Wolverhampton Circuit, Staffordshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Joseph Maland
Wolverhampton – the heart of the Midlands – has a lurid, black centre, but a bewitchingly green borderland, for on the Tettenhall side it opens out to some of the loveliest scenery in our island home. The town is rich in romantic and historical associations. Its ancient name, Wulfere-han-ture, first mentioned in 659 takes us back to the beginning of our nation, to the period when the cruel Norsemen ravaged the land, Wolverhampton being the scene of more than one encounter during the sanguinary wars between Saxons and Danes, an exceptionally fierce battle being fought at Wednesfield, about two miles east of the town, numerous tumuli marking where the dead were interred. Wolverhampton was part of the ancient kingdom of Mercia, and tradition says it was the birthplace of King Harold, surnamed “Harefoot,” the eldest son and successor of Canute the Great by Alice, the pretty daughter of a Wolverhampton shoemaker. In the time of Henry III. Wolverhampton was a great woollen centre, and thltherwards merchants journeyed from all parts of England. Its trade had completely changed by the time of Elizabeth, when it was celebrated for its manufacture of locks and keys, and later still for tinned, japanned, papier mache, galvanised goods, steel toys and General hardware, for most of which it is noted to-day.
Primitive Methodism has been honourably associated with the fortunes of Wolverhampton for nearly a century, and has greatly aided the development of its civic and religious life. Our first missionaries came to a people largely living in squalor and sin, many of them brutal in manner and low in morality, and far from kindly to the heralds of the Cross. When Sampson Turner preached with eloquence and fiery zeal in the market place on a cold, wild day in March, 1819, the crowd at first listened to him curiously and calmly, but as he set forth the guilt of sinning men and pleaded for penitence and surrender he evoked sneers and angry words, whilst some of the rougher members of his audience hustled and buffetted him, and so serious did the situation become, that but for the bravery of a Mr. Griffiths, who rescued him and gave him hospitality, the valiant soldier of the Cross might have sealed his testimony with his life’s blood. When saintly James Bonsor attempted to hold a service in the same place in July, 1820, a constable sought to prevent him, and as our dauntless representative persisted he arrested him, and a bigoted magistrate, after a mere mockery of a trial, sent him to prison, where he praised God amid the gloom of his prison cell. Despite bitter persecutions, fearless men continued their witness, and much good work was accomplished, John Petty recording in his history, p. 408: “Large prosperity, attributable under God to missionary efforts in Wolverhampton and surrounding districts.” Chiefly owing to lack of resources our pioneers were unable to build a chapel until 1847, when they erected a small building at Monmore Green that has been the scene of countless spiritual triumphs. In 1851 a chapel was erected at Derry Street, from whence Dudley Road Church originated. Among the earliest members at Derry Street were John and Martha Watkins, whose daughter, Mrs. Grosvenor, is one of our best workers to-day, William and Mary Hardy, whose daughters became the wives of the late Revs. D Neilson, M.A., B.D., and R. Clarke; James and Elizabeth George the parents of Mrs. S. R. Woodall, the Rev. S.L. George and Mr. Coun. A.J. George, who nobly serves at Dudley Wood, and Mr. and Mrs T. Davies. A little while before Derry Street Chapel was built Wednesfield was missioned from Darlaston, chiefly by Samuel Rogers and Griffiths Robinson, who were joined by George Wootton, Richard Cooper, Thomas Evans, John Dyke and Samuel Vaughan, in whose house the church met for two years when in 1850 a small chapel was erected. Excellent work has been done at Wednesfield, though many obstacles have had to be surmounted. At first the Episcopalians resented our missionary efforts and were far from friendly. Martha and Rachel Cooper, daughters of Richard Cooper, and afterwards wives of two of our chief officials, Richard and Robert Edge, were ejected from the National School because they attended our Sunday school. Richard Cooper, however, was not a man to submit to such intolerance without protest, and at once laid his grievance before the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with the result that his girls were promptly reinstated. In the succeeding years causes were established at Lord Street, Heath Town, Moor Street, Moseley Village, Park Village, and at Dudley Road and Waterloo Road, forming the Second Circuit, under the superintendency of Rev. Joseph Maland, and the other churches, with Monmore Green and Wednesfield at the head constituting the First Circuit, under the capable superintendency of Rev. James Shepherd.
Among the most successful ministers of early days were Charles Smallman, George Bagley and the eccentric Henry Higginson, about whose remarkable ministry strange stories are recited. Mr. Robert Edge tells of going to Moseley Village one day the snow was knee-deep to fetch him to conduct a service at Wednesfield. At first the apparent futility of the journey on so unpropitious a day made him refuse, and then, as if by special inspiration, to the young messenger’s surprise and amusement he broke forth:
“Upon my word, there is a bird
Upon the preachers stick;
Through frost and snow I must go
To Wen’sfield very quick.”
