Cinque Ports Circuits and their Leaders, Kent

Dover London Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1922/113

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. Arthur T. Slater

THE original Cinque Ports were Dover, Sandwich, Hastings, Romney and Hythe. Later the “ancient towns” of Winchelsea and Rye were added, making seven, but the old French name was retained. As the birthplace of the Royal Navy the Cinque Ports must always hold a special interest to Englishmen. Long before the landing of William the Conqueror, these Ports had formed a Naval Confederacy for the defence of the exposed South-east Coast. It was Henry III., however, who used this Confederacy as the basis of a Fleet. These Ports were to provide fifty-seven ships, and to man the ships, in the following proportions: Dover, 21; Winchelsea, 10; Hastings, 6; Sandwich, Hythe, Romney and Rye, 5 each. As compensation for these burdens many privileges were granted to the Ports. To-day it is scarcely true to call them Ports. The Harbours of Hastings, Romney and Hythe have long since been built upon; and Sandwich is two miles from the sea; Dover is now the only one of maritime importance.

Primitive Methodism never had an easy time in the South-eastern Counties, and evangelistic work was ever difficult in this area. As far back as the thirties in the last century, Mission work by our church began in Kent, and it sounds strange, to-day that it should have been done by the Hull Circuit. It was for some years confined to the North of the County, and progress was very slow. The General Missionary Committee took control of this work, together with all mission work, in 1843, and encouraging advance was made. The work was pushed forward to the Isle of Thanet, Maidstone and Canterbury. The wave of revival now swept South to Deal, Dover, Sandwich, Folkestone, Ashford and Hastings. Speaking generally – for there are exceptional places and exceptional seasons at probably all the places – Primitive Methodism both in the Cinque Ports and in the South-eastern area has not succeeded. The Rev. Isaac Dorricott in his “Southern Primitive Methodism,” attributes this failure to (1) Back-street church ideas and spirit in the local societies.  (2) Lack of sympathy between the different departments in the societies. (3) Lack of unity among the churches on the circuits. (4) Connexional fear that these circuits were not paying concerns with consequent changing and narrow schemes. (5) Failure of Headquarters in earlier days to appreciate Southern problems, and (6) Careless stationing.

Confining ourselves, as we must in this article, to our churches in the Cinque Ports, and associated churches, we find the story without clear-cut chronological or circuit order, as some of these churches have never had any relationship with each other, and some have been at various times part of a mission station, branch of a circuit, and head of a separate circuit, and again merged into another circuit.

Romney, Winchelsea and Rye never had our church in their midst at all. These spheres were altogether too uncongenial and uninviting, and our early preachers had more than enough to do to hold the towns already missioned and capture the surrounding villages. Indeed, from nearly all these villages we have long ago withdrawn. We feel that these early preachers were wise not to go to Romney, Winchelsea and Rye.

Hythe was missioned from Folkestone, and a Society started, but soon abandoned.

Hastings held its first Quarterly Meeting on June 6th, 1859, with its first minister, the Rev. William Freear. Our church for a dozen years or so worshipped in a hired room situated in High-street, Old Town, where much good work was done, the good effects of which are felt to this day. A church, erected by a section of local Baptists, came into the market and was secured by the General Missionary Committee at a cost of £2,500. This church was occupied by our people, and being situated near the Albert Memorial was known as the Memorial Church. For about eighteen years our church flourished here. Services were well attended, conversions were often witnessed, and a good Sunday-school organised. Then came what the present minister calls “a sad day”; the Memorial Church was sold by the General Missionary Committee for a £1,000 more than it had cost, and the Society was left without a home for more than a year. At the end of that time, in 1890, the present premises were secured, but we have never regained the position in the town which had been lost during the period of homelessness. Beach Terrace Church, as its name might suggest is just one of a terrace of houses. It is not very attractive externally, but it is very cosy and comfortable within. It has sitting accommodation for one hundred, and there is a large room upstairs for C.E., and similar meetings. In the summer the building is fairly full, but in the winter the congregations are rather small. The workers are a happy and loyal band, Hastings, together with St. Leonards, Bohemia (a very live society) and Westfield, is now a Branch of the Eastbourne Circuit.

All the other Primitive Methodist Churches connected with the Cinque Ports are covered by the Dover and Folkestone Circuit.

Sandwich was missioned in 1847 by John Crowe, who had been sent in that year by the Ramsgate Circuit to work Deal and the district around. A society was formed which gave promise of vigorous life, but difficulties soon arose which cut across the early hopes. The Deal mission on August 10th, 1860, asked permission to hand over Sandwich to Ramsgate, who were willing to receive it. On September 3rd, 1860, it was resolved “to remove Sandwich from the Plan as we have no preachers to work it.” It was not removed, but lived on to experience periodic revivals and depressions. Since the Junior Minister was taken from Deal a few years ago it has slowly weakened (except for war-time prosperity when soldiers ran the church) and at the moment it is only just breathing, and the Dover authorities cannot do more for it than merely to maintain life.

The story of our churches at Deal and Cooper Street, near Sandwich, is largely that of Sandwich, and doubtless these three places will he subject to careful enquiry and possibly drastic recommendations by the Kentish Commission appointed by last Conference.

