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THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY
PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH.
THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY
PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH
REV. H. B. KENDALL, B.A.
EDWIN DALTON : 48—50 ALDERSGATE STREET, E.C.
HE Author hereby sincerely thanks those many friends who have
materially assisted in the preparation of this work by giving
information or supplying illustrations. His acknowledgments are
especially due to the Kevs. J. W. Chappel, J. T. Gooderidge, and
Sydney A. Barron for the labour they cheerfully undertook in making
earchee into the early history of our Church in Staffordshire,
Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, respectively, and for the loan of
portraits and docum< ni 3.
H. B. K.
N an important document recently discovered, and never, up to this time,
quoted, William Clowes passes certain strictures on the first official
History of the Primitive Methodist Church. "I must confess," he says,
" though I never said so to anybody in my life, that I did not approve
of its being drawn up in the way it was." To William Clowes, the history of the
Primitive Methodist Church began when the Camp Meeting Methodists and the
Clowesites came together in 1811 to form one united Church. He furthermore
maintained that Hugh Bourne, William Clowes, James Steele, James Nixon, and
Thomas Woodnorth, should he recognised and honoured as the real founders of our
As though to confirm the view of Clowes, the historical preamble to the Deed Poll
of the Primitive Methodist Connexion — its document of highest official authority —
sets forth the origin of the Connexion, and finds it in the fusion of the Clowesites
and Camp Meeting Methodists. Having mentioned the societies at Ramsor, Wootton,
Stanley, and Tunstall, this carefully-drawn legal instrument proceeds : —
"And the said several societies and classes, together with other congregations,
societies, and classes, in several parts of England, were afterwards closely united
and connected, and the whole thereof under the care of the said Eugh Bourne,
James Bourne, William Clowes, and James Steele, were formed into one general
community or Connexion, known and distinguished by the title or denomination
of 'The Primitive Methodist Connexion.'"
Undoubtedly, then, William Clowes is right in his main contention, viz., thai the
Primitive Methodist Church began in 1811, and, therefore, that the proper history of
the Church must also begin with that date. It is an anachronism to speak of
Primitive Methodism before 1811. Any incidents which took place prior to the
union effected in this memorable year, must be regarded as incidents and episodes
belonging to a revivalistic movement, or series of revivalistic movements, locally
differentiated, proceeding on early or primitive Methodist lines, partaking, therefore,
of the nature of a survival, reaction, or return to an earlier type of aggressive agency,
and finally converging and coalescing in one general community or Connexion.
All this may appear very obvious when stated, and to amount to little more than
a question of words. But words, unless carefully chosen and kept in their right place,
have a way of confusing thought and raising a false issue. The view of Clows.
endorsed as it is by the Deed Poll, as to the origin and foundership of the Connexion,
may be plain as a pikestaff when pointed out, but had this very obvious truth been
always kept in mind, it would have made impossible much useless discussion as to
whether this or that event which occurred anywhere between 1799 and 1811, is to be
regarded as the beginning of Primitive Methodism — whether it be the conversion of
Hugh Bourne in 1799; the conversation-sermon, and revival at Harriseahead in 1800;
'the camp-meeting without a name' in the same year; Mow-Cop camp-meeting in 1807 ;
or the taking over of Stanley class in 1810. All these events, important as they
were, belong to the preparatory movement, and not the denominational period.
Another result would have followed: disputes as to who was the true founder of
the Connexion would soon have had the heart taken out of them. For "Who was
the one founder of the Connexion 1 ?" is seen to be a question quite beside the mark, as
s i as we recognise the true state of facts. How could there be but one founder
when there must have been as many founders as there were heads and leaders of
the various revivalistic agencies which in 1811 became, as the Deed Poll puts it,
"closelv united and connected"? Who was the founder of the Camp Meeting Methodists;
or of the Dowites at Kizley, or of the Clowesites 1 ? are questions relevant enough.
But who was the founder of the Primitive Methodist Connexion? is like asking, What
was the name of Isaac's sou? or What did they call Solomon's wife? The enquirer
must reshape his question, or stand down. We have had founders in the plural, but
no one man can lay exclusive claim to that distinction, as Clowes knew, as the
Deed Poll deponeth, and as this history, we hope, will clearly show.
