12. An Early School of Prophets

Transcription of article by H. Bickerstaffe Kendall, B.A. in the series One Hundred Years Ago

IN evangelisation, as in war, the geographical position of a place may count for much, if only there  are those who know how to take advantage of its strategic possibilities. These conditions concurred in the case of Englesea Brook which, in 1812, was one of the outposts of the Tunstall Circuit overlooking the Cheshire border. When, in 1819, the remarkable Cheshire Mission was begun, Englesea Brook became almost the key of that Mission. But it was largely owing to one good woman who lived there that Englesea Brook became, in Hugh Bourne’s words, “one of the supports of the Connexion, rose into strength and flourished.”

Sarah Smith was a member of the Betley Methodist Society when the spiritual destitution of Englesea Brook began to trouble her. She invited the Methodist local preacher, under whom she had profited, to visit the place; but something hindered. Disappointed, she prevailed upon “precious” Thomas Woodnorth to preach in her house in June, 1811. Henceforth her dwelling became the preachers’ home and the meeting-house of the society. It was not, however, till 1812, that she herself. became a Primitive Methodist. Sarah Smith conducted a successful dame’s school, and in that school she found her special sphere of service. We may learn from her example what zeal and well-directed, persistent, personal effort can accomplish. She was a true school-mistress, but she was also a tender shepherdess. She could see an opportunity and she seized it. The service on the Sunday was in the afternoon; so she started a Sunday evening prayer meeting and “obliged’ the children of whom she was in charge to attend it; some she “obliged” to engage in prayer; others, more advanced, she “obliged’’ to give a word of exhortation. (“Obliged” is the word—connoting mingled authority and kindness—Hugh Bourne uses in his memoir of her). The ascendency she had gained over the minds of the young she sought to retain when they had come to riper years, until she became a veritable “mother in Israel.”

Thomas Bateman, half humorously, half seriously, suggested that our first Theological Institute was at Englesea Brook, and that Sarah Smith was its lady Principal. It is, indeed, the sober truth to say that she formed a school of the prophets; for it was mainly through her influence that a staff of local preachers of both sexes was raised up, four of whom, at least, became itinerant preachers and did good work on the Cheshire Mission and elsewhere. Of these, the best known and most efficient were Thomas Brownsword and his sister. The story of how he was thrust forth into the ministry is interesting and to the point here.

While labouring on the Cheshire Mission Thomas Woodnorth became so sick that he felt he must go home. If he but knew the work he was leaving would not suffer, he himself would suffer the less. But who would supply the lack of service? It was natural the brethren should look to Englesea Brook in their need. There were young men and women there who were, thanks to their training, always ready. The call came to Thomas Brownsword as it came to Elisha the son of Shaphat. Thomas was busy in the harvest-field amongst a lot of rough fellows. He threw down his sickle, ran home to change his clothes, and he was ready to go forth as an itinerant. The same horse and rider that brought Thomas Woodnorth so far homeward made the return journey with his double burden.

So preachers were called and went to their circuits a hundred years ago.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1912/928

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