Hull; its Conferential and Ecclesiastical Associations

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by ‘Asaph’

After a long interval of “twenty-one years, and for the eighth time the sessions of the Primitive Methodist Conference are to be held during the pleasant month of June in the city of Hull, which fittingly has been designated “The Metropolis of Primitive Methodism.” The first annual Conference of our Church was held in Hull in the year 1820. It commenced on Tuesday, May 2nd, and continued its daily deliberations until Wednesday, May 10th. Hugh Bourne arrived in Hull on the Friday previous to the opening of the annual assembly. On the Sabbath he preached three times in the newly-erected Mill Street Sanctuary, which he describes as “the great chapel.” At the time of its erection it was by far the largest chapel in Primitive Methodism.

At this first Conference the eight Circuits which composed the entire Connexion were directly represented. The delegates numbered sixteen persons only, and were elected on the orthodox principle of two laymen to one minister. On the stroke of the clock, and punctually at two in the afternoon, Hugh Bourne was in attendance. He says, “No one else was present, so with the Lords assistance, He being present, I opened the meeting with singing and prayer. I made some regulations, and adjourned the meeting, and concluded with singing and prayer. No one besides the Lord being present.” This remarkable episode, in which the punctual-loving Bourne was the chief actor, was the beginning of the Primitive Methodist Annual Conferences. Later in the day the greater number of the delegates arrived by the steam packet from Gainsborough. In the evening the delegates commenced the religious services of the Conference by holding a powerful prayer meeting. On Wednesday morning there was “early” preaching at five o’clock. Afterwards the Conference was constituted, and the delegates were received. William Clowes was present as one of the Hull Circuit representatives. It was discovered that his appointment was informal; and although he was a co-founder, and the leading missionary of Primitive Methodism, yet he was rejected. The Hull Circuit Committee, however, was hurriedly called together, and William Clowes was duly elected. Subsequently he took his place amongst the delegates of this historic first annual meeting of the churches of Primitive Methodism. Conference Sunday was a great spiritual feast. Three camp meetings were held, and during the Conference services about forty persons professed conversion.

The eleventh Conference commenced in Hull on Thursday, May 13th, 1830, and closed its sessions on the Wednesday following. A great camp meeting was held on the Conference Sabbath, at which lasting good was accomplished. On Wednesday evening sectional missionary meetings, addressed by the delegates, were held in the neighbouring towns of Beverley and Grimsby. At this Conference some peculiar resolutions were adopted on the subject of dress, camp meetings, and missionary meeting advocacy. It appears that the Conference of 1828 had forbidden the ministers “to wear trousers.” At the Hull Conference of 1830 the dress regulation was reconsidered, and the assembly decided: “That in the summer season trousers are cheaper and better wear than small clothes and gaiters – gaiters in summer are not healthy.”

Respecting camp meeting sermons, the same Conference decided that each speaker must “keep to a form of sound things. To avoid all apologies as being frivolous, as well as all attempts to tell over again what has been said, with such phraseology as – ‘you have heard so and so,’ or any such sort of chaffy discourse. Also, not to use such expressions as ‘My time is short, I must give over before long’ – or any such sort of trash, or any cant expression about ‘doing justice to my subject,’ but to keep it in a form of sound words that cannot be reproved, and make an honourable and useful conclusion.” The Conference further issued instructions to missionary deputations to the following effect. In order to promote “sound speaking” at missionary meetings “all reflections on other communities were to be avoided. To avoid also all foolish tales like that about the funeral of Doctor Bigotry, said to be invented by a whimsical man near Halifax. Also to avoid all senseless talk about literature and college education, on all occasions to keep to sound things – dwelling chiefly on historical matters relating to the conversion of sinners to God, and to keep to a form of sound words that cannot be reproved.” In these common-sense regulations the guiding mind of Hugh Bourne can evidently be traced.

