Memories of Elmfield 2

Its Early Governors

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by An Old Boy

THIS is not intended to be a continuous narrative of my experiences as a boy at Elmfield, but merely a sketch of the salient features of my Alma Mater as she was in her early days. I begin with the governors under whose sway Elmfield rejoiced in my time. An able and charmingly written article on John Petty, the first governor, appeared in the ALDERSGATE last year, and many have taken in hand to set forth in order the events of his life and the features of his character. I cannot rival these nor add much perhaps to what they have said. I merely record the impression the governor made upon a boy fresh from the country. His courteous and gentle manly manner in receiving us was the first thing that struck me. John Petty was a Christian gentleman, and this, all who came within the range of his influence, were made to feel. But above all things he was a saint. I suppose being human he would have his faults. I never saw them. Of course I viewed him mostly from afar. He was the head of the College. I was a boy fresh from a remote country district. I have heard him speak with great sternness and even severity, and once on a matter in which as a boy I considered him to be mistaken; but this was in relation to things in which the fallibility of his judgment did not for a moment affect my reverence for his character. To me he was always kindness itself, and I will not pretend that | never deserved severity. 

What an impression his prayers made morning and evening. But the Class Meetings were the great religious feature of the College. I had been accustomed to a very warm-hearted country Primitive Methodism, but for spiritual fervour the College class meetings surpassed anything I had ever experienced. It ought to be said that there were a number of candidates for the ministry in residence in the College at this time, under the governors tuition, and no doubt their presence at the class meetings tended to increase the fervour and enthusiasm. There were several revivals and numbers of the boys were converted. Mr. Petty led the class meetings and went round in the old orthodox way to students and boys. 

But perhaps nothing has left quite so deep an impression on my mind as a service in our York chapel conducted by the governor one Sunday morning. I ought to say that we boys attended Little Stonegate chapel twice every Sunday, and the organ, the singing, the services greatly impressed me. Well, on this particular Sunday morning Mr. Petty was preaching. I recall nothing of the text or the sermon, but the spiritual fervour and unction of the sermon were overwhelming. The entire congregation was bathed in tears, and I recall the astonishment with which I beheld one or two of the most fashionable young ladies present weeping undisguisedly. I still possess one of the class tickets given me by the sainted John Petty.

The other governor I knew at Elmfield was Mr. Petty’s successor, the Rev. Thomas Smith. He was little of stature with a refined spirituelle face and of somewhat quaint appearance. He was a gentle, kindly man. The gift of rule was not his by nature, but the College prospered under his governorship. His fame as a preacher rested not on his unction or fervour, but on his power of easy, natural, spontaneous eloquence. His speech was silvern. What a command of simple Saxon he had, and with what ease and naturalness he could deliver a carefully prepared speech. So natural was it, that it might have been the spontaneous outpouring of the moment. If his scholarship was not as extensive as that of his predecessor his acquirements were quite respectable. He could charm a large city audience and hold a chapelful of colliery villagers enraptured with his graceful and thoughtful oratory. Not that he orated; his style was too deliberate and unstudied for that. He had been a successful and revered minister and gave his last days to the work of building up the fame and power of Elmfield. Peace to the dear old man’s memory.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908/115

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