Our Centenary – Hugh Bourne and the Wakes

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

The meeting of these mission workers, Hugh and James Bourne, Dinah Morris, and Seth Bede, at Wootton on Sunday,June 25th, 1809, is worthy of some further notice. The record of the event by the first-named, is characteristic of the man. It is also a revelation of Dinah Morris. She was now thirty-three years old, and for six years had been the wife of Seth Bede. Here she had come with her husband, on a holiday visit to their relations at Norbury and Ellastone. Yet note how that holiday is spent. On the Sunday she is hoarse through preaching all the week! This was her soul’s delight and rapture:
“O for a trumpet voice,
On all the world to call;
To bid their hearts rejoice
In Him who died for all.”

It is a little unfortunate that for the purposes of literary art, George Eliot has represented Dinah Morris after her supposed union with Adam Bede, as laying aside her preaching, and settling down to the lowly service and gentle amenities of a workman’s home. They who accept such a representation as fact do not know Dinah Morris. For her there was no cessation of labour for souls till strength failed, and her work was done.
“O bleeding Priest of silent, sad Gethsemane,
That second Eden, where upsprings the Healing Vine;
Press from our careless foreheads drops of sweat for Thee,
Fill us with sacrificial love for souls like Thine.”

It was this all-controlling passion of sacrificial love for souls shared with her Master and Lord, shared with apostles and martyrs, that made Dinah Morris’s voice so hoarse and her spirit so urgent that day at Wootton, it was through her deep union with God that she “got well into the power.” How characteristic of Hugh Bourne is that brief, pithy saying, to him this was everything – getting well into the power. It was the divine element in the preacher’s life and speech that won the fight. This was the “power” that was supreme in early Primitive Methodism. How that power lies all about us to-day. We need nothing so much. Through all the ages electricity has been in the world, but we have only been able to avail ourselves of its mighty uses as we have learned of recent years to adjust ourselves to the laws of its tremendous force. So in the spiritual realm the “power” flows irresistibly when we ourselves are in harmony with the laws of its being.

We can see how completely Hugh Bourne was captivated by this female evangelist, Dinah Morris. He admires her clearness of doctrinal statement, her readiness in the Scriptures, as well as her intense devotion. She appears to him to be as fully devoted to God as any woman he had ever met. Hugh Bourne was not a man of profuse compliments. Few earnest souls are. But Dinah Morris had completely won his admiration the first time they had met. “Her husband also spoke. He appears to be an excellent man.” How commonplace this, as compared with the hearty enconiums lavished on Dinah. After Seth Bede came James Bourne, “Then I went up,” then the meeting closed. “We occupied most of the afternoon.” I should think so, four preachers in a village home, on an afternoon in June. That, however, was not enough. “We had, after that, a plead with sinners near the ale house.” It was the parish wakes. Some of the sinners in Wootton disdained to come to that little meeting. The public house attracted them, so to the public house went the evangelists to plead outside with those careless ones ensnared by the wakes. After that crowded afternoon, Hugh Bourne walks to Ramsor, preaches in the evening and has “a good time.” Here is a further revelation of early Primitive Methodism. It travailed in birth for souls. It shared the passion of the suffering Redeemer. It lived and breathed in the divine “power.” It would not let sinners alone even at the wakes. It was audacious and daring in its aggressiveness. And it won – all along the line.

