South Shields, Co. Durham

South Shields Glebe Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/176
South Shields Marsden Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/176
South Shields Laygate Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/176
South Shields Talbot Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/176
South Shields Wenlock Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/176
South Shields Baring Street Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/176

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Ralph Shields

The River Tyne, as it enters the North Sea, divides North and South Shields. On its southern banks, in the north-east corner of the county of Durham, stands South Shields. The name is supposed to be derived “from the rude primitive fishers’ huts, sheels, or sheals, which were mainly scattered over its site.” “South Shields and the surrounding district was thickly wooded, and remnants of the primeval forest existed down to the fourteenth century. Until well into the last century South Shields folk were a race possessing distinctive characteristics of speech and custom which differentiated them even from their near neighbours. The great influx of population from other districts by the rapid extension of its trade and industries has (except in the case of the pilots) now practically destroyed the distinctive character of the people. But the town preserves its distinctive dialect in a more primitive form than in any of the surrounding districts” (“The Borough of South Shields,” Hodgson). The town is supposed to have been founded by Agricola, and one of the most important Roman stations was on the Lawe. Numerous altars bearing inscriptions, Roman coins (gold, brass, and copper), brick pottery, bronze figures, &c., have been unearthed in various parts of the town, and are now to be seen, among other relics, in the Public Library Museum. South Shields was the birthplace of the first life-boat, and William Wouldhave, the invertor resided in the town.

A hundred years ago the population just reached 11,000; to-day it is over 100,000. The town possesses a splendid Free Library and three beautiful parks, and in the summer it is the resort of thousands of visitors. Anglicanism is represented by a dozen churches, and the Free Churches by twenty-seven, including Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and the various sections of Methodism. In addition, there is the Salvation Army, Unitarians, Catholic Apostolic, and numerous undenominational missions.

Methodism was introduced into South Shields in 1740, and on two occasions Wesley visited the town. The oldest  Methodist church was built over a hundred years ago, and though not now occupying a prominent position, it is still the largest and internally one of the most beautiful churches in the town. Tradition says that when an effort was made to secure the site for this place of worship, the owner refused to sell a site for such a purpose, but soon afterwards  took ill, and during his illness agreed to let the Methodists have the site if they would promise to pray for his recovery.

Primitive Methodism has a strong position in the town, and in the number of Churches, church membership, Sunday school teachers and scholars, and church attendance, occupies the premier place among the Methodist churches. The first missionary was Rev. John Branfoot, who was stationed at Hutton Rudby, near Stokesley. He began his work in the town on February 6, 1822, by a series of open-air meetings held in the Market Place. About the same time William Clowes was similarly engaged in North Shields.

In a few weeks Mr. Branfoot formed a society and engaged two cottages in Oyston Street (Waterloo Vale), which were made into a preaching-room. Mr. Branfoot, assisted by Messrs. J.T. Nelson and Joshua Shaw, missioned the streets with broad-brimmed hats and knee-breeches. Great crowds gathered round them, and marvellous scenes were witnessed. The preaching-room was utterly inadequate for the congregations, and a large sail-loft, ninety feet long, and capable of seating between six and seven hundred people, in Barkes Dock, Wapping Street, was engaged. This new preaching-room was opened by Mr. Clowes in October, 1822, and was crowded each Sunday. Great numbers professed conversion at the services, and in two years there were 300 in church membership. In the following year a second society was formed among the miners at Temple Town Colliery. The meetings were held in the house of Mr. W. Hardy, and tradition says that the first class-leader was a publican. The work rapidly spread into the neighbouring districts, and within two years societies were formed in more than twenty villages. Soon there were twenty-three places on the plan, chiefly colliery villages, stretching southward between the Tyne and the Wear. With the exception of one or two very small places, societies still exist in all these villages. In September, 1823, the South Shields Circuit was formed, and on December 9th the first quarterly meeting was held. At this meeting a membership of 552 was reported, and the Circuit was stated to be in a prosperous condition. Three months later, through a gracious revival at Hebburn, a further increase of 200 was reported.

The society worshipping in the sail-loft, South Shields, soon began to realise that if the work was to be permanently successful a more suitable building would have to be secured. A site was leased in Cornwallis Street near the Market Place, and foundation stones for a chapel capable of seating 900 people were laid on April 21st, 1823. The proceeds for the day amounted to £3 14s. 3d.

