12. The Tunstall Circuit Steward and the Schoolmaster

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

JAMES STEELE and E. McEvoy were associated with Hugh Bourne in drawing up the Rules which had to be submitted to what we call the December Quarterly Meeting.

In the historical preamble of the Deed Poll, James Steele is reckoned as one of the founders of the Primitive Methodist Connexion. His claim to be regarded as a founder would probably have needed no justification had he lived twenty years longer. But James Steele died in 1826 —too early for tradition to carry his name down the years far beyond his native Staffordshire, or to ensure its figuring largely in our early histories. Ss we need to get our faded impression of the man restamped. This we can do by giving due weight to the contemporary estimates of him still extant, and by observing how those estimates tally with his long tenure of important Church offices. The local Methodist historian describes him as “a steady, sensible man of great influence, to whom considerable deference was paid.” He had been a Methodist class-leader since 1785, and at the time of his expulsion in 1811 he was the leader of two large classes. Eleven years he had been superintendent of a large Sunday School, and he was also chapel steward and trustee. Nor did he fall from his Methodist orbit unattended. By his very mass many of his scholars and members were drawn after him, so that for a brief while before their fusion, there were “Steelites” as well as “Camp-meeting Methodists” and “Clowesites.” After the defection of Crawfoot, James Steele’s name stood first on the plan, and he was a Tunstall class-leader, and the first Circuit steward of the new community. Clowes, who visited him when dying and preached his funeral sermon at Tunstall, says of James Steele, he “was an intellectual man, having read much, and acquired extensive information. He was one of the best class-leaders I have ever known.”

These facts and testimonies speak for themselves. They tell us that James Steele must have been a power in Tunstall Society and Circuit. We cannot think of him as anything less than Tunstall’s leading man. That was what he appeared to be to the local Methodist historian, before referred to, who would naturally scan his movements rather closely. To him it seemed that James Steele was the directeur of the society. That is the word he uses to describe his relations to Staffordshire Primitive Methodism. Some may think that he over-rates James Steele’s influence. That is not so certain as that we have much under-rated it. It is something to know that in these early Rules we have a part-product of the time and thought of James Steele in the closing months of 1813.

Of E. McEvoy we do not know much. He is said to have been a schoolmaster. We catch a glimpse of him as early as August 23rd, 1807. At six o’clock on the morning of that Sunday he brings word to Hugh Bourne that Mrs. Dunnel will not be at the Norton camp meeting as expected, because she has been prevailed upon to preach for the Methodist superintendent at Tunstall. McEvoy would seem then the bearer of ill tidings; now we see he was really the messenger of a kind providence. Then, some three years later, we get another glimpse of the schoolmaster. It is Christmas Day, 1810, and Clowes, James Bourne and he lose their way in returning to Macclesfield; “so they call at an inn and had a most extraordinary time; the power of the Lord came over all.” McEvoy is No. 9 on the first printed plan.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1913/928

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