Our First Preaching Places and 'Dinah Morris'

Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger by Albert A. Birchenough 

The scattered hamlets of Ramsor and Wootton, situated in the beautiful parish of Ellaston, have secured a distinguished position in our Connexional history, as being the two premier preaching places of Primitive Methodism. They have a place of honour in the enrolled Deed Poll of our Church. The recital states that ‘Whereas in the Year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eight, Hugh Bourne and James Bourne did establish several congregations of persons in different parts of England with regular services of religious worship, one of which congregations was at Ramsor, in the parish of Ellaston, in the county of Stafford, and another at Wootton in the same parish.’

Until the Spring of 1808, Hugh Bourne, and the Camp Meeting Methodists, pursued their extraordinary evangelistic labours in the neighbourhood of Mow Cop, the densely populated towns of the Staffordshire Potteries, and the hamlets skirting the Cheshire Forest. In these places they laboured in connection with the Churches belonging to the Wesleyan Methodists, and the Independent Methodists. In the course of events this little band of God-fearing men included the Moorland Villages the sequestered Churnet Valley and the picturesque Dovedale in the circuit of their extensive operations. The village of Farley, located near Alton Towers, the ducal residence of the Earl of Shrewsbury, was the first place that was visited on the north-eastern side of the Staffordshire county. At the request of Miss Hannah Heaton an appointment was made for James Bourne to preach in the village of Farley, on Sunday, March 20th, 1808. On account of James Bourne’s duties as a parish constable, he was unable to attend, and the service was conducted by his brother Hugh. Through this visit he was invited to preach at Ramsor on the first Sabbath in May of the same year. Bourne ‘took down’ the names of six morally destitute villages in the same neighbourhood, where no Methodist services were held. He arranged for a Sabbath’s services at Wootton. This place was proverbial as being ‘God forsaken.’ It was styled by a rhymester, ‘
‘Wootton under Weaver.
Where God came never.’

On Sunday, May 22nd, 1808, the Bourne brothers held their first open-air service at Wootton. Much interest was excited, and the attendance was so great that Bourne says: ‘It was like a small camp meeting.’ As the result of a ‘Divine impression,’ Hugh Bourne and his brother James held their second Wootton meeting in the month of July. Bourne says: ‘This second Wootton meeting was extraordinary.’ It was the beginning of a gracious work throughout the entire neighbourhood. Mr. J. Horrobin, at whose expense the first society class tickets were printed, united himself on that memorable day with the Camp Meeting Methodists. A class was formed at Wootton, and it was placed under the leadership of Mr. Joseph Salt, a respectable farmer, who had been converted through the agency of Mr. Thomas Cotton. It appears, however, that Mr. Salt had been first awakened to a sense of sin by the faithful preaching of ‘a pious young female,’ who, we believe, was Mrs. Samuel Evans, the ‘Dinah Morris’ of George Eliot’s Adam Bede.

At Wootton, Hugh Bourne made the lifelong acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Evans, who had spent the first years of their married life at Roston, and were widely known throughout the neighbourhood for their Christian ministries. Bourne, in his ‘Journals,’ gives an interesting, matter-of-fact description of the famous heroine of the most popular of George Eliot’s numerous books. Writing under date of Sunday, June 25th, 1809, Bourne says, ‘I led the class in the morning at Wootton. There were but few present, but they were very promising. We were informed that Betsy Evans, Samuel Evans’s wife, from Derby would speak at Wootton. Her husband also, a local preacher. She began about two o‘clock – her voice was low and hoarse at first, from having preached so much the week past, but she got well into the power. She appears to be very clear in Scriptural doctrines, and very ready in Scripture and speaks full in the Spirit. From the little I saw of her, she appears to be as fully devoted to God as any woman I ever met with! Her husband also spoke. He appears to be an excellent man. O my Father, bless and keep him.’ At that time Hugh Bourne never thought that these two devoted Methodists would become popularised by one of the most distinguished lady writers of fiction of the nineteenth century. It was one of the honours of Bourne’s eventful life to have taken part in the open-air services along with this godly couple. Bourne and his brother James also preached, and afterwards they had ‘a plead with sinners near the public-house,’ where they had but ‘little persecution although it was Wakes’ time.’