Then curtly to Robert he called “come on,” and so sallied forth to give of his best to an eager audience, whom the wildest weather could not prevent from gathering to hear so quaint an evangelist. Fragrant memories gather around the tender, winsome ministry of these holy men, who like Hugh Bourne had an ardent affection for the children. Mrs. Grosvenor relates an incident of a service conducted by Adam Clegg. As a girl, she was reciting for the first time in Derry Street Chapel, when overcome by emotion she broke down. Mr. Clegg placed his hand tenderly on her head and whispered words of encouragement meanwhile leading the congregation in song so heartening the young reciter that she recovered her self-possession and went forward with her message, which winged its way to many hearts and from that hour she stood forth as devoted to Christ and the Church she still so loyally serves. Reminiscences of the strengthening ministries of Thomas Guttery, James B. Knapp, T.H. Richards, N. Haigh, T Pigott, Charles Dudley, W Jones Davis, W.H. Taylor, William Carrier, J. Jenkins, W.E. Webly, and others equally worthy, are gratefully treasured in many lives, men who often in very trying circumstances have led our people on to victory, for difficulties seem to have dogged our work here from the beginning, as he who runs may read in the church records, but ever the note of victory is sounded, as the following typical extracts from the Minute Book of Dudley Road Church clearly indicate:
1. Report to the Missionary Committee, December 4th, 1887.
“We consider this little mission fairly prosperous, numerically, financially and spiritually, and providing the old members abound in grace and the new ones remain steadfast, our prospects are good.”
2. Report to Committee, June 4th, 1887.
“We are thankful we have been able to hold our own during the past quarter, bad trade having seriously affected a number of our people.
We find as usual the Episcopalians are using every influence for their own ends, but a few of us have united and determined to dare and do for God and His cause, if we die in the struggle.”
That last clause indicates the indomitable spirit that has animated ministers and laymen here ever since that memorable day when Sampson Turner risked his life in the market place that he might declare the Divine message to sinful men, for in no part of our Zion have we had more devoted servants. Good men and women such as those already mentioned are still in service to-day like Robert Edge, who has rendered untiring labour over half-a-century; Thomas Beech a Sunday School worker for over forty years; Charles Wootton, whose life has been given to Wednesfield Church; William Summery, serving Monmore Green Church for over forty years; William Weaver and Thomas Reynolds, holding aloft the standard at Moor Street; stalwarts like Arthur Woodall, Walter Brown and Edward Crowe at Lord Street; Samuel and Isaiah Hinckley, J. Foxon, H. Edwards and A.P. Morris at Waterloo Road, and A.J. George, J. Grosvenor, F. W. Male, T.W. Ward, S. Stackhouse, H. Powell, W. Blewitt, H. Hayward, W.H. Ellis and A.P. Jordan (honorary organist for twenty-five years), our chief officials at Dudley Road.
Our church has taken a prominent place in the civic, political and religious life of Wolverhampton. The Rev. Joseph Maland is President of the Wolverhampton and District C.E. Union, from which office Mr. A.P. Morris has recently retired. Mr. S. Stackhouse is a leader of the Adult Morning School movement; Mr. Coun. A.J. George renders excellent civic service; Mr. F.W. Male is one of the chief Liberal workers; Mr. Councillor E. Hadley, J.P. presides over the Wednesfield Urban District Council, from which Mr. Thomas Beech has retired after long and faithful service, whilst for over twelve years Mr. W. Pritchard was Chairman of the Board of Guardians, and still serves as one of its most experienced members, thus through its representatives our church is leavening all departments of life with its uplifting influence.
The Wolverhampton churches have always given special attention to work among young people, recruiting from their ranks many Church members, and a goodly number of young folk have passed to positions of honour and special usefulness. From Wednesfield Joshua and Jabez Dykes passed into the American ministry ; Miss S. Edge became the wife of the Rev. Robert Banham, and with heroism and much success has served four terms on our West African mission stations. Formerly associated with Heath Town Sunday school were Rev. D. T. Maylott and Revs. F.R.L. Lowe and A. Heath, who serve in the Congregational ministry. Connected with Dudley Road Church is Miss George, who is taking a high place in the teaching profession and in the world of science, having taken her B.Sc., with special honours in Psychology; Dr. T.J. George, after a most successful course of training in Edinburgh is building up an influential practice in Birmingham; Mr. Ernest Blewitt is securing a place of honour in the realm of music, Miss Male as a Junior C.E. leader, and Mr. A. Grosvenor is seeking to enter our ministry. From this Church Revs. S.L. George, S.R. Woodall, L. Miles entered our ministry. One of our most gifted workers at Dudley Road is Mr. W. Parkinson, B.A., who comes to us from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and is exercising a very bene?cial influence among our youths. Never were our Schools and Christian Endeavours more flourishing, and the increasing recognition of the importance of Sunday school work as indicated by the recent formation of a Teachers‘ Training Class at Dudley Road, and also the establishment of a class for the preparation of future teachers warrants us in believing that the prosperity of the future will eclipse that of the past, this assurance being confirmed during the last few months by a number of our brightest youths and maidens making public confession of Christ as Redeemer and Master.
No better work has been done in recent years than at Park Village, where, during the ministry of Rev. J. Jenkins in 1906, a new church was built, and under the leadership of Rev. James Shepherd, an excellent congregation has been gathered and a school of 248 scholars, and already there is a demand for more accommodation, as there is also at Dudley Road, where the trustees have just purchased a splendid plot of land for school extension for that purpose. And so, cheered by past achievements, and inspired with mighty hopes, we face the future, sure that “the best is yet to be.”
Christian Messenger 1912/124