Middlesbrough: Primitive Methodism around Middlesbrough

Description by Rev. Rev J.G. Bowran from the Handbook of the 107th Annual Primitive Methodist Conference held in Middlesbrough in 1914

Cover of the Handbook of the 107th Annual Primitive Methodist Conference held in Middlesbrough in 1914
Englesea Brook Museum collection

In the establishment of Primitive Methodism in the Conference towns and in the wide areas surrounding, we see the workings of the original denominational policies and their complete success.  In the early days the circuits were missionary societies . The evangelistic was their one and steadfast design.  They were out for campaigns.  There were territories to be invaded, strongholds to be stormed, great populations to be captured for Christ and His Kingdom.

The Hull circuit was the pioneer in all the North and William Clowes was the glorious evangelist.  Clowes went to Hull in 1819 and in the following year we read of successes at Hutton Rudby in Cleveland and at Ingelton near Darlington.  Brompton, Northallerton,  Appleton Wiske, and Guisborough were all visited by Clowes or his allies.  The imagination is thrilled by the story of the famous camp meeting on Scarth Nick, the rocky height between Swainby and Osmotherly.  Surely this is Yorkshire’s “Mow Cop!”

There is a Stockton record, dated January 28th 1821. “The Ranters commenced preaching” but this is not corroborated by any denominational document.  The definite beginning was on Sunday May 13th of that year beginning was on Sunday May 13th of that year.  Samuel Laister had been sent from Hull to the Darlington branch on May 6th and a week later he came to Stockton.  This was his journal entry of his experience: “I preached at 2 o’clock and at 6 at Stockton on Tees.  A cold, hard place where we have no society.”  A further entry under the date July 15th  runs: “We had a camp meeting at Stockton.  The day was wet and unfavourable, but I believe Stockton, hard as it was, will not forget that day’s labour.  Souls have since been saved.”  Samuel Laister died on Christmas Day of that year, and on January 9th of 1822, George Lazenby preached a sermon to his memory to the Stockton people.

In those early months the cause was known as Hull’s Stockton Mission, and in  1822 there was a membership on the mission of 70.

The progress of the work in the Durham County necessitate new circuit formations and in September 1823 Stockton was attached to Sunderland and Stockton Union circuit was constituted.  The whole of South East Durham was covered by this combination.  In addition to the towns which gave the circuit its name.  Hartlepool, Durham and Houghton-le-Spring were included and all the colliery districts contiguous.  For thirteen years this arrangement lasted.

In September 1836 Stockton was made into an independent station with 16 places on its plan and three travelling preachers.

Constant aggression was the order of the day.  Middlesbrough was included in the circuit.  The story is romantic in the highest degree.  In 1829 it is said that Middlesbrough was just “a solitary farmhouse, surrounded by marshy land.”  The development of the town and its environs is one of the wonders of nineteenth century industrialism.  The motto of the town was happily chosen: Erimus, “we shall be” and the faith and courage which have marked its economic and municipal development have been characteristic also of Middlesbrough’s Primitive Methodism.   Before the Stockton circuit was formed a beginning had been made in Middlesbrough.  In 1834 there is a resolution of the Quarterly Meeting to this effect: “Decided that if a request came from Middlesbrough for preaching we attend to it as best we can.”  By March of the following year there were six members on trial and a contribution to the Quarterly Meeting of 9/11.

The 16 places included in the circuit when autonomy was granted were the following: Stockton, Hartlepool, Yarm, Bishopton, Long Newton, Middlesbrough, Redcar, Marske, Billingham, Redmarshall, Acklam, Kirklevington, Lazenby, Norton, Maltby and Haverton Hill.  At the first independent  Quarterly Meeting 290 members were reported and the total income, inclusive of missionary moneys was £40 12s 7¾d.  The expenditure was £39 12s 7½d, leaving a balance of one pound and one farthing.  In 1840 the membership had advanced to 400, ten years later it had grown to 531.

