Primitive Methodism in Sheffield

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Primitive Methodism in Sheffield' page

By Geoff Dickinson

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Thomas Campey 

The Kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” Thus Jesus Christ illustrated the origin and progress of His Kingdom in the world; and the figure appropriately represents the Primitive Methodist section, of the one Church in the Conference city, which, from the humblest beginning, has grown to large proportions, and has afforded shade and shelter to multitudes.

To the delegates and others who will visit the city during the Conference, some account of our Church may be interesting. Its history can never be fully written. Much of the self-sacrifice and service, the bold initiative, the unyielding persistence, the heroic struggle, the patient endurance, the cheerful liberality, the prayer, the labour, and devotion which characterised the pioneers of our Church in this city, has no earthly record, but the memory of it stirs the heart and brightens the eye of the few veterans who still linger with us. The only full and faithful record is on high.

Primitive Methodism was introduced into Sheffield in the year 1819. Early in the century Mr. John Coulson, who had been converted under the ministry of the Rev. W. Bramwell, and who subsequently entered the ministry, and for thirty-three years was one of the most successful pioneers of the Connexion, removed from Chesterfield to Sheffield. When on a business journey to Hull, he had an interview with the Rev. W. Clowes, who invited him to attend the Quarterly Meeting at Nottingham, and the result was he decided to unite with the infant church, and, at his request, the following, District Meeting appointed the zealous and heroic Jeremiah Gilbert to open a mission in the town and neighbourhood. The journey was performed on foot, and the time it occupied was utilised for the preaching of the Gospel in the towns and villages on the way. The excitement created was intense, and violent persecution was suffered. At Bolsover he was fiercely assaulted and imprisoned. In Sheffield he found an extensive and fruitful sphere of labour, and in his various journeys was accompanied, and zealously supported, by Mr. Coulson. His mighty ministry moved the whole community, and hundreds of sinners were converted. In the course of a few days a society was formed, and arrangements made for permanent services. The following record of one Sabbath’s labour is a fair example of his usual procedure:— ”Preached at 6 a.m. in Young Street; at 8 in Water Lane; at 10.30 in a building used for public services; at 2 o’clock the Lord’s Supper; at 6 in the preaching-room, and at 8 in the Park.” Violent opposition prevailed both in the town and surrounding villages. Within fifteen months he was arrested seven times for preaching in the open-air. At Eckington he was assailed by the mob, the parson, and the constable, but he made things lively for his persecutors. He sang on his way to prison, discussed theology and Christian experience with the clergyman, and law with the magistrate. Like Paul he prayed with his jailor. Through the bars of his prison he preached to the crowd outside, and when he raised his voice in song the strain was taken up in the street. At midnight he lay down to rest, a heap of laths for his bed, and a besom for his pillow. His trial the following morning resulted in his acquittal, and he returned to his post and finished the interrupted service.

Such was the success attending these early movements that in 1820, nine months after the town was missioned, Sheffield was made the head of a new and extensive circuit, covering an area now occupied by about thirty circuits. For fifteen years the society migrated from place to place. A temporary preaching-room, was secured in Watson’s Walk, through the amalgamation with the mission of a small congregation worshipping there. Better accommodation was afterwards secured in Paradise Square; Brocco, and the Park followed, and finally in Coalpit Lane, now called Cambridge Street, possession was taken of a chapel previously occupied by the Baptists; and in 1835 the present chapel was commenced, and completed in the following year, under the superintendency of the Rev. W. Carthy. A handbill has been preserved which shows that the Rev. W. Clowes preached at one of the opening services. This was a daring venture for a people who were few and poor. The total expenditure on the old leasehold property and the erection of the new premises was £4,460; the whole of which was borrowed. The situation was heroically faced. The trustees personally removed the old buildings, and the women undertook to dress the bricks. Several families lived on the plainest and most scanty fare that they might give to the building fund. Some years of anxiety and struggle followed, but with the appointment of the Rev. John Verity, a season of prosperity and power was inaugurated. The chapel, seating 1,000 persons, proved an excellent centre for a vigorous evangelism, and speedily the building was filled and financial difficulties melted away. Then followed a succession of men whose hearts God had touched — Charles Lace, the blind preacher, Thomas Morgan, John Brownson, William Jefferson, Robert Parks, William Lea, William Cutts, and others, whose names and memories are revered and honoured. Mr. Cutts came to Sheffield in 1847, and, in connection with Mr. Morgan, laboured in the midst of one of the most memorable revivals the Church ever experienced. Twenty-six years of his ministry has been spent in the Sheffield Circults, and he has been associated with the erection of about fifty chapels and schools. On his superannuation he located here, and is spending a hale and honoured old age, in various capacities still usefully serving the Church. In 1851 an important addition was made to the property by the erection of new Sunday Schools under the superintendency of the Rev. W. Lea, whose son for many years has sustained a useful position at Bethel. The success of those early days is largely attributable to the host of devoted men and women who co-operated with the ministry, and who for loyalty, liberality, zeal, ability, and labour, have had few equals and no superiors in the Connexion.

