Bradwell Circuit, Derbyshire

Tideswell Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1921/74

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. H. Land

THE Bradwell Circuit, one of the oldest circuits in the Manchester District, is situated in the heart of the Peak of Derbyshire. It is a wide country station, the distance from east to west being over twenty miles. A range of lofty hills separates one part of the station from the other. The whole neighbourhood abounds in delightful and magnificent scenery. Here are cloughs and dales that fill the mind with wonder and admiration. Here are wide moors where “the wind on the heath” provides one of the rich delights of life, and here are hills and mountain peaks from whence views may be obtained which are not easily paralleled anywhere. The air is health-giving and exhilarating, and it is a tradition in the circuit that every minister who has served a term of years here, has left the circuit improved in conditions of health and physique. This is certainly a splendid compensation for the preachers’ long and toilsome journeys to his appointments. The railway helps the preacher in some parts of the circuit, but the larger portion of the station demands a good walker, or cyclist, or both. Recently we have hired a motor car two Sundays in each quarter to convey preachers to their appointments. One wonders how the work was accomplished in the days before the railways came, and before cycles were known, but it certainly was done in those days, for the station has a history of a full century, and years ago, the preaching places were more numerous than they are today: Societies being included which are now in the New Mills, Glossop, Marple, Newton and Hyde, and Buxton Stations.

Bradwell, containing about thirteen-hundred inhabitants, is a picturesque village built partly in the valley, and partly upon the hill-sides. Through the centre of the village, and immediately in front of the Primitive Methodist Manse, a pleasant brook flows, dignified with the name of the River Bradwell; one of the smaller tributaries of the Derwent. On the eastern side of the brook, and directly facing the Manse, is the famous Bradwell Edge, an elevation of over one thousand feet. Up its pleasant sides one may climb to gather whinberries, or to find health giving breezes, or to secure a magnificent view of the Hope valley, with its surrounding peaks.

The Dale, a beauty spot on the road to Tideswell, and the wonderful Bagshaw Cavern are other distinctive natural features of the village. Bradwell boasts of its antiquity, for there are said to be distinct evidences of its occupancy by the early Britons, and indications of the Roman occupation are abundant. Local antiquarians tell of the discovery here of a Roman altar now in the Buxton Museum, a Roman pig of lead, now in the Sheffield Museum, and an inscribed slab, dated A.D. 158, bearing the name of the Emperor Pius, who reigned A. D. 138-161.

Bradwell Nonconformity has a long and honourable history. A Presbyterian Chapel was erected in 1662. In later years the Congregation of this chapel became Unitarian, and the Rev. Robert Shenton, who came into the village as a Primitive Methodist Minister, afterwards joined the Unitarians, and ministered here for thirty- three years. John Wesley preached at Bradwell in the year 1765, and the village has the distinction of being the first of the mountain villages of Derbyshire to welcome both Wesleyan and Primitive Methodism.

Our own church’s history commenced here exactly one hundred years ago, as one of the fruits of the Sheffield mission begun by Jeremiah Gilbert. One of the pioneers, James Ingham wrote: “Six of us, including Gilbert, went from Sheffield, October 7th, 1821, to Bradwell, to hold the first Camp Meeting there.” As a result of this Camp Meeting, twenty converts were secured, who were willing to be enrolled as members. In 1822, a chapel was built, and in 1823, Bradwell became the head of a circuit, with Thomas Holliday, and J. Hopkinson, as its first preachers. In this first chapel, the floor was covered with spar from the lead mines, which sparkled and glistened with little particles of lead ore. Referring to this, John Verity, who was the superintendent minister in 1831, says: “My chapel is floored with sparkling gems and diamonds. If a baby cries, the mother quietens it by putting it down on the floor to play with the diamonds, and if I want anyone to engage in prayer, two or three forms from me, I get up a handful of gems, and throw them at the person’s back.” From this humble chapel the Gospel seed was spread throughout the villages of the High Peak, and such ministers were sent forth as Joseph Hibbs, who spent his ministerial life chiefly in South Wales, and was often spoken of as the Bishop of South Wales; John Hallam, Joseph Middleton, George Middleton, who was for a number of years the Governor of Bourne College; John Morton, who was imprisoned for preaching at Hereford, and others. At a later time Robert Middleton, Robert Hilton, and Adam Morton were sent into our ministy from Bradwell.

Our present chapel erected in 1845, and enlarged in 1878, has accommodation for three hundred worshippers. The chapel contains an excellent organ; there are some beautiful memorial windows, and on the walls are memorial tablets, one of these being to George and Hannah Morton, who first opened a door for the reception of Primitive Methodists: one to Thomas Morton Moore, a famous soldier; one to the Rev. Jacob Morton, a Wesleyan minister, and others to the Revs. John Morton, and John Hallam, Primitive Methodist Ministers.

The name of Morton has been associated with our church from the beginning, the first services being held in a barn lent by George Morton.