Primitive Methodism was established everywhere in the midst of persecution, and this was the experience of the missionaries in Stockton and Norton.  In 1844 when William Clemitson was labouring on the station, an attempt was made to stop the open-air preaching.  It was the custom of the Stockton society to meet at the Market Cross at 5 o’clock each Sunday afternoon for the preaching of the Word before the indoor service.  The Puseyites of the town annoyed at this protested to the Mayor who in turn commanded Mr Clemitson to desist.  Ascertaining that there was no local edict authorising the Mayor’s action, he repaired as usual on the Sabbath Day to the Market Place.  A larger crowd had gathered by the reason of the prohibition and the service was held without interference.  The preacher was afterwards summoned to appear before the B:ench on the Saturday following.  In the meanwhile the news was noised abroad.  Gallant friends of liberty came to the preacher’s aid. Quakers and Wesleyans guaranteed financial and moral support.  When the day of trial came Mr. Clemitson received a message that his presence would not be necessary at the court as the charge would not be proceeded with.  However, in obedience to the warrant, he repaired to the Court House at the stated time, only to find the doors closed and a victorious crowd.  The animus of their foes was over-ruled to the furtherance of the Gospel.

The self-sacrificing spirit of the preachers won the hearts of the people.  The following must never be forgotten.  In 1849 when the cholera was doing terrible work Thomas Russell came to Stockton.  With no care for self, forgetting indeed his own sorrows, “leaving his own motherless children at home,” he sought to seek and save the stricken people.  In one week he “preached thirteen timed, conducted eleven prayer-meetings, met three classes, visited a hundred families and nearly twenty souls joined our societies.”

The traditions abide of the great preachers and administrators who served the extensive circuit in its early years.  To this day their names and deeds are proudly spoken of.  Ralph Shields, William Fulton, Henry Hebbron, Thomas Smith, Peter Clarke, John Hobling, Colin Campbell McKechnie, William Clemitson, Christopher Hallam, Richard Tanfield, Moses Lupton, William Anderson, Joseph Spoor, Edward Barrass, John Burroughs, John Snowdon, Thomas Russell, William Dent, , John Matfin, Samson Turner, John Lightfoot, Thomas Butterwick, Samuel Nettleton, Edward Rust, William Lister, John Laverick, Joseph Wilson, Thomas Southron, Ebenezer Hall, Andrew Latimer, John Welford, William Saul, John Hallam, William Robson, John Worsnip, Robert Thirlaway, John Magee, Thomas Greenfield, James Taylor, William Nation, James, Jackson, and many others formed the galaxy who toiled and triumphed here.

The Stockton circuit has been the mother of many stations.  Guisborough, after many vicissitudes, became an independent station in 1863, the Hartlepools in March 1864 and Middlesbrough in March 1872.  These again have been sub-divided, the West Hartlepool station being  formed in 1885, the Eston station in 1890, Saltburn in 1895 and Brotton in 1908. The membership in these stations now stands at 3,515 and the area once served by three travelling preachers is now served by fifteen.

The last three decades have witnessed wonderful progress in the three Conference towns.  Primitive Methodism in Stockton has steadily increased in numbers, properties and influence.  The first meeting-place was in Green Dragon Yard then in 1825 a chapel capable of seating 350 people was built in Maritime Street.  “Ranters’ Buildings” it is called to this day.  In 1866 the famous Paradise Row church was erected.  Great ministries were exercised here by John Atkinson, John Day, Thomas Elliott, Emerson Phillipson, Joseph F. Sherman, Matthew P. Davidson (Vice to the General Committee Secretary) and their colleagues.  During Mr. Beeley’s superintendency the fine premises in Bowesfield Lane were built.  The Rev E. Phillipson’s term was the chapel building epoch of the circuit.  In six years four beautiful places were erected viz.: Victoria Avenue, Yarm, Thornaby and Eaglescliffe.  A chapel was also purchased at High Leven and two ministers’ houses.  A new church has just been opened for the Newtown suburb of the town at a cost of £2,200.  Services are also held at Fairfield.  In the nine churches composing the circuit there are 760 members, the trust properties are valued at £24760 and the debt remaining is £3,765.  The three manses are debtless.  The work of the Sunday Schools is eagerly prosecuted.   We have 1,224 scholars and 168 teachers.  Mention must be made of the munificence of the late Robert Clapham of Yarm.  At one time he laboured as a minister on the station. Afterwards he had great success in business and rendered memorable service in all ways.  He was honoured by the Vice-Presidency of the Conference.  His son, John R. Clapham J.P., C.C., is the steward of the station.  Towards the Newtown scheme Mr J.R. Clapham generously gave the site and £300 towards the buildings.  It is the glad boast of the circuit that for years increases have been reported.  It is impossible to speak too highly of the devotion and generosity of all our people.