The appointment of the Rev. R. Robinson as town missionary is a landmark in the history of our Church in Sheffield, and was the signal for another forward movement. His magnetic personality attracted around him a host of young men, ardent, vigorous, intrepid, and persistent, who supported him in his herculean labours, both on week-days and Sundays. The usual Sabbath services commenced in the open-air at 9.30 a.m.; in the chapel at 10.30 ; open-air in the afternoon in different localities at 2, 3.30, and 5 o’clock, and again in the chapel at 6; and this work was carried on for some years. This has been described as the high-water mark of prosperity. The chapel was crowded at every service, and every sitting was let. The singing of those days was a remarkable feature. How those old Primitives could sing and did sing! Not unfrequently the congregation was electrified by the timely selection of hymn and tune by W. Batty, the leader, and by the mighty outburst of spiritual song. Sinners often fell prostrate and saints shouted for joy.

During recent years the chapel has been renovated, and a new schoolroom, with class-rooms and caretaker’s house, erected at a cost of £3,000. The gradual transformation of the locality from a residential to a business centre, and the consequent migration of the people to the suburbs, has militated against the success of Bethel, and made its work difficult. Still, a band of faithful men and women cling to the mother Church, and, under circumstances of exceptional difficulty, are doing earnest and successful work.

The membership, which in 1840 was 466, had risen to 967 in 1850, and by 1853 the number was 1,039, when, to provide increased accommodation for a society worshipping in a loft over a hay-store in Exchange Street, the Methodist Association chapel in Stanley Street was purchased. This building soon proved inadequate for the rapidly growing Church, and in 1855 the present chapel was erected on the site of the old one, at a cost of £900, and 1,411 members were re-ported to the Conference. Two years later, 1857, the circuit was divided, Stanley Street being placed at the head of the Second Circuit with 703 members, and the Rev. W. Cutts as superintendent; the First Circuit retaining 746 members. Both circuits continued to prosper, and for several years large increases were reported. As a centre of successful Christian work in Sheffield, for many years Stanley Street has an honourable record. Happy memories of crowded congregations, baptisms of power, and glorious revivals in former years are cherished by the remaining few who took part therein. Twice the circuit has been divided, and the Third and Sixth Circuits formed. A noble band of local preachers has been raised and trained, from whose ranks the Revs. N. Haigh, G. Cooke, R. Bryant, I. Hadfield, and B. Senior have entered the ministry and distinguished themselves therein. Fifteen years ago new schoolrooms were erected at a cost of £3,000, and altogether £4,456 has been expended on the property. By the migration of the people to the suburbs of the city this church has suffered, in common with the central churches of all denominations, but although weakened numerically, it bravely holds on its way.

