Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H Bickerstaffe Kendall in the series “One Hundred Years Ago”
IN January, 1812, a new denomination, as yet nameless, was, so to speak, in its cradle. By the giving of class-tickets to the united societies the public was certified of this fresh birth. The next important event in the denomination’s life we shall have to chronicle will be its christening or name-giving. In the meantime we must almost ruefully confess that scarce a-scrap of information survives as to the happenings of those January days in regard to nascent Primitive Methodism. Inferentially we can learn something. Going back a little, the diminutive, written plan of the associated societies extending from Sept. 21st to December 15th, 1811, tells us who were appointed to occupy the pulpit of Tunstall Chapel (opened July 13th) during that quarter. We see that W. Clowes was planned on two Sundays, and that H. Bourne, J. Steele, and others whom we know, were each planned a Sunday. We are pretty certain, too, that on Tuesday, December 31st, there would be a watchnight service, and we think we know some of those who would be sure to be there. After getting home from that service Hugh Bourne might very properly have written once more: “We began this year (1812) happy in the Lord, singing and covenanting to serve the Lord continually.” We are pretty safe also in assuming that in those January days the brethren were talking of the rumours which reached them of the doings of the Luddites in the Midlands, and now being repeated in Yorkshire and Lancashire.
But there was another matter of vital importance that must have exercised the minds of the leaders of the new denomination in these weeks between May, 1811, and January, 1812. To this matter we may fittingly refer. While Primitive Methodism was in its cradle the silken cord was being cunningly spun that was intended to strangle it. But, on the other hand, effective means were being taken to frustrate the lethal act. What is referred to is Lord Sidmouth’s Bill of May, 1811, and the passionate and successful opposition which it aroused. Unfortunately, we have not here the space at command in which to point out the true inwardness of this Parliamentary move. Suffice it to say that the Bill’s passing into law would have vitally affected Methodism. Itinerating evangelists—who, according to the noble lord, mostly consisted of “cobblers, tailors, pig-drivers and chimney-sweeps” —would have found their occupation gone. But the Bill roused such antagonism that it never became an Act. Three days after it was thrown out the Protestant Society for the Protection of Religious Liberty was founded, and this society worked so effectually that in July, 1812, the obnox:ous Quakers’ Oaths, the Conventicle, and the Five Miles’ Acts were repealed.
Who shall say there was not a gracious Providence presiding over the cradle of Primitive Methodism? If the tickets bearing the date “May, 1811,” were as a certificate of birth, then Lord Sidmouth’s Bill of May 9th and 21st was a most determined attempt to “seek the young child’s life”; while the founding of the Protestant Society on May 24th was to make the path of the young denomination a little smoother than otherwise it would have been. Thomas Russell and many others had abundant reason to bless the Protestant Society and its devoted secretary, John Wilks, M.P. The significance of the coincidence of these three events has not, so far as we are aware, been remarked upon.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1912/31