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Primitive Methodism

Sunday 27 May 2007 turned out to be probably the coldest Whit Sunday on record as Helen and I (with 1,000 others) went to Mow Cop near Biddulph for the Bicentenary ‘Open Air Worship and Praise’ to celebrate the historic event which had taken place there in 1807, which was the first of many meetings held by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes.

Wesleyan Methodist denomination had become more established and had grown away from its original tradition and eventually expelled Hugh Bourne and William Clowes who were making a name in the Cheshire/North Staffordshire area.

They had believed in the fervent and unrestrained expression of faith and were particular in their belief and worship and had not wanted to leave the Methodist Church. However, having been expelled they set up the new denomination in 1811 at Tanstall near Stoke and built a small chapel there.

Where did “Primitive” come from? John Wesley himself had used the term in 1790 at Chester to describe the passionate style of the original Methodist evangelists to which Primitive Methodism had returned. It had special appeal to poor working people - miners, potters, farm labourers etc., etc. Its homely atmosphere and emphasis on immediate salvation gave comfort to hard pressed lives.

As we all now know the movement grew and grew and when Hugh Bourne died in 1852 there were 100,000 members, and in 1932 when most of the other Methodist factions amalgamated, there were 200,000 members.

They had been prominent in Trade Union activity and on a recent visit to the North East we were shown artefacts from one prominent local preacher who was a trade union official and county councillor who had a new town named after him - Peter Lee - the town now known in County Durham as Peterlee.

It was estimated that in 1907, 100,000 people had been present at the centenary celebrations. I’m sure that had the weather been kinder we would have had a better attendance than what we did, but nowhere near those of our forefathers!

The President and Vice President of Conference both gave fine messages based on Acts 2, v 2 and 3, the Spirit as “wind” and “fire” and the North Shropshire and South Cheshire Methodist Youth Choir gave good renditions of “Ranters” hymns including “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound” and “Blow ye the trumpet blow Glory, Glory, Glory!

In all, we had a very moving witness and it was a pity that there were not as many people there as we would have liked but we came away absolutely frozen but with our hearts all aglow from the experience.

Fred Ogden
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