Dover: Primitive Methodism in Dover

Dover Peter Street Primitive Methodist chapel
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/900
Dover Belgrave Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/900
Dover London Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/900

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Isaac Dorricot

Kent abounds in the produce of orchards and gardens more than in the gracious fruit of evangelical religion. Lovely and fruitful Kent! The land of luxurious gardens and beautiful scenery; wealthy in old-time folklore and historic interest, and in no wise failing in present-day attractions, but seriously unproductive in holy, devoted Christian lives, and in the upspringing and progress of vigorous Evangelical Churches. Kentish people generally are sedate, steady-going — almost proverbially slow, it is said. Kent has no likeness or affinity in these respects to the more Northern counties of England, and this may be due partly to the sparseness of its population, and partly to the quieter occupations and the generally isolated conditions of daily life, and partly also to the long-time dominance of a State Church formalism. Kent cannot be said to be Methodistic; yet Methodism has done much good work, and has with other branches of Nonconformity, growing opportunities. Its greater days are to come. Influence, commercial and social, are at work, like leaven, preparing the people for the aggressive forces of evangelical religion. Everything depends on the right opportunities being wisely embraced and used.

Much is being said and written in regard to the Free Church uniting forces generally at work. We are to sink our differences; largely modify our separate sectional work, combine, amalgamate. It depends largely how much meaning such statements actually contain, as to whether one can accept them; and something also depends on what significance is behind the statements, or between the lines. For ourselves, we suspect the wisdom, if nothing else, of such advice. While we believe fully in friendly relations, the good understanding, the mutual helpfulness, and the federative spirit of the Evangelical Churches, we strongly hold by the principles of doing our own work, of jealously conserving the results, and of maintaining, along elastic lines, the Connexional spirit. If our life in Kent requires different procedure from that in the Midlands and North we must be adaptive in our methods, but holding tenaciously by the things in Primitive Methodism that are vital. We shall not succeed by absorption or loss of identity; our way is not in Wesleyanism or Congregationialism. If special patience, or heroism, or faith is needed, who has bequeathed so rich a heritage as our sires? Who can so inspire us as they?

It is evident, however, that our Connexional life in the South of England has suffered from the lack of a vigorous, liberal, and aggressive policy. Our weakness, in almost every way, has been painfully apparent. Small, cheap chapels in out-of-the-way places, side streets and insanitary localities (and respectable people of well-to-do Churches in prominent positions have applauded this); short-sighted policy, or no policy at all; little or no outlook or foresight; pinched grants and smallest salaries; and not unfrequently unsuccessful men thrust on the stations. Thus resulted frequent ministerial changes, and chequered, feeble hand-to-mouth methods, and consequently a mere flow and ebb life in the societies. The feeling of chronic impoverishment, and the missionary dole, have in some men and Churches well nigh weaned out the sense of self-respect, and the sister Churches have felt an equal lack of respect for us. Such places thus become almost hopeless as centres of Christian service.

If we venture the statement that all this has been true in regard to Dover, it must not be inferred that we are attaching blame to the present Church officers or the Missionary Committee. The former were ready to rise to the occasion and take the tide at its flow, and the latter have evinced a lively generous interest in our aims and progress. The reference is necessary to make it sufficiently clear from what ill conditions we are now seeking to rise. And this will be still further obvious if we give a brief historical sketch of the origin and progress of Primitive Methodism in Dover, with an accompanying statement of our prospects and purposes. It will also aid in making clear the need and utility of the present forward movement on which our Peter Street Church and congregation have already embarked, and thus justify the attempt to realise a long-felt desire to secure a more eligible situation, and ampler opportunity in carrying forward our varied Christian work. It is self-evident to any unprejudiced mind that we cannot keep forty or fifty young people cooped up in our underground rooms with but little to engage or attract them.

The origin of our work in Dover, as in many other localities in these isles, was lowly and obscure enough, and had in it but little promise of continuance and enlargement. It had no promising surroundings or outside assistance on which to depend, but it was of God and had innate vitality. The early cause was ignored, scorned and persecuted, but its saved adherents had faith in their Great Master, and their work prospered.

There is considerable difficulty in ascertaining the exact date when Primitive Methodism began its life and enterprise in Dover. But it is noteworthy, and perhaps creditable to the Connexion, that the first recorded visit of a Primitive Methodist to Dover was by one of its early ministers, under Government escort. In the year 1842, the Rev. George Stansfield was appointed to Ramsgate and on March 5th, 1843, he and a few friends sang through the streets of Margate and invited the careless to attend the preaching room in the evening. Two days afterwards Mr. Stansfield was served with a warrant for having committed a nuisance by their godly service. He conducted his own case before the magistrates. They retired to deliberate, and on their return the rector of St. Peter’s informed the culprit that he was fined, or in default of payment, seven days in Dover jail! The Lord’s servant “did” the seven days to the great benefit of his fellow-prisoners, several of whom were deeply impressed by his Christian kindness and zeal, and promised an amendment of life.

