According to the Liverpool district synod handbook 1929, Primitive Methodism came from Burland to Chester, via Huxley, chiefly from 1819, and the movement soon extended to the borders of Wales.
Here are some extracts from the Journal of John Ride, later known as ‘the apostle of Berkshire’: ‘Sunday 3 March, 1822, At 2 preached at Wrexham (a large market town in Wales) in the open air; and at 6 in a house. The meeting continued till 10 o’clock; many seeking souls.
‘March 4, Visiting the people from house to house at Wrexham; one woman born again. Thursday morning, 7 March, had a prayer meeting at Wrexham; at night preached at Lavister. It was a precious time … the saving power of God came down, five souls were born again, their evidences were clear and striking’.
The 1833 Magazine of Primitive Methodism (PM) carries this report from W. Holt: ‘Sunday 23 September 1832, Wrexham. The preaching room was well filled; the meetings were attended with divine power; and though we had not any converted, yet I believe the work of conviction is going on.
‘Monday 22 October 1832, Wrexham. Had great conflict in preaching, but felt the presence of the Lord at the prayer meeting after preaching. It was a powerful time; one man fell to the floor, and lay for a considerable time. When he came to, he lifted up his hands and his voice, blessing and praising God.
In December 1832 a PM chapel at Wrexham was opened. ‘The congregations were large, a cry for mercy was heard to burst forth from some who had long been impenitent, and the people of God shouted aloud for joy.
‘A gracious outpouring of the Spirit of God has been felt in Wrexham and its neighbourhood, and many sinners have been turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God’.
The 1833 Magazine reports: ‘Our brethren in Wrexham hold prayer meetings on Sunday mornings, with good effect, in the open air, in different parts of the town’.
Llay chapel was opened in August 1836; and in 1843 the chapel at Ffrwd. The Llay trustees were: John Rathbone, farmer, of Burton; John Thomas, labourer, of Rossett; and from Llay, John Davies, gardener; William Lewis, labourer; William Bayley, labourer; Edward Hughes, farmer; Robert Bellis, farmer; Thomas Ellis, wheelwright; and John Wynne, labourer.
William Lewis, William Bayley and Thomas Ellis were unable to sign their names and simply made a mark; John Davies’s name is written ‘Daveis’; and Robert Bellis seems to have been absent, as there is neither mark nor signature for him. The high proportion of labourers and men unable to write gives an indication of the social composition of the PM membership.
Alltami and nearby villages
In summer 1836, Henry Brining, a local preacher of Chester, with others, held a camp meeting with a large attendance in a field on Bryn-y-baal. More meetings followed and a society was formed, with regular preaching at the cottage of Kitty Howell, a woman mighty in prayer; and in a thatched cottage at Alltami. A PM chapel was opened in 1838.
The society at Buckley traced its origin to the efforts of the Alltami Primitives, assisted by others from Chester. There were open-air meetings in 1838 and occasional Sunday services in a house in the smelt yard were later transferred to the parlour of the Duke of York inn.
A chapel was built in 1841 on land given for it and the cause steadily grew, led by men with a burning zeal, such as Edward Davies, ‘fervent and mighty in prayer’, who was believed to have exercised his main influence in prayer meetings. There was such growth that by 1863 the chapel had to be considerably enlarged and, during the next decade, ‘an atmosphere of deep spirituality characterised the activities of the church’.
Prees Green PM circuit was formed from Burland in June 1825. PM had been established in Bronington, Flintshire, by 1824. The 1838 Magazine contains an obituary of Sarah Preston. It records that in 1822 William Doughty preached at Bronington and called at her home on visitation. Preachers came to the village and several people were converted, included Sarah in 1827. Her son Joseph (1803–96), born in Bronington, became a travelling preacher in 1824.
Edward Welch, born in 1770 in Bronington, opened his house for preaching, and became the leader of the society that was formed. His wife and four daughters were converted. In 1834 Thomas Adams wrote: ‘I preached his funeral sermon in the house in which he was born and in which he died, to an overflowing congregation, for he was much beloved both by saints and sinners’.