We moderns probably find it difficult to understand the importance attached to the “wakes,” in these records. There was, indeed, good reason for it. Let me borrow a description of the wakes as they were celebrated in the early days of the last century, taken from the life of a very earnest Methodist lay preacher – Isaac Marsden. “The village green during the past week was a scene of wild confusion. The public houses were crowded with drunken revellers, who caroused all day and made night hideous with their quarrels and disturbances. A stout stake was fixed in the middle of the green for bull-baiting and bear-baiting. Here some unhappy bear was chained, with only liberty to move round the pole and sit on its hind legs. Savage bull dogs were incited to attack him, and as they pinned him by the nose and made him yell with pain, the excited crowd screamed with delight. If the bear caught the dog in his paws and crushed the life out of it, he became the hero of the hour, and was removed from the stake for a brief respite, by his tormentors. Then a fine powerful bull would be tied to the stake with only sufficient length of chain to enable him to defend himself. The dogs were set upon him, and if he was a tame spiritless creature who allowed himself to be torn and worried, the spectators gloated over his sufferings and thought it served him right. But if he became furious, and tossed the dogs like shuttlecocks with his horns and broke away from the stake to wreak his vengeance on the crowd around him they were wild with admiration. Occasionally a ring was formed and two savage bull-dogs were incited to attack each other. They fought with blind fury till one of them was worried, when the crowd would adjourn to the public house to settle their betting accounts, and devise new forms of amusement. Often two powerful men would enter the ring for a brutal prize fight. There were mountebanks, showmen, fortune tellers, vagabonds and thieves from every quarter. The din and uproar and strife lasted night and day. Work was entirely suspended for a week, and often the savings of a whole year would be spent in folly and sin.”

A little later in the story of Hugh Bourne he again appears at the wakes in Ramsor. That Mr. Marsden’s description of these festivals, as he knew them in Yorkshire, applies to the full to the wakes as Hugh Bourne found them in Ramsor will at once appear from the narrative he has given.

“Sunday, July Ist, 1810. I led the class at Wootton, there was a good company, and we had a powerful time. I then visited several. Francis Horobin spoke at night at Wootton, and I spoke after him. It was a good time. I spoke first at Ramsor, from Paul’s farewell to the elders of Ephesus, and we had a wonderful time.”

So far, he is dealing with the Sunday’s proceedings. His next paragraph introduces us to the drama of the wakes.

“Monday, July 2nd, visiting. At evening there was a bearbait. I felt the spirit of the wake dash upon me like a flood, and I bore the cross awhile, till the cloud broke, and the Spirit said that my desire should be granted. I felt thankful.”

The cross lay heavy on him that evening. He saw how the multitudes, far and near, had come to Ramsor to witness this hideous spectacle of the bear-baiting. He felt how insensate was the whole proceeding, how degrading the spectacle, how demoralising the issue, and he groaned in spirit. His travail led him to cast himself on God in agonising prayer, and in his own consciousness there came the assurance of victory. Here is the signal:

“At bed-time I wandered towards the ale-house, and met with an earnest seeker of salvation; her name was Mary Challinor; she came from Shelton, in the Potteries. I went into Brown’s, and she was fully born again. I felt very thankful to God.”

O, the blessedness of true cross bearing! Did anyone ever know it to fail of some gracious results? Around the public house there gathered the multitude for vulgar and shameful revelry. In Brown’s dwelling, at the same hour, a different scene is enacted. Here is a human spirit, agonising under the burden of its sins, and here is Evangelist pointing the way of the Cross. A consciousness of reconciliation dawns on the troubled mind. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God, and Hugh Bourne triumphs as one who has found great spoil. But Evangelist has not done with the wake:

“Tuesday, 3rd. It rained much this afternoon. We prayed for the Lord to restrain the wake, and I believe the Lord sent rain and thunder on Sunday night, and the rain to-day, to stop it. Glory be to His name for ever. I spoke at Buxton’s, and I had a greater opening into faith than ever before.”

Thus, while the devil was so busy, Hugh Bourne was labouring, as best he could, to counteract the torrent of evil let loose by the wakes. Too often we allow the evil one to have his own way. Not so Hugh Bourne. Visiting, preaching, praying, though helpless to stem the whole flood, yet out of its raging volume he rescues one and another and introduces them to a loftier and purer joy than earthly pleasures ever yielded. Several conversions were won, some of them with visitors to the wake, some with residents. Then, after this agonising wrestling with the direful spirit of the wakes, Hugh Bourne wends his way home to Bemersley. To me this is profoundly interesting. It exhibits the victory of true cross-bearing, and proves that, even where the current is running clean contrary, faith, prayer, and definite effort will not fail of grand spiritual results, reaching on to a glorious eternity of blessing. To me these records are doubly interesting, because I knew the families mentioned, whether at Wootton or Ramsor. My young heart reverenced the Salts, Finneys, Buxtons, Horobins, Draycotts, and Critchlows as men and women of holy character and reverent life. Always blessed are such homes and such lives as were won for the Master by the devoted labours of Hugh and James Bourne, in the humble townships of Ramsor and Wootton. And surely one may well say there is always blessing in aggressive toil for the Master, undertaken in love, faith, and prayer.

