Ashington Circuit, Northumberland
Transcription of article in the Christian Messenger
Ashington Circuit is now eleven years old. A child of the Blyth Circuit, it has become as large as the mother. The growth has been abnormal. Its resources have been strained; and had more been available financially, more might have been accomplished spiritually.
It is a colliery Circuit, and its extension has benn largely due to the rapid developments in the mining industry.
ASHINGTON was formerly known locally as Felham Down, situated about five miles north-east of Morpeth (Northumberland). Then it only contained a few houses. In the early seventies the mighty mining developments commenced. Now its population approaches 7,000. It is regarded as the largest colliery centre in the world.
It may be called the Coalopolis of the United Kingdom. Some idea of its magnitude may be gathered from the facts that about 7,000 tons of coal is the daily output; that 5,500 men and boys are engaged, whilst £13,000 is the average amount paid for wages fortnightly.
Primitive Methodists were not blind to such an opening. It is said the missionary should enter with the railway. Certainly Primitive Methodism entered here with the beginning of mining developments. A number of stalwarts came from West Cramlington in 1871, chief among them being Nicholas and Edward Gregory and Charles Main. They did not let the grass grow under their feet. Although no place was available for worship, they freely used God’s great temple – the open air. A blacksmith’s shop was next secured and fitted for services. After one or two removals in 1876 these pioneers became possessed of a new church costing £670, much labour being given. In sixteen years they had outgrown their accommodation and built a fine stone structure in Station Road, to seat 700 people, costing £3,300. Only £800 debt now remains. This is magnificent for a working-class society. Not more than five or six per cent of the money raised has come from outside. A great effort was made in 1898, when Rev. William Robson, of Whitby, then superintendent minister, organised a bazaar which realised £602. This was all accomplished within a year. The Church to-day reports 210 members.
The marvellous progress of Ashington has however been eclipsed by the rapid rise of the contiguous place of HIRST. The railway divides the two. About eleven years ago Hirst only contained twelve inhabitants. To-day its people number 14,000. Nor has it reached its zenith. There is a likelihood of several hundred more houses being erected. The property is chiefly occupied by men working at the Ashington mines. Hence the long, monotonous street. The place is not without its Primitive Methodist Church. After cottage services had been held for a while a school-chapel costing £763 was built in 1896. Although large, it soon proved to small. Extension became imperative. There was a great financial difficulty, though sufficient faith. In 1903 a large church was built, which with the organ added £2,667 value to the property. There is necessarily a heavy debt. Critics condemn the incurring such debts, but what can be done? Methodism has a large influence, and there is a compulsion to provide for the people’s deepest needs. What a problem the place is to those spiritually concerned! What an abundance of suitable material, but, alas! the means are not so plentiful!
Lately the south end has enormously developed, known as SEATON HIRST. Recently we commenced services in the Co-operative Hall at this place. A nice society and Sunday school were quickly established, necessitating another building. Land was secured, an iron church, seating 300, was erected and opened last April.
Whereas thirty years ago there was no Primitive Methodist Church, now within a radius of one and a-half miles there are three large churches belonging to us, having 400 members in the aggregate, and costing over £7,000. Surely this is a record that will be bad to beat for a working-class community.
Another small church is erected on the collieries at Linton, largely through the influence of Mr. William Crawford, one of the oldest Primitives in the north.
At North Seaton our cause was for a time very low, through removals. A gracious revival however broke out early last year, and the Church to-day is reaping the benefit.
At Longhirst, owing to the stoppage of the colliery, our Church is practically closed.
Plans are being prepared for a new church at Pegswood, which will be a great stimulus to this promising society.
A pronounced feature of our Stakeford Church is the large number of intelligent young people. What an inspiration they are! A year ago a lovely C.E. Hall was built and classrooms added.
Near at hand is Guyide Post. This Church has had connected with it several men of outstanding character. Robert H. Wheatley and Peter Waddell, the father of Rev J. Wesley Waddell, were powerful men. Bold, eccentric, yet of unblemished character, they were giants in their day. They have gone to their reward. This Church wants a new home. Arrangements are being made to commence building operations at no distant date.
There have been five stone-laying ceremonies in this station within three years, and two more are pending.
We have a number of loyal members in our society at Choppington, although the Church as a whole, has had a fluctuating experience.
The most ancient and historic spot in the Circuit is the borough of MORPETH. The town nestles in a charming valley. More delightful and varied surroundings it will be difficult to find. Through the valley winds the Wansbeck. The early Saxons settled here, and in the ninth century the Danes invaded the town, burning many of the dwellings. The bones of St. Cuthbert are said to have rested here on their way to Durham.