Immediately after Hugh Bourne’s expulsion from the Burslem Wesleyan Circuit, he directed his special attention to Ramsor, Wootton, and the adjoining Villages, where he had been successful in the order of Divine providence In establishing congregations. The people regarded Hugh Bourne as their ‘superintendent,’ and he considered the new converts as the sons and daughters of his spiritual care. These societies, formed through his labours, became the nucleus of a church separate and distinct from the Wesleyans, and which a few years later took the name of Primitive Methodists. In March, 1810, and a few days after the formation of our first society class at Stanley, Hugh Bourne arranged for preaching services, and wrote out separate plans for the ‘Staffordshire Branch or Mission.’ It included the following places, members, and preachers, viz:-

                PLAN OF THE

Places.          Members.      Preachers.

Ramsor      …     _           1 H. Bourne, Bemersley
Wootton     …     _           2 J. Bourne,        ,,
Tean           …     _           3 T. Cotton, Mow Cop
                           _           4 T. Knight, Harriseahead
Caldon-Lowe      _           5 W. Maxfield,   ,,
Laskedge    …    _           6 F. Dreacott, Ramsor
Stanley       …   10           7 W. Alcock, Bemersley
                          _            8 W. Turner, Brown-Edge
                          _            9 M. Dunnell, Bemersley

The sectional plans written by Hugh Bourne in the formative days of Primitive Methodism were not like the circuit plans of today. Places situated near each other were grouped together, as in the case of Ramsor, Wootton, Tean, Caldon-Lowe, Lask Edge, and Stanley. When he had obtained a sufficient number of preacher to fill up the ordinary appointments for a quarter, he made a plan for the united preaching places, and left a copy tor the use of each meeting-house. Each preacher was furnished with a note, specifying the dates and places of his own appointments only. For two or three years Bourne arranged the plans for the preaching-places, and supplied notes to J. Bourne, J. Crawfoot, T. Cotton, T. Knight, W. Maxfield, F. Dreacott, W. Alcock, T. White, W. Turner, M. Dunnell, and a few other persons who took appointments in the camp-meeting community until the year 1811, when the present system of making circuit plans was adopted, which was followed in 1812 by the first printed.

Ellaston begins at the Bridge spanning the silvery waters of the Dove, which separates it from the village of Roston, located in romantic Derbyshire. Ellaston is closely connected with George Eliot’s famous novel, entitled ‘Adam Bede.’ In the story the village is called ‘Hayslope.’ It was on Ellaston Green that ‘Dinah Morris’ preached her famous sermon as recorded by her niece. Although the Evans’s were of Flintshire origin, yet the three brothers, Robert, the father of Mary Ann, the distinguished novelist; Samuel, husband of the famous preacheress, and William, were born at Roston Common, near to  Ellaston, where they learnt their father’s trade of carpentering. In early manhood Samuel Evans was converted, and became a zealous Wesleyan Methodist. He, however, was derided by his elder brothers, who entertained ‘High Church notions.’ Frequently they reminded him that ‘he made great blunders in preaching and prayer, and that he had more zeal than knowledge.’ In Ellaston may still be seen the ‘Donnithorne’ or ‘ Davenport’ Arms, kept by a descendant of the Evans’ family, and close by is the familiar red brick hall, no longer with its ‘windows unpatched.’ In the neighbourhood there are still families bearing the name of ‘Poyser,’ and there are still the cottages of grey stone, with their blue-washed doors and window-frames.