Mr. John Crowe, now at Doncaster, ripening for the glorified life, who was stationed at Ramsgate in 1848 as second preacher, states in a letter to me, “I have preached two, or three times in Dover, in the street and on the pier. There was a good company of people round about, but only one came to help me to sing.” In that apparent failure was probably the necessary ploughing and sowing of Gospel seed from which in the after days that gracious reaping, the full extent of which is unknown.

INITIAL LIFE.

In 1849, a small but devoted mission band were found conducting services in a disused carpenter’s shop off Limekiln Street, Dover. Mr, George Lewis was invited to attend a tea party there, on December 26th, and found the room crowded with about sixty people. The tea was followed by an enthusiastic and noisy meeting. In the following year they were worshipping in another carpenter’s room in Oxenden Street, the membership being about forty. Their next place was in a loft in Round Tower Street, in which locality a chapel was eventually built in 1875. A good work was continued in the pier district until 1879, when the chapel was required by the L.C. and Dover Railway Company.

In the latter part of 1850 a mission was commenced in Charlton parish. After holding services for a few weeks in a room in Bridge Street, the little company repaired to Mr. John Vallintine’s cottage in Paul’s Place. The services were usually held in the front room. Mr. Vallintine was not much in love with the new movement, and as the preacher came in Mr. V. would retire to the back room. The said preacher would then take his stand by the door between the two rooms, so that no one may miss the benefit of the Word. But Mrs. Vallintine was a true friend to the infant church at that early period. Those were times of struggle, of strong crying and tears, of frequent battle with alien powers, but also of Divine achievement. We of this day can but imperfectly surmise what it cost of soul-wrestling, of street-missioning, and of personal sacrifice.  But the self-abnegating devotion of a few poor people, faithful and earnest, proved the cause to be of God, and gave to it the elements of permanence. After about a year’s occupancy of Mr. Vallintine’s cottage, the little church of fifteen members removed to a loft over a cow-shed in Brook Street – a most insanitary place and unattractive out-of-the-way locality, which still stands, and of which we give an illustration. It was not unusual for three or four persons to be carried out to a house across the street in a fainting state. Yet here, even, the saving power of God was often blessedly displayed. Here is an illustration: “We met and prayed specially for sinners to be converted. We pleaded for ten souls to be given us on the Coming Quarter-day. We went round the streets missioning, singing and praying, and at night the power of God came down, and ten sinners were saved.” The church in those days well-nigh lived in the streets, and must have much healthier in consequence in body and soul. Thus between their street missioning, their crowded gatherings, and their Sunday School work in the  cow-loft, those early Primitives spent their happy useful days.

PETER STREET CHAPEL

As early as 1851 the erection of a new chapel was contemplated, and the Rev. T. Doody, who had recently come to Dover, initiated a scheme for raising the necessary funds. Mr. George Lewis, one of the most devoted workers of that day, gave to Mr. Doody the first ten shillings towards the new building. It is a joy that Mr. Lewis is still in our midst, though his evening is advancing; and it is equally an inspiration that he is in hearty sympathy with our larger scheme, and has again paid in the first donation. It is a matter for earth and heaven to be thankful for when the soul does not get wrinkled and prejudiced in advancing years, but, while holding to the good of the past, shares also in the holy ambitions and wider possibilities of the future. Mr. Lewis, in referring to those first strange, glad days, says: “It was not long before I became as mad as they were (in the Limekiln Street room), for the Lord met me and converted me. I became a member with them, receiving my first trial ticket in June, 1850.” Mr. Lewis recently (May 6, 1901,) laid one of the memorial stones of our new church in London Road, and contributed the handsome sum of £25. May his evening here be full of peace, as his eternal morning will be unclouded and blessed. Mr. and Mrs. Stokes, still with us, were also in these early days valuable workers, the membership of Mrs. S. dating from 1852.

About £450 was epended on the Peter Street structure, the half of this being raised – a considerable sum for that time with only twenty-two members. The chapel was opened in 1860. Its basement, now used for Sunday School, Y.P.S.C.E., and various social gatherings, was left in a totally rough state. With sawdust for a floor, and unplastered walls, they taught their school therein for some considerable period. More recently various improvements have been made until the total expenditure has reached over £1,100. Last year, the young men of the church and school built (giving their labour) a new wing, containing two classrooms for senior scholars. The cost of material and furnishing, which was upwards, of £60, was raised at once. These rooms are serving a useful purpose, but have not afforded much relief from our congested condition.

