Watchers of a Beacon: The story of the Cockermouth & Keswick Methodist Circuit
Transcription of a Centenary Souvenir, 1854-1954, by Ernest W. Griffin Part I
Originally printed by THE “WEST CUMBERLAND TIMES,” PRINTERS. COCKERMOUTH 1954
Text taken from Jack Robinson’s copy. This text has been “read and typed” by a computer using optical character recognition software thus some marks have been recognised as punctuation and some spelling may be incorrect. I have corrected most computer generated errors but please excuse anything I have missed. My understanding is that there is no current copyright nearly 60 years after publication, thus I will make it available online for anyone to read or copy. If anyone objects then the error is mine only.
After reading this interesting Centenary Souvenir so aptly called “Watchers of a Beacon.” my eyes lighted upon a book on my shelves. bearing the title “The Methodist Heritage.”
Mr. Griffin whose colleagueship for three years I valued so greatly, has put us all in his debt for the trouble he has taken in bringing to light. and putting on record. the story of Methodism in this corner of Cumberland. We are, indeed, proud of our Methodist heritage, and I am sure this account of the past hundred and more years will inspire us to follow in the footsteps of our fathers. who, for the love of Jesus. spent themselves in the service of His Church.
We look back with a deep sense of indebtedness. We also look around today, and see local preachers, office-bearers and workers among the young and old, who are bearing their witness and serving their Lord with deep devotion. I would also add that we have our saints as well-men and women whose lives radiate the spirit of Christ.
So we look to the future with hope and confidence as we go forward into another century of Methodist worship and fellowship.
E. Grieves Smith .
There is the story of the little girl who decided to give her mother, as a birthday present. a new copy of the Bible. Her gift once purchased. she wrote inside the front cover: “To Dear Mother. from Betty.” It then occurred to her that this statement looked somewhat barren; something more seemed to be called for. So she rummaged among her father’s books. and soon found some words which appeared to fill the bill perfectly: and, underneath her own inscription, she added: “With the author’s compliments!”
I trust that no-one will falsely assume that I am the author of what follows in these pages. A well-known writer (it may have been the late William Temple) once said: “It is idle to quote acknowledgments where nothing is original.” That states my case perfectly. I have only now to record my real indebtedness to my former “Super”-(he Rev. E. Grieves Smith. to whom I already owe so much-for his further kindness in writing the Foreword to this booklet.
Passed on to you in these pages is information I have gleaned from various sources; I have tried to present it more in the form of a continuing story than a mere tabulation of facts and figures. Omissions and slight inaccuracies. I fear, there are bound to be, though I have done my best. with the space, time and material available, to be as comprehensive and correct as possible.
Professor E. Gordon Rupp has said: “Not all Christian men are called to write, or to read history, but all of us are called to make history.” It is the writer’s sincere hope that the men and women who read this short history will find from it inspiration and incentive to go forth and. with dedicated lives, write further chapters themselves to the glory of God.
Hove, Sussex. Ernest W. Griffin.
Ministers of the Keswick and Cockermouth Circuit with Year of their Appointment.