Two small booklets, written by local authors, and severally entitled ‘ Seth Bede, the Methody, his Life and Labours, written by himself,’ and Guy Roslyn’s ‘George Eliot in Derbyshire,’ are interesting for the information they give concerning the Evans’s. They prove, without a doubt, that ‘Dinah Morris’ is identical with Mrs. Elizabeth Evans, the “Famous Derbyshire Methodist. The heroine of ‘Adam Bede,’ whose maiden name was Tomlinson, was born at Newbold, in Leicestershire. At the early age of fourteen she left her village home for domestic service in the town of Derby, where she remained for seven years in the employment of one family. In early womanhood she removed to Nottingham, where she learnt the trade of lace-making. She went the whole round of worldly pleasure. She consorted with godless companions, who taught her to play at cards. She frequented the midnight dance, the fascinating theatre, and other places of questionable amusement. In her unhappiness she attended a Methodist service, where she fainted beneath the faithful preaching of God’s Word. In the year 1797 Miss Tomlinson was savingly converted, and experienced a change of heart, the thoroughness of which was manifested in her subsequent life and character. At once she abandoned worldly amusements for the House of God, and forsook her old companions for the comradeship of the Methodists. She says: ‘I saw it my duty to leave off all my superfluities of dress, hence I pulled off all my bunches, cut off my curls, left off my lace, and in this I found unspeakable pleasure. I saw I could make a better use of my time and money than to follow the fashions of a vain world.’ As an angel of mercy she visited the sick. Unfortunately, in one infected home, she caught typhoid fever. After her recovery she visited Derby, where, in the old St. Michael‘s Lane Methodist Chapel, her Wesleyan friends prevailed upon her to relate her religious experience, and to give an account of her philanthropic mission. In the short autobiography which she calls her ‘unprofitable life,’ she says, ‘I saw it my duty to be wholly devoted to God, and to be set apart for the Master’s use.’ During her early womanhood, while still young and beautiful, and attired in Quaker dress and bonnet, she walked across the bleak, treeless Derbyshire hills and the Staffordshire moorlands, with their grey stone walls skirting the upland fields that had been recently enclosed from the wild waste. On the open spaces and in the homes of these scattered villages she earnestly preached the Word of Life, and ‘many were brought to the Lord.’ The unenclosed Roston Common and Ellaston Green were two of Miss Evans’ favourite preaching-places. The traditions of her ministry linger in the neighbourhood, and are handed down to succeeding generations. Her faithful ministry during the early years of the first decade of the nineteenth century prepared the way for Hugh and James Bourne. In the same villages where she had previously preached the Gospel they established societies, which were included in the first-fruits of Primitive Methodism, and were represented on the first printed plan of the infant community.

Samuel Evans heard Miss Tomlinson preach in the town of Ashbourne, and he became personally acquainted with the young and pious preacheress. When he suggested marriage, the young lady frankly declared that she had not indulged in any thoughts of matrimony. She, however, yielded to his earnest plea, and they were married on August 20th, 1804, in the parish church of St. Mary, Nottingham, he being at the time twenty-seven, and a little older than his bride. They commenced their married life in the village of Roston. Through their united energies several religious revivals resulted in the neighbouring villages. After a few years they removed to Derby, where they became members, class leaders, and local preachers in connection with the King Street Wesleyan Circuit and Church. The philanthropic work of Mrs. Evans was of a far-reaching character, and was duly recognised by the devoted Elizabeth Fry, of prison-visiting fame.

(To be concluded in our next.)


HUGH BOURNE’S introduction at the Ellaston camp meeting to Mr. and Mrs. Evans, was the beginning of a life-long friendship. In 1810, they strongly invited him to pay them a visit at their hospitable home in Derby. On the 13th of February in that year he records:- ‘I felt an impression to go to Derby. The Lord’s will be done.’ In the following month, and on the Sabbath following the formation of our first class at Stanley, Hugh Bourne preached at Ramsor in the afternoon, and at Wootton in the evening. On the following morning he proceeded to Derby, ‘and called on Samuel Evans.’ In describing the religious enthusiasm of Mrs. Evans, Bourne writes, ‘His wife is in earnest.’ He then proceeded to his relatives at King’s Newton. On Wednesday Hugh Bourne returned to Derby, ‘and had some conversation with Mr. Samuel Evans and his wife. He is an earnest man. She has been, and is, an extraordinary woman. She has been very near Ann Cutler’s experience; but she met with great persecution especially from the Rev. J.E. I was much instructed by her conversation. At night I led Mr. Evans’ class; it was a good time; many of them are strong in grace, yet there was much unbelief.’ We ardently wish that Hugh Bourne had had a ‘Boswell’ with him, who would have given a detailed account of the conversation he had with the godly couple. As Hugh Bourne went to Derby direct from Ramsor, and returned thither after the interview, and was preparing the plan for the Ramsor Mission, it is highly probable that he called upon the Evans’s, respecting their taking appointments in the Staffordshire branch. Probably, Bourne spent the night beneath their hospitable roof, for the next day he returned to Ramsor, where he was engaged in his evangelistic labours until the following Tuesday.

