A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRIMITIVE METHODISM IN CLOWNE by David Smith
Although the origins of the English Primitive Methodism are found in the famous camp meeting on Mow Cop in 1807, those of the Clowne Primitive Methodist Society, whilst coming some years after 1807, are no less interesting.
The Connexion had been in existence for ten years when one of its home missionaries, Jeremiah Gilbert, was sent from the Nottingham circuit to establish a mission in Sheffield. Gilbert was a typical "hellfire" preacher and during the course of his journey to Sheffield he stopped at the various towns and villages en route, to try to convert a few wayward sheep. All these stops were recorded in his journal and for Thursday, 15th June, 1820 we find an entry which states:
" I went to Clowne, got upon the cross, sang, went to prayer, gave an exhortation and soon concluded; but there was time for the Lord to work, for there was one woman who wept much".
It is claimed that the Society at Clowne was continuous from that date, however there is no documentary proof to support this. The earliest recorded evidence shows the existence of a Primitive Methodist chapel in 1829. Apparently the society paid 2½d per year in rates. There may have been two chapels within a few years of each other since the Ecclesiastical Census Return of 1851 dates the Primitive Methodist Chapel at 1834. Therefore, from this information, it is probably safe to assume that, the society dates from 1829 since the funds required to acquire church premises usually took some years to accrue. Whether the society was formed as a direct result of Gilbert's preaching will probably never be known. (In 1836 he was the Superintendent of the Chesterfield Circuit! He later became a supernumerary in the Chesterfield circuit where he died on 30th December,1852 aged 63years). The Society was one of eight which comprised the Chesterfield Circuit, and in a quarterly report of 1841 gets a mention as being without a Sunday School. Since there were very few members, this is hardly surprising. In September, 1842 there were seven approved members and one 'doubtful'. The quarterly allocation was ten shillings. By December the' doubtful' must have fallen by the wayside because only seven members were recorded and the quarterly allocation had dropped to 6/9d.
This slight decline followed a circuit trend. In March 1841, the circuit had 460 members, by July 1842 the total had fallen to 424. However the circuit was considered to be in a 'moderately prosperous state'.
Like the Wesleyan Society in Clowne, the Primitive Methodists had an influential family. That family was the Peppers. The two most noted members were Charles Pepper, a local preacher, and his son George who was born in 1827. George was probably a Society Steward since he filled in and signed the Ecclesiastical Census Return of April 1851. Like many Methodist families, the Peppers probably retained some sympathy with the Anglican Church in Clowne, since in 1836 Charles subscribed a shilling towards the installation costs of 'an efficient stove in the parish church'. It may be that they attended some services at the parish church, since the Primitive Methodists in Clowne only held one service at 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The Society must have increased in number considerably over the period from 1859 to 1880 - particularly in the 1870s for during this time the need for a new chapel arose and fund raising efforts for this were organised on the Society's calendar. This drive to raise money reached its climax between 1876 and 1878, during which time the new chapel was built and opened for use.
The events of 1876 are of interest, because they provide a sample of the fund raising techniques which our great grandparents used.
19 January 1876 saw two special Sunday services, with sermons preached by Mr Thomas Hipkiss. Collections were in aid of the New Chapel Fund. On the following day, there was a public tea, addressed by several noted Methodists from the locality. Their speeches were interspersed with anthems by the choir - which according to the "Derbyshire Times" were very heartily enjoyed. Once again the proceeds went to the New Chapel Fund.
Three months later, the chapel Anniversary services were held on Sunday 23 April, and were conducted by Rev John Brining of Sheffield. The old chapel was not big enough to accommodate the expected number of people, so the services were in Mr Earnshaw's room 'kindly lent' for the occasion. It is interesting to note that Mr Earnshaw is listed in the parish records as one of the local publicans!
On Monday 24 April the festivities continued in the form of a public spelling bee and tea, which were followed by musical entertainments. Spelling could not have been very popular in Clowne that day, for out of 100 people present only 10 took part in the competition for prizes of 10/-, 5/- and 2/6d. Only two people reached the final and both of these were under 8 years of age so the third prize was not awarded.
It was during the same week that the first decisive steps were taken towards the acquisition of new premises. Several Trustees of the new chapel visited their solicitors, Messrs Handley and Walkden, and paid £100 for seven hundred square yards of land on North Road, Clowne.
The actual construction began a few months later and the foundation stone was officially laid on 23 September 1876. A parade of scholars, teachers and members proceeded through the village led by the Harthill Brass Band - an event which, in the words of "The Derbyshire Times" - "created no little excitement amongst this quiet and out of the way spot". A Mrs H Charlesworth of Clay Cross laid the first stone and she subscribed £10 for the privilege. Thirty other stones were laid and a tea in Mr Earnshaw's room followed. The income from the afternoons events was expected to be in the region of £60.
The new building was finally opened in 1877. It was during the latter half of the 19th century that the colliery opened in Clowne and this, of course, brought an increase in population.