Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger in the series ‘Struggles and Triumphs of Village Primitive Methodism’ by G.C.
BROTTON-IN-CLEVELAND has a history which carries us back to the shadowy times ere William of Normandy invaded these realms. It figured in the Domesday book; its ancient church was ‘one of the three given to the Priory of Guisborough in 1129 by Robert de Brus;’ but the Brotton of to-day has no pride of ancestry and cares for none of these things.
And, perhaps, equally heedless is it of the magnificent panorama spread at its feet. Yet, reclining as it does upon the long back or Huntcliff, the giant who has for ages faced the blasts of the northern sea, the village commands a view, extensive and varied, of hill and dale, moor and wood, sea and stream, castle and cottage, farm and mine, quiet hamlet and busy town of which it might well be proud. Brotton like another ancient place, is ‘beautiful for situation.’
But we cannot say much of the beauty of the village itself. It is a mining village: a synonym for architectural ugliness. Except in the older part, where a few picturesque thatched cottages and houses with lawns and gardens still remain, the buildings are small, inconvenient, and featureless like any other cluster of miners’ dwellings. It is said many of the houses were built in a hurry: the bricks still hot from the kiln when used!
Only a minority of the adult population can claim the village as its birthplace. From Cornwall and Cumberland, Durham and Norfolk, and many other counties, men came, thirty years ago, to earn a livelihood by hard toil in the ironstone mines. Differences of dialect, physique, and temperament are easily discernible. The natives of the place, few in number, are perhaps the most difficult to discover.
Primitive Methodism did not find it easy to obtain an entrance into Brotton. But in the sixties, our Church had not lost its love of Home Mission work, and men of faith and zeal were not wanting when doors were open and hard work had to be done. And so in December ’65 after a three years’ struggle ‘Willie’ Dunn and ‘Lennie’ Ascough, both living at Marske, five miles away, undertook to preach in the place on alternate Sundays till a cause was established. At the following March quarter day seven members were reported. For five years meetings were held in a cottage until in 1871 a schoolroom and then a chapel were erected in the main thoroughfare at a cost of £423.
The enterprise of the brethren – a mere handful, among whom may be mentioned Foster Heslop, the first treasurer – was fully and immediately justified by the spiritual awakening which took place. Rarely did a Sunday pass without conversions. Scenes of a remarkable description, when men and women were wrought upon powerfully by the Holy Spirit, till, their deepest emotions being aroused, all thought of order or decorum was lost, were of frequent occurrence. School and chapel became crowded to excess; and in 1877 the number of members having increased to eighty, enlargement or a new building was felt to be an absolute necessity.
The story of how this second chapel was erected belongs to the romance of chapel building. It is sometimes said that our fathers built chapels by faith, and paid for them by repentance. The first part of the saying was certainly true of Brotton. Was there ever greater faith than when, with £28 in-hand and £150 debt, the heroic band, without the sanction (tell it not in Gath!) of any court higher than the Quarterly Meeting, if of that, proceeded to erect a substantial chapel with gallery, to seat 500 persons, and a school for half as many more, at a cost of £2,518?
The financing of such a project was a feat only possible to a born financier like Joseph Faulkner, the treasurer, assisted by so energetic a worker as Thomas Dunn, the secretary. These brethren scoured the country for money, carrying promissory notes in their pockets ready to give to anybody who would lend them cash!
During the erection of the chapel the retaining wall, buiIt to secure the foundation, gave way and had to be rebuilt at a cost of some hundreds of pounds, and the contractor became bankrupt; but, despite all hindrances, the work was at last finished, and at the opening it was found that the enthusiastic labours of the members, helped by handsome donations from local sympathisers, had brought in over £700. And as if to compensate for any apparent lack of official sympathy (which the practical will say was rightly withheld) the opening services were honoured by the presence of four past or prospective Presidents of Conference, the Revs. J Macpherson, G. Lamb, H. Phillips, and W. Jones.
Difficulties did not cease with the actual erection of the chapel. In the past twenty years, there have been times of commercial depression at Brotton, such as all mining centres experience, besides the total cessation of work during the Durham Coal miners’ strike in 1892. But in the darkest days the weary chapel burden was bravely borne, and the liberality and perseverance of our people saved the place from disaster. And perhaps nothing sets forth the influence of our Church and its religious teaching in promoting industry and thrift, better than the fact that in those years of depression, when soup kitchens were opened for the relief of the distressed, no Primitive Methodist asked for assistance.
