Ripley Circuit, Derbyshire

Ripley Nottingham Road Primitive Methodist chapel interior
Christian Messenger 1921/202
Codnor Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1921/202

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev M. Dobinson

RIPLEY is situated in the Peak district of Derbyshire, and has as its near neighbours Matlock and Belper. It stands on one of the high hills and looks out on some of the finest scenery in the country. It is a town of about 14,000 inhabitants. Its people follow many occupations in a great industrial centre. It has its mines, its mills, its factory, and the world-famous Butterley Iron Works illuminate the sky at eventide with tongues of fire, a mile from the town. The town is progressive and not lacking the business push. Its council is vigorous and alert, and sufficiently daring to be in advance of many of its neighbours. The Free Churches number seven, all commodious buildings, and do credit to the various branches. It claims, like most places, to possess meeting-houses for all forms of life and thought, that puzzle definition, baffle logic, and strain grace. There is also in the midst an Anglican edifice.

The people are true to their type in mind and heart. Everywhere there is the rugged aspect of the worker. They give much heed to religion, and in politics, local and national, they are not neglectful. Their measures are not half measures; they are thorough in their participations, and most emphatic in their taboo. Sport is followed with a keen enthusiasm, and some of the country’s “stars” have been trained on its playing grounds. Books are to be found in almost every home, and the town has a library of many thousands of books, much fingered and worn. There is encouraged a high sentiment that helps to keep its streets clean, and peace and fraternity prevail.

The practice of religion is Nonconformist, and Methodism prevails. No church at present finds its work easy, but the loyalty of the minister and officials and congregations is laudable. After-war effects have reached the City-on-the-Hill. A new world is being planned, and Ripley is taking its share in the herculean task. It is assimilative now as it was a hundred years ago when the country passed through a similar crisis. Our early preachers then visited the town, preached in the market-place, and people gave heed to their words. As a result many of the present communions were established. From time to time great upheavals in the life of the people have taken place. Methodism from the first has found here an easy ground to sow its seed. There were periods during the latter half of the last century when the power of preaching shook the town and district. For months together the churches were crowded, and the gain was permanent. There were gathered into the communions young and old, men valiant, devoted and faithful, men who became preachers of no mean order, and statesmen in local affairs of enviable repute, and some passed to other places to serve in high power. Naturally, the churches suffered the reaction of such abnormal times, but wisely handled, the foundations did not tremble in the reaction. What was gathered was garnered, and the days of depression and heedlessness were spent by noble souls in consolidating strength.

Our churches contributed much to such movements, and reaped most advantageously. Wood Street, our second Ripley church, was made as the result of the great Mission of 1875-6. 370 Converts were recorded, and many of them are in active service to-day. The Rev. J.T. Neale was superintendent minister at the time, and his labours were “more abundant.” Providence had not only sent the message of Redemption to the district, but had sent the right type of man to proclaim it. And the Rev. J.T. Neale was a man specially endowed for the occasion. He was original in his methods, epigrammatic in his utterance, witty in phrasing, evangelical in fervour, and possessed a novelty in speech. He was cast in his own mould, as all true preachers are. He was the medium of the Spirit as he travelled from place to place, and the whole district was alive. Much that is of the circuit dates from this great period. It has been largely a work of building and gathering since then. He has been the subject of many lectures, and men still live who cherish his memory.

Ripley Circuit was missioned from Belper, and Golden Valley was the place of beginnings. It was not that it was a populous locality, it being only a hamlet, but it contained some notable personalities. A Mr. John Smith stands out as one of the most prominent. It is probably to his ardent and untiring devotion that we hold the position we do. He was colliery manager and thus had a prestige. He escaped many dangers to which his position exposed him. The foundations are sometimes of sand that such men unconsciously lay. When they pass the fabric falls, and the collapse is heard from distant hills, John Smith made no such mistake. He did not allow his official position to interfere with the free decisions of those that gathered to worship. His name was known far and near. He frequently visited all the homes in the locality. At one home, on being refused admission, he knelt on the door step and prayed. He was known to go a twenty-five mile journey on the Sunday and preach at three places. When not away from home preaching, he held a class-meeting four miles from his residence. He has been worthily followed by the Coxes, the Henshaw brothers, and the Needham brothers, and to this day the village remains vitally Primitive Methodist.

It was not till 1851 that Ripley became an independent station. It had two hundred and eighty-three members. It was some time after this date that our church was represented in the town proper. The first society met in a little building outside the town at Green Hillocks. As the numbers increased, the society migrated to Grosvenor Road, where a chapel was built. From here the circuit was superintended and consolidated. The membership grew with most encouraging consistency, and a more commodious building was necessitated. A site on the main thoroughfare was secured, and here the Nottingham Road Church and Schools were built in 1892. There is little debt on the property, and recently the electric light has been installed. There is a good consistent congregation and a loyal membership. The young peoples’ departments are in a very healthy state, and while there are but few of the founders of the church remaining, there are those amongst the young who have come forth to stand where their fathers stood. Mr. Z. Henshaw has for many years been the Steward and School Superintendent, and conducts his Monday night class with a surprising regularity. Also there is great hope in the young people, and the C.E. is lead by Mr. W. Brown. Mr. Isaac Brown has a most commendable choir under his charge with Mrs. Lane as the organist. Mr. H.M. Lane has the Young Men’s Class under his care, while Mr. Z. Henshaw for many years has superintended the school. The devotion of the leaders is great and the following is loyal.

