Dukinfield Primitive Methodists
Arrival of the ‘Prims’ in Manchester
The new movement reached Manchester about 1819, which became a centre for missioning the surrounding area. In May 1821, local preachers began regular Sunday meetings near Dukinfield – at Newton in the morning, Stalybridge in the afternoon, and a meeting in St Michael’s Square, Ashton in the evening.
One of the preachers, Samuel Waller, was arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment for causing an obstruction. The meetings continued, and a small society was formed in each of the three preaching places.
It was not long before preaching began in Dukinfield itself. Meetings were held in a building behind Town Lane, about 1823, close to the ‘Half Moon’ or Crescent. The cause flourished, whereas Stalybridge was almost abandoned in 1826, and Ashton ceased in 1829, but was restarted in 1835.
A camp meeting was held between Dukinfield and Stalybridge on 9 July 1826, followed by a lovefeast at the ‘meeting house’ in Dukinfield. This was followed up by an open air meeting on 23 July, and the next day an afternoon prayer meeting, ‘the people being out of work’. Numbers grew, and in 1829 the town constable estimated that there were 100 Primitive Methodists in the town.
In 1825, Dukinfield became part of the Oldham Circuit, for which records survive from 1832. These show that William Wild was told ‘not to comment on anyone’s sermons’. In 1834 a decision was made to have no more beer at the Quarterly Meeting!
The First Foundry Street Chapel
By September 1836 there were 36 members and 77 scholars in Dukinfield, and the society wanted to move from their rented room to their own chapel. The first Primitive Methodist chapel was built just 30 yards away, on the corner of Princess Street and what was later called Foundry Street. The large plot of land had been obtained from the Dukinfield Estate, which gave room for a graveyard to the west.
The chapel was ‘a good substantial brick building, 12 yards by 10, galleried on three sides and well fitted up.’ It was very plain, apart from an elaborate fan light over the entrance. The galleries had pews, with the ground floor left open for the Sunday School. At the back was a small vestry.
The chapel was opened on Christmas Day 1836 with three services, and another on Boxing Day. It cost £700, at a time when the weekly income of many families was only about £1. A subscription of £40 was received from the local MP, Charles Hindley and his wife, and in 1837 the trustees were given permission ‘to beg one shilling of each member throughout the circuit’ to tackle the debt.
Reducing the debt
Money continued to be a problem, and in 1840 the circuit decided ‘to employ Bro G Kemp as a Hired Local Preacher for the next quarter, for the purpose of begging money for Dukinfield Chapel and that he have £4 from the circuit and board.’ Brother Kemp collected £55, which was a great help.
A chapel for the working class
In 1838, Dukinfield became part of the new Stalybridge circuit, and by 1850 was the strongest society in the circuit. It is interesting to note, that while Hugh Bourne thought politics a distraction from saving souls, the working people of Dukinfield were happy to use the chapel for political meetings.
In 1838, the Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star, reported on an anti-Poor Law meeting, which was held in the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Many of the members were miners. The baptism register shows that from 1850-1860, 38% of the fathers were colliers, compared to less than 7% of the working population of Dukinfield.
A story is told that the Primitive Methodist minister, John Garner, leapt to his feet when a visiting speaker from another denomination made some patronising comments. ‘What does he mean by saying that we are illiterate and can only shout “Glory! Hallelujah! Amen!” and such like? I will challenge him myself, before this respectable and intelligent audience (the meeting consisted mainly of colliers) in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Araybick, Syriack or what he likes and I am nought where my brethren come! … The colliers shouted, clapped, stamped with their clogs and quite a furore was produced.’ Fortunately the speaker did not try to reply, as Garner admitted he would have knocked him off the platform! The next day the miners went to the pit boasting about their Ranter preacher, and his great scholarship.
The leading member at Foundry Street for 40 years, until his death in 1887, was Richard Hanson, ‘a man of no great wealth but of considerable strength of character’. He was trustee, society steward, circuit steward and Sunday School Superintendent. He used to censor the Anniversary ‘pieces’, and despite only having one eye ‘could see that which was almost invisible to people with two’.
Alice Phillips was another strong character. A local preacher, she arrived in Dukinfield in 1857 and was renoned for her black shawl and fierce denunciations of sin. During the cotton famine she ran a sewing class for the unemployed.
Richard W Burnett was given a note to preach in 1859. He became leader of the Dukinfield Mission Band, preaching on every street corner in the town, often at 7 o’clock in the morning! He entered the Primitive Methodist ministry in 1862, and in January 1870 was one of the two pioneer PM missionaries to Fernando Po, an island off the coast of West Africa. He served four terms there, despite the unhealthy climate, before his death in 1902.
Astley Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, 1872
Attempts to establish Primitive Methodist preaching on the other side of the town, around Dukinfield Hall (Globe Square) began as early as 1837, but did not take hold until 1850. The first chapel was built in 1866, but the society had to raise ‘£75 in good promises and hard cash’ first. It opened in October, in Astley Street, but must have been very small, as it was rebuilt only five years later. The new chapel, which opened on 8 February 1872, cost £800, but could seat 300 and had a school underneath. John Hutchinson, the minister of Albion Chapel, Ashton, preached the opening sermon.
A new chapel had replaced the original building at Foundry Street by 1866. The graveyard had been closed in 1865, and in 1875 it was decided to move the bodies, build a new chapel on the site of the graveyard, and use the old chapel as a school.
The foundation stones were laid on Good Friday 1877, and the chapel opened the same year. It was a much more elaborate building, with Gothic windows and spirelets. It was also twice as big and three times as expensive, costing £2,300.
There were still working class members at Foundry Street. Benjamin Williams, was a young miner and local preacher, who prayed with this family every day before going to the pit. He was killed in the Astley Deep Pit explosion of 1874. However, the new style of architecture reflected the new style of members, such as Thomas Beeley (1833-1908). He was manager of Adamson’s Boiler shop in his early thirties and founder of the Hyde Junction Iron Works. He was a trustee at Foundr Street, and became the chief benefactor of Rosemount Primitive Methodist Chapel, Newton.
Like Dukinfield, the Ashton Primitives rebuilt their chapel in 1877, but at £1,000, half the cost.
From Ranters to Respectability
In 1889, Foundry Street was the largest society in the circuit with 126 members. There were 100 at Katherine Street, Ashton, and 62 at Stalybridge. Foundry Street supported some of the smaller causes, such as Mossley, and the Sunday School at Hurst Brook.
In 1905 they acquired a new organ, and new schools in 1913, which replaced the old chapel. By 1914, Foundry Street had a town councillor, George Dean, among its members. There were also manufacturers, including the Claytons who ran a flour milling business in Charles Street, and Thomas Rose Hilton, who became known for his ‘Cake-a-Pie’ flour.
Astley Street perhaps remained more faithful to the early Primitive Methodist ethos. An old scholar recalled in the 1930s how as a child he had attended Dukinfield Hall Congregational School in his clogs, and had been asked to come in shoes the following week. At this, his father said, ‘Keep your clogs and go to the Ranter school instead’, which he did, becoming a regular attender at Astley Street.
E A Rose, Methodism in Dukinfield, 1978