In 1858 Mr. C. Hindmarsh, and a few other enthusiastic young men, were appointed: to open a mission in Princess Street, and in a few months a flourishing society was established. Two years later a school-chapel was erected, which for seven years was the centre of a varied and successful Christian enterprise. This building being eventually required for railway extension purposes, it was sold to the Midland Railway Company for £1,000, and an ambitious building scheme was initiated which resulted, in 1867, in the erection of the Petre Street Chapel at a cost of £4,910. This is the largest Connexional chapel in the city, being capable of seating 1,250 persons, with a spacious schoolroom and institutes, and a convenient suite of class-rooms attached. The history of this church possesses peculiar interest on account of the mingled disaster and success which has attended it. When the building was approaching completion the roof was blown down during a winter storm, causing some hundreds of pounds damage, which, however, the contractor bore. Scarcely had the injury been repaired when, on the 31st January, 1868, a terrific storm broke and raged for two days and nights, to the full violence of which the chapel was exposed by its lofty and, at that time, isolated position. For forty-eight hours the building stood, but the hurricane so increased in fury that at last it gave way, and the roof fell in bringing the walls down to the floor. It is impossible to describe the  anguish and despair which fell upon the little band of members and trustees, who had spent hours in anxious watching, when the building collapsed, and their holy and beautiful house, in one tremendous crash, became a heap of ruins. This disaster involved the trustees in financial difficulty, as the second loss, about £1,200, fell on them. However, they bravely faced the situation, and six brethren from Stanley Street, whose names are worthy of honourable record - R.W. Holden, J.B. Brailsford, H. Morten, T. Crookes, G. Smith and C. Easby, voluntarily offered to become trustees and share the burden. This practical sympathy infused new life into the dispirited church. The public generously responded to the appeal for help; Mr. Holden alone collected £200; the members contributed weekly to the restoration fund, and the difficulty was overcome. The debt remaining on the completed building was £2,400. In December, 1872, the Third Circuit was separated from the Second with 472 members, and with Petre Street at its head. This has been one of the most aggressive and prosperous of the Sheffield Circuits. By the erection of class-rooms, institute and organ, and the purchase of the freehold for £700, by which an annual ground rent of £23 18s. was redeemed, together with other improvements, in addition to the original outlay, over £7,000 has been spent upon the property, and the debt remaining is under £1,200.

For some years services were held in the Lancastrian School, in Gibraltar Street, and a society established, which, in 1860, built a good chapel in Hoyle Street, and which, in 1876, was separated from the First Circuit along with Walkley and Langsett Road, and formed the Fourth Circuit with 359 members. Walkley is one of the oldest societies in Sheffield, and its history illustrates the heroism, liberality, and endurance which so largely account for the Connexion’s early success. The first services held in the open-air were fiercely opposed, and not unfrequently even shovel-fulls of fire were thrown into their midst. In the Walkley Old Hall the little church first found a home. Afterwards a room was secured over a carpenter’s shop, and subsequently, in 1857, a chapel and Sunday School were commenced in Heavygate Road. This was the third chapel erected in Sheffield, and although never completed, it has for forty-four years been a centre of earnest and successful Christian work. During its erection the contractor fell into difficulties, and the accumulated building material, for which the trustees had paid, was in danger of being lost; but a few trustees, through a dark, cold winter’s night remained on guard, and only retained their property by a stern physical struggle in the early hours of the morning. In 1891, a new and commodious chapel was built in the South Road at a cost of £3,454. This chapel contains a very fine organ, the gift of Mrs. W. Adams, of Birmingham, who for several years was a member and worker in the church. The old premises are retained for Sunday School purposes until the contemplated new schools shall have been erected. New schools are in course of erection at Hoyle Street at a cost of £1,600.

The John Street Church was separated from the First Circuit and made the head of the Fifth, with 306 members, in 1877. For vigorous and rapid development this station has had few equals in the Connexion, and this is largely due to the strong personality, the energy, enthusiasm, liberality and labour of Mr. H. Adams, who has been associated with the initiation and progress of every forward movement for many years. He came to Sheffield in 1863, and at once threw himself heartily in the work of the church at Bethel. In connection with John Nutton, who subsequently opened his house for religious services, he assisted in an open-air mission in Sheldon Street, where a publican engaged a fiddler and organised a dance to interrupt their work; but the lusty singing of the little band soon silenced the fiddle and stopped the dance. In a room over a stable in Hereford Street successful services were conducted and a society was formed, but the building was in many respects unsuitable, and a meeting was held to consider the question of a new chapel, when the sti?ing air of the place, caused by the hot weather and the stable beneath, doubtless assisted them in speedily arriving at a unanimous decision to arise and build. The result was the erection of the John Street Chapel, which for vigorous and successful Christian work, has long had a Connexional reputation. A mission opened in Young Street, where Jeremiah Gilbert preached his first sermon, resulted in the erection of the Hodgson Street Chapel, and the work was also extended to Dronfield and Norton. During the superintendency of the Rev. J. Slater the Abbeydale Church was erected, at a cost of £5,063, towards which £3,067 was raised. During the superintendency of the Rev. D. Sheen further extensions took place. The “Adams’ Memorial Chapel,” in Kent Road, Heeley, was erected, the entire cost of which, £1,670, was met by Mr. Adams. This estate also includes additional land on which to erect a spacious chapel when required. The Ann’s Road Chapel, also in Heeley, was commenced in 1895, and completed in 1897, at a cost of £5,146, into which the Gleadless Road Church removed.

