Driffield Circuit, Yorkshire
Transcription of article in the Christian Messenger
Most Primitive Methodists know something of Driffield Circuit. If nothing else, of its immense area, its bewildering number of places, of, notwithstanding this, its indivisible compactness and unity – the puzzle of the most expert Circuit-divider – of the system upon which it is worked, its traps and its Circuit ponies – the immortal “Tommy” among the rest – and of its beautiful and commodious church and school at Driffield itself. For these reasons, and also because of the loyalty and piety and enterprise of its officials and people, and the many outstanding laymen and ministers who have lived or travelled in it, Driffield is one of the most famous of our Circuits. Driffield itself, often called the “capital of the Wolds,” is the commercial centre of a wide agricultural district, and naturally adapted to the position of its ecclesiastical centre. It lies about equidistant and midway between Malton, Bridlington and Beverley – from twelve to fifteen miles distant. Within this area it is the only town, but there a vast number of villages making up, with Driffield and Bridlington, the Buckrose Parliamentary division. Such being the character of the district, it is not surprising that a good deal of the old time life and manners survive, so that, while the well-to-do farmer and his wife or daughter ride comfortably to market side by side in his smart gig behind the quick-stepping pony, instead of jogging along on horseback, the lady on a pillion, the old-fashioned carrier’s waggon still carries goods and passengers to and from market. The young man, who is in “placing,” that is, at farm-service, now spins swiftly into “Driffil” on his “bike” on a Saturday night, instead of trudging on foot, but he keeps something of his old-time gait and manners. The villagers cling to their “Feasts” with the innate conservatism of the rural mind, but they are hardly a patch on the full-blooded revelry of a hundred years ago. Being so exclusively rural, it would be surprising if this large Circuit had not suffered from the exodus which has been going on of late years from the country districts. And it says something for the vitality of East Riding Primitive Methodism that it has held its own so well. Something of the position this Circuit has occupied may be gathered from the fact that out of the fifty-three presidents, whose names occur on the Centenary Motto Card, no fewer than ten have travelled in the Driffield Circuit, while about thirty are known to have preached in Driffield chapel.
Mr. Kendall thinks that in all probability the nucleus of a society was formed here as early as 1819; but the exact circumstances of its origin are involved in some obscurity. It is certain, however, that Mr. Clowes preached here in the beginning of 1821, in the “Hunt Room” – Play House, he calls it in his journal – and that the same year a chapel was projected. Johnny Oxtoby, “Praying Johnny,” was sent from Hull to help, and through his influence a Mr. Wm. Byas, a retired farmer, who became a great support to the infant cause, was converted.
The building of this first chapel in Mill Street was attended by various difficulties, not least being the want of money. But Johnny had unwavering faith in the power of prayer. A story is told to the effect that in the building of the chapel a projecting tree from a neighbouring property, which the owner refused to have cut down, was causing them trouble and anxiety, Johnny prayed that the obstacle might be removed and a gale came soon after which blew it down.
This chapel in Mill Street, where the Driffield Society worshiped and prospered for over fifty years, underwent repeated enlargements. In spite of these enlargements, however, it was felt by 1874 that the time had arrived to rise and build. The need for larger school premises was especially felt. The Driffield Church has always been conspicuous for devotion to the religious training of the young. At the time of the late Queen’s Jubilee (1887) it was found that the school had one hundred more scholars than any other Nonconformist school in the town. This school was founded in 1828, and has just held its seventy-ninth anniversary. A central and highly suitable site was procured in George Street, and a noble church, seating 1,000 people, a commodious schoolroom, with suite of classrooms, &c., was erected and opened in 1876, under the superintendency of the Rev. T. Waumsley, at a cost of about £5,000; £4,1000 of this has been paid off, leaving a debt at the present time of £900. George Street Church is a monument of wise and consecrated audacity. In spite of much misgiving and many doleful prognostications on the part of the pessimists at the time, the bold forward policy of the first trustees and church has been abundantly justified. In addition to the amount raised in reduction of debt, there has been raised for interest and ordinary expenses £6,000, making a grand total of £10,100 for chapel purposes alone raised by this church in George Street during the thirty-one years. This makes an average of £300 a year.
During the last year a further valuable addition has been made to the property. A fine two-manual organ built by Mr. J.J. Binns of Leeds, costing £520, has replaced the original one. This was opened by Mrs. Joel Dossor, whose husband, Mr. Joel Dossor, has occupied the position of organist or choirmaster from the opening of the chapel. It is admitted to be one of the best organs in the district. Mr. W.H.Jackson, the present organist, is grandson of one of the earliest officials of the church, Thomas Jackson, whose memory is perpetuated by a tablet in the schoolroom. The chapel has also been at the same time handsomely re-decorated and re-lighted. The whole of the cost of these improvements, amounting to about £700, has been raised.