During the third Hull Conference of 1845 Hugh Bourne was on a prolonged tour in Canada and America. William Clowes, who presided over the Conference, was in the chair of the assembly for the second time, and William Garner, one of the distinguished theological writers of the Connexion, was elected Secretary. After an interval of ten years the Conference of 1855 assembled in Hull, under the presidency of the plodding George Tetley, who was a conscientious Circuit minister, and a personal friend of Hugh Bourne. Philip Pugh, who was then rising into fame as a Biblical scholar, and a powerful preacher, was entrusted with the secretarial duties of the assemblage. At the end of another decade the Conference again visited the port on the Humber, Dr. William Antliff being elected President of Conference for the second time. In the year 1874 the genial William Rowe, who had been Secretary of the previous Hull Conference, was elected to the chair of the annual assembly, and he had the comradeship of Dr. Thomas Whittaker  as Journal Secretary. At the last Hull Conference of 1881 Charles Kendall, who unfortunately died during his presidential year, was Chairman of Conference, and the devoted Thomas Smith, of Leeds District, was elected Secretary. Mr. Kendall was prominently associated with Hull Primitive Methodism. He is the first President whose son has succeeded to the chair of the Conference.

For several generations Hull has been noted for the sturdiness and wide-spread influence of its Free Churchism. The Rev. Rowland Hill, of Surrey Chapel fame, writing in the year 1814 to William Bowden, Esq., Hull, in declining an invitation to preach on behalf of the funds of the London Missionary Society, says: “I should certainly have accepted your very friendly and affectionate invitation to Hull had providence directed me further towards the north. I am somewhat the less anxious to visit Hull, as perhaps there is not a town in the kingdom more highly favoured with the privileges of the gospel than that favoured spot. Still, it is pleasant to visit those places where the Divine presence seems to be vouchsafed.”

The Congregationalists have seven churches in the city. Fish Street is the oldest and mother-church. Albion Church has an imposing architectural appearance, and resembles a Doric Temple. It was erected at a cost of £12,000, and provides a seatage capacity for sixteen hundred persons. The Rev. Newman Hall was the first pastor of Albion Church, and there commenced his devoted ministry in 1842. After twelve years of successful service he removed from the port on the Humber to the pastorate at Surrey Chapel, London. During his ministry in Hull, Newman Hall cultivated close acquaintanceship with the Primitive Methodist churches. In his autobiography he writes: “After preaching one evening to a crowded Primitive Methodist congregation, I went away without observing any special result. A few days afterwards the pastor congratulated me on my sermon, saying that about fifty had been converted, and explained that they held a special prayer meeting after the public sermon, and that these had come forward to the penitent seats and were prayed for. He said: ‘You Congregationalists have better nets than we Primitives, but you don’t draw them as we do and gather our chief result from these after-meetings.’ ” Newman Hall further says: “I took the hint, with similar results, and now, in my eighty-second year, after every evening sermon I carry on the service by a prayer meeting, to which the majority of the congregation remain.”

On another occasion Newman Hall was preaching at the anniversary of a Hull Primitive Methodist Sabbath School. A little girl of not more than eight years of age repeated as a part of the service the Apostle Paul’s description of charity, with the following amusing emendation: “When I was a child, I spake as a child . . . . but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.”

The Baptists are represented by three churches, and the Presbyterians have four churches. Both communions are interested in the spiritual and moral welfare of the citizens.

Hull is a stronghold of Methodism. The earlier history of the Wesleyan Church in the city is of a specially interesting character. John Wesley, the great evangelist of the eighteenth century, visited the town as early as April, 1752, when he crossed the Humber from his own native county of Lincoln. His arrival had been anticipated by the inhabitants in an unfriendly spirit. In his Journals Wesley writes : “When I landed on the quay in Hull it was covered with people enquiring, ‘Which is he? Which is he?’ But they only stared and laughed, and we walked unmolested to Mr. A______ ’s house.’ Wesley went to prayers at the old church, which he describes as “a grand and venerable structure.” Between four and five o’clock Wesley drove in his coach to Meighton Car on the outskirts of the town. His congregation consisted of “a huge multitude” of rich and poor, on horse and foot, with several coaches, to whom Wesley “cried with a loud voice and a composed spirit, ‘What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ Some thousands of the people seriously attended, but many behaved as if possessed by Moloch.”