1854 Joseph R. Cleminson. 1854 Robert Brown.
1856 William Unsworth. 1855 John Locke.
1858 Jabez Iredale. 1857 William Parker.
1859 Francis Hewitt. 1860 Jabez Ingham.
1860 Abel Wood. 1863 Thomas S. Raby.
1861 Richard Crookall. 1865 Charles B. Ritchie.
1862 William Pritchard. 1866 William J. Bullivant.
1863 George Brimacombe. 1867 Thomas Brighouse.
1864 John Meek. 1870 George H. Chambers.
1865 Henry Marchbank. 1871 William Satchell.
1867 Patrick Pizey. 1873 Thomas M. Rodham.
1870 Thomas Hargreaves. 1876 Joseph Crowther.
1871 John Raine. 1878 John Greenwood.
1872 John W. Woodliffe. 1881 William Watson.
1873 George Parker. 1884 Charles Bingant.
1874 Crawshaw Hargreaves. 1887 Arthur Brigg.
1876 Gregory Renton. 1890 John W. Henderson.
1877 John Toft. 1893 Hilderic Friend.
1878 Thomas Hitchon. 1896 R. Watson Butterworth.
1879 Waiter T. Baker. 1899 Alex F. Fogwell.
1882 Enoch Green. 1902 William G. White.
1884 Thomas Arrowsmith. 1906 Edward Thistlethwaite.
1887 W. Wigley Haughton. 1909 William Sharpley.
1890 J. Whitehead Clegg. 1912 John W. Mountford.
1892 WaIter Hudson. 1914 WaIter Bradshaw.
1895 James Rogers. 1917 William Grieve.
1896 W. H. Oliver Lake. 1920 W. Angelo Helm.
1899 Richard H. Colwell, Ph.B. 1923 W. Hartley Totty.
1900 Harold Crook. 1926 W. Talbot Ellams.
1901 Thomas E. Freeman. 1929 P hilip R. P rice.
1903 Robert W. Davidson, B.D. 1932 Arthur Rudman.
1906 E. J. Bennett Richards. 1934 D. Taylor Clarke. B.A.
1909 Thomas A. Lindsay. 1937 Wilbert Walton.
1910 Cecil Burrow. 1940 John W. Brough.
1912 R. Martin Pope. M.A. 1945 G. Murray Beard.
1918 Woodman Treleaven. M.A. 1949 Ernest W. Griffin.
1919 Smith T. Parr. 1953 Arthur Candeland, M.A.
1922 William J. Hartley.
1928 Seth Swithenbank.
1934 Arthur Rudman.
1936 Woodman Treleaven, M.A.
1941 Albert H. Creed.
1946 Joseph Coombs.
1950 E. Grieves Smith.
Ministers of the Cockermouth Primitive Methodist Circuit
with Year of their Appointment.
1893 John G. Bowran. 1912 William H. Maxwell.
1896 Charles Humble. 1914 Alfred J. Bull.
1899 Colin C. Goodall. 1923 George R. Bell.
1902 John Forster. 1927 Roland Hind. B.A.
1906 Joseph Hawkins. 1932 Frank C. Wilson.
1909 Joseph Burton. 1933 Henry W. Marsh
Supernumerary Ministers who, this century, have resided in and served the Keswick and Cockermouth Circuit with Year of Arrival.
1878 Thomas M. Rodham. 1941 William J. Hartley.
1902 Joseph Todhunter. 1946 Leonard L. Price. B.D.
1923 William Nightingale. 1947 Daniel Kedward.
1933 Richard W. Watson. 1949 Arthur Sanderson.
1937 Harry M. Hull. 1952 Ernest P. Picken.
1940 Henry Fytche. 1952 Frederic A. Tomlinson.
Lay Pastors who have served in the Circuit.
1903 Walter Standley
1922 Walter Pollard
1925 John H. Clucas.
1950 Paul Snell.
“WATCHERS OF A BEACON “
PART I: 1751-1854 “THE BEACON IS LIT”
The Gospel according to the Methodists came to Cumberland in the late 1740s. the focal point being Whitehaven. John Wesley first visited that town in 1749. and declared himself pleased both with the response to the Methodist preaching. and the progress of the little society which had been formed there. although. at the same time, he did lament the apparent lack of real depth in the Christian experience of the members. At the close of this visit. Wesley travelled eastward, and appears to have spent a night in Keswick; but neither then, nor at any other time. as far as we know, did he actually preach in the “Metropolis of Lakeland.”
Eighteen months after this first visit, John Wesley again visited Whitehaven, and from thence, on Wednesday. 17th April 1751, he arrived for the first time on the soil of Cockermouth. Braving a keen, north-easterly wind, he stood on some steps at the end of the market-house, and proclaimed “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’” to his audience-some of whom had followed him from Clifton. John Wesley differs from Queen Elizabeth the First before him. and from sundry authors and poets after him. in the fact that no plaques adorn the walls of the majority of houses in which he spent the night! So although he must have spent the night in Cockermouth several times during the course of his eighteen or nineteen visits. we have no record of where or with whom he stayed. However. on this first occasion, Wesley was abroad at a very early hour the next morning, and at five o’clock he preached again to “a large and serious congregation” the descendants of whom, nowadays. doubtless prefer to hear the Gospel at six in the evening!
The following year, Wesley coupled a visit to Lorton with a further visit to Cockermouth. preaching at both places. Among his congregation in the Vale of Lorton were the vicars both of Lorton and the neighbouring parish-“that they might hear his preaching and judge for themselves.” Wesley. however, found a different type of congregation in the Castle-yard at Cockermouth, of whom he declares, somewhat archly -“they behaved with decency, none interrupting nor making any noise.” A year later, he found “well-nigh all the inhabitants of the town” waiting to hear his preaching.