Some years later, Mr. and Mrs. S. Evans removed from Derby to Wirksworth, where ‘they lived in a rude, thatched, stone-built, four-roomed cottage, standing sideways to the road, with a bit of potato ground in front, just opposite the Haarlem Tape Works, which Samuel Evans managed, half a mile from the town of Wirksworth.’ At the Wesleyan Conference of 1832, it was decided that female preaching should not be encouraged. The Rev. Thomas Fletcher, superintendent of the Cromford Wesleyan Circuit, to which Wirksworth belonged, was prompted by the Rev. Dr. Jabez Bunting. He suggested to Mrs. Evans that her name should be deleted from the plan, but that her preaching appointments should be indicated by a distinct reference mark. Both Mr. and Mrs. Evans objected to this strange procedure of complying with the Conference regulations. They withdrew from Wesleyan Methodism, and united themselves with the ‘Arminian Methodist ’ or ‘Derby Faith’ people, as these secessionists from mother Methodism designated themselves. They eventually rejoined the esleyan Methodists, and a mural tablet to their memory was placed in Wirksworth Wesleyan chapel. It bears the following inscription:— ‘Erected by numerous friends to the memory of Elizabeth Evans, known to the world as ‘Dinah Bede’ who during many years proclaimed alike in the open-air, the sanctuary and from house to house, the love of Christ. She died in the Lord, November 9th, 1849. Aged seventy-four years. And of Samuel Evans, her husband, who was also a faithful local preacher, and class leader, in the Methodist Society. He finished his earthly course December 11th, 1858, aged eighty-one years.’

Miss Mary Ann Evans had several interviews with her aunt. The first took place when the authoress was about eighteen years of age. ln company with her father she visited her ‘uncle and aunt Samuel, who were very poor and lived in a humble cottage at Wirksworth.’ As Mrs. Evans was in a delicate state of health which had been brought on by a severe illness, she returned with her relatives to Warwickshire, where she remained at their home for a few weeks. Miss Evans gives the following description of her aunt, in which she says, ‘She was then above sixty. A tiny little woman with bright small eyes, and hair that had been black, I imagine, but was now grey; a pretty woman in her youth. She was a woman of strong natural excitability, but this vehemence was now subdued by age and sickness. She was very gentle and quiet in her manners. Very loving, and a truly religious soul, in whom the love of God and love of man were fused together, she retained the character of thought that belongs to the genuine old Wesleyan.

The authoress, in her reminiscences, says – ‘As to my aunt’s conversation, I remember in our lonely sittings and walks, her telling me one sunny afternoon how she had, with another pious woman, visited an unhappy girl in prison, stayed with her all night, and gone with her to execution. In her account, of the prison scene I remember no word she uttered, I only remember her tone and manner, and the deep feeling I had under the recital. Of the girl she knew nothing but she was convicted of child-murder. The incident lay in my mind for years on years, as a dead germ apparently, till time had made my mind a nidus in which it could fructify; it then turned out to be the germ of Adam Bede.’

