6. Two Memorable Camp Meetings

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

OF the camp meetings held in the month of June, 1816, the two most memorable have received very different treatment at the hands of our early historians. The first of these was the great camp meeting held at Nottingham on Whitsunday, June 2nd. All that Hugh Bourne says about it is comprised in one short sentence: “We had a great camp meeting on the race-ground at Nottingham.” He makes no mention of it in his History, although a whole chapter in the same book is devoted to the Mercaston Camp Meeting of June 9th. Clowes passes it by without mention. What is still more singular, Mr. Petty, who seems to have relied exclusively on what little our founders had recorded, having quoted the paragraph from the Journal in which Clowes says: “From Derbyshire I afterwards went on to mission in the county of Nottingham,” then goes on to comment thus: “Mr. Clowes, however, does not appear to have been the first missionary who visited this county. A camp meeting is said to have been held in Nottingham Forest some time in this year [1816], and it is probable that the town of Nottingham was visited about the same period, or perhaps a few months previously.” As we know, Mr. Petty was right in all his surmises. Mr. Clowes did not find himself in Nottingham till 1817, nor even Hugh Bourne till August, 1816. Had either of them been present at the great Whitsunday camp meeting it would not have lacked its descriptive reporter, and our History would have been the richer. Fortunately, once more we can fall back on George Herod’s testimony, which seems to be that of an eye-witness. “It was computed that not less than twelve thousand persons were present.” In the course of the praying service conversions were numerous. Sarah Kirkland had been appointed to take a leading part, “and many who had gone to witness the novelty of a female preacher and the holding of a camp meeting returned home rejoicing in what God had done for their souls.” We are told that fifteen hundred persons crowded into the Broad Marsh room for the lovefeast, and that the service, fruitful in conversions, did not close till midnight. Next day Sarah Kirkland made her return journey, but when she was twelve miles on her way to Derby, a horseman overtook her bearing a pressing invitation to preach that night at Bulwell. She consented, and within one month from that visit sixty persons had joined the Primitive Methodist Connexion.

A high claim is made by Hugh Bourne for the Mercaston Camp Meeting of June 9th : from it “the Lord in His mercy set on foot one of the greatest and most extraordinary religious movements ever known.” We must, of course, allow something for the personal factor recognisable in this judgment. Mercaston Camp Meeting was conducted on the lines he himself had carefully laid down. One man, indeed, grumbled because he had only one hour allowed for his sermon! But on the whole it was a camp meeting after Hugh Bourne’s own heart. The praying labourers had abundant scope, and it was but natural that he should be gratified at seeing his own ideal so nearly reached. It is undoubtedly true that Mercaston Camp Meeting was historic, and that June 9th is an important date-mark. John Benton was a convert to the new model. He threw himself into the services of the day with the utmost zeal, and was, in Hugh Bourne’s phrase, “a complete right-hand man.” “He went off like a new man, and took a new course.”

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1916/424

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