So much for the meeting of these kindred souls at Wootton. They next foregather in a different place – the town of Derby. The occasion of this visit affords an interesting sidelight on the character of Hugh Bourne. He has a concern for the spiritual welfare of some relations of his who reside at King’s Newton, a charming village seven miles to the south of Derby, a place said to have been the abode of genius, from so many literary characters having lived there. It will be interesting to notice his daily progress on this mission to King’s Newton.
“Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet!
My bottle of salvation,
My crown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I take my pilgrimage.”

“Saturday, 17th March, 1810. I set out for Ramsor, and called at Kingsley. The old Methodist preachers neglect the place under pretence of Mrs. Dunnell’s preaching there. I kneeled down on the wayside and was blessed. O Lord, prosper Thy work. Amen.”

“Sunday, 18th. At ten I stood up at the New-houses, and had a good time and much power. At two I preached at Ramsor, at night at Wootton. Good, I trust, was done ”

At New-houses he has reached another of the six neglected places he had jotted down in a previous visit to Ramsor. This name was given to long lines of cottages erected by the Cauldon Low Company, for the residence of the workmen in its huge limestone quarries hard by. The parish of Alton was responsible for these toiling quarrymen. Nothing whatever had been done for their spiritual instruction. Hugh Bourne knelt by the wayside as he thought of these destitute people. Those prayers of the burdened soul have had answer of which he little thought. At many of these neglected districts schools and churches of the establishment have been organised since then, with other efforts for the welfare of the people. Having concluded his day’s preaching on the Sunday, he starts for Derby on the Monday morning. He is on his way to King’s Newton, and on his outward journey simply calls on the Evans in passing, but even this brief interview leads to this remark on Dinah Morris, the wife, as we know, of Samuel Evans: “His wife is earnest.” Hugh Bourne was right. Never was there, in this world, a more earnest soul. Dinah Morris had the all-consuming passion which moves the whole being and strings to full tension the highest and holiest powers of our life. His mission to his kinsfolk did not yield him much comfort. He found them “exceedingly carnal.’’

“Wednesday, 21st. I took leave of my relations. I have endeavoured to set life and death before them. My aunt is nearly helpless. She is of great age. My uncle has been dead about two years. The young people are grown up, but they are all after the things of this life. O Lord, have mercy upon them.”

Here the curtain falls on this noble mission to his relations. What an example have we here. I calculate that on the Monday he walked twenty-six miles to deliver himself of his burden concerning his kinsfolk. O beautiful solicitude! O lovely zeal! This journey would involve, at least, eighty miles on foot. So regardless of labour was this good man for Christ and souls.

From King’s Newton he proceeds back again to Derby. Here he makes for the home of the Evans at once. He has delightful intercourse with the holy pair. Of him he says, “He is an earnest man;” but of her he remarks, “She has been, and is, an extraordinary woman. She has been very near Ann Cutler’s experience; but she met with great persecution, especially from Rev. ___. I was much instructed by her conversation.”

To me, knowing the history so well, I see more in this extract than lies on the surface. The reference to Ann Cutler implies volumes of meaning. The contact of these three would hardly have been complete without some joint public effort. And so I close with this brief extract: “At night I led Mr. Evans’s class. It was a good time. Many of them are strong in grace, yet there was much unbelief.” O blessed communion of the saints! What worship, what love, what praise are there!
‘‘From saint to saint, the world around,
Celestial odours are diffused;
Sweet thoughts are born on hallowed ground,
Where holy saints have mused.
Yet, as we learn the mystery,
Around One holy fount we fall,
And in the light eternal, see
That God is all in all.”


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/355

Comments about this page

  • To observe that ‘Dinah Morris’ is the fictitious name from the novel ‘Adam Bede’ and her real name was Elizabeth Evans, – surname changing to Bede on marriage.
    Such is the power of George Eliot’s fiction is masks they actual individual behind it.

    By David Leese (19/01/2022)

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