Darwen Circuit, Lancashire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Joseph Maland
The name “Darwen” is supposed to be of Cymric derivation, meaning “the clear or sparkling water,” a sad misnomer in these stream polluting days. The town is situated in a spacious vale, which commences near Manchester and extends to Kibchester, and in Roman days was a soldiers’ thoroughfare. Surrounded by bleak, rugged hills, having Darwen Moor (1,320 feet above sea-level) on the west, and the heights of Pickup bank and Blacksnape of the east, the town lies in a long, narrow depression, which is known among the people of north-eat Lancashire as “the Peaceful Valley.” The surroundings, if somewhat marred by manufacturing accompaniments, are not lacking in forms of picturesqueness. The Corporation has done excellent service in the conservation of beauty by the construction of two lovely parks, and also by obtaining for the use of the townspeople over thirty miles of heather-clad moorland, surmounted by a handsome tower, commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
From the top of this breezy wilderness magnificent panoramic views are obtained, the coastland being clearly visible from North Wales to Morecambe Bay, whilst many heights are observed from the Peak of Derbyshire to Langdale Pikes, from Snowdon to Ingleborough. Near at hand lies the charming Ribble Valley, so rich in scenic and historic interest, with the smokecanopied towns of Blackburn and Preston. The stranger discovers that, like Florence, Darwen possesses a notable campanile; but, unlike Giotto’s, this one is used for the conveyance of smoke, and a “Darwen” man will tell you that it is the finest chimney in the world, rising from a mighty stone base to a height of three hundred feet; the cost of it was £14,000.
Nature has so ordained it that Darwen should become the busy manufacturing place we find it to-day. The climate is cold and damp, but the atmospheric conditions are suitable to the cotton manufacture. The river is there to play its part; the hills have a storage of excellent millstone frit. Coal is within easy reach, together with fire-clay, from which bricks, pipes, and tiles may be made. As a result, we have a town which displays a striving, thriving, and very prosperous population. The “Darruners” are a strong, sturdy, intelligent people, well endowed with the typical Lancashire humour and deep love of music, and possessing a fervent affection for their native soil.
The chief industry is that of cotton. Next in importance is the manufacture of paper, for here we find the largest and most important production in England of the ornamental wallpapers which now take the place of the distemper painting of ancient Egypt, Herculaneum, and Pompeii. The religious life of Darwen largely accounts for the sobriety, intellectuality, and real progress of its people, and in the creation of this condition our beloved Church has played a noble party, and has an inspiring history.
The pioneer preachers of Primitive Methodism commenced their mission work in Darwen in the year 1822, the first evangelists being sent by the Bolton Circuit. For some time their work was largely conducted in the open air, an open space at the foot of Bury Fold here being a popular preaching stand. This early ministry was richly blessed, among the first converts being the late Robert Cross, of revered memory and saintly life, who became known as the representative of Primitive Methodism in Darwen, and for seven years was the town missionary, and was also the first trustee of our Redearth Road Church, taking a very active part in its erection, by securing on lease a piece of land for one thousand years at a nominal rent, large enough to build three good chapels on, by begging, by generous gifts of money, and working with his own hands. In 1825 a preaching-room, known as “the Old Smuggler’s Room,” was secured in Water Street; and here the work of evangelizing the ignorant and the wicked was heroically and most successfully accomplished, despite much opposition and bitter persecution.
In 1831 steps were taken to erect the first chapel in Redearth Road. The journal of the late Rev. S Tillotson records that his predecessor in the Bolton Circuit, The Rev. John Verity, had commenced to build a new chapel with a balance in had of 4½ d.! When Mr. Tillotson came to the superintendency he found the walls of the chapel only a few feet above the foundations, all work stopped, funds exhausted, credit unobtainable. Two local ministers connected with independent chapels offered to help him out of his difficulty. One collected £10, and the other allowed Mr. Tillotson to preach twice in his pulpit and take collections, which realised another £10. Lady de Manvill (who was deeply interested in our work, and a frequent hearer of John Verity) and other friends gave liberal donations, so that when the new chapel was opened in 1832, its members were not overburdened with debt. Strange and curious incidents are associated with the building of this chapel. Materials were purchased, and workmen were hired for a dialy wage. There was an allowance for bread and cheese, and among the items of expenditure there is: “Paid to the landlord of the Millstone Inn for ale, 7s. 8d.” Among the items recorded in an old account-book is an account of £60, borrowed, at 5 per cent. interest, from John Bourne, brother of Hugh Bourne; and it is carefully specified that £30 of this sum shall be spent in “pews for the new chapel,” and that the sum shall be paid regularly every six months. Evidently our revered forbears had not the most perfect considerateness for visitors, for the bill announcing the opening of the new building informs tham that “visitors will be accommodated in the gallery.”
