Tunstall Primitive Methodism 1929

Description by Rev Arthur Wilkes from the Handbook of the 110th Annual Primitive Methodist Conference held in Tunstall in 1929

Cover of the 1929 Primitive Methodist Conference held in Tunstall
Englesea Brook Museum collection
unnamed minister in the article - possibly the author, Rev Arthur Wilkes
Handbook of the Primitive Methodist Conference 1929; Englesea Brook Museum
Rev Philip Pugh
Handbook of the Primitive Methodist Conference 1929; Englesea Brook Museum
Alderman W. Hickman, permanent member of Coference, Tunstall District
Handbook of the Primitive Methodist Conference 1929; Englesea Brook Museum

Tunstall Primitive Methodism

by Arthur Wilkes

ORIGINS. In and around round Tunstall transpired all the romance that went to the making of Primitive Methodism, that moral force which in a perilous period save England from the tragedies that befell France in the Revolution.  Its human instrument was Hugh Bourne, a young man of 30, who, born and bred “far from the madding crowd” on the edge of a lonely moorland, was exceedingly diffident, nervous and shy.   Newly converted, he found a fire kindled in his soul which blazed up into a divine concern for the salvation of men.  Lorenzo Dow’s story of the success of camp meetings in America convinced Hugh that they were worth adventuring in the Potteries to counteract the pernicious influence of the “Wakes”.  The first essay in this novel method of evangelism on Mow Cop on May 31st  1807 was so pronounced a success that Bourne, spite of opposition and excommunication, organised others.  Many converts were won and societies formed and handed over to the Wesleyan Circuit although it had treated him so harshly.

Then the “Stanley incident” made imperative the pastoring of the ten member society there, and from it sprang the second largest British Methodist church.  Meanwhile kindred “incidents” were inspiring in Tunstall, where Clowes, Smith, Steele and others held cottage services and suffered similar expulsion.  By 1811 a “plan” was issued with eight places and fifteen preachers, and a “Connexional Instinct” emerged demanding class tickets and the name “Primitive Methodist” was adopted.  The centre of the movement was Tunstall, where services were held in Joseph Smith’s not unpretentious house in the “Windmill” area.  Thus the infant cause found birth.  It is the somewhat fanciful view of one historian that the beginning of Primitive Methodism was an amalgamation of “Clowesites” and “Camp Meetingers,” but there is a painful paucity of evidence for the distinction such union would pre-suppose, while there are many facts against it.  For the so-called “Clowesite” meetings were organised and shared by Bourne, while Clowes was a consistent Camp-Meetinger, attending and preaching at them from Mow onwards.

A kitchen and then a warehouse proving too strait for the growing cause Bourne, chiefly at his own cost, built the first chapel, a fane of fadeless interest – spite of the unvarnished terms in which Hugh himself describes it.  “It was finished in a plain manner, the walls were not coated and it had no ceiling. It was much approved on account of its … … neat appearance … … The house form was chosen … … so that if not wanted it would just form four houses.  This … … because it could not be known whether or not te Connexion would be of long continuance.”  It was eventually turned into four cottages, not however because of the non-continuance of the Connexion, but because of its swift and phenomenal success.  So rapidly indeed did it grow that in ten years ‘time a much larger building was an imperative necessity.  Yet, brief as was its career it witnessed wonderful scenes.  It “could a tale unfold!”  Here was held in 1821 the first Tunstall Conference, from which, on a technicality, the Founder was excluded; though on legal grounds he got his own back, as the story of the “speeching Radical” shows, for that troubler of the Assembly was peremptorily silenced by Hugh who sprang from his back seat and exclaimed – “That man shall not be in this Chapel!”  There could be no quibble or appeal.  The owner was only exercising his legal right.  Let “speeching”  politicians attending the election-time Conference take warning!  Shade of Hugh Bourne!  Delegates will linger reverently beside this old-time fane.