To-day Mr. Luther Morton, our Senior Circuit Steward, and his whole family, together with his son-in-law, Mr. C.F. Sanderson, are all devoted workers in the church. Mr. Morton is a Christian gentleman of high reputation, a wise and capable leader, and a lover of the means of grace. Mr. Morton’s predecessor in the office of Circuit Steward, was Mr. Robert Tanfield, who filled the position worthily for twenty-four years. Mr. Ernest Elliott, our Sunday-school Superintendent, and his brother John, who is our Chapel Treasurer, represent another family name which has long been upon our church roll. Mr. John Middleton, our oldest Class-leader, and still a Sunday-school teacher at eighty years of age, and Mr. William Bradwell, who still preaches occasionally at eighty-seven years of age, are among our oldest and most respected members.

Ancient -traditions are maintained here by the early morning service on Christmas Day, which has been held in the village for ninety-eight successive years, formerly in the Wesleyan Church, but for many years past in our own. It is delightful to see the chapel well filled at six o’clock in the morning, and to share in the joyous singing of Christmas carols, one of which is an original Bradwell production.

Brief reference must now be made to the other societies on the station. The circuit’s largest church and congregation are at Tideswell. This is an ancient town of some three thousand inhabitants. Here is a beautiful old parish church, styled the Cathedral of the Peak, and a famous high school for boys. Our Chapel, Schoolroom, Lecture Hall, and Classrooms here are all in excellent condition, and quite free from debt. This church has been wisely and successfully led for many years by members of the Slack family, a family of robust Liberals, sturdy Nonconformists, and whole-hearted Primitive Methodists. Their unquestionable piety, and sincere devotion are a splendid asset to our church.

Mr. Jabez Slack, at the age of eighty, is School Superintendent, and the oldest Local Preacher on the plan. Mr. William M. Slack, whose son, Jabez William, is a Minister on the Ramsor Station, is our Society Steward, and Mr. Aaron Slack, Choirmaster and Organist, is also a useful Local Preacher, together with his wife. Mr. William Slack possesses class tickets which were issued to his father and mother in December, 1821. His parents must therefore have belonged to the original twenty converts. We have Bennetts of four generations in this Church and Sunday school, and Jacksons of the third, fourth and fifth generations of Primitive Methodists; while among our younger leaders are Mr. T.W. Tiplady, and Mr. W.H. Furniss, who are interested in Christian Endeavour work.

Calver, nine miles distant from Bradwell, is one of the oldest societies in the circuit. From this society the Rev. James Cocker, now of New Zealand, was sent into our ministry. Close by our chapel here is Cliffe College, where Wesleyan Methodist Local Preachers are trained. Its students and tutors have often assisted us by occupying our Calver pulpit. At the present time this church owes its prosperity largely to the capable and devoted leadership of Mr. G.H. Slinn.

At Chapel-en-le Frith, the capital of the Peak, we have a School-Chapel erected in 1910, replacing the old chapel, built in 1852. Our trusted leader here is the Rev. John Hancock, superannuated minister. Mr. Hancock served two terms in the active ministry on this station, and has resided here since his superannuation in 1906. He is highly respected both for his character and abilities, and though seventy-seven years of age, still preaches every Sunday, and also takes some week-night appointments.

We have had a small society at Castleton from the beginning of the circuit’s history. Castleton is famous for its natural attractions: the wonderful winnats or windgates; the great caverns; Mam Tor. the shivering mountain; and the ancient ruins of Peveril Castle. This place is the resort of thousands of summer visitors, but the resident population is small. In recent times our cause here has flourished under the able leadership of Mr. Jesse Plunkett, and our local preachers; Mr. and Mrs. A. Adams. Mrs. Adams was formerly Sister Annie of the South East London Mission. In 1909, a new Chapel and School were erected here, which are now debtless.

At the small hamlet of Thornhill, we have remarkable samples, both of Methodist overlapping, and of Methodist Union, for our church and that of the Wesleyans stand close beside each other, the same congregation worships in both buildings, services being held alternately in the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Chapels. John Bocking Darwent,and Rebecca Eades, whose portraits appear in “Kendall’s History of the Primitive Methodist Church,” were local preachers here for fifty years.

At Bugsworth, our church is called the Tabernacle. The premises generally are excellent, and after a long struggle entirely free from debt. This society has a well deserved reputation for its generous giving. Here the preacher at the week-night service meets with John Longson, “good and faithful,” and with Joshua Rogers, accompanied by all the members of his family, and is reminded of the Joshua of the Old Testament, who said : “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

One of our larger societies is at Dove Holes, a village near to Buxton, standing nine hundred feet above sea level. The membership is composed chiefly of quarrymen and their families. Many excellent local preachers have come from this church. Mr. Job Ford, our Junior Circuit Steward, resides here. Mr. Ford has a reputation for usefulness in all kinds of public service. He is a popular local preacher, and an indefatigable worker in his own church, and in the circuit.

At Cressbrook, situated in the beautiful Monsall Dale, and surrounded by some of the grandest scenery which even Derbyshire possesses, we have a rented room. Here the church is strong and successful, and worthy of better premises, but it is impossible to obtain land upon which to erect a chapel.

Other societies are at Little Hucklow, which has been on the plan from the beginning in 1822, at Whitehough, where a chapel was built in 1840, and at Hathersage.

The whole circuit is in healthy conditions to-day. In spite of the fact that its leaders are seldom able to attend Connexional or even District Gatherings, the station is stedfastly loyal to larger Primitive Methodism, taking an interest in all Connexional movements and generously supporting all Primitive Methodist Institutions.


Christian Messenger 1921/74

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