On two subsequent occasions Miss Evans had lnterviews with her aunt. In 1842 she spent a week with the Evans’ at Wirksworth. The aunt and niece were in the habit of spending several hours a day at the house of one of Mrs. Evans’ married daughters, where they held long conversations in the secluded parlour. These secret meetings excited some curiosity in the family circle, and one day one of the daughters said – ‘Mother, I can’t think what thee and Mary Ann have got to talk about so much!’ to which Mrs. Evans replied: “I don’t know what she wants, but she gets me to tell her all about my life and my religious experiences., and she puts it all down in a little book. I can’t make out what she wants it for.’ Shortly after Miss Evans’ departure from Wirksworth Mrs. Evans said to her Daughter – ‘Oh dear, Mary Ann has got one thing I did not mean her to take away, and that is the notes of the first sermon I preached at Ellaston Green.’

The publishing of ‘My Aunt’s Story,’ as Miss Evans facetiously called ‘Adam Bede,’ created ‘a sensation which has seldom been equalled in literary history.’ It was felt that a new power had arisen in English letters. Within a month after its publication, in the House of Commons, Charles Buxton quoted “one of its sententious sayings – ‘It wants to be hatched over again and hatched different.’ Charles Reade, in referring to the book as a true picture of provincial life, declared it to he the finest thing since Shakespeare.’

‘Adam Bede’ is a faithful portrayal of Methodist life in the county of Hugh Bourne and William Clowes at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The characters and scenes mentioned in the book, and their close connection with the men and villages associated with our first preaching-places, lends an additional charm to its fascinating pages, and makes it all the more interesting to Primitive Methodists.

After the separation of old James Crawfoot, our first ‘travelling’ preacher, from the Camp Meeting Methodists, he and his followers started a separate religious community. Several of their congregations were in the neighbourhood of our first preaching-places. Mr. Thos. Mottram, grandson of ‘Thias and Lisbeth Bede,’ and a cousin of ‘George Eliot,’ was co-lay pastor, with Mr. Joseph Bratt, of the last two remaining congregations of James Crawfoot’s Connexion. About the year 1831, and during the superintendency of the late Rev. Edward Foizey, they united with the Ramsor Circuit. Mr. Thos. Mottram became a loyal Primitive Methodist, and remained a useful local preacher until his death in the year 1874. His younger son Samuel, who is a devoted lay preacher and circuit administrator, occupies the same farm at Waterhouses as his father did before him. For over three score years and ten the descendants of the ‘Bedes ‘ have entertained, at the old homestead, the ministers and church workers connected with the old Ramsor Circuit. The Rev. William Mottram, son of the late Thomas Mottram, entered the Primitive Methodist ministry in the year 1856. Being above average ability, he was made superintendent of his first circuit, and retained that position for twelve years, until his severance from Primitive Methodism in the year 1864. At present he is the energetic Secretary of the Congregational Temperance Association. Mr. Mottram is not ashamed of his ‘first love,’ and feels that he can never repay Primitive Methodism for his conversion and early training. With feelings of pardonable pride Mr. Mottram frequently refers to the friendship which existed between Hugh Bourne and his relatives, ‘Seth and Dinah Bede.’ Other relatives of the Evans’ family have been connected with Primitive Methodism in the Ramsor Circuit, one of whom is the custodian of the scuttle-shaped bonnet that was worn by ‘Dinah Morris.’

Ramsor, Wootton, and others of our early places which appeared on the first printed plan, continue their existence until the present time. In some of these hamlets there are no other religious services held of any kind. Through Primitive Methodist agency a good and lasting work has been accomplished in the hamlets referred to in our Connexional Deed Poll.


Christian Messenger 1901/5; 1901/37

Comments about this page

  • Would recommend the book “Everywhere spoken against” on dissent in the VIctorian novel by Valentine Cunningham. There is a really good section on ‘Adam Bede.’

    By David Leese (10/03/2022)
  • As a great admirer of George Eliot I am researching the novel Adam Bede, and paying particular attention to Dinah Morris and Seth Bede, and their connection to their real-life Originals, Elizabeth and Samuel Evans. I found this article extremely interesting, especially the comments made on Wooton and other villages as “God forsaken” and “morally destitute”. In the novel Dinah describes a lead mining community as “sheep without a shepherd.” Reference is made to a short autobiography by Elizabeth Evans. What is the full title? Is this available anywhere? I would love to read it. BW

    By Bob Muscutt (01/09/2019)

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