4. A Dramatic Movement 1811-19

Transcription of article in the series “one Hundred Years Ago” by H. Bickerstaffe Kendall

SINCE January, 1911, we have been doing the work of an annalist. Month by month we have tried to chronicle what was happening in Primitive Methodism just a century before. The results may perhaps be likened to a series of snapshots. Now snapshots are all very well, but they have their short-comings. They are too detached, too static. They fail to convey a vivid impression of direction, of a progressive and protracted movement. What we want is rather a cinematograph—a moving picture—in which the snapshots fall into their places—and march. Now is a convenient time for getting such a picture, as nothing particular happened in April, 1816, that we know of, though. stirring events are just ahead,

The history of Primitive Methodism presents all the appearance of a dramatic movement if we view it in close connection with the social conditions which prevailed at the time in the central plateau of England, where it took its rise and passed through its first phase. In this very same clearly defined district the Luddites and then the Levellers also had their rise and carried on their lawless work. Between these and Primitive Methodism there are such coincidences of time and place, such sharp contrasts and clashings between the respective gospels they preached and practised, as give our cinematograph all the elements of a moving drama.

As to the coincidences in time: Our first class-ticket bears the date of May, 1811. The Luddites had their rise in Nottingham in the spring of that year. Their aim was the destruction of the newly introduced machinery that was, as they thought, taking the bread out of their mouths. Some thirty years before, a lad of weak mind, called Ludd, in a fit of rage had smashed some stocking-frames. So, as though the shade of this poor lad was leading them on, they spoke of “General Ludd’’ and called themselves “Luddites.” The movement was as fire amongst dry stubble. It spread into Derbyshire and Leicestershire. In Yorkshire it assumed such dimensions that the Government were alarmed and took strong measures. A Bill was brought in making the breaking of frames a capital offence. With such zeal was the law enforced that seventeen men were executed at York at one time. This was in 1812. Unfortunately, Luddism moved faster than Primitive Methodism. By the spring of 1812 it had got to South Lancashire. Samuel Bamford, in his “Passages in the: Life of a Radical,” graphically describes a riot at Middleton on April 20th, and repeated on the following day. The military were called in to quell the disturbances, and several people lost their lives.

These grim events happened just nine weeks after our fathers took. the name “Primitive Methodists.” After the passing of the Corn Law Bill in 1815 we hear of the “Levellers,” who represented a movement that was more political and subversive in its aims than that of the Luddites. They carried on their propaganda with the zeal of missionaries. The memoirs and histories of the time give a formidable list of the different places where disturbances occurred in the year 1816. In July, at Loughborough, an armed band destroyed machinery to the value of £7,500. For that night’s work seven men were hanged at Leicester.

Hugh Bourne and John Benton, we know, chafed at the restrictions of the Tunstall Non-mission Law, and wished for Primitive Methodism that it might go down amongst the people in the big towns and manufacturing villages. At last it did; and then the great Revivals of 1816-17-18 in the Counties of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. A last coincidence—August, 1819, saw Peterloo and the Preparatory Meeting at Nottingham, and the curtain drops.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1916/256

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