On Whit-Sunday, 1757. Wesley was again in Cockermouth. “I began without delay,” he writes. “and cried to a listening multitude–‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.’ The word had free course; even the gentry seemed desirous to drink of the living water.” In the same year. Wesley had stationed two of his preachers – Matthew Lowes and John Murlin – at Whitehaven; and these two were often, no doubt, in Cockermouth and the surrounding district, preaching in the open air. Two years later, Wesley revisited the district: “I rode over to Lorton, a little village at the foot of a high mountain. Many came from a considerable distance, and I believe, did not repent of their labour: for they found God to be a God both of the hills and valleys – and nowhere more present than in the mountains of Cumberland.” When he preached at Cockermouth. shortly afterwards, he comments : “At six. I preached at the end of the market-house. High and low, rich and poor attended; and by far the greater part of the audience seemed to be conscious that God was there.”
Two years later again, Wesley records in his “Journal”: “I preached, about five, at Cockermouth, on the steps of the market-house. Even the genteel hearers were decent; many of the rest seemed deeply affected. The people of the town have never been uncivil: surely they will not always be unfruitful.” That prayer of Wesley’s was soon to be answered, for two years later – in 1763 – we have a record of the first Methodist society to be established in the town. It consisted of nineteen members, as follows: the leader was William Wilson, a shopkeeper; then there was Mary Wilson, his wife. and Mary, his daughter; James Wilson, a tailor, Mary – his wife, and Jane – his daughter; Thomas Hadson, married, a weaver; Mary Bushby, married; Joshua Jackson, widower, a cordwainer; Ann Fisher, unmarried; Sarah Fisher, unmarried, a baker; Elizabeth Stephenson. unmarried, a washer; Ann Laniate. unmarried; Elizabeth Rase, a widow; Mary Longwood, unmarried, a shopkeeper; Elizabeth Allison, unmarried, a baker; Mary Fryer, married; Jonathan Rogers, widower, a weaver; and Thomas Smithson, married, a weaver.
At that time, the small Cockermouth society was included in the famous “Haworth Round” one of whose earliest Superintendents was the well known William Grimshaw, B.A., vicar of Haworth, and one of Wesley’s earliest colleagues and greatest friends. He was a man of great devotion and evangelical zeal. And – withal – a strict disciplinarian. William Grimshaw could find no excuse for absenteeism from worship; if his members stayed away from Church, he would go and hold a service, and preach in front of their homes. On more than one occasion, he is reputed to have seized a whip, and then marched round his parish, gathering in the idle and the Sabbath-breakers. and driving them in front of him to the Church! Another minister of the Hawarth Circuit was John Allay, who – in person – brought Mr. Wesley again to Cockermouth in 1767. both gentlemen doubtless using this occasion to examine the members of the infant society in the town. It is possible – but not certain – that there was also, by this time, a small Methodist society at both Keswick and Lorton – but exact records have, unfortunately, been hidden from view by the gathering mists of antiquity. Also in 1767, the superintendency of the Haworth Circuit passed to Robert Costerdine, a man noted for his energetic and essentially practical nature.
Wesley paid two further visits to Cockermouth in the year 1768; on both occasions he remarks upon the bad weather! On his first visit he found it impossible to preach – “the town being in an uproar through the election for members of Parliament.” Cockermouth evidently took its politics very seriously in those days. Three days later, Wesley tried again, and this time he was able to preach, although the rain drove him from the open air into the market-house itself. In 1769, Whitehaven was taken out of the Haworth Round and made the head of a circuit of its own. We talk much of the extent of Methodism’s rural circuits today, but let it be noted that the Whitehaven Circuit, at its inception, embraced Workington, Maryport, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Penrith, Kendal. Ulverston and the Isle of Man! The Superintendent was Joseph Guilford, and John Wittam was his assistant.
Six more visits to Cockermouth were paid by John Wesley between the years 1770 and 1777, while the preachers stationed in the Whitehaven Circuit during those years included Thomas Wride – a man of parts, whose gifts ranged from the prescribing of herbal remedies to clock mending, and even the invention of a primitive alarm-clock by an ingenious arrangement of fire-irons! Other preachers in the circuit included John Mason, William Linnell, John Fenwick. Robert Empringham and Richard Seed. The membership of the circuit revealed an increase worthy of note; in seven years it had risen from a little over one hundred to nearly seven hundred.
On the occasion of his visit to Cockermouth in 1780, Wesley writes: “At eight I preached in the Town Hall, but to the poor only; the rich could not rise so soon”! Returning to Cockermouth the following year, he says: “I had a design to preach at noon in the Town Hall at Cockermouth, but, Mr Lothian offering me his meeting-house, which was far more convenient, I willingly accepted his offer. By this means I had a much more numerous audience-most of whom behaved well”! The said Mr Lothian was the minister of the old Independent (Congregational) Chapel in Main Street, and his friendly invitation to Mr Wesley was an early prelude to the happy associations in worship and fellowship which are now existing and growing between the two denominations in the town.