The afore-mentioned mission called into existence the Wood Street Society, in which the Walters, the Greens, the Jepsons and other families took a leading part. They were the new converts of the Revival and they bound themselves together, took a Temperance Mission Hall at the other end of the town and formed a new society. The building was soon renovated and enlarged, and we now possess a suite of buildings worth £3,000, free from debt. The society have never lost its early fervour, For years the members did the work of the Salvation Army, speaking in the market-place on the Saturday nights and missioning the streets on the Sabbath. The present membership is over one hundred-and-twenty, and Mr. S. Walters has held the stewardship for over thirty years. There is a Christian Endeavour Society of sixty-five members, and it has the largest Sunday-school in the town, staffed with nearly forty teachers. It has a large Young Men’s Class, and an Institute with eighty members. The church has the prospects of the future, as it has enjoyed the achievement of the past.

Golden Valley passed into its new church and school in 1906. The property is now free from debt. It has more than maintained its history. Every member is loyal to the utmost. It is well supported by the Needham family of brothers who have the distinction that none of them or their children have tasted wine or nicotine. The Society has suffered much from migrations, but the door is kept wide to preach the gospel their fathers loved.

Along the valley there is a strong and up-to-date Society at Pye Hill led by Mr. Clayton, whose father before him contributed largely to its present success. As a solid band of workers the Society stands out unique. It is almost free of debt and has money banked for new schools. To secure the present building there were many difficulties to overcome. They had at the start to compete with the old prejudices in the purchase of land for a Methodist Church, but true to principle and buoyant with enthusiasm the end was ultimately gained. At the extreme we have Westwood and New Brinsley. Both Societies are in the experience of wellbeing, with good congregations, and the buildings free from debt. They fill a great place in the religious life of the people. They are a distinct testimony to the incalculable value of our church in village centres. They have served the cause of moulding the thought and dispositions of the present generation in the Sunday-schools which are well attended and staffed.

Swanwick was the second Society formed by the first missioners. A steady and even history has been maintained. The conditions do not afford the opportunity of much expansion, but no ground has been lost once gained. One thing worthy of note is that nearly all the present membership of the church has been gathered from the Sunday-school, and all the members of many homes receive the class ticket. The officials possess a fine business instinct which explains much of the long years of prosperity. The spirit of the young people rule, and the elder members give them the utmost guidance and support. Such mutual confidence and helpfulness cannot fail to make the church attractive and guarantee future triumphs.

At Codnor we have our largest church, valued at over £2,000. But few churches have passed through more trying experiences. At one time it possessed the largest number of local preachers on the plan. But unstable conditions of industry have made great depletions in the ranks. It is only by sheer heroism that the cause has been maintained. The Society Steward of long years standing, Mr. W. Trevvett, brother to the late Mr. Joseph Trevvett, the evangelist, together with a noble and self-sacrificing band of workers, stood true in the backwash of troublesome adversity. Here again we notice the young people a distinct asset. There is a large school, and numbers of young folk in the congregations, which is all a prophecy of better times. A concentrated effort is now being made to clear the remaining debt in a few months’ time, and all the present conditions are most hopeful. The reward of unfailing devotion will be realised.

Crich stands on one of the highest hills in the county. Its famous “stand” may be seen for miles around. It soon attracted the attention of our early preachers, and a preaching place was established from very early times. But it has only been by dogged determination our cause has been continued. A nonconformist conscience had to be created in the town, and the Primitive Methodists in the early years played a great part in such construction. It has never been a great society in numbers, but no church is more worthy of our name. There was a great struggle to get our present church, and its position reveals the character of the struggle. Daniel Gregory is a name intimate to every home. He has been School Superintendent and Church Treasurer for over thirty years. He will pay off the last of the debt in a few months, when all the church and friends will greatly rejoice.

Few churches in the circuit are under greater obligation to exist than our church at Marehay. We are the only nonconformist place of worship in the village. Our ministry to the people has supplied a great and constant need. There is a good society and a school very encouraging, and the work meets with a most stimulating response.

The circuit has maintained a steady progress throughout the years. It totals a membership of about four hundred-and-fifty. It carries one minister and has a plan of forty preachers. It has been superintended by some notable ministers. It has a large body of officials, peaceful and well-disposed for the success of the Kingdom at Jesus Christ. The church is their first interest, and the consistent success has rewarded all sacrifice. For a period of sixty years the stewardship has only been changed four times. It maybe a coincidence that the managers of Britan Pit have supplied the office. The Senior Stewardship is now held by Councillor John Henshaw, who has filled the position of Junior and Senior Steward for over fifty years. His work is intimate to all the churches and he is a Trustee of almost all the properties. He is now in retirement and continues unabated the interest he has shown in the churches all his life. Mr. Alfred Walters fills the position of Junior Steward, which he has held for many years. With years there has come failing health. Most of his work has been given to the church at Wood Street, where he is loved as few men can claim. He was one of the founders of the church, and he has lived to see it do a great work, and the buildings free from debt and a great membership established.

The churches are alive and modern, and take a keen interest in present-day tendencies. The preachers and teachers have a quarterly literary circle, and a branch of the Woman’s Missionary Federation is well attended.

A well-sustained prosperity has followed the labours of the Societies during the last few years, and the membership has steadily grown. All the departments among the young people show good progress. Many officials have the vision to see that a new spirit has been born into the world, and they have had the wisdom to readjust the method of appeal. There is every evidence of the wisdom being justified. Fortnightly lectures have been arranged at some of the places during the winter months, which have had a great vogue. The past history contains a good record of service rendered and triumphs won; the future has the promise of still greater success in the Kingdom of Light and Love.


Christian Messenger 1921/202


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