And dow we tVar that, like Dr. Faustus when he preached his too moving sermon
in the market-place, we have proved our point too much. We have laboured to make
dear the fact that Primitive .Methodist history, properly so called, begins in 1811 ; and
yet, straightway, we shall proceed to dwell with some minuteness and care on men who
lived and events thai happened in the twelve years previous to 1811. And it should,
moreover, be admitted thai we shall do this despite the opinion and judgment of
William Clowes himself, as recorded in the document aforesaid, recently brought to
light. In the strictures passed upon the first "History" of 1823, he expresses the
opinion thai in drawing up that History, there was no need to write of events so far
back as the conversion of Hugh Bourne, or of the Tunstall revival in which Clowes
himself was converted. We cannol go with him in this opinion. On the contrary,
we make bold to aj and the truth of the statement is nol less assured because
expr< wed in a paradoxical form The most important part of the history of Primitive
Methodism relates to whal occurred in 1800 — II, when, as yet, there was no Primitive
Method i m, William Clowes lived in the pre-evolutionary days, before the advent
of the relative pint by which our methods of writing history and biography have
been largely modified. Under the influence of this pervasive spirit, neither man nor
in-; iini ion can now be regarded as a true "absolute" separate and self-contained,
independent of wh.it went before and unrelated to what is around. It is fell that
that subject — be it individual or institutional cannot properly be understood unless
we know something of its parentage and antecedents as well as of the contemporary
forces which have gone to shape and modify it. Thus history has become In.
biological, and biography the analysis of a product as well as the telling of a human
story. True ; there is danger that too much may be yielded to the exacl
demands of the relative spirit — as we can sec in such a work as Buckle's "History
of Civilisation," — yet, within limits, its claims are just and reasonable. No one can
ignore the sources and streams of the Jordan because they do not bear that name
until their confluence; neither do men begin to write of the Oxford Movement by
describing the publication of the "Tracts for the Times." The "movement," as i -
originators and abettors loved to call it, had been some seven years in progress before
that "portentous birth of time," and the explanation of that movement must he sought
in the character and aims of the three men who gave it its inspiration, impulse, and
direction. To understand the confluent stream, you must survey its tributaries and
trace them to their source. To understand movements, you must know something of
the men who gave them their momenta and direction.
It is such considerations as these that induce — yea, that compel us— to include within
the scope of this history a survey of the formative period prior to 1811, ami especially
to consider the training of Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, and how they acted
upon the movements of their time, and were, in their turn, re-acted upon by those
movements. Let the reader not begrudge the space needful for dealing at all
satisfactorily with so difficult and necessary a task.
SOURCES AND ORIGIN
PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH.
THE HARRISEAHEAD REVIVALISTS.
Hugh Bourne's Conversion.
UGH BOURNE first saw the light at Fordhays Farm, in the parish of
Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, April 3rd, 1772; his second birth took
place in the summer of 1799. For the first sixteen years of his life —
that is to say, during the period when the deepest and most permanent
impressions are made — Hugh Bourne lived on a solitary moorland farm. The
farmstead is still standing, though it has been raised, and its roof is no longer
thatched. Those who knew the original building well have left us a description
of it which might almost seem to
taken from " Wuthering
" As a residence, there could hardly
be anything more bleak, desolate, and
lonely. In the whole neighbourhood
of this moorland there were only some
two or three other houses, and beyond
these was the wide stretch of the moor.
There was no road, public or private,
not even a foot -road to the house or
anywhere near it, and to complete the
isolation and loneliness, the only access
to the house was over a wide brook upon
a plank, and often for weeks together,
the family saw no one beyond their
own circle, and of the great outside
world they knew but very little."*
If the bleak Yorkshire fells are needed
to account for the sombre genius of the
Bronte sisters, so it needs Fordhays Farm
fully to account for Hugh Bourne. To
the very last his moorland origin stood
confessed. His native environment had its counterpart in his strong, rugged nature,
and especially in that bashfulness which was so marked a feature of the man. !S T or
need we wonder at this ; for he must have had a temperament sanguine indeed to have
* "Memorial of the Centenary of Hugh Bourne," 1872, p. 11.
From "History of Connexion," pub. Is.'::.
PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH.
enabled him to overcome the steady pressure and influence of such an environment as
that amid which the most plastic years of life were passed. But he was also
constitutionally shy and serious, and it was inevitable that a timidity inborn and ingrained
should be deepened by the solitary aspects of his early
life. To such an extent was this the case that he became,
to use his own words, "so bashful as is seldom seen."
We cannot but admire that, handicapped as he was by
this temperamental thorn in the flesh, in its very despite
this diffident moorland youth of few words eventually
got so far and did so much. After all, he must have bad
considerable reserves of doggedness and moral courage
to draw upon, and there must have been rigorous self-
discipline and the habit of reliance.
