Liverpool First Circuit, Lancashire

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by H.J. Pickett 

Our greatly honoured Connexional historian, in his valuable “History of the Primitive Methodist Church,” quotes the late venerable Thomas Bateman’s statement of our earlier work in this second city of the Empire, that “It did not improve as fast as was desired or expected.” This witness is still true, and yet, remembering the cosmopolitan character of the population, the overwhelming strength of the Roman and Anglican influence, the story of heroic struggle and loyal devotion to which Liverpool Primitive Methodism bears witness cannot be surpassed in any part of our beloved Zion.

Our Princes Avenue Church occupies a central position on one of the finest boulevards in Great Britain, and is generally acknowledged to be the best site for a church in the city. So desirable did it appear to some Anglicans in the earlier years when the Society was numerically feeble, and the Trustees were almost overwhelmed by a debt amounting to thousands of pounds, that private overtures were made for its sale. The sale would have meant immediate release from crushing difficulty and considerable financial profit. The heroism of its founders was voiced by men like Edward Woodhall (the late Treasurer) and John Caton, who indignantly said :—“Never! that church will remain in the possession of Primitive Methodism.”

It was a bold step, and considered at the time to be so rash as to win for it the title of “Maylott’s Folly,” to move away from old Rathbone Street to the Avenue. Never was “folly ” more abundantly justified as the truest wisdom, and our honoured friend, the Rev. D.T. Maylott, can scarcely have reminiscences more pleasant than the part he took as the leader of this new venture. We have now property on this spot valued at £10,000. At that time, a debt of £1,000 remained on Rathbone Street. Not a penny was in hand towards the bold project. Yet in the spirit of the finest accomplishments of our Church, in Mr. Maylott’s superintendency, encouraged by such generous and loyal stalwarts as John Caton, Edward Woodhall, David and William Griffies, John Thomas, John F. Pugh, Hugh Dodd and others, who promised the money for the land, the “modern history” of this Circuit began in 1875.

Well indeed had the Circuit been served in the old Rathbone, Street days, under such veteran and well-known leaders, as the Revs. W. Wilkinson, the brothers James and William Garner, Ambrose Kirkland, Murray Wilson, Joseph Gibson and R.B. Howcroft. And happily there are those still with us who tell with glowing affection of the mighty prayer-meetings carried on after the preaching services in the cellar- schoolroom, so far-famed as to be known in all Liverpool as the “glory-hole.” With all our advance, one envies the fame of a building whose distinctive reputation was, if “sinners entered there they would be sure to get converted.” It is matter of interest that Hall Caine (novelist of fame) with his brother and family, attended the services of Rathbone Street when they resided in Liverpool, thus explaining an interest in our Church which remains until this day!

It is particularly interesting – and not without its value as an instructive object lesson – that among the most generous, loyal, and devoted of those who serve the Avenue Church to-day, are the sons of some of its founders. No church could be more affectionately served than this. For thirty-three years, the present Circuit Steward and Church Treasurer, Mr. William E. Woodhall, son of the late Treasurer, has served the church as organist, without one penny of remuneration, it being mainly by his untiring effort that the present magnificent organ, costing £800, was  substituted for the one now in our Hinckley Church.

For a similar term, the present capable Choirmaster. Mr. Edward W. Thomas, has served the choir, for twenty-five years as Circuit secretary, and now as school superintendent. We have often said that our friend Mr. Thomas (who is a schoolmaster) has one recreation, and that – Princes Avenue Church! It is delightful to hear the “references to father and mother, to whom the church was a second home.

Little wonder that a choir so trained is loyal! So far from costing the church one penny, its Festival, its Christmas and New Year carol singing, its proceeds of concerts, are all handed over to the Trust Funds. An anthem is sung every Sabbath, morning and evening throughout the year, and the musical library is so varied that no one anthem need be repeated in the twelve months.

Another loyal son of a worthy sire is Mr. W.D. Pugh, whose pulpit ministrations are acceptable and sought after by many churches in and around the city. Of equal devotion is the long service of Messrs. A.H. Kelly, Edward Davies - practicalIy the founder of our Aintree Church – and for many years the Liverpool representative of Sir W.P. Hartley.

Happily, too, John Caton, whose name is a household word in our church, and especially beloved by our missionaries, is still spared to us, though no longer able to take any active part in the church with whose history and success he has had so much to do. For years he served the Circuit as its steward, as school superintendent and trustee, nor was any sacrifice too much for the prosperity of the church he so much loved.

The two mission churches of the Circuit – Palmerston Street and Yates Street – are pursuing their work under gradually increasing difficulties, by reason of the suburban drift of the population, and the character of the neighbourhoods in which they work. Palmerston Street has the honour of sending into the ranks of our ministry two honoured brethren now successfully working at Great Horton.

Our Yates Street Church is in the centre of a district nearer the docks, largely Irish in population, and yet urgently calling for just such evangelistic work as our church stands to perform. Some of our hardest and truest workers here are devoted women, well-known in our Ladies Missionary Auxiliaries as enthusiasts – Miss Hunter, who is this year the President of the Liverpool Branch, and Mrs. Irvine, who has from its formation been the capable and successful secretary.

The unusually heavy financial strain of the Princes Avenue debt has hitherto prevented the Circuit from what has been long seen and felt as a necessity – the entrance into the newer neighbourhoods rapidly becoming vast populations on the southern side of the city. This is indeed, the immediate problem of Primitive Methodism in the city as a whole, and must form the basis of action, if our future position is to be maintained. But that is a question outside the scope of this article.

The Circuit has been well and faithfully served by a succession of devoted ministers. The Revs. Walter Graham, who built the church – D.T. Maylott having secured the land, and built the Lecture Hall – both men being held in the most affectionate regard. Enoch Ball, William Welford, James Watkin, who has given in all thirteen years devoted and successful service, and H.J. Taylor,  our present Financial Missionary Secretary, whose ministry was an acknowledged power in the city. Eager anticipation is ready to welcome our retiring Missionary Secretary into the succession. Mr. Guttery’s fame has preceded him, and under his leadership, assisted by the gifted ministry of his colleague – the Rev. T. W. Hancox - we may confidently hope “the best is yet to be.”

That this hope may be realised there is every reason to pray, and to add to prayer sacrifice and effort. Notwithstanding all the heroism of the past, Primitive Methodism has yet much to do to attain the position it should occupy in this great city. Here are the gates of the world, and the influences of Liverpool for good or ill fly out across the earth.


Christian Messenger 1913/119


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