A terrible disturbance followed the announcement of his text. He says: “Clods and stones ?ew about on every side, but they neither touched or disturbed me. When I had finished my discourse I went to take coach, but the coachman had driven clean away. We were at a loss till a gentle-woman invited my wife and I to come into her coach. She brought some inconvenience on herself thereby; not only as there were nine of us in the coach, but also as the mob closely attended us, throwing in at the windows whatever came to hand. The mob, who were increased to several thousands, when I stepped out of the coach into Mr. A_______ ’s house, perceiving that I was escaped out of their hands, revenged themselves on the windows with many showers of stones, which they poured in even into the rooms four stories high. Mr. A________ walked through to the Mayor’s house, who gave him fair words but no assistance; probably not knowing that himself (the Mayor) might be compelled to make good all the damage which should be done. He then went in quest of constables, and brought two with him about nine o’clock. With this help he so thoroughly dispersed the mob that no two of them were left together. But they rallied about twelve and gave one charge more with oaths and curses, and bricks and stones. After this all was calm, and I slept sound till near four in the morning.”

Notwithstanding this unfavourable reception the undaunted Wesley continued to visit Hull annually on his evangelistic journeys to the north of England. Respecting his visit to Hull in June, 1776, he says: “I was invited by the Vicar to preach in the High Church, one of the largest parish churches in England. I preached on the gospel for the day – the story of Dives and Lazarus. Being invited to preach in the afternoon, the church was, if possible, more crowded than before, and I pressed home the prophet’s words, ‘Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near.’ ” With a sense of wonder Wesley further adds: “Who would have expected a few years since to see me preaching in the High Church at Hull?”

Within ten years after John. Wesley’s first visit to Hull, and about the year 1760, the first Methodist Chapel or Preaching-house was erected in the town. The Congregation rapidly increased, and the chapel became too small. In the course of a few years it was replaced by a larger one. Respecting this newer sanctuary Wesley records, under the date of June 24th, 1772, “Preached in the house at Hull, extremely well finished, and upon the whole one of the prettiest preaching-houses in England.”

Many of the front-rank Methodist ministers have been stationed in Hull, including men who subsequently became Presidents of Conference and heads of Departments. In 1786 the Rev. Joseph Benson, M.A., was appointed to the Hull Circuit. He had been a tutor at Kingswood School, and also a professor at Lady Huntingdon’s Theological College at Trevecca, before he entered the ranks of the Wesleyan Ministry. Benson was “an unsparing and prodigious worker.” When engaged in writing his commentary, and as editor of the Wesleyan Magazines, he invariably spent sixteen to eighteen consecutive hours in his study. His preaching, as Dr. Bunting testified, “had fewer faults and more excellencies than ordinarily fall to the lot of one servant of Christ, however gifted.” As Paul had his thorn in the flesh, so Benson had “an almost emaciated frame” and a thin voice, which, when raised, acquired what Dr. Adam Clarke termed “a speaking pitch,” while most of the effective passages of his discourses were delivered in what was known as “Benson’s master squeak.” Bradburn, “the Methodist Demosthenes,” who was on the most friendly terms with Benson, once told him, “If you, with your capabilities as a preacher, had a voice like mine, God himself could scarcely save you! ”

Durin his ministry in Hull, Benson was immensely popular, and his spiritual work was beneficial in its results. The chapel was generally crowded on a Sunday evening, and it was necessary to be there almost an hour before the service commenced to obtain a seat. Under the circumstances Mr. Benson superintended the erection of a larger and more convenient chapel in George Yard. Mr. Benson, in writing Wesley, described it “as a beautiful and more commodious chapel, almost, if not quite, equal to City Road Chapel itself.” Mr. Wesley was unable to believe this statement. To him City Road Chapel, London, was unrivalled. He consequently playfully rebuked what he considered Benson’s exaggerated rhetoric by replying: “I greatly rejoice at the erection of your new preaching-house, but if it be at all equal to the new chapel in London, I will engage to eat it.” Shortly afterwards Wesley preached in it at five o’clock, “which exceeded all the morning congregations I had then seen.” He further says: “The new preaching house here is nearly as large as the new chapel in London. It is well built and elegantly furnished, but not gaudy.”