" I5ut, perhaps," it may be said, " even Fordhays bad
its compensations. When the plank over the brook
was crossed, and you entered the farm-kitchen, there
might be enough light and cheerfulness within to make
up for the gloom without and to people its solitude. It
might be the abode of piety — of 'plain living and high
thinking.'" Scarcely; for the master of Fordhays —
Joseph Bourne, farmer, wheelwright, and timber-dealer
— was no good liver, though his days were long in
the land.* He was passionate, a drunkard and dissolute,
a derider of Methodism and dissent, and yet withal a stiff
Churchman. Sometimes in his convivial moments he
would boast that " he had a bishop and two parsons at home " (alluding to his wife
and sons) ; but if so, the parsons had to do their priest's office in the attic or anywhere
they could out of sight and hearing of the violent and churlish man. All the time,
Joseph Bourne had an angel in the house had he but known it — a thrifty, long-suffering
woman who did her best to keep together the gear he did his worst to scatter. She,
and not he, the husband, was the true stay and band of the house. Partly to save
expense, and partly from the love of the work, she taught her children to read as
she, sat busy at the spinning-wheel. Ellen Steel — let us give her maiden name so
that two of that surname may honourably figure in the history of our Church — early
taught her lad to fear God and walk righteously, though she could not bring him
info the joy and peace of assurance, and, indeed, did not herself enter therein until
Hugh, her son, showed her the way.
Hugh Bourne's own papers reveal that as a child he was uncommonly serious, and
knew something of g] i and even of terror. Early might it have been said of him :
■• Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon i lie grow ing boj ."
But he kept, his Borrows and struggles to himself, hiding them even from his mother.
(From an old Circuit Plan) .
" This side-view portrait struck us
as an exceedingly good one, and
worthy of being published in a
more permanent form." —
Rev. J. Wood, D.D.
' He lived to he nearly a hundred years of age.
SOURCES AND ORIGIN.
KHAVS FARM AS IT WAS. HUGH BOURNES BIRTHPLACE.
PORDHATS FARM As IT Is
10 PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHUKC1I.
Of this period he afterwards wrote pathetically : —
"Oh, that I had had some one to take me by the hand and instinct me in the
mystery of faith and the nature of a free, full, and present salvation ! How happy
would it have been for me ! . . . . But like Bunyan's Pilgrim, I had to make
my way alone. The Lord neither gave me guide nor companion in the way to the
Cross. I was painfully convinced of sin when I was but a small boy, and this
without the aid or knowledge of any man : and during my twenty sorrowful years
I went through much moral and religious readings."
This period in Hugh Bourne's life left its mark upon him to the end. Familiar to
all is that peculiarity in his character and ministry — his constant practice of taking
kindly notice of children. He did this not merely to please their parents, or because
lie himself was, as the phrase goes, " fond of children." He did it on principle ;
because, as he knew from his own experience, they had affinities with the Kingdom of
Cod, and rightly belonged that Kingdom. So it was his invariable custom to preach
short, simple sermons to the children, and to insist upon others doing the same. There
lay behind this practice of his, as its sufficient reason and justification, his own
experience when as a child he walked in darkness and had no light. What sore travail
might have been missed, and how much earlier might he have been won for the Church,
had some good soul but broken in upon his solitude and led him, child as he was, into
the fold of Christ ! So, as he had suffered when a child from the wrong ideas or
indifference of others, he was determined to do his part to save other children, Avho
might even now be before him, from the like experience.
We shall see, when we come to consider Hugh Bourne as author and editor, what he
did in this same period towar ds self-culture. If we refer to his reading now it is only
because by reading, and by reading alone, he was led into the light. It was not by the
means of grace as ordinarily understood, or by the living voice of preacher, teacher, or
friend that a new direction was given to his life, His conversion was not directly
traceable to any Living personal influence whatever. On the contrary, the influence
exerted 1 1 j m >i i him by the lives of many around was rather such as to perplex him and
hinder Ins progress. If ever there was a conversion brought about through the
instrumentality of books it was in the case of Hugh Bourne. All that men did for him
was to lend him the books for which he asked. They neither chose his reading for him,
nor asked the question Philip put to the eunuch: " TJnderstandest thou what thou
In L799 he found rich spoil in a volume of varied contents borrowed of a Methodist
hbour. Between the covers of this book were the Life of Fletcher of Madeley,
.lane Cooper's "Letter-." the lives of T. Taylor and John Maine, early Methodist-
preachers, Alleine's "Alarm to the Unconverted," a Treatise on the Articles and
Homilies of the ('lunch of England, etc. truly a library in a volume. Amongst the
eimon of We ley was the one on the Trinity (] John v. 7), which made it clear to
him that he had been pursuing a search foredoomed to failure in trying to find a perfect
form of religion, perfectly expressed. He was now "delivered from laying stress on
, .pinion-/ and " found that the religion of the heart was alike in all." How much
Hugh Bourne felt himself indebted to Wesley's broad Catholic teaching may be inferred
SOI'KiT.S AM" OIIKIIN.
from the fact that he has incorporated a weighty paragraph from this sermon in the
first History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, published in 1823. That ([notation
rightly stands where it does in the History since, but for it, he might have continued to
hold aloof from any and every organised religious society. On this ground, Wesley's
sermon on the Trinity, and particularly the excerpt given by Hugh Bourne, may be
viewed in the light of a document belonging to our sources, and for this reason might
quite properly have had insertion here.
