Grimsby: Primitive Methodism in Grimsby
Description by Rev R Harrison, taken from the Handbook of the 89th Annual Primitive Methodist Conference held in Grimsby in 1899
Eighty years ago
The introduction and progress of Primitive Methodism in North Lincolnshire illustrates in no ordinary way the moral energy, courage and unwearied perseverance of our Connexional forbears. There was much need for us, or some evangelistic agency, eighty years ago. Notwithstanding the Established Church and other religious communities, the people were neglected and spiritual life was exceedingly feeble. A clergyman, the Rev T Moseley, says of that part of the country that it was known as a very rough place the “people did what was right in their own eyes, there being no strong body of clergy to check the headstrong and corrupt tendencies.” Another clergyman, the Rev Cloughet, told the writer that but for the labours of our Church the people would have been left to the Devil, for their spiritual condition was simply deplorable. Others have frankly acknowledged that we have done much to make the “rough place” smooth, and check the headstrong and corrupt tendencies by the preaching of the old Gospel.
The Pioneer Primitive
The honour of laying the foundation of our Church in that part of the country belongs to Thomas King. In zeal, in work, and fruit thereof, he was truly apostolic. He died July 11th 1875, in the eighty eighth year of his age.
Mr Braithwaite and others who have laboured in other parts of Lincolnshire were signally successful in their work. The Nottingham June Quarterly Meeting having before it the report of the success and urgent calls for labourers, strongly pressed Mr King to commence a mission in the northern part of that county. On August 27th 1819 (memorable year this; Clowes came to Hull) he began his work in “the very rough place.”
En route to Grimsby
At Market Rasen where he opened his mission, he encountered opposition, but found in the sheer indifference of the people to the claims of Christ a greater barrier to his work. But by his gentleness of spirit, firmness of demeanour and strong and practical sympathy for the souls of the people, he eventually won the attention and hearts of those who heard him. While here he heard of Grimsby, a place so small that its inhabitants numbered somewhere about a thousand, Now there is a population of some sixty thousand souls. The growth is vast and suggests the question whether the Churches have kept pace with the amazing increase in accommodation for worship and agencies. Be this as it may, we gladly recognise the fact that Primitive Methodism has done a fair share of real service in the direction. But to return, we find that Mr King, having slept at a village (Barnoldby) about four miles from Grimsby on Saturday October 30th 1819 he entered the town the next day, being the Sabbath. He preached twice in the open-air and said that “the Lord had opened to us a great and effectual door.” He tells us that on entering the place alone, he proceeded down the main thoroughfare (now called Victoria Street), and coming to a waste piece of ground, close to where our Victoria -street chapel stands, he stepped into a wheelbarrow and began singing one of those hymns which did such glorious service in those bye-gone days. (Have they served their day and ceased to be?) The people listened with astonishment to the words of the man of God, some of whom became members of our Church, and lived and died in fellowship with us.
While our church was born in the open air, it was soon found that it could not fulfil its mission by exclusively working there. It needed “a local habitation.” Very often it was of the humblest kind, and found in the strangest places. Our people in Grimsby found the house of God in a stable. This was in the winter of 1819. Herein were believers greatly blessed, and many sinners were converted – proving that it is not so much the place as the people who occupy it. In September 1820 a more permanent sanctuary was found in a warehouse in the neighbourhood where Mr King made the wheelbarrow his pulpit.
The First Chapel
The first chapel our people occupied was in Loft Street. It was built by the Calvinists. It was bought of Mr Smith, a currier, in 1839. Of the price we know nothing; but its worth, as estimated by those who knew it, was about £200. It seated from 150 to 200 persons. There was a large vestry abutting on Burgess Street. From statements made to us by Mr J. Robinson we have produced a sketch of the place, from which it will be seen that it was not of the most imposing architectural character. We fear we may have made it look better than it was. But such as it is, as an outline it will show that our material possessions in Grimsby were of a rather modest sort.
The Gold Ring and Goodly Apparel
At the time of which we write, the Grimsby Circuit included Market Rasen Branch, and the places in the Grimsby Second and Third and Tetney Stations. The preachers were Messrs. E Jersey and T Knox. There were three classes and about fifty members. In the July of this year, Rev J Davison was superintendent and he had as his colleagues Rev J Crompton and W Luddington. During their term the chapel was enlarged by having galleries put in on two sides and at on end. Money then brought its favours and privileges for we find that a Mr Wilkinson who gave one pound towards the cost of enlargement, and being the greatest donor was allowed his choice of seat in the new gallery. So the man with the gold ring was not ignored in the good old days of Primitive Methodism. But let us not judge.
The First Fruits
Much spiritual work was accomplished in this altered chapel and some glorious revivals took place, During one of them the late Alderman Smethurst – a most worthy man – was converted, with many others, who did good service for our Church in Grimssby and neighbourhood.