BELGRAVE ROAD.

The rapid; extension of the Clarendon district, induced the church worshipping in the Wellington Hall to purchase land in Belgrave road, and a chapel was erected in 1882, at a cost of £850. The work began there with forty scholars, four teachers, and thirty members. For several years the difficulties were very great, and it was feared at one time that the chapel must pass from our hands. But the last three or four years have witnessed a marked improvement; the saving power of Jesus Christ has been displayed under the preaching of His word, and also in the Sabbath School. Our prospects of usefulness in this growing locality are brighter than ever. We have now forty-five members in Christian fellowship; a Christian Endeavour and Junior C.E. Society; a vigorous Band of Hope; fifteen teachers, and 150 scholars. Our chapel debt is reduced by £80, and £32 have been raised for the erection of the new school and the chapel renovation. The Church is in a healthy state, busy and successful in outdoor and indoor evangelistic work, leading the children of the Sunday School to Jesus Christ, and in other ways extending the Kingdom of righteousness. One of the most hopeful and encouraging signs of our work at this second church in Dover is what I would call the family feature of our work. The Sunday School, the junior and adult Christian Endeavours, the services of the sanctuary, and the parents are all contributing influence and service for the salvation of the children. It is noteworthy that six of our elder scholars have within the past year been received publicly into the membership of the church.

MAXTON.

This is a south-western suburb of Dover on the Folkestone Road, and closely adjoins the Belgrave Road district. It has recently attracted the speculative builder’s attention, and promises a large working-class population within a short time. We have not made much headway there as a Church, but are doing a good work among the very young in the Sunday School and Band of Hope. Our great lack is a good staff of workers by which we could carry on aggressive work among, adults and young people, and conserve the results of our service. The late much revered Rev. T. Russell, of whose character and generous loyalty to Primitive Methodism we cannot speak too highly, built a room, which is now an adjunct to Mrs. Russell’s house. It has been allowed to the Connexion free of any charge, and Mrs. R. also, with great liberality, meets all the financial claims of the work, and now pays for the employment of a lay agent. She and Mr. Russell’s daughter and granddaughter (Madame and Mlle. Vaslet), are indefatigable workers, and consider no sacrifice too great or costly in their Christian service. It is a locality of much promise, and should, as soon as we can in the gracious providence of God, get the work strongly manned, afford us a sphere of great usefulness and Connexional extension. Being the only Free Church agency in the district of Maxton, it would be indeed a great boon if we had a plot of land secured to the Connexion before the best sites are occupied. Such a course would probably prevent another denomination coming in. But at present we are “tied up” with other special work and liabilities. How will it come? Wiil our Great Master, whom we serve and, trust, open the way for us?

REASONS AND OBJECTIONS

This brief historic statement will probably make it obvious to our friends how Primitive Methodism has attained its present position in Dover, and the kind of service it has been aiming to render, If these things are clear something will have been accomplished. It will be evident that we have been engaged in a specific Christian enterprise, and our gracious God has prospered us; and it is equally evident that we cannot remain stationary, or under ill conditions which manifestly hinder our work. Hence, it devolves upon us to give some idea of our present needs, of our aims and prospects, and of the reasons which have prompted us to take so serious a step.

It, is scarcely to be supposed that no objections would arise in regard to a movement so far beyond our earlier faith and anticipations. The best and noblest purposes in this life are, from various causes open to misunderstanding, and therefore to criticism. These may come from two sources: Friends outside our own Communion have said, and may still say, that we are “just in the right place – in the  midst of the people.” But those who make this statement cannot usually enter into all the adverse conditions such a situation as Peter Street involves, not having had actual experience therein. Those who have toiled for years “in the midst of the people” rarely hold this view. And is it not indisputable that nineteen-twentieths of those who frequent a place of worship choose to go some distance? Then there are a few within the church concerned who object on other grounds: “It has been good enough for us; it has sacred associations, and is our home; a good work has been done there; the chapel is not crowded; why desire a finer place? ” And they even embark at times in dark prophecies. Some of these objections, especially the prophetic, do not merit a reply; the remainder may be sufficiently answered if we briefly state our case.