Much might be said of the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. For Brotton has had its great revivals. In the first year of the new chapel most successful services were conducted by Robert Henderson (‘Newcastle Bob’) and many were added to the church. Women evangelists, always popular in the district, have been used of God in the conversion of many sinners, and the names of some of these evangelists – Mrs. Jackson of Glasgow, Mrs. Shipman, Miss Bulmer – are held in high respect to-day.
But above all other workers Brotton loves its own. No name is more precious than that of Leonard Ascough ready mentioned – ‘Auld Lennie,’ who passed to his rest, after fifty years of labour, on the 26th April, 1898. Converted at nineteen, he commenced to preach at twenty-one, and rendered yeoman service to our church in village mission work. A simple-minded, strong, earnest man, gifted with a powerful voice, and manifesting considerable originality in his discourses, often weaving in personal experiences, ‘Lennie’ was always listened to with pleasure, was in demand for camp meetings, and many, through his words, were won for Christ.
Mission work involved some hardships thirty or forty years ago. Long journeys – ‘Lennie ’ once reached home at three on Monday morning having preached and walked thirty-five miles; and sometimes lack of hospitality. But it had its compensations in gracious outpourings of the Spirit, as when at Moorsholm on one occasion, sinners were converted and the prayer meeting prolonged until after midnight.
Our brother was not great, but good. As leader, Sunday school superintendent, and preacher none was more reliable. And his worth was recognised by his brethren. Young men, now local preachers and ministers in this country and America, were entrusted to his guidance at the beginning of their ministry and his cup of blessing was full when was chosen to represent his district at the Burnley Conference.
One incident in ‘Lennie’s’ career is of special interest. He himself delighted to tell it when preaching from the text: ‘These shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, when I make up My Jewels. Being on a visit in the neighbourhood of Richmond (Yorkshire), when quite a young man, he was invited to preach tor the Wesleyans in small chapel near Hornby Castle. When about to commence the service, he observed a party of fashionably dressed people enter the chapel. Having scanned them closely, Leonard concluded the gentlemen were ministers, and began his sermon with no little trepidation. This opinion was confirmed, when, at the close of the service, the party remained to the prayer meeting. The benediction having been pronounced, one of the gentlemen invited ‘Lennie’ to supper; an invitation which he accepted. A carriage was awaiting them at the chapel door, but not until they were entering the Castle grounds did it dawn upon the humble Methodist preacher that his companions were the Duke and Duchess of Leeds and some friends. Most amusing was his description of that memorable feast, his excusable ignorance and awkwardness, unpleasant enough at the time, affording him in after days occasion for much pleasantry. But the young man was treated with every consideration, and supper being ended, was invited to stay in the Castle for the night, and did so, closing his visit next morning, at the suggestion of the Duke, with an inspection of the valuable jewels belonging to the ducal house.
Leonard Ascough has gone; others of the founders of the society have migrated, but Manuel Russell and Joseph Faulkner remain to this day. Bro. Russell, 40 years a local preacher, leader and S.S. teacher, and his diligent and hospitable wife were among the first members, and together with their family, have given of their best in every way to help on the good work. To him is largely due the credit of conceiving so great an undertaking as the erection of the present commodious and valuable premises.
Brotton church to-day has triumphed over many difficulties, and is full of young life, and capable of great things. It has a membership of 124, and a school of 300 children with a staff of 50 teachers. It is a hive of industry. Besides the usual equipment of class and prayer and sewing meetings, it possesses a Band of Hope, Christian Endeavour, and Brass Band. It has all irons in the fire, and its motto is ‘All at it, and always at it.’ The multiplicity of its efforts (one brother says ‘A chapel anniversary once a fortnight, and special services every other Sunday!’) is to an outsider bewildering. But only by such persistent plodding can headway be made.
During the past four years the income for chapel purposes alone has reached the large sum of £822, half of which has gone in reduction of debt. Doubtless the day will soon come when Brotton will render greater assistance to Circuit and Connexional Funds than has been hitherto possible – a desirable goal toward which the church, under the guidance of its present minister, the Rev. C. Roberts, and its invaluable Secretary, Mr. M. Grange, will unceasingly work.
Christian Messenger 1899/45