7. Derby made a Circuit

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

The one important event to be put down to the account of July, 1816, is the making of Derby into a circuit. Walford says it took place soon after the holding of Mercaston camp meeting, and various pieces of evidence, slight perhaps when regarded separately but strong in combination, point to July as the month when Derby was granted circuit independence. It was a new and interesting departure. Hitherto Tunstall Circuit had been conterminous with the Connexion. There was no Chinese Wall round the Tunstall Circuit marking its boundaries. More than once or twice its recognised limits had been passed by the unofficial enterprise of some of its more zealous workers. Every fresh society thus formed automatically fell to Tunstall, and looked to it for recognition and help, while the circuit authorities could not well refuse to accept the addition to their responsibilities for labour and oversight. Now a period was put to this state of things, and by other considerations than the obvious one of convenience of working. Had that been the sole motive for the change, Belper, and the places adjacent, would hardly have remained, as they did, part of Tunstall Circuit.

The fact is, a mild crisis had been reached. By the labours of John Benton and others, especially since the Mercaston camp meeting, what we know as the “Tunstall Non-mission Law” had been consistently and even flagrantly violated. A situation had been created for both sides which was fraught with danger. On the part of those who believed in aggression as the one thing needful, who held that Primitive Methodism should go through the land, the demand for circuit independence was a protest against the contrary policy of consolidation favoured by the majority of the Tunstall officials. The only alternative to a serious split was to yield to the demand of the section whose watchword was “Advance.” Hugh Bourne bluntly puts the alternative thus: “It was a question between a new Circuit and a new Connexion.” That the change was effected peaceably, so quietly as almost to escape the reader’s notice, says much for the wisdom and Christian spirit of the Tunstall authorities. 

When Derby (afterwards replaced by Nottingham) was made a circuit, and then Loughborough, William Clowes’ labours might usually be confined to the Tunstall Circuit. But not so the labours of Hugh Bourne: He was still the Superintendent of Tunstall and also of Derby, or Nottingham, and of Loughborough Circuits. Nottingham, he tells us, is about fifty-four miles from Tunstall; and Loughborough about fifty-five miles. He had to traverse this wide area exercising supervision over the societies that had been established, and he continued to do this until his serious breakdown in health in January, 1819, brought his general superintendency to a close. In fact, he was from 1816 to the end of 1819 an itinerating bishop in all but the name. We recall that when Wesley ordained Dr. Coke and Asbury to be “superintendents” of the newly organised American societies, the Americans themselves preferred to call them “bishops” rather than superintendents.

Primitive Methodism has never gone far in the direction of a modified Episcopacy; and never less than now. Since 1842 it has scarcely looked in the direction of Presiding Elders or Chairmen of Districts. Of late years it has developed steadily on Presbyterial lines.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1916/498

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