In Hull, John Wesley spent the eighty-sixth anniversary of his birth. He thus writes his reflections thereon: “I feel no pain from head to foot, only it seems nature is exhausted; and, humanly speaking, will sink more and more till –
‘The weary springs of life stand still at last.’ ”

A few months later his spirit passed through the gates into the Eternal City.

From very small beginnings Wesleyan Methodism has gradually developed, until it has taken a firm hold of the inhabitants of the city. Since the erection of George Yard Chapel many imposing structures have been erected, including Waltham Street Chapel, where Dr. Morley Punshon, in the days of his youth, was a prominent member of the “Menticultural” Society, and where also in the pulpit, during the conducting of Divine service, the spirit of Rev. Dr. Beaumont passed to the life beyond the valley of the shadow. Kingston Chapel and Thornton Street Chapel have their sacred memories. At the present time the Wesleyans have five powerful Circuits “overseered” by sixteen ministers, their total membership being some 5,500, besides thousands of adherents and young people.

The Methodist New Connexion are represented in the religious life of the city by three chapels and three ministers, and the United Methodist Free Church have two chapels and one minister. There are a number of other ecclesiastical buildings belonging to the Church of England, the Roman Catholics, the Jews, and Germans.

For many years Hull has been regarded as the Metropolitan Centre of Primitive Methodism. It is closely connected with the name and evangelistic labours of William Clowes. He commenced his missionary labours in Hull in the month of January, 1819. Upon his arrival at the residence of Mr. Woolhouse, “praying Johnny ” Oxtoby knelt on the floor and thanked God for his safe arrival, and earnestly pleaded for God to honour the labours of William Clowes. The same evening he preached in an old factory situated in North Street. On the following Sabbath evening Clowes formed the first two Society Classes in Hull. So rapidly had the converting work spread that on the first Wednesday evening in March he gave quarterly tickets to members who were meeting in five classes. On the twelfth anniversary of the Mow Cop Camp Meeting, and on the last Sunday in May, 1819, Clowes held his first camp meeting in Hull. These annual gatherings became immensely popular, and were regularly attended by many thousands of people. In September, 1819, Mill Street Chapel “was solemnly set apart for the worship of the Most High.” At the time of its opening it was the largest sanctuary in Primitive Methodism. In June, 1819, Hull became the head of a Circuit, and in the following year it was honoured as our first Conference town.

Clowes, like Wesley, experienced much opposition and cruel persecutions in prosecuting his mission in Hull. Within a month after his arrival Clowes writes of disturbances and destruction of property by his opponents. At one service, he says, “we got the police to guard the door to keep out the most furious of the rabble; and when we commenced our meeting they shouted and bellowed on the outside, and threw up stones and brake the windows. The battle then became very hot, both inside and outside. However, ‘the battle was turned to the gate,’ for many of the Jack-tars who had persecuted us and fired whole broadsides into us, struck their colours, and came aboard the ‘Primitive’ ship, to sail along with us to the port of glory.” It became necessary to apply for the protection of the Mayor. He exercised his authority on behalf of the suffering community, and three of the ring-leaders were imprisoned.

Conference visitors will be interested in seeing the house in Spencer Street where Clowes lived and died; his monument in Spring Bank Cemetery; the Mill in which he held his first service; and West Street Chapel, the mother of the Hull Primitive Methodist Sanctuaries. The Conference Chapel in Jarratt Street is known as “Clowes’ Chapel,” In the vestry is the study chair of the great man who was one of the makers of Hull Primitive Methodism.


Christian Messenger 1902/162

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