Folkestone, after a very varied career, is doing well with the Rev. A. Jones as its resident minister, and Messrs. A.J. Wraight, T.E. Dawkins, and A.J.P. Jones, among its keen workers and loyal supporters. The passing of Thomas Gaywood in recent months was a great blow to this Society.

Dover Primitive Methodism began in 1849. Perhaps we ought to say that it began six years earlier when the Rev. George Stansfield was sent to Dover jail for preaching the Gospel in the streets of Margate. Our brother served his seven days, but not in vain, for the jailers came under his influence and fellow prisoners enquired of God. The first Society met in a carpenter’s shop, and Mr. George Lewis soon became the leader of the little band. His sons and grandsons are still with us. In 1850, their place of worship was another carpenter’s shop, and there was a membership of thirty-seven. A loft in Round Tower Street was the next meeting place, and a chapel was built on this site in 1875. Work began in another part of the town in 1850. Meetings were held in a hired room, then in a cottage, and later in a loft over a cowshed. Although a good chapel – Peter Street – was not opened until 1860, yet even in 1851, the Society had dreams of one, and a building fund was started. In Peter Street a gracious work was carried on; always with difficulty, as there were only twenty-one members in this Society when this church was opened, and the neighbourhood was distinctly hard. But evangelism burned brightly and conversions were being witnessed. After serving a fine purpose the Society, then numbering seventy-four, moved into the present imposing premises on the London Road in 1901, during the ministry of the Rev. I. Dorricott. In 1882, a substantial church was erected in Belgrave Road to serve another part of the town, the last pound of the cost of which was paid a year ago. Maxton Church, beyond Belgrave Road, was opened by the Rev. Thomas Russell, who had great hopes of this cause on the outskirts of the town and gave much money and strength towards their realisation.

The following ministers have travelled at Dover: Revs. George Standing, John Stroud, Peter Coates, Charles Temperton, Nehemiah BroadwayWilliam Cooper, Jonathan Calvert, George Grigg, Daniel Day, Samuel Loxton, William Hayman, William Thomsett, Joseph Peck, William Bickerdike, Thomas Lane, Thomas Russell, Joseph Dinnick, James Garratt, J.H. Daish, R. Taylor, Thomas Bryant, W. Thomsett (2nd term), G.J. Cooke, F.B. Paston, I. Dorricott (10 years), P. Kay, T. Meakin, and W. W. Goldstraw, who after nine years of devoted service was succeeded by the present writer. Among worthies of the past, in addition to George Lewis, mention should be made of James Stokes, James Licence, F. Bartholomew, James Nightingale, Thomas Burns, Thomas Vallintine and Christopher Taylor. Primitive Methodism has to-day these three churches in Dover: London Road, Belgrave Road and Maxton.  Maxton is quite a small church which a short while ago was considered almost hopeless, and, shall we say, useless, being so near to another of our churches, but to-day it appears to be distinctly promising. Belgrave Road is in a neighbourhood greatly needing our message and to whom our services ought to appeal, with no other nonconformist church nearer than a mile or more, except our own church at Maxton. Messrs. Ogg, Jones and Skipworth, together with their wives and Mrs. Marchant and a good band of earnest folk are doing splendid work here. At London Road we have a very fine church. For quality of property, nature of equipment, size of congregations, and sphere of influence, we stand as well as any church in the town. There is a membership  of 180, a Sunday-school of 250, a C.E. of 50, and a Junior C.E. of 70, these numbers not being merely upon the books but attending. We are fortunate in our officials. First mention, by common consent, must be made of the Circuit Steward, Mr. Stephen Lewis. He is also Sunday-school Superintendent, Choirmaster, and President of the CE. Every Sunday he is found at morning school, morning service, afternoon school, Society Class Meeting, evening service and prayer-meeting. He is heart and soul with the minister and first in every good work. Mrs. Lewis is as keen as her husband, and never misses services or meetings, beside teaching the Young Ladies’ Class and leading the Junior C.E. Outside the church Mr. Lewis is on the Board of Guardians and the Education Committee and has been Secretary of the Free Church Council for eleven years, but has consistently refused Town Council honours. In everything their church is first. Their only son is Organist and Circuit Secretary, and their only daughter, the wife of the Rev. W.S. Hinchliffe. The Society Stewards are Messrs. H. Hopper and W.J. King; two splendid young men, prominent among many who count it a joy to serve. The Treasurer is Mr. George Lewis. Two special features of this very promising church are the fine body of young folk who are serving in the Sunday-school, C.E. and Choir, and the increasing spirit of enquiry on the part of the thoughtful young men for religion and their new keenness for the services, The emphasis of the church’s activity is placed upon the evangel of the Cross. Passion is put before material prosperity, and therefore the latter is not lacking. Good organisation is found helpful, but a gracious atmosphere is considered necessary. The Connexional spirit is clearly found and the Social Ministry is not forgotten. Missionary and Orphanage claims are accepted as a privilege, and met with cheerfulness, and the cry of the needy has ready response. London Road is a live church.

There is no room for trumpet blowing by Primitive Methodism in The Cinque Ports, but there is reason for gratitude to God for many gracious ministries and much glorious blessing, and there is great reason for hope in God for growing prosperity and grander achievements in at least some of the churches within this admittedly difficult area.


Christian Messenger 1922/113


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