Allendale Circuit, Northumberland

1921 Article in Christian Messenger

Allendale Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1921/266
Keenley Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1921/266
Catton Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1921/266

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. W. Armstrong

Under fictitious names, Allendale Circuit and its worthies of past generations have figured in our Connexional Magazines, notably from the pen of one of its own products – Rev. Joseph Ritson. Readers of “Lost and Won,” “Her Last Conquest,” and “Jack o’ Jack’s Bank,” will find glimpses here of Allendale in its former and perhaps more strenuous days. The dale has seen many changes since then. The closing down of the lead-mines and smelt-mills at Allendale and Allenheads some years ago, meant a large exodus from the district, and many who remained to reside had perforce to seek employment further afield. Small-holdings of a few acres – and the cow – are a feature of the dale, but being too small in many cases to maintain a household, serve only to augment the earnings obtained elsewhere. Hence the system of “Carrying the Wallet” which obtains even yet, though not quite so common as formerly. Men took in their “wallet,” sufficient food to serve till their return at the end of the week. The development of the lead-mining industry at Sipton, and the coal-mining and fire-clay works at Langley-on-Tyne have provided employment nearer home, and to some extent obviated the necessity of the wallets. Agriculture, of course, is the mainstay of the dale, and with the formation of the Creamery a few years ago, milk has become one of the chief products.

Allendale Town, the head of the Circuit, has a market in memory only. Its chief characteristics now are the boarding-houses and the private accommodation it offers to the visitors who flock to the district in the summer- time. The bracing air, beautiful scenery, fishing and golf, draw large numbers year by year to this invigorating health resort. The railway station is one of the standing jokes of the dale, and visitors are naturally puzzled to know why the railway, with its three trains a day, stopped short a mile-and-a-quarter from the town. It is said that the line was originally constructed to convey the lead from the smelt-mill nearby, and that the passenger traffic was then a secondary consideration, and the station made at the nearest point to the main road. When the relative importance of the lead and passenger traffic was reversed, instead of extending the line to Allendale, it was shortened to the existing station then known as Catton Road.

Like most country circuits, Allendale has suffered from the effects of rural exodus, but one compensation is often realised. Among the hosts of visitors are not a few who regularly return to their native heath and find joy in supplying our pulpits during the season. These visitor preachers find a warm welcome, and give an opportunity for a well- earned rest on the part of our local preachers who in the winter months find “free” Sundays few and far between.

It is thought that Allendale was first missioned by preachers from Hexham, and in 1825 it was included in the area covered by the Westgate Branch. John Garner, when Superintendent of this Branch, writes in his Journal on December 19th, 1825, “The Lord is extending our borders, and opening our way in Alston Moor, and East and West Allendale.” Allendale became an independent Circuit in 1848. During the Superintendency of Rev. C.C. McKechnie a great revival broke out in 1859-61, which, after making good all losses, more than doubled the circuit membership, and firmly established our cause in the dale.

We have now ten chapels and a circuit manse, the latter built in 1861, by Rev. C.C. McKechnie, being the first Primitive Methodist manse in the North of England. With the exception of the new chapel at Sparty Lea all are free of debt. Our circuit officials are practically all identi?ed with our country societies, and are all men in the prime of life. The circuit is in the happy position of having no fossils. Our Circuit Steward, William U. Bright, is identified with Sparty Lea, where he is Superintendent of the School and Class-leader, and during the building of the Church in 1914 served as treasurer of the trust. Though not a preacher, yet his services have frequently been sought by his own and other societies, and his quiet “talks” have left abiding impressions. One of his sons has already many years of service as a preacher to his credit, and another son is preparing to follow in his steps. Matthew Philipson, our junior steward, for many years belonged to the town society, but recently has removed, and now makes Catton his home. He has done yeoman service as a preacher. The Circuit Secretary, Thomas Henderson, as Society Steward at Woodhead, watches over a small but strong little society. Here also is the home of the Temperley’s, a family with great traditions which the present generation nobly carry on. Another member of this society is William Armstrong, an earnest, forceful preacher. Of a different type is Isaac Bell, lately removed here from Catton, where for many years he served as Society Steward – Sergeant Bell, as he is often known, six feet of robust Christianity, every inch a gentleman, with a solicitation for the welfare of Zion only equalled by his unfailing loyalty.