“PIONEERS, O PIONEERS.”   Among the makers of Primitive Methodism foremost place is justly given to Hugh Bourne.  He was its organiser, financier, statesman.  Had schemes to be formulated, or legal matters negotiated, his co-adjutors looked to Bourne, nor did they look in vain.  whether it was the licensing of “places” for Camp Meetings or of a “person” as the responsible party Hugh filled the part and footed the bill,  Indeed a sane balancing of the facts compels the conclusion that but for Bourne the Camp Meeting movement would have broken down at its inception and Primitive Methodism would not have come to birth.  Practical man of affairs, he more than any other planned and toiled that this novel instrument of evangelism should not be abortive, but an efficient means to so worthy an end.  With a splendid passion for the saving of men. he spent substance and self in the resuscitation of open-sir evangelism without the glimmering of a notion that a new denomination would result.  And after it did perforce emerge the same rare qualities characterised him.  True, he had his idiosyncrasies.  But judged in the light of his herculean achievements, they become as negligible as Cromwell’s warts.

Along complemental lines, equal tribute must be paid to William Clowes.  Once a drunken and dancing Burslem, potter, he became the greatest evangelist of his age.  Mighty alike in prayer and preaching, he swayed vast audiences and swept thousands into the Kingdom.  Better than a thrilling romance is the story of his toils and triumphs.  Tunstall could not hold him.  Striding along Trent Valley to Burton, Derby, Loughboro’ and Nottingham, he eventually reached Hull, the scene of his earlier dissolute escapades.  Here spiritual victories worthy of a new “Acts of the Apostles” were won with incredible swiftness and the foundations firmly laid for our wonderful success on Humberside.  From Hull he missioned the north east coast to the Tyne and then sped across to Carlisle and Whitehaven.  Then he missioned London, Cornwall and hosts of other places.  Remembering how great a contribution he made to the Connexion, it will be readily conceded that his name is justly linked with Bourne’s in the founding of our church.  

“And what shall we more say” of James Crawfoot the mystic; John Benton of anti non-mission law fame; Sarah Kirkland, our first lady minister who anticipated Maud Royden by more than a century; and John Wedgewood, scion of the famous potter family and himself a “thrower”, born in1788, missioning with amazing abandon and power for fifty years, voluntarily except for the three years he was a paid minister.  Heath Street, Crewe, perpetuates his memory.  His “life” was written by a “Layman” probably Thos. Bateman himself, a kindred spirit rendering similar voluntary service for more than seventy years and dying a Deed Poll Member and almost a centenarian.  “Let us praise famous men” and cherish, long after Methodist Union, the memory of our noble pioneers.

OUTREACH.  With the rapidity of a prairie fire the movement spread.  On village greens and market squares these flaming heralds lifted up the Banner.  “Tunstall” says Bourne, “ kept rising very fast … … and directed a collection to be made throughout the Circuit for spreading the Gospel.”  Bourne and Crawfoot made the first attack on London, buying a pair of blankets to keep them warm on the stage coach journey.  More boldly still in 1829 two of Tunstall’s Travelling Preachers – William Knowles and Ruth Watkins, were appointed to mission America!  Yet the Home work was not neglected.  The Circuit covered more ground than the present Tunstall District.

FORMER MINISTERS.  Many famous names figure in the list of Tunstall’s Travelling Preachers.  Besides those already named think of these – James Bonser, four times imprisoned for preaching; William Sanders, joint author with Bourne of the hymns “My soul is now united” and “Hark the Gospel”; John Petty, who served the church as Historian, Editor, President of Jubilee Conference, first Governor of Elmfield College and first Theological Tutor; John Garner, martyr to merciless persecution and six times President of Conference; John Ride and Thomas Russell, of “Berkshire is ours” fame; Richard Jukes, sweet singer of our Israel, who wrote “My heart is fixed,” “We’re travelling home to heaven above” and “What’s the news?”; Henry Higginson, who gave a lad in the street to sing over again the tune afterwards set to “The Lion of Judah”; William Wright, perspiringly earnest and prodigal with adjectives; James Barnes, the pamphleteer; David S. Prosser, the little wizard of the pulpit; James Tristram with the mien of a gentleman and the soul of a saint.