In 1845 a schoolroom was built at the side of the chapel, and the opening sermons were preached by the late Rev. J. Macpherson and the venerable Rev. Joel Hodgson. In this school splendid educative work, not of religious teaching, but reading and writing, were taught, and many to-day owe their early education to the excellent tuition imparted in our Sunday school.
Somewhere about 1850 Darwen was transferred from Bolton to Blackburn Circuit, under whose care it remained until made an independent Circuit by the Conference, held at Scarborough in 1867, the Rev. J. Morton becoming superintendent minister, having had charge of the Darwen branch of Blackburn Circuit for two years previously. In the year 1870 a school-chapel was built at Sandhills, a growing section of the town, where also a day school was established, which has done, and is still doing, splendid educational work, with one of our most popular local preachers at its head, who has served as headmaster with great efficiency and very cheering results for over fourteen years. A society was also formed as Spring Vale, then lnown by the unromantic name of Lough, and a school was built in 1844. During these years much persistent, patient work was done in each of these centres, and soon there was a need for better and larger premises.
During the excellent ministry of the Rev. J. Morton, the handsome church and commodious Sunday school at Redearth Road was erected at a cost of £3,931, and opened in 1878; the work progressed at Spring Vale, and in 1884 a homely, useful chapel was erected at a cost of £1,000, during the noble ministry of the Rev. D.T. Maylott; under the inspiration of the splendid ministries of the late Rev. R.W. Burnett and the Rev. T.H. Hunt much headway was made on the station, and so great was the advancement of the cause at Sandhills, that during the very successful ministry of the Rev. W Barker (who served the Circuit with great acceptance for over nine years) a beautiful church was erected at park Road, in 1884, at a cost of £2,500, exclusive of site, worth an additional £500, which was the generous gift of Ald. and Mrs. Cocker. Under the eloquent ministry of the late Rev. D.S. Prosser, the good work was carried on, and when just in the midst of his successful labours, the summons came to higher service, the Rev. J. Maland being appointed by the Sheffield Conference of 1901 to the superintendency of the Circuit.
We rejoice in the many tokens of Divine approval of the endeavours of His servants, and our prospects were never brighter than they are to-day. After removing 99 names from the roll-book, we are able to report an increase of 46 members for the first four years; our scholars have increased from 887 to 1,050, and this year our Sunday School Anniversary realized over £323. Each of our churches has been renovated and beautified, debts have been reduced over £1,000, a five pipe organ has been placed in Park Road Church by the gracious generosity of Ald. and Mrs. Cocker, and Redearth Road trustees have put a magnificent three-manual organ, automatically blown, in their church, at a cost of over £700, and have also installed electric light therein with very satisfactory results. A strong C.E. society has been formed at Spring Vale.
Much of our prosperity is due to the wise policy of giving special attention to the claims and needs of young people. In Darwen there is a population of about 38,000; in its day schools 7,215 scholars. We have in our Sunday schools 1,058 scholars, 607 of whom are over fourteen years of age. A work of very great interest has been done among the young men at Spring Vale, where we have had a small Institutional Church for years, doing successful work, before the term was coined or the country heard of the movement at Whitefields. At one time Spring Vale had a most unenviable reputation for the roughness of many of its inhabitants, but during the last twenty years there has been a remarkable reformation of manners, largely owing to the uplifting influence of institutions associated with our Church. To counteract the influence of the public houses, and to find higher interests for men otherwise in danger of being ensnared by evil habits and companionships, a number of our Spring Vale friends formed a men’s club. A room was provided, which serves for reading-room, library, and general meeting-place for games and conversation and discussion of questions of local and national interest. Use of the school-room is permitted for the purposes of the gymnasium and as the headquarters of the cricket and football clubs and evening classes and literary association. The membership of the club is offered to youths over seventeen years of age on payment of 1s. entrance-fee and a quarterly subscription of 1s. 6d., or an annual payment of 5s. There is now a membership of towards eighty. The club-room is closed at 10 p.m. each evening except Saturday, when it is closed at 10.30 p.m. Affiliated with the men’s club is a rambling class, which has had a career of great success, largely owing to the personal influence and endeavour of its popular leader, Mr. J.J. Fielding, who is pre-eminently well endowed for that post, having a wide and very accurate knowledge of botany, entomology, ornithology, geology, and a deep love of Nature.
