Leicester and Primitive Methodism
From the Handbook of the Annual Primitive Methodist Conference held in Leicester in 1907
In the year 1818 a great crowd gathered at the Cross, Belgrave Gate, to hear John Benton preach. That was the first Primitive Methodist service held in Leicester. Amongst those who received good was William Goodrich whose religious career dated from that service. He in turn became very useful in deciding the development of the young cause, together with John Wedgewood (a descendent of Josiah Wedgewood, the famous potter), who was a conspicuous figure in the early years of the Connexions life in Leicester.
The fierce opposition encountered in many other places was fortunately absent here. The methods of the early workers were keenly criticised by some, but the Rev. Robert Hall, the great non-conformist preacher, put in a good word for them.
An unfriendly critic said to the distinguished divine: “What do you think of the Ranters, sir? Don’t you think they ought to be put down?”
Mr Hall replied:”I don’t know enough of their conduct to say that. What do they do? Do they inculcate Antinomianism, or do they exhibit immorality in their lives?”
“Not that I know of, but they indulge in very irregular practices.”
“Indeed, what practices?”
“Why sir, when they enter a village they begin to sing hymns, and the go on singing till they collect a number of people about them on the village green or in some neighbouring field, and then they preach.”
“Well, whether that may be prudent or expedient or not depends upon circumstances: but as yet I see no criminality.”
“But you must admit Mr Hall that it is very irregular.”
“And suppose I do admit that, what follows? Was not our Lord’s rebuking the Scribes and the Pharisees and driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, very irregular? Was not all that he did in His public ministry very irregular? Was not the course of the Apostles and of Stephen and of many of the Evangelists very irregular? Were not the proceedings of Calvin, Luther and their fellow-workers in the Reformation very irregular? a complete and shocking innovation upon all the quiescent doings of the Papists? And were not the whole lives of Wesley and Whitfield very irregular lives as you view such things? Yet how infinitely is the world indebted to all these! No sir, there must be something widely different from mere irregularity before I condemn.”
Such generous words helped to smooth the missionaries’ path.
The first meeting place was a small chapel in Millstone Lane. The cause made rapid progress and on Christmas Day 1819, George Street chapel was opened, James Bourne being the preacher. It became the centre of a vigourous cause and the memories of services held there are still precious in the minds of many.
Since then, God has abundantly blessed our labours. We have now in Leicester Church property valued at £48,420 with accommodation for 6,306. The present membership in Leicester is 1,467 and the number of scholars in our Sunday Schools is 4,775.
We thank God for what has been accomplished, but trust the future will yield a still more glorious record of successful enterprise for our Lord Jesus Christ.