How Primitive Methodism came to Hertfordshire

from the Watford Times, 1891

In October and November 1891, the editor of the newly-founded Watford Times was making a number of visits to local churches and chapels and writing about his experiences. Number 8 in this series combined a visit to Queens Road chapel with an insight into the means by which Primitive Methodism arrived in Watford.

A Woman in White

“I have recently been perusing some manuscript written by the late Robert Martindale, and have derived considerable edification therefrom. From this document I gather that ‘Primitive Methodism was introduced into Watford by a little woman dressed in white over fifty years ago’. The good lady, however, only paid a ‘flying visit’ to the town, and it was not until some years later that any permanent attempt was made to establish Primitive Methodism in Watford.

£100 to mission Hertfordshire

It seems that Thomas Baker, a gentleman living at Reading, offered £100, providing the Primitive Methodists would mission Herts.. This offer induced five young men – James Warnes, James Barnes, George Gyngel, Jesse Herbert, and Thomas Green – to engage themselves to do the work at a salary of £20 per year each. On Good Friday, 1840, they left Reading and walked to Maidenhead, then to Burnham, where they held a service. On the following night they slept at Rickmansworth, and in the morning walked on to Watford, where they ‘got shaved by Mrs Smith (Andrew and Sons’ shop), and were kindly entertained by a Mrs Clarke’. They did not stay at Watford, but after holding a service walked on to St Albans, where, on the following day, they conducted a service on an open air stand. That night they ‘all slept at a public-house, after resting on the tombstones’, Subsequently they ‘all met at Bricket Wood, where they slept at Bro. Wiggs’s’, but I am sorry to say that the incompleteness of the manuscript does not permit me to trace these missionaries any farther.

Arrest in Watford

So at Bro. Wiggs’s, at Bricket Wood, they must be left. But there is proof that Watford received considerable attention at the hands of the ‘Prims’, for G Grigg, writing in Dr Antliff’s Book of Marvels, says, ‘From St Albans I turned my attention to Watford, where a small society had been formed by my predecessors. It was on Sunday evening, in 1842, that I took my stand on a spot where there was no public thoroughfare’. The writer goes on to narrate that while the service was being conducted with ‘great propriety’ it was CUT SHORT BY TWO POLICEMEN ordering him off. He objected to go, so the policemen dragged him into the public street and said he was to go to the police-station. ‘Well’, he said, ‘then let us go cheerfully together’. So taking their arms in his he commenced singing ‘O for a trumpet voice’, etc. He sang so loudly that after a short time the policemen released him and beat a retreat and he then returned and concluded the service in peace.


On the following Sunday he was singing at one end of the Butchers’ Shambles when the superintendent of police, a sergeant and two privates came up and ordered him off. He declined to go and the superintendent gave the command, ‘Arrest him and take him off to the blackhole’. Away they marched, the superintendent going before shaking the gaol keys and he in the middle singing ‘Wicked men I need not fear’, etc. He was placed in the inner of the two compartments which was reserved for those who were guilty of high crimes. But he occupied his time in singing and praying and preaching to the people through the bars of his cage. Shortly after nine o’clock the police came and entreated him to leave, but he declined to do so unless he was held prisoner and taken before the magistrates the next morning. This the superintendent engaged to do. In the morning, however, the police did not come to his lodgings, so he went to the police-station and told the superintendent that if he did not take him to the police-station [sic] he would take the superintendent. Thereupon they went to the Justice-room. Here Grigg refused to give an undertaking not to preach again in the streets and the magistrates thereupon committed him to the Hertford House of Correction for three months, with hard labour. But Grigg pointed out that even if he had been guilty of blocking up the public thoroughfare the offence was an indictable one and should be tried at the Quarter Session. He added ‘And if you do commit me, I will meet the indictment by counsel, and it may be you may SECURE A PARTIAL JURY who may return a verdict against me, then you will come down on me for expenses. I will first pay my own attorney and counsel, and then I shall have to pay yours. But, gentlemen, it will be by imprisonment; and when I come out I shall come back and preach in your streets again’. Finding he meant what he said ‘the chairman, who was the vicar of the parish, took his hat and walked away. He was followed by two others, who were parsons, and another, who was a brewer. Then the police disappeared and I was left alone.

The society grows

I walked out, went to my lodgings, and in the evening preached in the open air in peace, and from that time we were never interrupted by policemen. Several got converted and joined our Society in the town; and although thirty years (nearly half a century now) have passed since we had this conflict with the police and magistrates the Society in Watford still lives.”

The above account is corroborated by Kendall, who records that the Reading circuit “was enabled to enter more extensively upon missionary work through the liberality of Mr Thomas Baker who, though a member of another community, contributed the sum of £100 towards the employment of five missionaries in the neighbouring counties.”


Watford Times, Saturday 22 November 1891

Kendall, H. B., The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church, Vol. 2 (London: Robert Bryant, c. 1905), p.345 

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