But Tunstall’s Golden Age was in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, and the greatest of its Preachers was Philip , statesman, scholar, controversialist (Calvinist Cousins of Willenhall discovered this to his discomfitures and vanquishment: who does not know “Weighed in the Balances?”).  What an army of officials and local preachers he trained in his famous “Improvement Class!”  They and the imposing Jubilee structure are his imperishable memorial.  He was Connexional Editor and had passed the Presidential Chair, although little past fifty, when he died and was buried at Newcastle.  William Jones of the silver tongue was Pugh’s colleague and returned to the Circuit in the ‘seventies to add still greater lustre to his name.  Biddulph and Burslem Circuits were then in this, and of the thirty churches more than half reported new erections during his superintendency.  It was the period of the inauguration of School Boards.  Jones led the fight, headed the poll and became first Chairman.  What oratorical triumphs he achieved in Spurgeon’s Tabernacle at Tunstall, in the Free Trade Hall and in hundreds of pulpits!  After a third term at Tunstall, and the Conference Presidency he returned to his Halesowen home where in 1914 he passed from his sixty odd years’ ministry to the higher service.  Dr. A.T. Guttery’s father was Pugh’s other colleague.  What a wonderful trio!  Another name of undimmed lustre is that of Dr. Joseph Ferguson, President of Conference and General Sunday School Secretary, whose brilliant evangelical preaching and abounding philanthropy are still vividly remembered.  His colleague, James Griffin, akin in spirit and style, served two terms here and still survives in retirement and total blindness, he is remembered with enduring affection.  George Jones’ six years term was a period of much-needed consolidation.  Few men have left a deeper impress on Jubilee than J.T. Horne, who engineered the re-construction of the interior, and by his “Nightology Class” put the stamp of his mentality on those who to-day are the pillars of the church.   It is interesting to note that Joseph Pearce, who superannuates at this Conference after a fruitful forty-six year’s ministry, was Dr. Ferguson’s assistant here.

 OTHER TUNSTALL CONFERENCES.  Seven Conferences have met at Tunstall.  Of the first in 1821 the names of delegates, President and Secretary are all unrecorded.  Probably the officers were changed daily.  By some strange oversight Hugh Bourne was not elected, nor allowed to sit, but at a deadlock in stationing his advice was sought and sent: “Divide the Connexion into Districts and let each District station its own men.”  This solved the problem and set the rule for half a century.  Of the 1828 Conference officers there is also no record, but a big increase was reported.  On the Sunday the processioned – probably between green fields – to Hanley for the camp meeting.  We have still less knowledge of the 1835 Conference, but of the one in 1846 Clowes was President and Bywater, Secretary, and a tattered  fragment of the Conference single-sheet plan still exists.  In 1860 the Great Jubilee Conference sat at Tunstall.  Pugh was back again as minister and a sheet-plan survives.  John Petty was President and Brownson Secretary.  The Conference Jubilee sermon was preached by Thomas King and there was an increase of 8,000.  In 1884 Conference met here  a sixth time.  Ferguson was Super., George Lamb, President, and William Graham, Secretary.  Hugh Gilmore had a great time preaching in Jubilee.  In 1910, the centenary Conference was held here and great Camp Meetings were held on Mow.  Henshaw was President, William Barker, Secretary, and J.P. Langham, mystic, poet and Hartley Lecturer, who has passed away this year, was Super.  A Committee to compile the Hymnal Supplement was appointed.  The writer was a delegate and has always regretted that he did not nominate as a member of the Committee our greatest hymnologist, Rev. I. Dorricott, whose passing will be reported at this Conference.

