6. The perils of Open-Air Preaching

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H Bickerstaffe Kendall in the series “One Hundred Years Ago”

ON Sunday, June 14th, 1812, an incident occurred with which the ancestor of a well-known Primitive Methodist family was closely connected. On the day in question, Mr. George Wood, carpenter, was holding an open-air religious service in the town of Audlem, when a Mr. Groom, attorney-at-law, came upon the scene. On the complaint of the clergyman a warrant had been prepared the day before, signed by Sir Corbet Corbet, an “active” magistrate, authorising Groom to disperse the conventicle and, if need be, to arrest its aiders and abettors. Groom had been appointed a special constable for the occasion. He broke in upon the singing, and, when Wood was in the act of “praying for his King and country” the constable-attorney seized him and dragged him a considerable distance. Now Wood had a license, but the place of meeting had not been “duly certified, registered and recorded, according to the act in such case made and provided.” Wood was cited to appear before Justice Corbet and was sentenced to pay the sum of £20. In default of payment his goods and chattels were distrained. Acting under advice, Wood brought an action against the attorney for assault. The case was tried at Chester April 27th, 1813, before Justices Dallas and Burton, and the plaintiff was awarded £200 damages. The case was then carried on appeal to the King’s Bench, but the verdict of the Chester Court was sustained.

This was no solitary incident in the year 1812, The old, oppressive Acts of Charles the Second had been galvanised into life. Country clergymen and justices were busy putting into force the hateful Conventicle and Five Mile Acts. Historians tell us that “the number of such cases at this time was extraordinary.” We have seen what went on in Cheshire in June, 1812, and two similar cases are recorded in Clowes’ Journal, one of which occurred at Warrington in Lancashire (Hist. I. , 46), and the other near Abbot’s Bromley in Staffordshire. Probably W. Garner is wrong in dating the former of these in 1812. We think it more probably belongs to the earlier period when our Church fathers were co-operating with the Quaker Methodists. But the Staffordshire case undoubtedly belongs to the period we have reached; for we must remember the obnoxious Acts were swept from the Statute Book in July, 1812, and the incident related must have happened before this date.

Clowes was passing through a large village beyond Rugeley when he felt moved to deliver his message to the people. There were a number of men playing at marbles, who drew near as he stood on a borrowed chair to begin the service. When he opened his eyes after praying “a vast multitude” stood before him. All went well till he was half-way through his sermon, and then the magistrate appeared. The preacher’s license was demanded and was produced. The rest had better be given in Clowes’ own words:— “The magistrate then turned to me again and said: ‘If you are licensed, remember the place is not.’ ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I have authority from the King to preach through his dominions, and also from the God of heaven to preach the gospel to every creature; and, remember, except you repent, you will perish.’ He replied, ‘I shall take you into custody,’ but while he was about to execute his threatening, some person in the crowd cried out: ‘Shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them’; and then shouted ‘Glory!’ Amid the cross-fire the magistrate appeared to be confounded; so I came down, and, bidding the people farewell, I went on my way.”


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1912/441

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