Wesley’s penultimate visit to the town in 1784, was characterised by “some of the heaviest rain he had seen in Europe“. His last visit to Cockermouth was on Whit-Monday, 1788-when he was eighty-five years old. He preached from the text, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” and he writes in his “Journal”: “About eight I began preaching in the market-house at Cockermouth. I was surprised to find several of those that are called ‘the best of the town’ there: and they were one and all serious and attentive; so we had a solemn parting“. Less than three years later the happy warrior was dead. It must be remarked that Cockermouth was, indeed, highly favoured in receiving so many visits from our venerable founder; and, despite his occasionally ironic comments, John Wesley certainly received far better treatment in Cumberland than he did in some of the towns in the midlands and the south, where he was often mobbed and made the centre of rioting and disorder.
A new phase of the Cockermouth story began in 1796. In that year a Cockermouth cooper called George Robinson bought some old maltkilns in the street known as Sand Went (now High Sand Lane). He knocked down the derelict buildings. and built a meeting house, which he sold to the Board of Trustees of the local Methodist society for £70. The trustees of whom there were nine-were as follows: George Robinson. cooper; Matthew Smith. gentleman; Isaac Brown, grocer; George Bowe, hatter; James Wilson, tailor and staymaker; John Brockbank, farmer; Robert Dickinson, Iron-works writer: James Sykes, staymaker: and Stephen Wilson, cabinet-maker. The High Sand Lane Chapel, built in 1797, is today extremely well-preserved, and is used. under its new name – the Victoria Gospel Hall – as the meeting-place of the local society of the Plymouth Brethren.
Now while the Cockermouth Methodist Society in the Whitehaven Circuit was prospering and flourishing at the end of the eighteenth century, there was an active and growing society also in Keswick. Originally in the Barnard Castle Circuit, in the year 1803 the Keswick society was divorced from that circuit and handed over to the Brough Circuit. That union, however. lasted only three years. and then Keswick was ceded from Brough to the Penrith Circuit. During these early years, the leading influence in the society appears to have been one Robert Gate. a local preacher who hailed from Penrith; it is quite probable that services were held in his house, or-as some say-in some small cottages opposite the Crosthwaite Parish Church Room, prior to the building of the first Methodist Chapel in Keswick – an event which took place in the year 1814. This Chapel was situated in a small yard, behind a grocer’s shop, in Main Street; its erection cost £331 10s – a vast sum of money in those days. Who were the first trustees, we know not; but seat-holders in the Chapel during its first years were Jacob Banks (class leader), John Birkett, Robert Coupland, John Ashton, William Hodgson. John Tickell, Joseph Carson, Dinah Grisdale and Mary Walker – some of whose descendants are doubtless still in Keswick.
In the year 1818, the Keswick society – the members of which must by this time have been feeling that they were “unwanted children”- was transferred from Penrith to the Wigton Circuit, wherein it was destined to remain for a stabilising period of thirty-six years. The Cockermouth society, at this period, was progressing well-despite the effort of one local preacher, who shall be nameless, but who preached at a Watch-night Service for over an hour and a half on the text “The King’s business requireth haste“! Nor was enthusiasm confined solely to doing good works within the neighbourhood, for the Revs. Henry Anderson and Robert Ramm, presiding over the second annual Overseas Missionary Anniversary of the Cockermouth section, in the year 1822. were able to announce that a total of £51-10-6 had been collected from societies in the section to help finance Methodist missionary work in North America. France and Gibraltar, in the infant missionary stations in India, and among the “barbarous inhabitants” of New Zealand! It is interesting to note, from these records, that there were by now Methodist societies at Little Clifton, Eaglesfield, Greysouthen, Lorton, Mockerkin, Southwaite and Pardshaw-the last-named evidently proving the most venturesome of all, for, by the following year, a tiny chapel had been erected at Pardshaw – the first country preaching-place to be built in the present circuit. It was built on ground given by Mrs. Ann Wood, of Pardshaw Hall, six of whose children died between the ages of 20 and 24, but whose surviving son and grand-daughters gave life-long service to Methodism in Pardshaw. Joseph Bushby, Joseph Wilson, Richard Bowman and Robert Bewsher are names also to be associated with the very early days of Pardshaw Methodism. In 1823, the trust of the Cockermouth Chapel was renewed, the new trustees being John Richardson, common brewer; Tyson Rigg, molecatcher; William Todhunter, painter and glazier; William Armstrong, weaver; George Hodgson, tailor; Peter Thompson, bricklayer; Joseph Thompson, clock and watch-maker; Joseph Bushby, gentleman; and Richard Bowman, shoemaker.