EXPLANATIONS

Our present chapel in Peter Street has seating accommodation for a little over 200 people. But it is much out of repair, and would have required considerable expenditure in alterations and renovation, if we were compelled to remain there permanently. As recently at March, 1898, the Committee, after careful deliberation, decided to put in a new heating system in place of the gas stoves, new window lights, and an improved ventilation, and to completely renovate the chapel. And with this end in view several efforts were made. The school-room will but inconveniently accommodate 150 scholars; it is very close to the river on the one side, and house property on the other. It is considerably below the street level, and is only about nine feet from floor to ceiling, with no ventilation except from doors and windows. So that it often produces a stuffy, choky sensation, and is very unhealthy when full of children or people. In this room and three small class-rooms, all our school work is done. Here are also held, week-night services, Christian Endeavour meetings —senior and junior, Band of Hope meetings, Choir and Band practices, social gatherings, etc. With a place so unattractive it scarcely seems possible either to enlarge or conserve our work amongst the young people. Indeed, it requires considerable loyalty on the part of our young men and women; but we are thankful to say that the loyalty exists.

No less objectionable are the conditions in the immediate locality. The street at the point opposite the chapel – and not unfrequently, the chapel yard – is the assembling place for the most noisy children in the district, especially on week-evenings. This, with the frequent shouting of street salesmen, renders it next to impossible to conduct orderly worship. Then not only is it a side street, away from the thorofares and generally unattractive, but the entrances to it are detrimental in a marked degree. Shops partly block it at the High Street end, and public-houses abut across the road at the other end, besides the fact that the chapel stands back considerably from the street line. Hence the place is unknown, particularly to strangers. Cases are very frequently coming under our notice of Primitive Methodists hailing from other parts of England, who either do not find the chapel, or consider it so uninviting, that they do not (continue to attend. Sometimes other churches gather them in, but often they lose all love and relish for the House of God. The effect of these things has been to stunt the growth of the Church, to enfeeble the workers, to destroy much of the benefit of the work, to narrow the door of opportunity, and to induce a continual loss of senior scholars. This consequent weakness is also strikingly manifest from the fact that the station has never been entirely independent of the Missionary Committee, although made into a separate station from Ramsgate, as far back as 1850. Nor has it any hope of becoming self-supporting until it has a stronger and more eligible centre.

But notwithstanding these various drawbacks, much earnest work has been done, and some progress made. Our present membership is eighty-eight, teachers twenty-three, scholars 150, total revenue for 1897, £272. We have a good Band of Hope, a Young People’s Christian Endeavour Society, and one for the juniors. In these various departments an excellent tone of feeling prevails, and good work is being done. But that is the most that can be said; there cannot be an unhindered cultivation of a large and vigorous church life, nor the keen-eyed eagerness which seeks an ever-widening good in connection with our Christian service. The tendency of our necessarily narrowed life is to move in ruts, to nurse ourselves, to keep a jealous eye on our peculiar Church privileges and comforts, or else to feel restraints which are crippling and irksome. If the pressing question of more effectively reaching outsiders did not trouble us, even then the rising manhood and womanhood of our Church and school have imperative demands. They must have more space, freer air, greater and more varied opportunity for the evolution of all that is best and noblest within them, whether of ability or service.

THE NEW ENTERPRISE.

On May 27, 1898, it was decided to purchase the site on which we are now building in London Road, the price being £1,200. We decided on the purchase for the following reasons: It is on the main thoroughfare of Dover, and in the centre of our people, and of the districts where for half a century our evangelistic work has been done, namely, Charlton, Tower Hamlets, Buckland and Barton, having an aggregate working-class population of 10,000 or 12,000. The buildings may be described as follows:- The church, to which access is gained direct from Beaconsfield Road, and by a roomy and pleasant corridor from London Road, is sixty-one feet by thirty-seven feet inside. At the front end will be a gallery, and behind the rostrum an orchestra having three gothic arch openings supported by two pillars. The entire seating accommodation will be about 460. On the remainder of the land will be four rooms on the ground floor, and covering these and the corridor will be a large assembly room and two class rooms. It is proposed to heat the buildings with the hot-water system, and to light them by electricity. A total estimate of the cost, inclusive of land, is about £5,200. Our total assets at the present being £2,880. The church will be opened for Divine worship Jan. 1, 1902.

The work of erection is in the hands of Messrs. S. Lewis and G. Brisley. The former, younger son of Mr. G. Lewis, is station steward, Sunday School superintendent, choir leader, and has been a member since 1868. The latter is a local preacher and society steward of years’ standing. Both have well proved their unwavering Connexional loyalty, their unostentatious devotion, zeal and liberality; both are firm believers in the class meeting, and in the great value of an active, useful Church membership, and both know well the grace of contributing systematically and liberally to the financial need of the Church.

We do not venture to prophesy as to the precise issues of this great movement in Dover. Our progress may be rapid and easy, or slow and arduous. But we believe in the Holy Spirit Who has led us into the enterprise, Who has already given us signal favours, Who will bestow upon us the gladness of the “great salvation,” and Who will glorify His own blessed work in the day of His visitation.

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/900

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