Our Centenary - From a Cornish Notebook
Transcription of an article by Rev. E. Lucas published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine
Recently there came into the writer’s hand a note-book which had been kept by one who was for many years a leading official of- our church in Cornwall. It consists of extracts from the old minute books of the Redruth Circuit, the mother Circuit of Cornish Primitive Methodism. Some of these are of interest as throwing a sidelight on the peculiarities of early Primitive Methodism.
The Cornish Mission was commenced by William Clowes, who was stationed at Redruth the last four months of his active ministry. His departure was followed by a powerful revival, which seems to have affected principally the district round St, Austell, for in September 1828, while 282 members are reported for Redruth, 457 are reported for St. Austell, 99 for Penzance, 45 for Falmouth, and 43 for Plymouth, which was, though so distant, a part of the Redruth Mission. The preachers are Garner, Driffield, Abey, Hewson, Grieves, Teal, Vincent, Turner (at whose invitation the mission had been commenced), Beckerlegge, Morrish, and Sarah Price.
William Driffield seems to have been a missionary bishop of Cornish Primitive Methodism. He spent fourteen consecutive years in Redruth, St. Austell, and St. Ives. He was a man of some private means, for he completed the first Redruth Chapel at a cost to himself of £300, and at one time his responsibilities in connection with chapel building amounted to two thousand pounds. (Vide Kendall’s History.) This pecuniary independence would stand him in good stead, for in the first two years of the mission he was deficient £22 15s. 0d. of the very scanty salary then paid. He was a Cleethorpes man, called into the ministry by the Hull Circuit. He is described in the minutes as “a peaceable man, who labours with general acceptance. He does not preach long; preaches a full, free and present salvation, and is instrumental in the conversion of sinners to God; is attentive to discipline and no smoker. His conduct is good and he has been useful to the Circuit.”
Thirteen years later, in 1841, the character of a preacher is succinctly given in the statement that ‘‘he is no smoker of tobacco, and wears his hair in its natural form.” Long preaching was a fault so grave that a preacher guilty of it was mulcted in a considerable part of his salary.
A minute of 1828 says, “Every preacher who is found to preach too long will be fined one pound each quarter.” It was also decided that every preacher must take a text at a camp meeting. Was this intended to curtail the too great “liberty of prophesying ” which marked some of the early camp meetings? A very singular resolution is the following: “That if any preacher give out more than one of Wesley’s hymns at one preaching service he will be fined five shillings.” Evidently it was found in practice that the stately hymns of Wesley were not so well suited to the purposes of our fathers as their own lively songs and stirring melodies. And probably, in those days, as in ours, there were missionaries of culture who were unduly anxious to “raise the standard of worship.” Our fathers were wise enough to see that Primitive Methodism could only succeed by being itself, not by aping the methods or even the excellencies of other churches.
Smoking in those days seems to have been regarded as a much more serious thing than drinking, for in 1822 it was decided that the preachers be allowed one pint of beer and one pennyworth of bread each time they preach at Threeburrows. William Clowes picked blackberries on Carn Brea; his more fortunate successor at Threeburrows, when hospitality lacked, was provided with a pint of beer and a pennyworth of bread.
There are cases In these minutes of discipline severely exercised on brethren who were found guilty of “wasting their time in public houses.” In this respect, at least, there has been substantial progress. Discipline seems to have been not only faithfully, but even vigorously administered. It is resolved in 1841, ‘that Brother N. be pardoned for attending the mountebanks at St. Day, if he repent of his sins and promise to do better in future.” One cannot but feel, however, that the Circuit authorities are fully justified in deciding “that Brother A be relieved of all official duty for one month, and if he cannot avoid beating his wife he is to send in his resignation.” Neglect of appointments was a serious offence, and invariably “dealt with.” It cannot have been very uncommon, for no less than seven preachers at one quarterly meeting sink a figure on the plan for having neglected appointments.
Financial difficulties are often pressing in these minutes. A bill for candles at Redruth is presented, which has been accumulating for five years, and it is stated that interest on the mortgage at Redruth is three years in arrears. Redruth Chapel became private property, and remained such until 1852. St. Ives Chapel was on the point of being lost to the Connexion, when two brothers volunteered to make themselves responsible for the interest. In this case a revival soon swept away financial difficulties and restored the church to prosperity. But we cannot but feel, as we read, that here were poor men struggling, at the cost of great personal toil and sacrifice, to win men from sin, and facing serious difficulties with admirable tenacity and courage.
One would like to have a glimpse of some of the worthies mentioned in these minutes, in their habit as they lived. Notices of some are found in the magazines, but it is not always easy through the veil of official obituary to envisage the real personality.
Women played no small part in Cornish Primitive Methodism. Grace Riddle, of Redruth, seems to have been a tower of strength. Her services were in constant demand, when new ground was to be broken up or a sinking cause to be revived. She is described as “a staunch Primitive Methodist of the old school.” She was peculiar and eccentric, particularly in the matter of dress, in which she carried plainness and austerity to a rigid extreme. But when the extinction of the cause seemed not improbable she was “as an iron pillar strong.’’ And she was well acquainted with the great open secret of spiritual power. She gathered round her a few likeminded women, and they held a daily prayer meeting in the vestry of the chapel. Their intercession was followed by a great revival. Amid these years of Centenary celebration we are lamenting our spiritual barrenness. Perhaps this way of prayer is still the most direct way of bringing about what we so much desire, a widespread revival which shall touch every circuit and society in Primitive Methodism. It may still be true that the energised prayers of good men—and women—are of great force. It is worth trying.
Jane Richards, of St. Day, is also worthy of special mention. She was already seventy-one years old when William Clowes visited St. Day and organised a society there in 1827. She was a Wesleyan, but she threw in her lot with the infant church, and was as a nursing mother to it. She and her husband opened their house for the preaching services, and there they were held until better accommodation could be found. She died triumphantly in 1856, in the one hundred and first year of her age.
Primitive Methodism has not made progress in Cornwall as in the North and East of England. We have a group of fairly strong stations in West Cornwall, and in the north-east, St. Austell and Liskeard; but elsewhere not even a foothold. The reason is not far to seek. Other forms of Methodism are present in overwhelming strength. Cornwall is the most thoroughly Methodist county in England. Then, through the decay of the ancient staple industry, tin mining, the population has declined. Two hundred and forty thousand persons have left the county during the last fifty years. But the outlook is hopeful. There are signs of revival. May it be that Cornish Primitive Methodism, which still has the services of so many shrewd, intelligent, and devoted men, is about to enter on an era of brighter days and more abundant success
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1910/206