Our Centenary - Hugh Bourne, Seth Bede, and Dinah Morris

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. W. Mottram

In another article I have shown how the early Primitives were the missioners of a large number of villages where there was no kind of religious worship, till their advent. This was not altogether by accident. The whole movement was guided by deliberate intention. The camp meetings were meant to revive open-air worship at a period when it had fallen into desuetude. They were deliberately planned to counteract the evil attractions of the parish wakes, where they were held, which, in those days, were seasons of revelry, intoxication, and riotous excess. Places were selected as the scenes of evangelistic effort because of their sore lack of religious privileges.

As early as 1808 the Primitive movement had taken definite shape as a mission agency. There were four distinct fields of operation. The centre was the Potteries with outlying villages. A second sphere lay in Cheshire, including places in the Delamere Forest and extending to such towns as Runcorn, and to Warrington in Lancashire. A third lay in Shropshire, including Market Drayton and Wellington, with camp meetings on the picturesque hill called Wrekin, which were also specifically intended to counteract the evil influences of the annual revel held on that conspicuous mountain. A fourth field of labour was the one with which my narrative is associated.

Kingsley, a colliery village near to Cheadle, Staffs., would appear to have been the first place occupied in this region. In a somewhat extended parish Kingsley has a population now of nearly two thousand souls. James Bourne was the missioner. In the midst of violent persecution a society was formed and joined to the Leek Wesleyan Circuit. Kingsley would be about fifteen miles from the home of the Bournes at Bemersly. About four miles further on was Farley, a township in the parish of Alton. This is a charming village occupying a gentle slope above the gritstone rocks and picturesque woodlands of the Churnet Valley, and in full view of the palatial mansion of Alton Towers.

A Farley woman named Heaton had heard James Bourne in his ministrations at Kingsley, and had extracted from him a promise to visit her own village. An appointment had been made for Sunday, March 22nd, 1808. James Bourne,  however, was the parish constable, and his official duties preventing him, his brother, Hugh Bourne, supplied his place. From this time forth his was a familiar figure in these parts. During his first visit he made an engagement to preach at Ramsor, a township in the parish of Ellastone, adjoining that of Farley. Ramsor, as far as I can gather, has never had more than a hundred in population. In this small place we find Hugh Bourne preaching for two Sundays in May, 1808. Here is an extract from his journal: “When at this place I took down the names of six destitute villages, and appointed to preach at Wootton, a village which is a mile and a half from Ramsor, and is usually called Wootton-under-Weaver.”

I took down the names of six destitute villages.” In this sentence you have the very essence of early Primitive Methodism. Its inspiring principle was to supply religious services where none were held, to hunt up the neglected districts, whether in town or country, and to go after the lost sheep, wherever they were to be found. The soul of Hugh Bourne was deeply moved at the impressive thought of the spiritual darkness of these “six destitute villages”:—
“See where o’er desert wastes they err,
And neither food nor feeder have;
Nor fold, nor place of refuge near,
And no man cares their souls to save.”

To bring a simple, holy, direct Gospel home to the hearts of these people, was the intense yearning of his earnest soul. By the direction his labours took, one might almost discover which were the six villages that occupied his mind. The first to be attacked was Wootton, and the date for commencing operations was only a fortnight ahead. The two brothers, Hugh and James Bourne, were the missioners at Wootton, and they began their preaching in the open air. I do not suppose that from the fair morning of creation till a.d. 1808, had either Farley, Ramsor, or Wootton, ever enjoyed preaching within their borders. Ramsor lay three miles from its parish church, and Wootton a mile and a half. The population of the Wootton township would be about twice that of Ramsor. It is a little collection of farmhouses and cottages, flanked on its northern side by the lofty range of limestone, called Weaver Hills, situated on the highway between Uttoxeter and Leek, via Rocester and Ellastone. Wootton Hall is a noble mansion, finely situated on the slope of the mountain, above a romantic glen, through which a streamlet wanders on its way from the heights of Weaver to join the River Dove. For some years this house was the residence of a famous Frenchman, – Jean Jacques Rousseau, who, finding peace in this secluded spot, wrote there some of his once popular books.