Primitive Methodism in Middlesbrough is the glory of the North.  The industrial transformation that has taken place within the lifetime of many was a challenge to the members of our churches.  Great populations have sprung up and to meet their needs financial  risks have been taken and burdens bravely borne.  The first property in Middlesbrough was the “shell” of a chapel in Davison’s Yard in Dacre Street.  Two rooms of a cottage were made into one and an annual rent of £6 was paid.  The West Street Unitarian chapel was afterwards occupied and in 1841 the historic Richmond Street chapel was built.  This was the scene of glorious revivals, the stories of which are still recited.  For well-nigh fifty years the church met there and then the present Conference chapel in Linthorpe Road was erected, during the ministry of the late R.G.Graham.  A paralysing coal strike with its consequent industrial depression hampered the efforts of our friends.  The site is one of the most valuable and commanding in the town.  It was here that the late Robert Hind rendered such distinguished service .  He grappled with the financial problem and laid the basis for the subsequent success.  In more recent years, and under the direction of the Rev. W.J. Ward, the handsome suite of school premises was built.  The members of the church are to be congratulated on their loyalty and courage.  Through all the hazardous years they faced their problems and their reward is richly deserved.

The Gilkes Street church was an off-shoot from Richmond Street and its success is known connexionally.  The present chapel was built in 1878.  During the ministries of the Revs. Robert Hind and William Younger a glorious revival broke out and continued for several years.  Indeed, the revival spirit is in the air to this day.  A crowded church, a more than crowded Sunday school are the features of Gilkes Street.  The premises have just been remodelled and enlarged to meet the needs of the district.

It was the revival and its well-trained converts that made possible the ventures in Ayresome Street and Southfield Road, touching new populations and appealing to old and young.  North Ormesby merits special mention also.  For years the Nelson Street properties were crowded.  Now on the splendid site on the principal thoroughfare a handsome block of buildings has been opened.  Increased success has already crowned this venture.

The Newport society is prospering and land is held for a new building when the funds are available.  And we are pleased to write of Haverton Hill, one of the oldest causes in the  district.  Here we have a neat chapel, now debtless, and a faithful body of workers.  The present ministers are doing yeoman service, busy indeed with such progressive churches.  Hosts of devoted families glory in their fellowship with us.  We are glad that Mr and Mrs John Meredith are spared to see the Middlesbrough Conference.  In the 7 churches of the station there are 846 members.  The chapel and school properties cost £24,906 and the debt remaining is £9,459.  In the schools there are 2,035 scholars and 236 teachers.

Many attempts were made from 1837, and onwards, to establish a cause at Eston, but it was not until March 1851 that an effective opening was made.  A class was formed under the leadership of Tomas Williams.  Their first quarterly contribution amounted to 8 shi;;ings.  Meeting first in a dwelling house, a room was afterwards taken over the miners’ offices.  The first chapel was built in 1857 at a cost of £375.  “California chapel” was its popular designation.  Twelve years later the present chapel was erected and in 1878 the school was added.  The total expenditure was £2,978, their present debt is only £78.  A chapel was built at Lazenby in 1861 at a cost of £269 and is now free from debt.  The South Bank properties cost £3,690 and were built in 1880.  The present indebtedness is £696.  The Grangetown chapel was built in 1888 at a cost of £1,231, £84 of which alone remains as debt.  The Normanby property was erected in 1900 at a cost of £1,059 of which £281 remains to be paid.  There are two excellent manses, valued at £1,155 upon which a debt of £570 remains. 

In the Eston station we have strong and hearty societies.  Many devoted labourers have contributed to our success.  The name of Elisha Beacham is still recalled.  For many years he was one of the leaders of the district and widely known in all parts of the Connexion.  Her was a man of splendid character, of rare business ability, a capable preacher and a true son of our church.  His brother in law, the Rev. G Parkin, M.A., B.D., is a native of Eston and began his career as a local preacher at the Stockton station.

This is but a lightening sketch of our church’s history and success in these bust industrial areas.  It only remains to be said that our churches have won the esteem and confidence of these great populations and that many of our people have been active in their municipal and educational life.  The old spirit of evangelism and aggression abides.  The signs of the times are full of hope.  It is the prayer of all our people that the Conference sessions  will witness a baptism of the Spirit, and that the churches entertaining the delegates will share the uplift and power.

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


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