Selby Circuit, Yorkshire

Selby Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1919/104
Camblesforth Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1919/104

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. F. Winterburn

SELBY is a market town on the right bank of the river Ouse. Its history goes back to the days before the Norman Conquest. Its magnificent parish church was originally the church of a Benedictine Abbey founded in the twelfth century by a sheriff of Yorkshire, Hugh by name. In 1906, the building was destroyed by fire, but has been fully restored. Wesley preached in 1782, “at eleven, in the main street at Selby, to a large and quiet congregation.” And one of the early Primitive Methodist  missioners to the town was William Clowes.

For many generations the interests of the small town were purely agricultural, and what interests flourished here, were allied to agriculture. The flax industry, which is now being revived, after a long period of neglect, was once in a flourishing condition. The market town of the past is now being transformed into a centre of industrial activity, and it is likely that it may become an important river port, as for years it has been an important railway junction. Shipbuilding, engineering, seedcrushing and dye works have been established. The population of the town was rapidly growing before the war put a stop to building operations. To provide accommodation for the growing population the Urban Council has already built about two hundred houses.

Primitive Methodism was established in Selby in the early days of the Connexion. The year of entrance is 1818. Selby formed part of the Swinefleet Circuit, together with Howden and Goole. In 1857, Selby became a branch of the Swinefleet Circuit. In 1863 the branch was made into an independent circuit. The new branch had eleven preaching places. Two of the eleven places were later attached to the Howden Circuit; one was left off the plan a few years after the branch was formed. The rest still form part of the Selby Circuit. In several other villages causes were established and in some cases chapels were built. Undoubtedly good work was done, but the results were not abiding. The villages were small, population declined, and when the leaders died or removed, there was no one to take up the work.

The calling of a village preacher in those days was of an arduous character. There were possibilities of romantic happenings. Commons were to be traversed, and rivers crossed; in the circuit accounts are notes of expenses for bridge tolls and ferries. Time and again did the preachers turn to villages where little success had as yet been won. Open-air services were of necessity the order of the day. A quaint resolution with regard to Wressle in December, 1864, is significant of the conditions of the work and the spirit of the workers. “That Wressle have preaching once in two weeks while we have the immeasurable tabernacle, and if circumscribed by having a preaching place that it have preaching every Sabbath.”

The first preaching place of the Primitive Methodists in Selby was an upper room off Finkle Street. In 1840, a chapel was built in a yard off Gowthorpe and served till 1862, when the present chapel was built at the corner of Gowthorpe and Brook Street, one of the finest sites in the town. The position will be further improved by the opening of a street which is to lead to a new residential area. The cost of the chapel, with the school and the minister’s house was only £2396, not an extravagant price for a set of most serviceable buildings. The chapel has sitting accommodation for four-hundred-and-seventy persons. The only debt in the circuit is on the Selby property, and that debt is but £75.

The debts were extinguished by a united effort. A general Trust Fund was formed in December, 1869, to liquidate the debts in six years. The Trustees of the several chapels with the Travelling preachers formed the committee, the Superintendent being the treasurer, and Mr. George Brown, the secretary. The local trustees were local committees, each with a sectional treasurer. Public meetings were held in each chapel to explain the scheme and secure donations. A general meeting was held in connection with the March Quarterly Meeting to dispose of the money in hand at the time. The result was that very soon the whole of the chapels were freed from debt.

The name of Mr. Brown is one of fragrant memory. For many years he was Circuit Steward. He was a gracious gentleman of courtly manners and tender heart, a devoted church member and official, and a true saint of God, whose influence and example were a means of grace to very many. Among the workers contemporary with Mr. and Mrs. Brown were Mrs. Sissons, Mrs. Towse, Mr. and Mrs. Graves, Mr. and Mrs. Lenham, and others whose names might be mentioned.

Mr. Robert Brewins, who has recently passed to his reward in his eighty-first year, rendered conspicuous service and was greatly esteemed, holding the position of honorary Society Steward and Class Leader, when no longer able to take active part in the work of the church. Mr. J.M. Brewins, a worthy son of a worthy father, is the Circuit Steward. He finds such joy in the work of the church that no effort is too great and no service too arduous for him. His only recreation seems to be to promote the prosperity of the society and circuit, and in this he is nobly aided by the support of his devoted wife. The present Society Steward, Mr. J.H. Carr, for a long time carried on the work of the office while assistant to Mr. Brewins, and has also rendered good service as Local Preacher and Circuit Steward. Mr. T. Hall, who came to Selby from Shipley a few years ago, is now Assistant Society Steward and Local Preacher. Another past Steward is Councillor R. Bowe, J.P., the Senior Local Preacher in the circuit. Unfortunately Mr. Bowe is now unable to take service in the pulpit, greatly to the loss of our congregations. In 1917, the circuit suffered a great loss through the death of Mr. J.T. Houseman, who was a man of great heartiness, and worked with all his might. His sudden death in the midst of an active career made a gap in our ranks which to fill is difficult indeed.