In Allendale Town we have a beautiful little Church built in 1878. The old chapel, built in 1833, still stands behind our present one, and serves as a schoolroom. Underneath its ancient gallery is a very small two-roomed cottage, the birthplace of Rev. Robert Clemitson, now enjoying a quiet eventide at Gateshead. William Bland, ever at his post as Society Steward, is also an active worker in the Sunday-school. Here he is supported by the Superintendent, Herbert Milburn, who also renders great service as a preacher. John A. Horncastle, and Thomas Bell, as Secretary and Treasurer of the trust, maintain an active interest in the material side of the church’s life, and enable it to give a worthy lead to the circuit in all financial concerns.

At Sinderhope, a warm-hearted little society is watched over by Thomas Parker, Jacob Dodd, and Thomas Henderson. Their ranks have recently been thinned by the removal of the Carr family.

Allenheads is an old society with great traditions which tend perhaps to eclipse the possibilities of the present. It was here that the great revival broke out that moved the dale from end to end. “There were giants in those days.” A new generation is now in possession, the leading spirits being

John Rowell, Thomas Ridley, and John Pearson as Class-leaders; Joseph Charlton in the School; Matthew Armstrong and George Longstaff as Stewards; and John Parker, who has recently succeeded the late John Dodd as Treasurer, and whose home is associated in the minds of preachers from far and near with generous hospitality, a feature that goes back to the days of a noble father and mother.

Swinhope has nothing to boast of in numbers. Being situated off the main road and close to the fells it has a very sparse population within its reach. But it is not without hope. One of its young men – Hubert Dixon – has this year entered the ranks of our ministry, and is serving his first year of probation at Edinburgh. We have a Sunday-school equal to almost any in the circuit, and better examples of devotion to duty under frequent discouragements are difficult to find than those of Joseph Noble, and William Wilson, who are the mainstay of the school.

Keenley has recently wakened to a new lease of life. A Sale of Work organised by Mrs. Lee and family gave the necessary impetus, and now we have a beautifully decorated chapel, lit by acetylene gas, and every outward provision for carrying on our work. Their ranks have recently been greatly strengthened by the coming of Joseph Armstrong and family to reside in the vicinity. He is one of four brothers, all preachers, who render active service to our own and the Wesleyan churches. His son is fast maturing for promotion to “full plan.”

Corry Hill, the home of the Ritson’s, has still one of that family in its Society Steward, William E. Ritson. He and James Mole have done good service at home, and recently throughout the circuit as preachers. Mr. Ritson is an interesting personality, and in the pulpit his astronomical illustrations have often quickened the interest of his hearers.

Whiteley Shield, one might almost say, has forestalled the movement for an order of Deaconesses. George Reed and John Dickinson are the only male members of society left to us, and the ladies have come to the rescue. Mrs. Lee as Class-leader, Mrs. Golightly as Steward, and Misses Golightly, Forster and Bell having care of the school.

Sparty Lea Chapel and School is our most recent structure, with a seating capacity for one hundred-and-twenty, and school accommodation for eighty. Erected at a cost of £800, the debt is now well under £200, and this is carried by the trustees themselves, free of interest, so anxious are they that every penny raised should be a step towards freedom from debt. We have a growing society with an efficient set of officials who keep affairs in a healthy condition. The brothers Pigg and Robson as Preachers, John Smith as Treasurer, Thompson Hull and William Liddell as Stewards, and Fred Sparke as “Doorkeeper” leave little to be desired.

Of Woodhead we have already spoken. The remaining society is found at Catton. With its neat little spire, the chapel presents an attractive appearance both outside and in. At one time a struggle to hold its own, this society has now found its feet, and in spite of many losses, still enjoys a well deserved prosperity. Well served by officials, the society readily responds to their calls, and Sunday and week-day the preacher finds a company waiting for his best. Robert Bulman and Edward Wilkinson as Stewards, anticipate all requirements. The School and George Russell have been such long friends that it would be difficult to imagine one without the other. Trust affairs are in the capable hands of Henry Martin and George Barron.

Till the war made conditions impossible, one of the outstanding events on the circuit was the annual Demonstration held in a marquee at Studdon. This first week-end in July has seen many a gathering of great crowds and great preachers. Some of the circuit’s best products have gone to enrich the church in a wider sphere of service. Besides those already mentioned, the ministry has claimed from us Revs. John Forster, John Gill, and Joseph Rutherford. Many choice spirits, however, are still among us, and there is a hopeful outlook on the future.


Christian Messenger 1921/266


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