The members were all very poor, but were ready to render service, and by this means the cost of the chapel was much less than it otherwise would have been. It was to them a great undertaking, as the chapel, with the cottages erected alongside, cost £1,600. During the erection the funds were exhausted, and the building proceedings suspended. A Prayer meeting was held and while the brethren were praying fervently for help, Mr. J. Robinson entered, and, enquiring the cause of their distress, undertook at once to relieve them. Mr. Robinson was the father of Mr. John Robinson, ship owner, who for so many years filled the position of steward in the Circuit. The church was opened August 24th, 1823, and as it was built on part of St. Hilda‘s Glebe, it became known as the Glebe; and when, in after years, the present church in Westoe Road was built, the same name was retained. Among the many stories told of the Old Glebe one especially deserves mention. When approaching completion two men were passing, and one, calling the attention of his companion to the new building, enquired what place it was, and on being informed that it was a ranters’ chapel, said, with great surprise, “How have they been able to erect such a building?” A boy in the street overheard  the remark, and suggested that if they went to the other side they would discover the secret. On doing so they read the inscription, “Hitherto have the Lord helped us.” For many years “Glebe” was a heavy burden, and but for the financial assistance of Mr. John Robinson, it could not have been retained. It was well situated for mission work, and was always a great evangelistic centre.

It is a remarkable coincidence that Mr. Thompson (grandfather of the Rev. J. Day Thompson) was one of the early superintendents of the Sunday school, and his sone, Mr. A Thompson, filled the same office for many years; and now his son is superintendent of the new Glebe Sunday school. Mr. John Hunter, after being fourteen years Sunday school superintendent of old Glebe, was appointed to assist in the formation of a new mission, which developed into Baring Street Church, and for the twenty-eight years of its history Mr. Hunter has been the superintendent of the Sunday school, thus making in all an unbroken superintendency of forty-two years. The Sunday school anniversaries at Glebe fifty years ago attained to such popularity that a charge of one penny admission had to be made, and so great were the crowds which gathered that the services of the police had to be retained to prevent accidents. The Band of Hope was a very prominent factor in the school work, and the annual camp meetings in these early years drew immense numbers of people together, and exciting scenes were frequently witnessed.

In 1865, during the superintendency of the late Rev. John Atkinson, the old chapel; after having been in use forty-two years, was taken down and rebuilt, so as to bring it into harmony with modern requirements. The reopening sermons were preached by the Rev. James Bastow, who was then stationed at Darlington, and for twenty-five years the work was continued; but the character of he neighbourhood during these years greatly changed, and the development of the town caused many of the friends to have to remove some distance from the Glebe. It was difficult to retain the people, and little progress was possible. Ultimately it was decided to seek a new site in amore central position, and a splendid site was selected in Westoe Lane. The wisdom of this choice is demonstrated by the magnificent success which has attended the new Glebe, which was opened on March 12th, 1890. A new infant school, church parlour, and additional class-rooms, have just been erected, which complete the buildings and give them a place among the best Church and school premises in the Connexion.

Laygate Church, originally Temple Town, was commenced by a few members from the old sail-loft missioning the west side of the town. A class of seven members was formed, which met on Sunday morning, and for many years Mr. Mark Moody was the honoured and successful leader. Services were at first held in a house in Brickgarth Row, Mr. A. Young commencing a Sunday school. In 1825 two cottages in Slake Terrace were formed into a preaching-room, and four years later the society worshipped in a blacksmith’s shop. In 1839 there was a terrible explosion at St. Hilda’s Pit, which filled the mining community with awe. Special services were held, and a remarkable revival took place during the summer under the ministry of Rev. J. Parrot. The increased congregations led in the following year (1840) to a site being secured on the ballast hills, and soon after a chapel capable of seating 320 persons was built at a cost of £450, only £50 of which at the time was raised towards the building. Among those who figured prominently in these days was Mr. John Smith (father of the late Mr. M. Smith), who was a zealous local preacher, and Mr. Thomas Addy, who gathered a choir that soon became famous, and did much to crowd the new chapel. Mr. Addy had been a popular fiddler at the public-house, and when he got converted was much tempted, but after a struggle he gave himself afresh to Christ, and wrote his consecration on paper, saying, as he did so, “Now, devil, if you can read writing, read that.” He was a marvellous man, and did a great work. Twenty years later (1859) at site for a new chapel was secured at Corstorphine Town, which was prepared by the miners themselves for building. At the foundation-stone laying ceremony a serious accident happened, several persons were injured by the collapse of the platform. For twenty years it met the needs of the society, and then It was sold, and the present new and beautiful church was built in Laygate Lane. The new church is of classic design, and seats 700 persons. The situation is one of the best in the town, and the whole of the premises of a most admirable character. In 1883 the Conference visited South Shields, and the sessions were held in Laygate Church. For many years Mr. John Brack rendered this church valuable service in many capacities. The society at Laygate has existed for over eighty years, yet it has only had three chapel stewards. Mr. T. Davison was the first, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Mr. Mark Moody, and he in turn by his son-in-law, Mr. Edward Coxon.

