Methodist Sunday School. ‘Since then’, he wrote when he was 81 years old, ‘I have never been out of the influence of Primitive Methodism. They have always been my people, and will remain so until my death.’
The Great Strike, 1844
His father was a miner, and the family was constantly on the move in search of work. In 1835 they moved east, settling in Fawdon Square, about three miles north of Newcastle. Later they moved into Co Durham, and suffered great hardship during the great miners’ strike of 1844. His father was out of work for 21 weeks. The family was evicted, and spent 19 weeks living on the roadside as outcasts. In Autumn 1844 they found refuge at Blackhill, and it was here in 1846, at a camp meeting, that John was converted.
His family were now living at Leadgate, and John immediately joined the Primitive Methodist society, who did not have their own chapel, but held worship in the NationalSchool. Here John found ‘men and women who were full of the Holy Ghost and rich in faith’. They had a huge influence on him: ‘Happy for me it was so. You could not come into touch with such men and women without being endued with the same spirit.’ He said that they brought him ‘into close touch with God’, and prepared him for ‘a useful life in the church’.
Some months later there was a revival in the district and many hundreds were converted. Leadgate had 62 members in 1846, and led by Thomas Richardson ‘a mighty man’, eventually built their own chapel. The first Primitive Methodist Chapel at Consett (or Berryedge), a mile away, was built in Trafalgar Street in 1848.
In 1849 the Batey family moved to Winlaton, near Blaydon-on-Tyne. Here the Primitive Methodists were worshipping in an old warehouse. They were few in number, but ‘all alive, and full of expectancy’. That year there was a revival which saw 150 people added to the church in three weeks. Winlaton village had a band at that time, and it came out onto the street to ‘play the Ranters doon’, but without success! The band itself broke up when some of its members were converted, and its leader eventually became the Primitive Methodist choirmaster!
Moving on again to another pit, the Bateys came to Mickley Square, on Tyneside. There was no Primitive Methodist Chapel here, but ‘after much prayer and faith’, the society grew in numbers, and ‘ground was got for a new chapel’.
In the early 1850s John Batey was living in Tanfield Lea. There was a good society at Shield Row (Stanley), which met in a long room formed from two houses with the partition taken out. Again a revival broke out, and a new chapel was built.
Eventually John Batey arrived at Pelton Fell, which was in the Chester-le-Street Circuit. It was a barren place, but he could see there was potential for the development of the coal mines here. There were no Primitive Methodists working at Pelton Fell Colliery, but there were a few at Waldridge Fell colliery nearby, living at Burnt House Bank (later Club Row), and a society of six or seven people met in the home of Joseph Dixon.
The room could only accommodate about 20 people, and it was soon too small. Another coal miner who joined the society soon after John was Benny Robson. He had got one of the new houses in Pit Row, a ‘double one’, so he ‘took his things out of the back room, and we made it into a place of worship… and removed from the Burnt Houses.’ The society now included Matthew and Joseph Dixon (brothers), William Dixon (whose son William became a PM minister), John Clark, R Fenwick, Thomas Bruce and many others.
‘Room, more room!’
They now decided to start a Sunday School, which was a great success. 60 children were present on the first Sunday, and numbers continued to rise until it became impossible to pack any more into Benny’s house. ‘Room, more room! again became the cry!’
The colliery offered the society an old barn, but it was outside the village, and the roads to it were in a very bad state, so the offer was not accepted. They decided to put their case to William Armstrong, the agent of Pelham Fell Colliery. John Batey led the negotiations, and eventually the first chapel was built. Tons of soil had to be removed from the site before it was possible to start building. The men cleared the ground themselves, and begged the lime and stone for the walls – some of which came out of the pit, and some from a local quarry, and they borrowed the colliery carts to transport it to the site ready for the masons.
The building cost £134 14s, and it was opened on 13 September 1864 by Joseph Spoor, with only a small debt, having raised money from the colliery owners and others, and done all the labour themselves. ‘It was a time of jubilation’, said Batey. Three people were converted at the opening service, which ‘repaid us for all the labour we had spent on it.’
Having got a building, the next plan was for a revival. John Batey suggested engaging his friend John Lowrey, whom he had first met at Winlaton. ‘Brother Fenwick and I offered to lie idle on the Monday … and go and see Brother Lowrey, and ask him if he could come. We went, and found him in a field taking up potatoes.’ He told them to go home and hold prayer meetings all week, and he would be with them on the Sunday morning. When the day came, the crowd was so big, that the service had to be held in the open air. The mission lasted six weeks, and Primitive Methodism in Pelton Fell flourished. The new chapel was soon too small, and only eight years later was replaced by a larger chapel on the Battery, which had to be enlarged again a few years later.
John took an active part in educational work, supporting the foundation of the first day school in Pelton Fell, and the Mechanics’ Institute. His friend Matthew Dixon, who was society steward for over 40 years, died in 1910, and William Dixon (not related), Sunday School Superintendent and class leader, died in 1909.
In 1910, when John Batey was 81, he looked back over his 64 years, serving Christ as a Primitive Methodist. ‘At Pelton Fell the encounters were sometimes heavy to bear, but God helped us to overcome, and enabled us to come off victorious.’
Faith and prayer
At the end of his life he could say, ‘I never in all my life knew the Lord fail in His promises, if approached in the way He has appointed – that is, by faith and prayer – and be willing to leave ourselves in His hands and to be led by the Spirit. He always leads in the way that is right… If the way be rough and thorny which we may be called upon to travel, let us always remember it is God’s way, and He will bring us through.’
W M Patterson, ‘Twice-Born Men in Pit Villages: Pelton Fell – John Batey and the Dixons’, The Primitive Methodist Leader, 9 September 1915, p 600