By 1830, the Methodist work and witness in Cumberland was rapidly increasing in momentum. More class leaders were appointed at Keswick to shepherd the growing flock; these included Margaret Banks (wife of Jacob Banks, previously named), William Hodgson, Robert Coupland, and Featherstonehaugh Alexander. At Cockermouth, the Revs. William Tranter, Thomas Kemshall. and William Levell. who had come over to attend the tenth sectional Overseas Missionary Anniversary, reported with joy an increase of over £40 on the total for 1822. William Tranter, the Superintendent at Whitehaven, eventually became one of the most famous and long-lived among Methodist ministers; he died at the age of 101, after 76 years. in the ministry. A copy of the Whitehaven Circuit Plan for the year 1830 adds Brigham and Dearham to the places. mentioned above, which then formed part of the Cockermouth section of the circuit.
It was at this time that a further spark of light appeared alongside the original Methodist beacon which had been already lit-a spark which kindled a fresh flame of fire destined to burn long and vigorously separate, and yet an integral part of the light of that earlier beacon before the two fires finally merged into one blaze. Around the year 1830, Cockermouth received a visit from three Primitive Methodist ministers stationed in Carlisle; their visit took the form of a great camp meeting held on Papcastle Common, near Belle Vue – while in the evening. there was a lovefeast held at the Old Theatre at the Sun Barn in the town. The witness of Primitive Methodism had begun in Cockermouth. The following year. Hugh Bourne – one of the co-founders of Primitive Methodism passed through the town, declaring himself charmed with the surrounding scenery; there is. however, no record of his having preached in the town.
In the early 1830s, the Primitive Methodists established a small society in Cockermouth, renting a bare room in St. Helen’s Street for the holding of services. One enthusiastic member walked the thirteen miles from Keswick carrying a heavy corner-cupboard on his back, to make a pulpit for the preacher. The Primitive Methodist enthusiasm spread to Keswick and the Rev R. Lyon, a Primitive Methodist minister stationed at Whitehaven, paid several visits to Keswick. and attempted to start a society there; it appears. however, that from the point of view of permanence he was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile the Wesleyan Methodist societies in the district were growing apace. In the Cockermouth area, there was an active society at Eaglesfield in the early 1830s. Services were held in the largest of a number of weaving shops standing near a ruinous ivy-covered cottage-somewhat inaptly nicknamed ‘Paradise -standing by the roadside at the south end of the village. One preacher noted that the stairs up to this room were so rickety that they had to be propped up for safety. Sunday School classes were held also, and they were divided up among the several rooms of the weaving shops. Special services, anniversaries, etc. had to be held in the barn of a neighbouring farm, rented by Mr. and Mrs. Ballantyne White – enthusiastic helpers in the work. There is also a tradition, in Eaglesfield, of Methodist services being held in one of the several smithies then established in the village, but this cannot be ascertained now. At Dearham, a great “character” and local preacher-Tyson Rigg, the mole-catcher-had been holding services in his house for some years prior to the building of the first chapel in 1833. Other Methodist worthies at Dearham in those days were William Irving and three “Josephs” – Kirkbride, Iredale and Ostle. 1833 also saw the building and opening of the little chapel at Greysouthen, which was completed at a cost of £161. A well-known local preacher in the circuit during that time was Atkinson Steele, whose family have given such signal service to the cause of Methodism in West Cumberland from that day to this. Atkinson Steele came on to full plan in 1831: he then lived at Workington, and would walk regularly the twelve miles from his home to Lorton, or the fifteen miles from Workington to Mawbray, to take services-and then walk home again the same evening. Those were the days when even a Horse-Hire Fund was an unheard-of novelty.
In the Keswick area, Methodism made its appearance in Braithwaite in the mid-1830s, introduced by Mr. Furnace, a very zealous layman. A copy of “The Lord’s Day Plan” of the Wigton Circuit, dated 1835, also shows fortnightly services planned at Applethwaite and at Briery Hill. At this time, however, the Keswick society was severely shaken by the Warrenite agitation which was fermenting throughout Methodism. and which resulted in yet another off-shoot from the parent stem. On one particular Sunday there was such tension during the service at Keswick that the minister-the Rev. Philip Hardcastle, Superintendent of the Wigton Circuit – had to leave the pulpit to take up the collection himself -the stewards having apparently, “gone on strike” for the day!