In the early part of this same year — 1799 — he
" Head the books of the first Quakers— great examples of patient suffering,
zealous for open-air worship, mighty in faith. They would exercise faith even
in silence, until they moved whole neighbourhoods by so doing. I was much
edified in reading of the faith, patience, and sufferings of the primitive
Quakers I was enabled to see a little more clearly into the mystery
and power of faith, — truly their trials of faith were great."
Next, sundry volumes of the " Arminian Magazine " — eldest of our religious serials —
fell in his way ; and now, for the first time, he learned that the Arminians, whom he
had once thought of seeking out in the West of England, were the same people as the
Methodists at his very doors ! After this we can quite believe him when he avers that
he "knew but little of the Methodists," and that on account of the conduct of certain
inconsistent professors in his neighbourhood, he had gone the length of "thinking the
Methodists a fallen people." Assuredly, he much needed at this juncture the offices of
a candid and well-informed friend.
As Wesley had broken down harriers and prepared the way for communion, so
I'KI.MITIVK MKTHODIST ('liri;c||.
John Fletcher was Lnstrunientally the means of completing the work of ending the
twenty long years of conflict and giving him sure-grounded peace. It will be well fco
let Hugh Bourne describe in his own naive way that experience which was at once the
■end of a dreary journey, shut by only occasional gleams of brightness, and the
beginning of a new and fuller life.
"One Sunday morning (in the spring of 1799) in my father's house al Bemersley,
1 sat reading in Mr. Fletcher's ' Letters on the Spiritual Manifestation of the Son
of God,' and realised the blessing named in John xiv. 21, where Chris! says, ' I will
love him, and will manifest Myself to him'; and He manifested Himself fco me,
and 1 was horn again in an instant ! yea, passed from death unto life. The naughty
was taken out of my heart and the good put in. In an instant I had power over
sin, which 1 had not before ; and 1 was tilled with joy and love and glory which
BEMERSLEY FARM, THE HOME OF THE BOURNES.
made a full amends for the twenty years' suffering. The Bible looked new : creation
looker! new ; and I felt a iove to all mankind ; and my desire was that friends and
enemies and all tlie world, if possible, might be saved."
Hugh Bourne could, one thinks, have written a good article on "Books that have
Influenced me." And, indeed, from his own incidental references to his indebtedness to
books, we have endeavoured fco put together such a chapter. Well might he believe in
the power of the Press, who was himself a living witness of its power, and humbly
follow the example of Wesley in making use of the Press as an instrument in advancing
the Kingdom of < rod.
It seem-; fche mosl natural thing in the world to find replanted in the Magazine
SOURCES AND ORIGIN. 13.
for 1822 the six Letters of Fletcher, in which Bourne maintains the tin-sis -regarded as
" unscriptural, enthusiastical, and dangerous" by some — "That the Sun of God, for
purposes worthy of His wisdom, manifests Himself sooner or later to His sincere
followers in a spiritual manner which the world knows not of." Soon, we shall
find John xiv. 21, the very heart and centre of the written account of his own
conversion he drew up for the edification of others, and the text of his first conversation-
Elsewhere we have -written — "Hugh Bourne was the child of 'primitive Methodism."
This is no question-begging phrase. We use it without prejudice or thought of any
ulterior argumentative advantage to be gained thereby. As the dictum stands it i&
historically and psychologically true, and further reflection only serves to deepen our
conviction of its truth; only, the statement needs to be somewhat enlarged. Hugh
Bourne was the child of primitive Methodism, but there was also a strain of primitive
Quakerism in his blood. He was the product of Methodism, but not of the Methodism
of his own clay. He knew but little, and could know hut little of that. The Methodism
of which he was the product, the Methodism he was to do his best to revive and make
a living force, was the Methodism of John Nelson, and of the other early preachers
whose lives he had read. As Ave have shown, Methodism reached him first of all
through the media of books. Very illuminating are his own words written of a time
two or three years subsequent to his conversion: — "As my information had been
mainly acquired by reading it was chiefly primitive — I may say unconsciously primitive."
The remark shows acuteness of self-discrimination ; Methodism of the early type was at
first imbibed unconsciously. Presently it became his set deliberate purpose to revive it,
and he found himself in association with others of like mind and purpose, and an active
participant in a movement which locally was afterwards to differentiate itself. But
a word as to the Quaker element in Hugh Bourne's Methodism : the reading of the
large volumes containing the annals of the first race of Quakers left its mark — its
indelible mark upon him, and to a certain extent upon the denomination he helped to
found. To his somewhat narrow, intense, sombre nature there was much in the
primitive Quakerism of George Fox — with its mystic sympathies, its openness to receive
ami be guided by impressions and dreams; with its tendency to give a severe and
ascetic interpretation to the injunction, "be not conformed to this world" — there was