In 1858 the old United Presbyterian Church in Heugh Street was acquired, and ten years later, when the lease expired, the freehold was purchased, and in 1873 the church was rebuilt. For some years a good work was carried on, but the neighbourhood deteriorated and the cause declined, and ultimately the chapel had to be sold. But the new church recently erected in Baring Street amply supplies our needs in that part of the town. At Tyne Dock, which forty years ago was a suburb of South Shields, but which is now incorporated in the borough, a church was built at a cost of £1,065.  For many years the church here has been in a strong, healthy condition, but better school premises are much needed. In 1868 a small chapel was built at Harton Colliery at a cost of £440, and in 1898 it was sold and a new school-chapel seating 300 was built in Talbot Road. The cost (£1,400) included a splendid site for a large church in the future. The society, which now numbers 100 members, has greatly increased since the new building was erected, and the prospects are bright and cheering.

Baring Street Church is the outcome of the Alma Street Mission, which was commenced by friends from the old Glebe in April, 1876. A few years later a site in Baring Street was purchased and an iron chapel erected in 1883, in which much good and faithful work was done for eighteen years. The chapel and site were then sold, and a still more prominent site in the same street purchased at a cost of £700. At the stone-laying ceremony of the new church in 1902 £500 was raised, and a few months later, at the opening services, £300 more was collected. The new church is a tine building, with a beautiful hall and suitable class-rooms for the Sunday school and Christian Endeavour. The total cost is £4,600, towards which nearly one-half has been raised. Mr. john Hunter, school superintendent and class-leader, has been associated with this church from the beginning of its history, and has rendered magnificent service in a variety of ways. To him we are largely indebted for many of the facts recorded in this paper. Another mission was formed in Green Lane in 1890, and a small society gathered, and four years ago the present school-chapel in Wenlock Road was built at a cost of £880.

In addition to these six places in the town, there are two others in the country, Bolden Colliery and Marsden Colliery. The former is between three and four miles from the centre of the town. A chapel capable of seating 300 was built in 1876, and during last year a splendid suite of school premises were added at a cost of £1,100. There is a strong, vigorous, church of more than 100 members, and a Sunday school of 200 children. Marsden is about two and a half miles from South Shields. It was missioned by the Sunderland Circuit in 1878, but was afterwards transferred to South Shields. A small chapel was built in 1884, and last Year a beautiful new church was erected, towards which more than one-half of the cost (£1,100) was raised,

The history of the Circuit has been one of steady progress. Many of the places which were originally on the Circuit plan are now included in the Gateshead, Chester-le-Street, and Jarrow Circuits. In 1832, during the superintendency of Rev. Wm. Towler, a great revival swept over the whole Circuit, and multitudes were converted, and an increase of 269 was reported for the year. Soon after the Rev. William Eckersall came to the town (1840) he was invited (along with other ministers) to address a town meeting. The chairman, with a sneer, said the ranter preacher would address the meeting. Mr. Eckersall rose quietly, resented the sneer, rebuked the chairman, and speedily arrested the attention of the great gathering. He possessed popular gifts, and soon rose to the highest flights of eloquence. None dared to follow, and Mr. Eckersall, from that moment, became the most popular minister in the town.

The first Primitive Methodist missionaries out of England were sent to Jersey and Guernsey by the South Shields and Sunderland Circuits at their own expense. Some of the most prominent ministers of the Connexion have travelled in the Circuit, four of whom reached the Presidency, and several filled Connexional offices. For a great number of years Mr. W. Wake (father of Mrs. Brown, who is today an earnest worker and munificent supporter of the Glebe Church) was the Circuit steward, and in later years the same position was occupied by Mr. J. Robinson. Since the death of Mr. Robinson, Mr. T. Elstob and Mr. G.M. Dryden have been the Circuit stewards, and by their faithful and ef?cient attention to the business affairs of their office, are rendering the Circuit splendid service.

The present ministers are the Revs. Ralph Shields, Thomas Barnes and Edward E. Jobling, the latter of whom was called out as an additional minister three years ago. During the last few years the Circuit has greatly developed, the income for all purposes for the Circuit being at the rate of £60 per week. Under the superintendency of the Rev. H. Yooll (Connexional Editor) a splendid minister’s house was built and school-chapels erected at Talbot Road and Wenlock Road, and under the present superintendency, new churches have been erected at Baring Street and Marsden Colliery, and new schools at Glebe and Boldon Colliery. The membership of the Circuit is now nearly 1,000, and the church property is valued at £25,160. The Circuit was divided in 1892, and the Jarrow, Hebburn, Washington and other societies were formed into a Circuit, which in the intervening years has greatly developed.



Christian Messenger 1905/176


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