There are twenty-seven other chapels and one preaching-room in the Circuit. These chapels, as may be imagined, are very varied in character. Some are large and excellent properties, as Nafferton, Wetwang, Cranswick, Kilham, Lund, Middleton, Frodingham and Beeford, while others are small and plain. Some are modern, as Kirkburn, Sledmere, Watton and Beswick, while others go back to earlier decades of the Connexion. Many of them were built in the early sixties, under the influence, probably, of the Connexional Jubilee. Sledmere, Watton, and Beswick – beautiful little country chapels – own their existence to the courage and pertinacity of that prince of beggars, the Rev. C. Leafe. The great majority of these places are in easy and flourishing financial condition, a few are struggling, but we are hoping to relieve some of these by our great Centenary effort. The value of the chapel-property is estimated at £14,440, with a debt of £2022. There are also two large and pleasantly situated ministers’ houses, valued at £1,000, with a debt upon them of £600, which we are hoping to liquidate by our Centenary effort.
There are twenty-two Sunday schools, with 1,083 scholars and 189 teachers in the Circuit. There are six Christian Endeavour Societies, with 290 (senior and junior) members. We reported 1,048 members to last Conference.
Driffiled Circuit has produced many men and women of striking personality.
Thomas Wood came from Warter, (the last resting place of John Oxtoby), to Driffield when only 22, and was appointed the first class-leader. His wife was equally remarkable for gifts and graces himself. Her power in prayer is spoken of until this day. The two got married, in order, as he said, “to make a home for the preachers.” As illustrating the spirit of self-surrender among our people in these early times, the following circumstance is told. Mrs. Wood had very abundant and beautiful hair in her youth. The rigid puritanism of Oxtoby and his associates held that the sacrifice of this was necessary to entire dedication to God. And it is told that her hair was cut off as she knelt at the Communion to the singing of the following quaint lines:-
“To the knife I boldly take,
Bind my Isaac to the stake,
She adopted quaker costume at that time, and wore it for the rest of her life. Mr. Woodcock describes “Tommy” Wood – as he was familiarly called – as “a amn of double-distilled common sense.” His name is still abundantly fragrant at Driffield. He had the singular happiness of being used by God in the conversion in his youth of his companion, William Sanderson, one of the greatest orators among our early ministers. Like many others of that day, he was in labours abundant. Here is a specimen of a Sunday’s work: up at four o’clock, off to Flamborough, preached there; to Bridlington, preached twice there; returned home about midnight having preached three times and walked thirty-two miles. He walked to Kirkburn, four miles off, and led a class on Sunday mornings for years.
Another Circuit celebrity was George Bullock of Wetwang, a man of fine powers as a preacher, and who in all respects stood head and shoulders above the average. Whether in the pulpit or council- chamber, he was a man of weight and influence. For forty-three years he took an incredible amount of work as a local preacher, seldom missing an appointment. He would often leave Wetwang on a Sunday morning for appointments in (what was then) the Hornsea branch, returning late at night, having walked thirty-six miles. He was elected a Deed Poll member in 1875. The prestige of the family as preachers is worthily maintained by his son, Mr. John Bullock, of Wetwang, and his grandson, Mr. John H. Bullock, of Nafferton. Another notable Wetwang stock is the Sykes family, which has given to Primitive Methodism Mr. W. Sykes, of Middlesbrough, and the Rev. Tom Sykes, that rising young minister, now of Hull.
We have no space to do more than mention the names of other notable Driffield Circuit men – T. Coultas, of Garton, G. Lyon, of North Dalton, D. Horsfield, of Lund, Belt “the blacksmith” of West Lutton, whose daughter still “takes in” the preachers, Robert Puckering, of Driffield, unstinted in service. Samuel Harrison, of Driffield, Dossor, Bowes and Escritt, of Cranswick, and barker, of Hutton. These have all crossed the river. Others, however, remain. Mr. Isaac Miller, of Driffield, shrewd in counsel, liberal in gift; Mr. Henry Dixon, of Driffield who has done much for our work both in village and town; Mr. W. Petch, of Middleton, Mr. and Mrs. Baker Cooper, of Fimber, and Mr. G.D. Hardwick, now of Bridlington. Of younger men, yet in active work, Mr. David Railton, an outstanding man, for many years, and at present, Circuit Steward and Sunday school superintendent; Mr. W. Duke, Cranswick, Mr. John Barker, Kilham, Mr. J. Walker Weaverthorpe (now of Hull), Mr. J. Dawson, West Lutton, Mr. T. Boynton, Wetwang, original and forceful evangelist, and many more. The younger men are worthily maintaining the great traditions of the Circuit and coming forward nobly in these stirring Centenary years in gift and service. The story of their work, however, belongs to some future analyst. It only remains to add that Driffield Circuit has given not a few of her noblest sons to our ministry. Francis Rudd, from Middleton, John Scruton, from Cranswick, Thomas Storr, from Bainton, Tom Sykes, from Wetwang, are names that occur to the writer.
Christian Messenger 1907/273