Grimsby had from the beginning some of the Connexion’s ablest ministers and worthiest of laymen. Such men as the Rev George Lamb, W Lonsdale, J T Shepherd, G Austin, P Milson, H Campbell, J Wood DD, and H Knowles. In the time of the last named, what was known as “Ropery Chapel” was built and the old chapel was again greatly enlarged. Great financial and spiritual progress was realised. It may be said that through the tact, energy, and industry of the man of God our cause commenced a career of great prosperity. The new dock and railway were begun which have made Grimsby a worthy rival to Hull itself. From 1849 to 1851 our church was favoured with very extensive revivals of God’s work, when hundreds were saved. These were the days which witnessed Milson in his might.
During the superintendency of Rev George Austin attempts were made to build a new chapel, but they failed. The way was, however , made easier for those who came after to do so. It remained for Hugh Campbell to build what is known as Victoria-street chapel. This was in 1857. He had much opposition, but after hard work he succeeded. It is fragrant with memories that only few chapels have. Such scenes were witnessed years ago that make to some of us every brick in the place precious.
In 1860 Bethel Chapel was built by Charles Kendall and other extensions of our cause were realised. In 1867, during the superintendency of J Wood DD the Circuit was divided. Our friend lives, though in feebleness, to see that not a little good has come of the division. Considerable prosperity has followed the labours of the two Stations from that time until now. Land for a new chapel and schools was secured by John Stevenson, in 1869, in Hainton-street on which stands the Conference chapel, a most imposing place, in one of the finest neighbourhoods. The chapel was built in the time of P Milson, but the whole scheme was not completed until three years after, In the same year (1873) Garibaldi-street Chapel was erected, belonging to the second Circuit. Eventually Ebenezer and Cleethorpes Chapels were built. During the terms of the writer and Dr Wood, £2,000 was raised for debt reduction of Hainton-street property. A new school was built in Victoria-street, for which much credit is due to the Rev Tom Buttrick.
During the writer’s five years’ labours in Grimsby First Circuit, what is known as Flottergate Church was built at a cost of £5,000. It was opened by the late Dr W Antliff when the last Conference was held in Grimsby in 1880. “It is confessedly the most handsome chapel in Grimsby and has connected with its large schools and vestries adequate to any requirement.” The testimony is true.
Past and Present
Mr Petty says that in 1840 the Grimsby Circuit had 600 members; in ten years it had increased to 1,227. This included the 397 in the Market Rasen branch, In the statistics of each station our readers will see the progress our Church has made since 1850. We omit the members etc., of Market Rasen in our numbers.
Grimsby First Circuit
In Grimsby First we gave six chapels, costing £10,901, valued at £11,350. A new chapel at Healing (costing £5,000) is to be opened during Conference and it is hoped free of debt. The Flottergate Church was opened during the Conference of 1880. There are two ministers and thirty-five local preachers. The membership is 610. There are three Sunday Schools, with 108 teachers and 996 scholars.
In the Second Station there are three ministers, 859 members and 38 local preachers. We have six Sunday schools, with 204 teachers and 1,664 scholars. The five chapels cost £16,776 and are valued at £18,150. The present debt is £4,527. Steps are being taken to secure a very eligible site for chapel and school in what is called New Cleethorpes.
The Third Circuit, which was made from the First last Conference, has five chapels, the cost of which was £8,486, the value of which is £7,925 and the debt upon them is £3,783. It has one minister and an agent. Its membership is 347 and it has four Sunday schools with 78 teachers and 1,075 scholars There are 22 local preachers and 24 class leaders.
The Tetney Circuit which formed part of the Grimsby Station and whose appointments are printed in the same plan as those of Grimsby, has eleven chapels, costing £2,632 and are valued at £1,850. The debt is £513. Its membership is 340, with one minister and 22 local preachers. It has seven Sunday Schools, with 53 teachers and 230 scholars.
Primitive Methodism in 1899
A summary of these gives us the following: ministers 8 and one hired local preacher, There are 30 chapels; cost £38,895; value £39,275;present debt £8,822; members 2,156; schools 20; teachers 433; scholars 3,955; and local preachers 117.It may interest our readers to produce the first plan which shows how feeble we were as a people in 1829 and yet how rapidly the cause grew.
[Places on the 1829 Plan were: Grimsby; Louth; Louth; Legburn; Kennington; Limber; Binbrook; Walesby; Tealby; Barnoldby; Waltham;Holton; Thoresby; Tetney; Fulstow; Covenham; Laceby; Swallow; Irby; Immingham; Stallingborough; Ludford]
Men sent of God
It is but justice to say that our Church in Grimsby has been specially favoured with ministers whom God has owned, many of whom we should have joy in naming but forbear. As they have risen in life they have taken their Church up with them. They have been faithful stewards. The Holts , the Robinson, the Emersons, Shanksters, Wrights, Pearces, Mudds, Smethursts, Chapmans and Horners have done much to make our cause in Grimsby in every sense a strong Church and worthy of the whole Connexion.