A party of eight, constituted the first group of ramblers. So interesting and instructive were the rambles that the number of members speedily increased, until forty or fifty men often journeyed into the country. Last year there was an average of eighty-three at each of the fourteen outings. This year the class is larger than ever. Four hundred and sixty-two persons have purchased the syllabus (which is sold for 6d., and is the credential of membership).
Among them are town councillors and tradesmen, but the bulk of them are mill operatives, many of whom, were it not for these health-giving and educative rambles, would be in danger of beguilement by evil associations and questionable habits. The rambles often cover a distance of twelve or thirteen miles; several are thrown open to ladies, and on these less ground is mapped out to be traversed.
The chief centre of the rambles is the charming Ribble Valley, so rich in scenic beauty, botanical and geological treasures, and historical lore. Mr. Fielding has made a life-long study of this district, and is a recognized authority upon it, having published a magnificent handbook of views, – his own photography, – and concise, bright, historical notices, and lectured to scored of audiences in all parts of North-East Lancashire upon its fascinating history and beauty.
The rambles have proved a great educative force. In the early history of the class the plants and flowers picked up on the rambles were gathered together, and nights set apart for the study of the specimens. In one season alone no less than 132 different species of plants were dried and pressed. Now the bulk of the ramblers can name almost every plant and flower in the hedgerow; and many of these amateur botanists, be it noted, have been reclaimed from the street corner, surely a noble result worthy of high appreciation!
The latest development of the class is the publication of a magazine recording the rambles and setting forth the varied interests connected therewith. A photographer of special ability, and wielding the facile pen of a picturesque writer, Mr. fielding with pen and camera, reproduces the rambles in a brightly-written and artistically-produced threepenny monthly entitled “The Rambler,” which has already attained a circulation of 900, and is a welcome visitor to many homes in Darwen and the adjacent town of Blackburn.
Our attention to young people has also brought a rich reward in the large number who have joined the Church and regularly meet in class. In connection with Redearth Road Church, Mr. T.H. Bryant, who has been a godly and earnest local preacher for over forty years, has a class of sixty-eight members, chiefly young people, and every Tuesday, a large number assemble for their class of fellowship, testimony, and instruction. In connection with Park Road Church, Miss Nelso, who has been a Sunday school teacher thirty-eight years and a class leader thirty-one years, has a class containing sixty-five members, also many young people, most of whom may be found at their meeting every Tuesday night.
The membership of our Spring Vales Church is also largely composed of young people. With such a noble army of the youth of the town, it is no wonder that we exercise a mighty power for good on the educational, social, and religious life of the community in the various departments of which we are splendidly represented, no Church having a larger place in the real progress of the people than our own. We are finely represented on the Town Council by Ald. J. Cocker, J.P., who has been a member thereof nineteen years, and for two years – 1892-1894 – was the town’s chief magistrate, making one of the best and most popular mayors the municipality has had at its service; so highly valued, that he has on two occasions been approached to again occupy the office.
Our people delight to honour Ald. Cocker for his devotion to lofty ideals, his great service to our Church, and his faithful loyalty to all that is good and great, and for the marvellous success which has attended his career, rising from the position of miner to be head of one of the most important and truly prosperous building firms in North-East Lancashsire. Ald. Cocker is a splendid illustration of a motto imprinted on the fly-leaf of his pocket-book, and which he often reads to young men to cheer and inspire them to courageous and great endeavour:
“Fancy the world as a hill,
Then look where the millions stop;
There’s always a crowd at the bottom,
Push on, there’s plenty of room at the top.”
On the directorate of the strongest society in the town, the Industrial Co-operative Society, we are excellently represented by Mr. James Kay, a man of sterling uprightness and noble character, who has been a Sunday school teacher for over thirty years, and society steward at Redearth Road twenty-three years, and Mr. J.T. Fielding, whose place in the esteem of the people is evidenced by the fact that, on his first appearance as a candidate he was placed at the head of thepoll with an immense vote.
One of our scholars is president of the Local Temperance Society, and another of our highly-esteemed workers, Mr. Robert Cross Smith, occupies a distinguished position in the order of the Rechabites; and among our adherents we are proud to number Mr. D.J. Shackleton, M.P., the highly esteemed and greatly gifted member for Clitheroe.
God has graciously blessed our work, and the missionary enterprise which led godly men in Bolton to send those heroic Primitive Methodist evangelists has been abundantly rewarded. There are great possibilities for future development, and we are eager to respond thereto, recognizing there is-
“So much to do that is not e’en begun,
So much to hope for that we cannot see,
So much to win, so many things to be done.”
Christian Messenger 1906/44