Mention of some of the ministers who were serving Keswick and Cockermouth in those days is perhaps apposite at this point. Neither town, it seems, had a resident minister until the year 1835. when Conference stationed junior ministers of the Wigton and Whitehaven Circuits, respectively, to take up residence in the two towns. Appointed to Keswick was the Rev. Edmund B. Warters, a young man of sterling qualities. Once a month, he had to preach in the circuit Chapel at Wigton; he would set out on foot. on the Saturday, to meet his Superintendent-the Rev. Robert Morton – who would be journeying to Keswick on a donkey; when they met, Mr. Warters rode the donkey back to Wigton, while Mr. Morton proceeded on foot to Keswick. The same thing happened in reverse on the return journey on the Monday. One Superintendent of the Wigton Circuit, who had a flair for doggerel, described the journey between Wigton and Keswick in the following terms:
The road was impassable.
Not even jackassable:
And all who would travel it
Must turn out and gravel it!
James Kendall seems to have been the first young minister to live in Cockermouth; he was followed by Francis Ward, who made a determined move at the Quarterly Meeting to procure a circuit pony for the use of the ministers. He was thwarted. however. by our old friend, Tyson Rigg of Dearham, who bitterly opposed the idea, and said: “I love my neighbour as myself; I walk to my appointments. and I should like my neighbour to walk to his“! Two other ministers who worked in Cockermouth during the late 1830s were William Baddeley and Matthew Salt. Superintendents at Whitehaven included Thomas Catterick – “a big man. always dressed in black“: Abraham Watmough-a ‘High-Churchman’ among Methodists. who objected to the singing of ‘frolicsome tunes’ in our Chapels: William Ash¬”a big man with a little name”: and Robert Harrison-“an amiable character, who always had a word or an answer for every occasion”! In 1839, two more societies made their first appearance in the area. A small society had been formed at Bassenthwaite, numbering two believers and one “on trial.” Another small society had arisen in the Embleton valley. This latter group met in the kitchen of Byersteads Farm, under the leadership of Mr. Joseph Mossop. and. later. Mr. Daniel Sanderson who afterwards entered the ministry and served as a missionary in India for twenty-seven years. and then as Governor of Richmond College for a further twenty-three years. In 1840. services were held in a cottage at Eskin, Wythop, the home of Mr. Daniel Mandale, despite the threat of one belligerent inhabitant of the hamlet to shoot any Methodist preacher who came to take a service – a threat, fortunately, never carried out.
The year 1840 also saw readjustments in both the Wesleyan and the Primitive Methodist circuits. The Primitive Methodists of Cockermouth, who were then meeting in a little room at Vinegar Hill. near Cocker Bridge, found themselves ceded from Carlisle to the Whitehaven Circuit – the latter having just been separated from Hull, and made the head of a circuit of its own. Also transferred at this time were the Primitive Methodist societies at Keswick. Broughton. Deanscales and Dovenby The origin, decline and fall of the two last-named societies are altogether wrapped in obscurity; the little societies at Keswick and Broughton appear to have lapsed, shortly afterwards, for the space of some ten years. Meanwhile at Great Broughton. the Wesleyan society was going ahead: services were held first at Trough House, then at Rock House: and in one of these services, Mr. John Gribbins – a man destined to play a leading role in Broughton Methodism for many years – was converted. In the same year, a Wesleyan Chapel was built at Lorton – the home of the veteran local preacher. Peter Robinson, whose life was a burning and a shining light in the Vale of Lorton for fifty years. Under the Superintendency of the Rev. John Talbot. Workington was split off from the Whitehaven Wesleyan Circuit. and made the head of a circuit which included Maryport and all the Churches of the Cockermouth section. Under this new arrangement. both ministers were to live in Workington. so Cockermouth was again bereft of a resident minister.
The year 1841 saw the building and opening of the Market Street Chapel in Cockermouth. This was a triumph of faith. energy and generosity on the part of one man in particular, among many in general John Rigg, brother of the famous Tyson. The whole society, preceded by the ministers, marched in procession from High Sand Lane to Market Street. where the opening services were conducted by the Rev. Joseph Beaumont. M.D. – one of very few Methodist ministers ever to become also Doctor of Medicine, and thus able to tend both the souls and bodies of his people. In this year. preaching places at Applethwaite and Scarness appeared for the first time on the Wigton Circuit Plan, while a society had also sprung up at Wallthwaite, between Keswick and Penrith. In 1842, or thereabouts, the official designation of the Wigton Circuit was altered to read “Wigton and Keswick,” and the Rev. James Harris, the junior minister, who received the princely stipend of £40 per annum, lodged with Mr. Robert Coupland, a pencil manufacturer. Meanwhile. in Cockermouth, the old Wesleyan Chapel in High Sand Lane had now been rented by the Primitive Methodists, who paid the sum of £10 a year for the privilege – this amount later being reduced to £5.
