Primitive Methodism in Southport

Southport Church Street chapel Interior
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909/518

Transcription of an Article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by J.T. Barkby

SOUTHPORT has a population of just over 50,000, with Birkdale nearly 70,000, and is one of the finest towns in the kingdom. It is sometimes called “The Garden City,” and it well deserves the name. Every house has a garden, and many of the houses have very large and very beautiful gardens. Then there are so many open spaces, the streets, too, are spacious, and there is everywhere such an abundance of well-trained and well-trimmed vegetation that one is always in close contact with the beauties of nature. Lord Street, its principal thoroughfare, is spoken of as one of the seven finest streets of Europe. A Parisian  visiting Southport some time since said to a local friend, “There is no need for you to go to Paris to see fine boulevards: you have them here.” At its best, and it should be at its best at Conference, Southport is altogether a beautiful town.

There is a becoming correspondence between the churches and the town. Free and Established Churches alike have built beautiful churches, in beautiful situations, and have filled their pulpits with the best of men. In Southport and Birkdale there are some seventy churches of one kind and another, most of them well attended, and the Free Churches have a decided preponderance. Wesleyan Methodism and Congregationalism are very strong. 

Primitive Methodism is represented by three circuits. The senior cause is at Marshside Road, Churchtown, the head of the First Circuit. At the time it was missioned it was not called Southport, but Churchtown. A Preston Circuit plan of 1832 announces a Camp Meeting to be held at “North Meols” — Churchtown — “near Southport,” on June 10th. The Circuit Steward of this circuit has an old bill announcing that School Sermons will be preached at Churchtown, North Meols, on Sunday, October 2nd, 1842, by Hugh Bourne (spelt “Burn”) the founder of the Connexion, and J. Garner. This is accounted for by the fact that Churchtown is now on the northern boundary of the town, and when the first Primitive Methodist Missioners came it was probably outside the town altogether. 

Here we have an excellent society of 240 members; a Sunday evening congregation which comfortably fills the commodious church; a Sunday School of 620 scholars, with an average Sunday afternoon attendance of 500, and a pile of premises valued at £4,300, on which there only remains a debt of £250. Hundreds of fishermen and artisans have been converted to Jesus by its instrumentality, and it has long been a potent factor in the moral and religious life of that part of the town. At the present time it is full of life and vigour, and under the devoted ministry of the, Rev. J. Whittle—now labouring there for the second time, nine years in all —is enjoying prosperity. Out of its loins have grown other churches. The chief of these is High Park, which provides for the religious needs of a large artisan population. Here we have some eighty Church members; a Sunday School of 270 scholars, and a property worth £3,000, on which there is a debt of £730.

The first Primitive Methodists to mission this part of Southport were sent by the Preston Circuit, but who they were and just when they came it is hard to say. It is said that Churchtown was missioned as early as 1827. If so little came of the effort, as in 1829, Mr. James Kellett, whose daughter is still a member of this circuit, was engaged by the Preston Circuit to re-mission Churchtown. His first service was held on a green near the present church. Afterwards services were held in a barn, and three or four years later a small chapel was built, which was afterwards enlarged, and eventually superseded by the present. structure.

Southport, with 186 members, became a circuit in 1864. This circuit was divided in 1880, and the head of the Second Circuit is Church Street, the Conference Church. It is built right in the heart of the town, on a corner site, occupying nearly an acre of ground, at the junction of several roads, and is, it is safe to say, the Cathedral of Primitive Methodism. The style of architecture is the late perpendicular Gothic. It is faced with the finest thin Ruabon bricks, with the best Yorkshire stone dressings, and comfortably seats 650 persons. All the fittings of the church are carried out in selected Dantzic oak. The pulpit is a special feature, as is also the fine three-manual organ, and the beautiful stained glass window in the chancel, the work of Mr. R. Anning Bell, R.A. In addition there is a splendid suite of school premises, with an assembly hall to seat 500, and 18 class rooms. The whole scheme has cost nearly £20,000 and the debt is £975. This is due primarily to the princely generosity of Sir William P. Hartley, J.P., and secondly, to the munificence of Mr. Samuel Hall. This church has a membership of 250, and a congregation which often fills the place. The Sunday School and all the other organisations are thoroughly alive and active, and the:church counts for much in the life of the town and district.

It is difficult to say just where and when this cause was started, and by whom it was started. In an account of the opening of the second church, in the Magazine for 1863, the Rev. R. Middleton says that Southport—meaning this church—was put on the Preston plan in 1848. Whether there were services prior to this it is impossible to say. What we do know is that some time about then services were held near to, and that Mr. Joseph Armitage, father of the Rev. G. Armitage, opened his house for preaching services, and also got a hand-bell and went out among the people and announced the services.

In 1854, a “plain, barn-like structure” was built in Hawesside Street, close to Church Street, at a cost of £50. In 1862 this was succeeded by London Street Chapel, which cost £520 and was opened in October by the Rev. C. Garrett. In a list of donations I notice, “Mr. J. Armitage, £20, and his little son George”— Rev. G. Armitage—“£1 7s. 7d., saved in pence,” etc. Five years later a schoolroom was added, later still a gallery and a new organ. These premises were eighteen years ago superseded by  the present Church Street School. There is connected with this circuit a second church, at Cemetery Road. Here we have excellent church and school premises, in a good thoroughfare, in the midst of a large population. At the present time there are ninety church members, and a thriving Sunday School, and the signs of the times are cheering.

Southport Third Circuit was carved out of Southport First Circuit in, 1895. The head of the Circuit is Banks, a village three miles from Southport. Here we have a large church and school, which have cost £4,000, and on which there is but a very moderate debt There is a strong church membership, and the public services are well attended. On a Sunday afternoon the church is often comfortably seated. The Sunday School is large, and altogether Banks is one of the most vigorous and successful village churches in Primitive Methodism. There are several other village churches in this circuit, all of them alive and prosperous, and a new cause is just being started in another village. Like Southport Banks was first missioned by Preston Primitive Methodists. The Magazine for May, 1837, gives an account of the opening of the first chapel in Banks. It is said to have been built by “making a frame of pole-wood, and plastering it over with clay mixed with straw.” It cost £24, and was opened Nov. 13th, 1836.

In the Southport circuits we have upwards of 1,000 members, with over 2,000 Sunday School scholars, and 11 churches, valued at £38,000. To bring this about many noble men and equally noble women have been in labours more abundant, some of them counting not their life dear to them if only they might preach Christ. One could fill pages with the doings of those whose names will never find an enshrinement in any history, but who will have an honourable place in the Great Day. And the churches to-day are worthy of them. They are for the most part living spiritual forces, working for the salvation of the individual and the perfection of society. To these churches the Conference of 1909 will come, and it may be sure of a warm welcome.

NOTE.—Most of the photographs illustrating this article have been specially taken by Mr. A. Jerome,  Lord Street, Southport.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909/518

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.