Three or four miles from Selby, at Cliffe is a chapel with seating accommodation for two-hundred-and-sixty people, and a school, built in 1864. Primitive Methodism has filled a large place in the life of this village. They will tell you at Cliffe of the service rendered in days gone by, by such men as Mr. Greenfield, whose daughter, Mrs. G. Bussey, is Society Steward, and Messrs. Dodsworth, and Cooke, and Allen, who still preaches in the circuit, though living now in another circuit, and others. The name of Mrs. Wetherell of Cliffe Cottage Farm, who passed to her reward in 1916, at the age of eighty-two years, will ever be associated with, the most prosperous days of this society. The work of the school is carried on by Mr. J. Patrick, who is also a local preacher, and Mr. C. Holland. About a mile or so further on is the village of Hemingbrough, where our chapel, a building with one-hundred-and-sixty sittings, was erected in 1857.

On the way to York, about five miles from Selby, is a flourishing country society at Riccall. The chapel was built in 1857, to provide for two-hundred people. Sunday-school work is here very prosperous. Names yet remembered are those of Messrs. Raper, Ashton, Wheater and the Bulmers. In recent years the society suffered serious loss through the death of Mr. George Clark. His services as preacher, leader, steward, and school worker were invaluable. He was a man of faith and courage, of generous heart and cheerful spirit. His work is now being carried on by his sons who are rendering service in the spirit of their father.

North Duffield lies about five-and-a-half miles from Selby. The chapel is small and plain and old. It was built in 1821. Cordial relations exist between the various sections of the Christian Church in this village. At the week-evening gatherings hearty services are held, in which Wesleyans and members of the Episcopal Church join in worship with our small society. At Skipwith, where our society has been well served for years by Miss Rooke, Christian unity has gone a step further. We have a small chapel with seating accommodation for one-hundred-and-thirty-four hearers, which was built in 1869. Quite recently arrangements were made for the holding of united services in our chapel, the preachers to be supplied alternately by the Wesleyans and ourselves. The experiment has created favourable interest in the village. Congregations have improved, and a good Methodist service is available for the inhabitants.

About two miles beyond North Duffield is Bubwith, where the chapel was built in 1863. This society at one time in its history boasted seven or eight local preachers of its own. The last of the number, Mr. Robert Hatfield, died in July, 1918. All his life was spent in the fellowship of our church, and he loyally rendered service in school, society and circuit. His family still helps to carry on the work at Bubwith. Other names remembered in connection with this society are those of Messrs. Ross and Bailey. Mr. Lamb, now a member at Selby, and a local preacher for many years served here.

Camblesforth is about five miles from Selby, in the direction of Snaith. Here the present building was erected in 1898. The cost was soon raised, for the society, following the traditions of the circuit in this regard, does not care for debt. Here is an ideal village church, with a Sunday-school most efficiently managed. Though there is no separate school building, the land for one has been secured and a Building Fund established. At the Anniversary in 1918, the teachers made a special effort for that fund, and £60 was raised and set apart. Of the earlier workers there are yet with us Mr. and Mrs. Brazier, Mr. Frank Sykes and Mrs. Duckels. Messrs. Pearcy, Duckels and A. Sykes are local preachers, and among other workers are Mr. Hinsley and Mr. Gill. The services at Camblesforth are noted for warmth and spiritual fervour.

Further on is Drax, where the chapel was built in 1855. Mr. E. Cutting and his wife long and faithfully served this church. Mr. Johnson, of Drax, has travelled hundreds of miles to supply our pulpits, and though living at one extreme of the circuit, covers the whole with his service.

In a circuit of this character the work of the local preachers is of great importance. Regular service is being given by the preachers already mentioned, and by Messrs. Baxter, Longfield, Calvert, Allison, Earl, and Dowson and others, The number available for the work is not too large. But it is the firm determination of the circuit to sustain the village causes in readiness for that revival of the life in the countryside which is so widely expected. If that expectation be realised, the faith and patience of those who have held on during the lean days may yet be rewarded by joyous prosperity. Even as things are some of the village societies are vigorous with a live present and a hopeful future. And at Selby there is every reason to hope that days of greater grace and glory lie ahead. The services are well attended, the life of the church is healthy, the interest of the people, and especially of the young people is quickening. The church is alert in watching for opportunity to anticipate the certain development of the town, and there is every prospect of a prosperous future.

Methodists have no reason to be ashamed of the circuit system. There is no other system by which the country can be covered by religious agencies and facilities. All kinds of gifts are utilised, and there are abundant opportunities for service amongst young and old. The finest loyalties are encouraged to the church, and this is proved by the fidelity of families for generations. There is room also for leadership in the societies, and happy we are that such men and women are forthcoming. It is a real pleasure and privilege to pay tribute to the people who make our churches centres of spiritual influence, and who find the joy of life in the religious nurture of the young.


Christian Messenger 1919/104


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