In 1843, a society suddenly appeared at Scales, absorbing the infant Wallthwaite society, and the members – on the crest of a wave of high enthusiasm – immediately set about building a Chapel; the building was completed and opened the same year, at a cost of £100. The first trustees were Joseph Gordon, Thomas Herd, Jacob Hewitson, Robert Coupland Featherstonehaugh Alexander, William Hodgson, Thomas Graves, William Benson, Matthias Mumberson, James Cowan, William Hunter and Simeon Graves. Soon after this. the preaching services at Scarness. which had been held in a farmhouse belonging to Stephen Graves. were moved to Robert Briscoe’s house in Bassenthwaite village. The society at Lorton was progressing well, and Mr. and Mrs. John Jennings and John Huntington, together with Peter Robinson, were leading lights in the society, Class leaders included Robert McDowell and his sister, Mrs. Clark; local preachers in membership with the society included Messrs. Grainger and Minnican, both of whom would frequently spend whole nights in prayer
for Lorton, and who also practised the declining custom of fasting. Robert Minnican once found himself in the Market Street pulpit at Cockermouth – a somewhat unusual occurrence; but, being in no sense overawed by the solemnity of the occasion, he said, plainly, to his hearers: “You may be used to wheaten-bread here, but this morning you must put up with barley-bread“! Another local preacher who was frequently in the Cockermouth pulpit at this period was John Talbot a Cockermouth schoolmaster. and father of the Rev. John Talbot-Superintendent of the Workington Circuit from 1840 to 1842. His best sermon was given from the Market Street pulpit; he was an eloquent preacher. normally needing no notes. but on this occasion. contrary to his usual custom. the sermon was elaborately prepared and carefully written out in full. He held his manuscript up, and read the whole sermon from beginning to end. so that his audience might hear every word perfectly. His subject was the character of St. Paul, and his reading was continuous – except for one break in the middle, when he lifted up his eyes from his notes. and said :
“Bless you, friends: if this sermon doesn’t do your souls good. it does mine“!
Meanwhile. out at Pardshaw, the work was prospering; the flock was well shepherded by Richard Bowman (who afterwards moved to Cockermouth). Joseph Bailey. Mrs. Wood, of Pardshaw Hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Shilton, of Branthwaite. At Eaglesfield, a Chapel was built and opened in 1845. It was very much a local effort – stone being given from an adjoining building which was being taken down; local farmers helped by carting materials to and from the scene of operations, and many members of the society gave voluntary help to the building work after their ordinary day’s labour was done. Some of those who helped were the Misses Grave. John Wright. John Fox (joiner). John Fox (shoemaker). Joshua and An” Gibson and their sons. Ballantyne White and his wife. Joseph Robinson and Henry Dallon – the last-named also rendering service, when the Chapel was in use, by striking up the note for the hymns on his pitch-pipe!
In the following year, a Wesleyan Chapel was built at Great Broughton – chiefly, it seems, through the efforts of the brothers John and Tyson Rigg. A great worker in the Broughton society at that time was Alexander Shepherd, who later met a tragic death in the limestone quarry at Brigham. Mr. Joseph B. Thornburn, of Papcastle, though a member of the Cockermouth society. also did much pioneering and canvassing for Christ and Methodism in Great Broughton. The 1846 “Midsummer Tea” of the Keswick society was notable for the fact that the two “guest” preachers for the day-the Revs. W. Morley Punshon. of Whitehaven. and Thomas M’Cullagh, of Workington – were both destined to become Presidents of the Conference. and two of Methodism’s “giants” of the last century. In 1847, Grange makes its first appearance on the circuit returns-showing two members of society, and two more “on trial.” Services were held in the kitchen of Mr. Thomas Threlkeld’s house-and they continued to be held regularly on his property for nearly fifty years, until a Chapel was built. In 1848, a room at “The Hill.” Bassenthwaite. was registered for public worship by Jonathan Slater, on behalf of the local Wesleyan society. In the same year, a new preaching place at Newlands was established – but it did not remain for long. and was soon removed. Also that year, a young man from Dearham was placed on the preachers’ list, and for over fifty years afterwards. William Cameron gave unstinted service to his Church and Circuit – as local preacher, steward and class leader. In 1850. the Braithwaite society moved from their meeting place at the house of John Bailiff. Lane Foot, to their new Chapel completed at a cost of £70. The trustees of the new building were James Postlethwaite, Joseph Hodgson, Joseph Spark, John Lancaster, Matthias Mumberson, John Telford, William Postlethwaite, Matthew Lee, Joseph Robinson, William Jeffery and John Todd. At about this time too a small society was formed at Sunderland. and services were held in a farmhouse in the village.