Immediately following these splendid forward movements the John Street church resolved to supply the long-felt need for Sunday School accommodation, and provided one of the finest institutes, and one of the most complete suites of class-rooms in the Connexion, at an outlay of £3,185, the whole of which was raised, and £600 paid off the consolidated debt, leaving only £500 on the whole property. It is only justice to say that the success of this effort was chiefly due to Mr. H. Adams, whose generous offer to give one-half of the required amount stimulated the Church to such an enthusiastic response.

A further expansion took place in 1866, when the Sixth Circuit was formed by the separation of Attercliffe, Darnall and Roundell Street from the Second, and Newhall and Clay Street from the Third. It is situated in a densely populated artizan district, where its agencies have been active and successful. The district was missioned in 1838, when it was the resort of gipsies and other vagrant classes amongst whom the Gospel was earnestly preached. A small society was formed, but no settled place of worship was secured until 1861, when a small schoolroom was erected at a cost of £235, which under the mighty ministry of the Rev. Robert Robinson became too small, and a new chapel was built to seat 350 at an outlay of £846. Four years later Mr. B. Senior, who was subsequently called into the ministry, and has rendered yeoman service in various parts of the Connexion, was employed as circuit missionary, and laboured successfully in this district. Further progress was marked by an expenditure of £1,660 on the erection of new schools to  accommodate 600 scholars, and a little later of £700 on an enlargement of the chapel, increasing the accommodation to 750. During the superintendency of the Rev. G. Newton, Templeborough was missioned and a chapel built at a cost of £600. In recent years strenuous efforts have been made to reduce its liabilities, and during the superintendency of the Rev. C. Dudley the debt on Roundell Street, £300, was cleared off, and Attercliffe reduced £200. During the three years’ ministry of the Rev. G. Newman, the following reductions have been effected:— Attercliffe £400; Darnell £300; Clay Street £220; Templeborough £175, and Newhall £150. The chapel is at present undergoing extensive improvement, and a. Young People’s Institute, to accommodate 250, is in course of erection.

The next in the order of Circuit formation was Langsett Road, which was separated from Hoyle Street at the Conference of 1889, and with Woodland View and Dungworth, made the Seventh Circuit, with Rev. W. Tingle as its first superintendent. The chapel was built in 1874, under the superintendency of the late Rev. S. Parkin, which, with subsequent improvements, has cost £3,684. Vigorous aggression has characterised this station. Successful missions have been established at Neepsend, a populous industrial district, and at Hilsbro’, a rapidly growing suburb, where societies, Sunday Schools and Temperance organisations are flourishing and progressive.

Two years ago the Fifth Circuit (John Street)was divided and Ann’s Road and Abbeydale were made the heads of the Eighth and Ninth Circuits, with the Revs. W. Pedley and J.R. Tranmer as their respective superintendents. Both the stations have prospered, and in each case there is the prospect of early and important extensions.

Each of the circuits has several associated churches with valuable chapel and school properties, and further divisions and expansions in the immediate future are probable. The present position of our Church is as follows:— 9 circuits, with 14 ministers, 2 of whom are superannuated; 194 local preachers; 45 chapels, which have cost £78,099, with sitting accommodation for 15,215 persons; 8,790 hearers and 4,383 members.

The influence of our churches has been felt in the civic and social, as well as the religious, life of the city. For many years it has had its representatives on the School Board and the Board of Guardians, and its claim to be heard on public questions is being increasingly recognised. The ministers and laymen have taken a prominent and active part, in co-operation with other Churches and organisations, in promoting whatever has tended to a higher, purer, and happier life amongst the people.

The visit of the approaching Conference is being joyfully anticipated, and will be heartily welcomed, by other Churches as well as by our own. The question of the place where the sessions should be held has been carefully considered. Sentiment was strongly in favour of Bethel, the mother chapel, which is sufficiently central and commodious for the purpose; but it was feared that the encroachment of industrial establishments on the locality, with the consequent noise of machinery on week-days, would interfere with the comfort and convenience of the Conference, and it was resolved to secure the use of the Nether Congregational Church, which the courtesy of the minister and officials had placed at our service. This church, of which we are able to give two views, external and internal, is admirably suited to meet all the requirements of the Conference.

The desire of our churches is that a deep and permanent impression may be made upon the religious life of the city by the Conference, and that throughout its business sessions, as well as the religious services, it may be “a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.”

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/413

This page was added by Geoff Dickinson on 24/04/2017.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.