Retford Circuit, Nottinghamshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev J.W. Jenkinson
In describing the progress of our Church in Nottinghamshire, ]ohn Petty in his “History” wrote of that county that “it offered a considerable amount of opposition and persecution to the first preachers. . . . but in a comparatively short period it furnished flourishing churches, and greatly strengthened the community.” Ample verification of both judgments is afforded by the story of our cause in the ancient borough of East Retford. The present year witnesses the completion of one hundred years’ work in the town, for it was in 1818 that the pioneer missionaries sent out by the Nottingham Circuit, opened their campaign in the spacious Market Square. The then authorities, however, were not very spacious in their sympathies, for the inoffensive preachers were quickly hailed before the chief magistrate who let them go after a severe reprimanding. This inauspicious beginning, notwithstanding, a foothold was secured, ministers were appointed, and at the March
Quarterly Meeting in 1819, Retford was constituted a Mission. The first place of worship for the town society was an old schoolhouse, on Spital Hill. Evidence exists that this building, formerly kept by Mr. Bower, served the needs of the young Society, at any rate down to the year 1839.
Soon afterwards, however, a “move” was made to the centre of the town, Carolgate, where stood an old theatre built in 1789, by a Mr. Pero. Unawed by its early associations and thinking only of the better opening it secured for them, the building was purchased by the fathers, who, with true “converting” genius, set about its transformation. Opening services were held in February, 1841, when, amongst others, William Antliffe and William Garner preached. The former of these rendered similar service nearly thirty years later, when in 1870, the present commodious edifice was opened. By that time he was Principal of Sunderland Institute. The mention of, his name leads one to refer to the remarkable record of the circuit as the birthplace and training ground of many eminent ministers of our Church.
From one village alone, Caunton, in the early days there went out several who were to be rulers in our Israel. Jeremiah Gilbert, the pioneer of Hallamshire Primitive Methodism, hailed from thence. Had it done no other service Caunton, by that fact alone, had sufficient distinction, but in course of time there followed the famous brothers William and Samuel Antliffe, and later still, William Cutts, all three of whom were called to the Presidential Chair, William twice, viz., 1863 and 1865, and Samuel in 1873, and Mr. Cutts in 1883. The reader will notice the recurring decimal. Others belonging to Retford Circuit who have since served in the ministry of our church are Benjamin, Alfred and William Clayton – of whom more anon – Paul Peacock (Secretary of Conference, 1902) George Tallents, John Wilson, Tom Peatfield, W.H. Paulson, Ernest H. Peatfield, and Wilfred J. Peatfield.
The Claytons were amongst the earliest to identify themselves with our cause, and through all the intervening years they have been honourably associated with all its activities. It was a Miss Clayton who, along with Mr. George Rex (a layman of outstanding gifts) laid the foundation stones of the present chapel. Of the brothers above named, Benjamin died in early manhood; Alfred and William, after faithful ministries, both settled in the town of their boyhood, and as health permitted, continued to render acceptable service. Alfred died in 1890, and William, who was also a Town Councillor, lived until 1903. Each has a daughter in the church to-day.
To go back to the development of the work, the zeal of the pioneers took them over a wide area. Many were the places mlssioned, and there have had to be periodic rearrangements of the circuit boundaries. The first was when the Eakring Circuit comprising Caunton above named and many village societies – was formed. Later on Austerfield, Bawtry and Misson were transferred to Doncaster, while in 1887 the Kiveton Park Circuit was constituted. The latest rearrangement was in 1906 when Retford and Worksop each became the head of a separate circuit. Long united, the circuits still continue to have friendly associations.
It is barely possible to give the merest outline of the Retford Society. There are many fragrant memories of bygone days. Of ministers whose names are still cherished, we may be permitted to mention among the men “now departed, ”Edward Dixon, Smith Birch, Thomas Storr, James R. Parkinson, William Whitby, William Rose, M.H. Clack, and I.J. Hardy, whilst of those still remaining, there are Joel Hodgson, Thomas Campey, F.G. and T. Wallis, Jas. Shaw, C.T. Coulbeck, W. Hayton and H. Oliver – all now on the supernumerary list. The Church has just suffered a heavy double bereavement in the deaths of Thomas Vaughan (superintendent 1896-99), beloved friend and pastor, and William Robinson (superintendent 1902-6), mighty preacher and a man of distinction.
Nor has the Church been less fortunate in its laymen. George Rex has been named. Others whose service to the cause can never be forgotten were Chas. Sutton, Isaac Jordan, Wm. Townrow, Frank Farrand, George Bramhill, John Bourne, and William Peatfield. The late Councillor James C. Peatfield was widely known. Whether in Church life or public affairs he was regarded as a leader. In the Sheffield District he was a distinct force, and at the Grimsby Conference was nominated for the Vice-Presidency. Time, substance and prayers were given freely for his church, In the town he was honoured and respected, being Mayor of the Borough in 1898, 99, filling the position with credit alike to himself and the town. Another outstanding layman was Mr. William A. Rawdlng, who died in 1916. For half a century he had been a local preacher, and had held almost every office open to a layman. Equally noteworthy was the late Mrs. W.A. Rawding, whose loyalty and enthusiasm were real assets. As a preacher she travelled many miles, and cheerfully gave of the best. A true mother in Israel, her prayers are to-day inspiring memories.