It was in this small township of Wootton that Hugh Bourne came into contact with Seth Bede and Dinah Morris.  Hugh Bourne, Seth Bede, Dinah Morris, and Primitive Methodism, in 1809! What reflections are suggested by this concatenation! With regard to the last-named of this trio, justice has been done. Her inspired personality had taken full possession of George Eliot, while as yet the great author was in her youthful days. When she wrote her fine novel, “Adam Bede,” she made her aunt, Elizabeth Evans, the heroine of her book, under the pen name of Dinah Morris. It has been my delightful task to write a volume which shows incontrovertibly that this character of Dinah was suggested to the niece by the life of the aunt as she had known her from infancy. It was my pleasure to know Dinah also, as she was the aunt of my own sainted mother, and George Eliot was my mother’s cousin. Thus Dinah Morris, who in real life strove to avoid every kind of notoriety, has come by her own. By the genius of her devoted niece she has been elevated to a pedestal of glory from which time will not dethrone her. In real life, Elizabeth Evans was incomparably greater than the Dinah Morris of fiction. The gracious Seth Bede also has his place, less exalted than Dinah, but as her good knight, her zealous co-worker and admiring life-companion, no mean position is assured to Seth Bede. Not so with Hugh Bourne. Full justice has not been done to him, as yet. As to whether he were the founder of the Primitive Methodist Connexion I do not care to enquire. I would not belittle that great movement in Christian history by attempting to limit its formation to the work of any one man, however great he might be. The Connexion is a child of Providence, and in laying its foundations Heaven chose such instruments as pleased its beneficent designs – not one, but many. None the less do I hold that the man, Hugh Bourne, is a striking spiritual phenomenon, a rare character, a great evangelist, one of the most potent Christian workers of the first half of the nineteenth century, and a forerunner of the aggressive and philanthropic evangelism of the present day. And here is he along with Dinah Morris, in the little hamlet of Wootton-under-Weaver, in the year of grace 1809. Between these two there was kinship of soul at once. Conversion had been a very decisive work in each of them. In both there had been a rapid growth in grace. Both were ambitious for personal holiness. They were alike in their fervent piety, their whole-hearted consecration, their sublime disinterestedness, their willingness to deny themselves and to labour in season and out of season for the glory of their Master and the service of their fellow creatures. All this, for the whole life.

The good work at Wootton was still young, nevertheless it had made sound progress. Among other conversions, we are told of that of Joseph Salt, under the ministry of Thomas Cotton, one of the early Primitive evangelists. How well do I remember going to the substantial and comfortable home of this venerable old man, some sixty-three years ago, when as a boy of seven I was permitted to accompany my father in his preachings at Wootton. The wife of Mr. Salt was a Shunamite, and their house was a Bethel indeed. How Dinah Morris and Seth Bede came to Wootton it is easy to tell. Three miles to the south was Roston Common, in the parish of Norbury, where Seth Bede was born and brought up to manhood. To Roston Common Seth Bede had brought Dinah Morris, as his bride, in 1803. For four blessed years she had preached and laboured for souls in Roston, Suelstone, Ellastone and other places. She and her husband had been the means of promoting a gracious revival in these parts, whose fruits remain to this day. Two years earlier they had migrated to Derby, where he could ply his handicraft as a builder on a much larger scale. What more natural than that he and she should come to visit their natural kindred and religious associates in this loved locality? What more probable than that they should hear of the good work established by Hugh Bourne at Ramsor and Wootton? What could be more proper than they should walk up to Wootton on Sunday, June 25th, 1809, to join in this new evangelism? The local friends had arranged to bring the evangelists together. The events of the day are duly set forth in Hugh Bourne’s diary. From his description one can see that Dinah Morris had been preaching all around during the preceding week.

Hugh Bourne writes:-
‘‘I led the class in the morning at Wootton. We were informed that Betsy Evans, Samuel Evans’ wife from Derby, would speak. Her husband is also a local preacher. She began about two o’clock. Her voice was low and hoarse at first from having preached so much in the week past; but she got well into the power. She appears to be very clear in Scripture doctrines, and very ready in the Scriptures. She speaks full in the Spirit. From the little I saw of her she appears to be as fully devoted to God as any woman I have ever met with. O Lord, help her and establish her! Her husband also spoke. He appears to be an excellent man. O, my Father, bless and keep him. My brother James spoke next, and then I went up; so that we occupied most of the afternoon. We had after that a plead with sinners near the ale-house. We had but little persecution, although it was wake-time. I spoke at night at Ramsor, and we had a powerful time.”

There is much that invites reflection in this expressive quotation. Space, however forbids. With the editor’s permission, I hope to pursue the theme in another article.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/206

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