From 1553 until the passing of the Reform Act, the borough returned two members of Parliament. Since 1832 one has had to suffice. It is pleasing to know this old borough sent the first labour member to Parliament. Thomas Burt and Morpeth seem inseparable. In 1874 the miners brought their man to contest the seat. He won it, and for thirty-two years he has held it without a break. The right honourable member is loved in his constituency. His name is a household word. Men differing from him in politics vote for him out of respect and admiration.
Equally fortunate is the Wansbeck Division, which includes Ashington, Hirst, and pat of Morpeth District. Since 1885, Mr. Charles Fenwick, one of our local preachers, has represented this Division. Mr. Fenwick was the first man to go direct from pit to parliament.
Although he has contested six elections, he has always been successful. That his influence is not waning, is seen in the fact that at the last General Election his majority was 7176.
“Ye manna say mawt agyen Burt and Fenwick,” is the way the miner expresses his admiration for these two popular members.
Morpeth Churches are the Parish Church (St Mary’s) standing on Kirk Hill, about a mile out of the town to the south, and St James’s, a fine chapel-of-ease in the heart of the town. The Presbyterian (St George’s) Church is at the foot of the bridge, entering the town. Their cultured and highly esteemed pastor, Dr. Drysdale, has ministered here for over twenty years. The Congregational Church is in Dacre Street and the Wesleyan Methodist in Manchester Street. Our church is the latest and is looked upon as an ornament to the town. The old Stone Tower in Oldgate was formerly used as a gaol, and until 1802 was the town lock-up. In it there is a fine peal of bells. They still ring out the Curfews at 8 o’clock each evening.
Morpeth boasts of its illustrious townsmen. In Bullers Green, a tablet shows the spot where Dr. Morrison, the great Chinese scholar and missionary, lived. Only recently a tablet has also been unveiled on the house where dwelt the famous Lord Collingwood, the coadjutor of Nelson at Trafalgar. His tribute to Morpeth is inscribed on the tablet:- “Whenever I think of how I am to be happy again, my thoughts carry me back to Morpeth.”
Morpeth is regarded as one of the healthiest spots in the North of England. It is a great rendezvous for pleasure parties. On the charming Castle Banks the Northumberland miners hold their picnics.
PRIMITIVE METHODISM has had a sever struggle in this little town. Once ot twice we have had to give up. It lies in the extreme west of the Circuit. When the division was made, it became the place of residence of the second minister.
The town was first missioned by William Clowes in 1822. A small society was formed which the North Shields Circuit took over. It was very much tossed about. The Hexham Circuit sent Joseph Spoor, but the difficulties stunned him. From 1837 till 1868 the Society was extinct. Then the Blyth Circuit appointed Robert H. Wheatley – a powerful man, physically and religiously – to mission the place. He succeeded in getting a society together. It was by “corkscrew stairs” that the humble place of meeting was reached. The year 1872 – fifty years after Clowes’ mission – saw the first chapel opened in Manchester Street. The two survivals of these days are Mr. William Walton and Mrs Bowman.
It seemed as though Primitive Methodism was not destined to become a power in the town, So recently as three years ago there were but a few loyal and faithful followers meeting. This handful of worshippers determined upon a bold FORWARD MOVEMENT.
With £20 in hand, and the old chapel free of debt, a new church was decided upon, better adapted to the character of the place.
Rev. James Travis preached the opening sermon, Easter 1905. The cost, including the organ, was £2,500. It was a daring effort; a venture of faith. It has meant new life and power to our Church. The success has been phenomenal. In two years the gross takings amounted to £1,001. The new church seats 350 people and the hall below 300. The old chapel is leased to the Salvation Army. A fine new second minister’s house has also been purchased at a cost of £600.
Our people now hold a good place, and the prospects for the future are most encouraging. The district showed its appreciation of the undertaking by holding its annual meetings at Morpeth last year. It was a good time.
We wish for this, and all our Churches, God’s richest blessing.
This young circuit possesses to-day eleven preaching places, 752 members, 1,724 scholars, two ministers, and forty local preachers.
Rev. George R. Bell, the superintendent, who resides in Ashington, is now in his second year. The writer has entered upon his fourth year, residing at Morpeth. There are two Circuit stewards. Mr. Charles Main attends to the general work, while Mr. James Scouler gives special attention to the finances, for which he has particular aptitude.
There are those who feel the Circuit to be approaching a transition stage. What the future developments will be, remains to be seen. We can only thank God for the past and trust Him for the future.
Christian Messenger 1907/12