CHURCHES AND OFFICIALS.   Of the Mother Church all her sons are justly proud.  Ir is an imposing, commodious and beautiful structure.  It has cost nearly £20,000 and its debt was liquidated during the writer’s ministry in 1923.  It has long been noted for the strength of its official staff and the tradition is being well maintained.  Mr. A.G. Jones, a son of the Manse is Circuit Steward and Mr. J.W. Hulme School Superintendent, and both have adorned their office for about a decade.  Mr George Baskeyfield, F.R.C.O., has given a lifetime’s service to the organ and choir and has raised the Church’s music to a high standard of excellence.  He is famed far beyond the Potteries area.  Pittshill is a strong society with spacious premises and a history that stretches back over a hundred years.  It numbers among its officials Alderman Scott, J.P., Chairman of the Education Authority, and Alderman Sproston, J.P., ex-Mayor of the City.  Goldenhill has good buildings and an active society, capably led by William Callear, J.P., Member of the Guardians.  John Ebrill has celebrated his Jubilee of service in Church and School.  Norton Green is a live mining-village Church and is famous as the scene of the crucial Camp Meeting and of Hugh Bourne’s last sermon.  Baddeley Edge, close to historic Stanley, was on the first plan, has devoted officials and a big Band of Hope, Sandyford, long a scene of struggle, has won through to deblessness and prosperity, thanks to the heroic devotion of the late Samuel Purcell and his co-workers.  Bradeley too, is debtless and doing a good work among miners.

OFFSHOOTS.    Newcastle became a circuit in early days and enjoyed the ministry of Connexional giants.  Higherland Church and Schools date from 1823 and cost £3,000; the debt is £360.  From it sprang Silverdale half a century ago and Stoke in 1897.  Silverdale has a fine property in the main thoroughfare valued at £4,000 with a debt of £200.  Stoke has a fine Church and Schools, built in 1878 and 1908 at a cost of £4,700 and the debt is under £600.  Longton, strangely enough was missioned from Prees Green, of which it was a branch in the ‘thirties, subsequently becoming a Circuit with Thomas Russell as Super.  Later it lapsed again into tutelage but in the ‘eighties re-appeared as a Circuit and later still amalgamated with Lonsdale Street to form Stoke and Longton.  “Bourne,” as it is affectionately called, is an imposing structure built in 1901 at a cost of £4,500 and is now debtless.  The late Alderman J.W. Beswick, J.P., was one of its stalwarts and the family associations still happily persist.

Talke covers a wide area, and has some imposing Churches, notably Chesterton and Audley, valued at £30,000 and all debtless. Englesea Brook, with its historic graveyard, is in the Talke Circuit, which is pardonably proud that its popular steward, Mr W.H. Hawthorne, will be Vice-President of this Conference.  Proud too it is in the possession of some ancient oak forms, the handiwork of Hugh Bourne.  Hanley, the elongated City’s shopping centre, has had, connexionally, a chequered history, but latterly is seeing sunnier days.  Heroic adventures at Northwood and Abbey Hulton evoke our admiration.  Biddulph was sliced off fifty-one years ago.  Among its former ministers was the veteran William Lawrence, still active at Portsmouth at eighty-five, while its aged Secretary, John Frost, has occupied that office from the beginning,  Bemersley, the home of the Bournes, is in this Circuit and the old Book Room, whence issued all Connexional literature for over twenty years, may still be seen though now, alas reduced to the indignity of a cow byre.  Burslem is the latest Circuit carved out of Tunstall.  Birthplace of Clowes, to whose memory is dedicated its fine Church, built at a cost of £7,000, and possessor of Clowes’ famous lamp, it were a fitting thing that it should share in the honours of our Annual Assembly.  Its Jubilee year witnesses a courageous effort to liquidate its £950 debt.

Surely, if Antæus of the Greek mythology received new strength every time he touched his mother earth, every delegate and visitor to this historic connexional area will experience such new accessions of spiritual power as will issue in more devoted and effective service for Christ and the Church, and this is our prayer.

Transcribed from the collection at Englesea Brook Museum of Primitive Methodism by Christopher Hill In March 2016

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