Our Centenary - Storming the Villages VI
How William Clowes missioned Hutton Rudby
Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. Ernest Lucas
It may seem a task of unwarranted temerity to attempt a sketch of William Clowes in a few brief paragraphs. Yet it would be equally unwarranted to write of those who won the villages of England for Primitive Methodism, and make no mention of the man whose brilliant and strenuous career of evangelism ranks him worthily by the side of George Fox, George Whitefield, John Wesley, and William Booth. Clowes was rich in the gifts of nature. He had a splendid presence, a winning countenance, a voice of great power and sweetness, a piercing glance that on occasion seemed almost to transfix his hearers; he was, in a word, a magnetic and powerful personality, for good or for evil a born leader of men. “How majestically he walks!” commented one who saw him in Hull, and the dignity of his bearing was a fitting index of the grandeur of his aims and the true greatness of his soul.
For, richly dowered as he was by natural constitution, he was yet more rich in gifts of grace. “William Clowes grows up into our Lord Jesus Christ at a great rate,” wrote Hugh Bourne in his journal after visiting Clowes soon after the conversion of the latter, and the words may stand as a summary of the whole subsequent career of the great evangelist. Whole-hearted thoroughness was the mark of all that Clowes was and did. In his youthful days he had been a ringleader in vice. There had been a reckless audacity of irreligion in him that had shocked even hardened wrongdoers. When he was converted, he threw himself with magnificent abandon into all the tasks and ideals of Christian living. He gave whole days to prayer and fasting. He travelled far and near, when his day’s work was over, distributing tracts, and conversing with men and women in their homes or by the wayside on the great themes of the spiritual life. He was an unwearied and joyous propagandist of the faith which had transformed him. When beggars came to the door, he not only relieved them, but also had them into his house and prayed with them. In his little cottage there were held each week two public prayer meetings, two class meetings, and a band meeting. Sunday was a day of exacting but glorious toil. “In the first place there was the prayer meeting at six o’clock in the morning, another followed at nine, preaching at eleven, band meeting at one, preaching at two, visiting the sick at four, preaching again at six, afterwards a prayer meeting at my house, besides reading the Scriptures, family and private prayers, and other occasional duties. In the midst of this ponderous labour, I felt strong, and active, and unspeakably happy in God.”
He was no believer, moreover, in silent orisons. “At midnight he prayed and sang praises unto God.” His neighbours thought him mad. Really earnest Christians have often been considered mad. It is not wonderful that the labours of such a man, so strong and sincere in faith, so diligent in prayer, were attended by extraordinary success, when at last his way was opened to a wider sphere. The power that marked his prayers was overwhelming. The utterance of a few simple words of petition was often enough to thrill a whole assembly. On one occasion he was invited to take tea at a farmhouse. He was asked to “say grace,” and had not proceeded far before all present were on their knees. The meal was quite forgotten, and prayer and praise went on until the time for evening preaching had arrived.
It is difficult to associate his labours with this or that locality. What J.R. Green says of Wesley and Whitefield is equally true of Clowes. His voice was heard “in the wildest and most barbarous corners of the land, among the bleak moors of Northumberland, or in the dens of London, or in the long galleries where in the pauses of his labour the Cornish miner listens to the sobbing of the sea.” And it must be remembered that while Wesley travelled on horseback, and General Booth has been whisked from one end of the country to the other in a motor car, the journeys of Clowes were on foot, in a time of bad and unlighted roads, and were therefore laborious, and at times dangerous in the extreme. In the present connection it is also to be remembered that much of his best work was done in large towns, such as Hull, Leeds, Sunderland, and Newcastle. But he was equally successful as evangelist to the villages. We may take as typical his North Riding mission, of which Hutton Rudby was the centre.
Hutton Rudby is a charming village among the Cleveland Hills, about ten miles south of Stockton-on-Tees, and on the banks of the Leven, a tributary of the Tees. White-washed and red-tiled houses surround an exceptionally spacious and well kept green, through the centre of which runs the highway, lined by trees. In olden times it was the centre of an important village industry for the manufacture of linen and cloths, which were carried on the backs of ponies to the market at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The manufacture of sailcloth is still carried on in the village.
Clowes left Hull on May 18th, 1820, and arrived at Hutton Rudby on July 20th, having preached at Thirsk, Ripon and other places on the way. Night was falling as he approached the village. Before entering it, he sat down on a bank, wondering where he would find shelter. In his perplexity he prayed, then, lifting up his eyes, saw a house before him. “Immediately a thought from God darted into my mind, – God can open my way into that house.” He rose and entered the village, and after attending a prayer meeting among the Wesleyans, was invited by a Mrs. Norman to supper and bed. The next day he preached to a large company in the open air. Some were disappointed, for instead of the solemn exhortations of an earnest preacher of the Gospel they had been led by rumour to expect the antics of a dancing dervish. Others were deeply impressed, among whom was Mr. Suggitt, owner of the house which had attracted the attention of Mr. Clowes, as he sat on the bank, anxious about a shelter for the night. This gentleman offered Clowes a home at his house during his stay in the village. He preached and formed societies at Potto, Stokesley, Ayton, Faceby, Swainby, Ingleby, Carlton, Brompton, and Northallerton. One of the converts at Potto was Henry Hebbron, who for twenty-six years adorned the Primitive Methodist ministry. At Northallerton, a crowd of a thousand people in the open air listened with the deepest attention.
A great camp meeting was held at Scarth Nick, a wild pass among the hills between Swainby and Osmotherley, at which two thousand people were present. “The effects of that camp meeting,” says Mr. Clowes, ‘‘were very great.” A farmer present was so excited by the joy of his new found sense of forgiveness that he called on hills and dales and all that had breath to praise the Lord. Returning home, he told his wife and servants what great things the Lord had done for him, and they too sought and found salvation. Among those present at this meeting was Thomas Ramshaw, a Wesleyan, from Brompton. He was so struck by the power which attended the preaching of Clowes, that he invited him to Brompton, and himself became class leader and steward, and also chapel trustee when in the following year a chapel and cottage were erected in that place.
Crossing into Bilsdale with a friend, Clowes was benighted, as they came to steep hill which was to be crossed ere they reached their destination. They had to pull themselves up, by the help of the ling growing on the steep slopes. When they reached the house it was so crowded that they could not gain admission. They called the people out, but then another difficulty arose. It was intensely dark, and the people were anxious to see the preacher as well as to hear him. A candle and lantern were brought, and Clowes stood on a chair under the lee of the farmhouse and preached to a deeply attentive congregation. At the close the house was crowded with penitents, among whom Clowes laboured with exhausted strength but with cheering success. “Pitiful fanaticism!” sneers the superior person, but these conversions were followed by consistent Christian living, and it is perhaps not too much to say that the labours of these despised evangelists saved England from revolution.
The society at Hutton Rudby soon numbered nearly fifty members, and arrangements were made for building a chapel. “After making a plan to direct my colleagues in this mission, in which I opened many places and travelled four hundred miles on foot, my whole expenses amounting to thirty shillings in nine weeks, I set out for the Hull Quarterly Meeting.” In this short period he had laid the foundations of what are now four strong circuits, Brompton, Stokesley, and Guisbrough, with its off-shoot, Saltburn. Primitive Methodism is now a potent force in the life of Cleveland. As indicating its influence on social and industrial conditions, it may be mentioned that the trusted leader of the Cleveland miners, Mr. J. Toyn, J.P., of Saltburn, is a devoted Primitive Methodist local preacher and class leader.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/456