We turn now to look back over the 1840s for a brief mention of some o[ the ministers who laboured in the district. Timothy R. Moxson was the junior minister in Keswick in 1844; Robert Raworth in 1845; and Joseph Hirst ministered in 1846. In 1848 and 1849. the junior ministers – William Williams and John Elam – for some reason were removed to Wigton – but Thomas H. Hill. in 1850 was stationed back in Keswick being followed, in turn, by James Chalmers. M.A. and Rupert Chawner. Superintendents of the Workington Circuit included Joseph Jackson – “a good man, but handicapped by being a heavy drinker“; Moses Rayner of whom a biographer declared: “He was humble, meek. forbearing, merciful, peaceable. fatherly, brotherly, sympathetic. helpful, humane, candid, good-tempered, true, honest, just, pure, lovely: he bore all things. believed all things, hoped all things. endured all things; was gentle, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” From that description, one feels it may safely be assumed that Moses Rayner was a good man! Then there was John Haigh -” rather stern and unapproachable”: James Lemmon -“a cheery personality, but without either gifts or vigour“; and also Hugh Johnson – but of him apparently the biographers have nothing to report. Junior ministers were, in succession, Michael Johnson, Thomas H, Walsh, Thomas M’Cullagh, John Parsons, William L, Horton and Edward Baylis. Of the last-named, it is recorded that he remained a bachelor all his life, and “if you had seen how far he reached his hand out to shake hands with a lady-you wouldn’t have been surprised“! Mr. Baylis. however ministered at Cockermouth in 1849-50 at a time when severe cholera was raging; there were many deaths and – a fact probably not unconnected – a great increase in both the number of, and attendance at, prayer meetings. Edward Baylis was a very devout man. often spending the whole of Saturday in prayer for Sunday – refusing even to have a letter sent in to him.
Meanwhile, the Primitive Methodists were letting no grass grow under their:. feet. In 1851, the society in Cockermouth finally bought the High Sand Lane Chapel from the Wesleyans; a slightly vernaculous entry in the Trust account book of the Wesleyan society shows the sum of £95 being received from the sale of the old Chapel to “The Ranters.” The first Primitive Methodist trustees of the Chapel were Thomas Littleton, farmer; John Bolton, threadmaker; Joseph Blacklock, hairdresser; William Fisher, weaver; Henry T. Frazer, threadmaker; Richard Clucas, hatter: John Ritson, painter; William Murray, miller; and John Clark, dyer. The Superintendent of the Primitive Methodist Circuit, who lived at Whitehaven, was a notable character named Joseph Spoor, who had the distinction of being as bald as a coot. One day, at an open-air meeting, a wag called out, “If thoo’lllet ma shy coins at thee shiny pate, I’ll pitch silver at tha’ “! Mr. Spoor readily consented, thus assuring himself of a good collection! It was probably Mr. Spoor who started-or re-started-the holding of Primitive Methodist services in Little Broughton, between the years 1850 and 1852. Meetings were held in the houses of Robin Iredale. John Oglethorpe and Lancaster Todd. At a class-meeting in the house of the last-named, in 1852. a youth called John Snaith was soundly converted, afterwards joining the society. He later became a Primitive Methodist minister, the first of a long line of ministers and
workers in Methodism-one of his grandsons being the Rev. Dr. Norman H. Snaith, M.A., of Wesley College. Headingley, Leeds-one of the foremost Hebraic and Old Testament scholars of the present day. A hired local preacher-or lay agent-named Joseph Jobling did good work in helping to establish Primitive Methodism at Little Broughton: and he was also instrumental in establishing a Primitive Methodist society in Keswick in the mid-1850s. He secured a room over a stable in Head’s Lane, Keswick. and carefully gathered and nurtured there a growing society, despite vehement interruptions from the gentleman who used the stable below the meeting-room, and who-perhaps not unnaturally-objected strongly to Mr. Jobling’s custom of emphasising points in his sermons by repeated stamping of the feet!
And now our story reaches a climax. The Rev. Robert Brown, junior minister of the Workington Wesleyan Circuit, was stationed in Cockermouth in 1852. He was much exercised, both in mind and feet, by the great distances involved in travelling over the wide circuits of West Cumberland: and he it was who eventually devised, and submitted to Synod, a plan involving the re-organisation of Methodism in the district. Under his plan. Workington ceased to be a circuit on its own. and was rejoined to Whitehaven; Cockermouth became a circuit, together with Keswick; and Maryport was joined to the Wigton Circuit, in place of Keswick. This plan was adopted by the Synod and the Conference of 1854. Thus, the Cockermouth and Keswick Circuit was born in August of that year, and the beacon was now at full blaze.
Parts II and III can be found on another page