With such splendid traditions it is no wonder that these families have supplied leaders for the church to-day. Councillor John Peatfield, J.P., occupies many honourable positions, but above everything else he is a loyal Primitive Methodist. Deeply interested in the church’s wider activities, he is highly respected in the Sheffield District.
The Rawding family also is worthily represented. Mr. F.A. Rawding, besides having been choirmaster and organist for a considerable period, is in constant demand as a local preacher. Mr. W.A. Rawding of the Mexborough Circuit is an invaluable worker amongst the young, and is District Orphanage Treasurer. With a splendid professional training Mr. Edwin E. Rawding makes an admirable Circuit Steward. He represented Shef?eld District in the London Conference of 1916. The Thurmans have been a family of workers all along. For many years the father. Mr. S. Thurman had charge of the Sunday-school. In this he is succeeded by his son, Mr. S. S. Thurman, with Mr. George Thurman (at present in the army) as Secretary, (Mr. J. Burton serving as “deputy.”) In most departments of the church Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Parker do excellent service, while Miss Parker is a most talented organist. The Trust Officials, Messrs. J. Boulter, B. Aves and I. Walters, are untiring in their interest. The last-named is also Society Steward along with Mr. Albert Rowe. The Church owes much materially as well as spiritually, to its faithful band of ladies. Year by year the Sewing Meeting, with Mrs. Bourne as Treasurer, and Mrs. Vaughan as Secretary, arranges for the sale of work, which is invariably successful. Mr. Charles Taylor, a gifted layman, is finding useful employment with the Y.M.C.A. in France. Four Class-meetings are held week by week, whilst recently open-air work has been revived.
The village Societies, generally speaking. are healthy. Clarborough is the oldest chapel in the circuit. Mr. John Bovill’s stedfast devotion has been of incalculable value. His son, Mr. W. E. Bovill (now at Retford) is a local preacher and Sunday-school worker, and a generous supporter. Brothers Hill and Renshaw are true yoke-fellows in Church and School, and their interest is shared by their respective families. There is a prosperous Sunday-school with excellent material for the future, and with industrial developments that are fore-shadowed the prospects are bright.
Lound rejoices in the prettiest chapel on the circuit. It might be regarded as a memorial to the late Mr. and Mrs. J. Fielding, who for their work’s sake were beloved by all who knew them. The son, Mr. John Fielding, walks in the old paths, whilst his wife and daughters find joy in the service of the Master. Mrs. Tomblin (the Society Steward‘s wife) inherits the same traditions, and her interest is both deeply rooted and constant. The Rollinsons and Barkers have had long associations with this society.
Sutton has had a chequered career, “ups” and “downs,” and perhaps more often down than up. For years it was a problem, and largely has had to be carried. Eighteen months ago on the initiative at Mr. H. Skinner, of Ranskill, the debt was paid off. Coincident with this, new workers appeared on the scene, a Sunday-school was opened and now, with Brothers Hancox and Marshall as leaders, and Mrs. Thomas in the School, there is no reason why there should not be increasing success.
Ranskill stands next to Retford in point of strength. Its fame has gone out far, beyond the narrow bounds of the village. Its fortunes largely gather around two families, the Skinners and the Johnsons. Under these names a flourishing village industry has been built up, and the partners, Mr. Enoch Skinner and Mr. Henry Johnson, loyally supported by their wives, showed the same commendable enterprise in the work of the church. Ranskill Society has long been a crown of rejoicing to many. The generosity of the people is proverbial, the singing, with Mr. A. Marrison as conductor, is excellent, whilst the grace of hospitality is a conspicuous virtue, as all the preachers would testify. Mr. Henry Skinner has given many years of generous service to Church and School and Choir, and his influence is great. Mr. Fred T. Johnson, the Circuit Secretary, is a tower of strength, and as a preacher is welcome everywhere. The spirit and capacity of the friends here may be indicated by the wonderful results of the Jubilee Celebrations recently held.
Within three months this village Society raised well over £200. When normal conditions return, structural alterations will be made. An improved sanctuary is greatly to be desired.
Little Morton has a splendid Sunday-school, carried on by the devotion of Mr. John Boulter., of Retford, assisted by Mr. Chamberlain. This village” school has twice in succession won the Sheffield District Orphanage Shield and they mean to keep it.
That in fine is the spirit of the whole circuit. It will have been noted by the reader how much the circuit owes to its old families, and the present generation is determined to “hold fast” the standard at departed worthies. We anticipate the future with courage and confidence.
Christian Messenger 1918/330