Bronington became part of the Prees Green circuit 1825. The 1850 Magazine reports on the opening of Bronington Chapel in the Prees Green circuit on Sunday 22 September 1850. ‘The preachers enjoyed much liberty and power while delivering their message of mercy to crowded congregations, who listened with deep attention, and whose streaming eyes and shouts of holy joy betokened that they felt it good to be there’.
The ground was bought for £8 by ‘Charles Taylor, Gentleman’ and the trustees were a limeburner, wheelwright, four farmers, a brick and tile maker, and four labourers.
By 1831 the Oswestry circuit’s branch included Llangollen, Knolton Bryn, Cloy, Ruabon, Halton Lane and Overton. A chapel was opened at Breaden Heath in November 1831. At 2.00pm many could not get in, and at 6.00pm there was an ‘immensely crowded’ congregation. Breaden Heath is partly in England and partly in Wales.
Oswestry became head of a new circuit in 1833, with a vigorous outreach to nearby Wales. The 1833 Magazine gives selections from the Journal of William Fitzgerald: ‘Wednesday 9 January 1833. Preached at the Sarn. A large congregation. A good time. Held a prayer meeting, many wept. One professed to be made happy.
‘Friday 11 January, Preached at Horse Moss Green. Had a good time in preaching from “Ye must be born again”. Wednesday 13 February, At Cloy chapel. The people here have joined fourteen in society this last quarter.
‘Sunday 24 February, At the Sarn. These people have formed a prayer meeting on the Sabbath morning. Sometimes one of the brethren gives a short exhortation. I went to the meeting and gave a short exhortation. This was a glorious time amongst us.
‘In the evening was assisted by Brother Eaches. We had a powerful meeting and many wept because of their sins. At night led the lovefeast. The people spoke with great liberty. The converting power of God came down, and many were brought to the ground. Some of the friends told me there were six converted to God.
‘Praise the Lord. In this place he is laying hold of our persecutors; in particular one young man who has been a great despiser of our people. It had pleased God to convert one of his sisters … and he said that if ever he should see her down, he would kick her…
‘On Sunday night he went to the meeting; he cried to God for mercy; the praying labourers prayed for him, and in a little time God, for Christ’s sake, set his soul at liberty. In this place we have hundreds coming to hear us. Our preaching house is not near large enough for the people; but our kind friend, Mr Holland, has fitted up his barn, which will hold some hundreds.
‘Monday 25 February, At Overton. A large congregation. The convincing power of God came down, and six or seven cried out for mercy, but did not get liberty. Here we are short of labourers’.
‘Wednesday 27 February, At the Sarn. I arrived at the place before the time, and it was crowded with people. [After the meeting] the people would not go away, so we formed two praying companies; the people prayed and sinners cried for mercy; and the friends told me that many were converted to God. Truly this was a powerful meeting. We intend to build a chapel here in the spring’.
The 1834 Magazine reports for August 17 that, ‘We held a small camp meeting near Penley. Brother Owens thought there needed a quickening in the neighbourhood, and we believe this meeting fully answered the end. The congregation was very attentive, and the preachers were blessed with liberty and power’.
The 1840 Magazine gives extracts from the 1838–9 Journal of William Doughty, a local preacher in the Oswestry circuit, who was an itinerant until 1825: ‘Sunday 9 September 1838, At Afoneithae at 2.30, and Rhosymedre at 6.30 … At the former place, numbers flocked in, and the house was filled.
‘Sunday 6 January 1839, Cloy Chapel 2.30 and 6. This afternoon it snowed heavy for a short time. At 1.30 I set off to visit as many families as I could. At 2.30 preached at the chapel; a mighty time; one man was much broken down.
‘Sunday 26 May 1839, At Knolton Bryn 2.30. There was a great melting down among the people, and the power of God was present to heal’.
The 1842 circuit report notes Sunday schools at Talwrn Green, Penley, Overton, Knolton Bryn, and Ruabon; and the preaching plan in 1845 includes Cloy, Knolton Bryn, Overton, Penley, Rhosymedre, Afoneithae, Ruabon, Halton, Pontfaen, Tallen Green and Higher Vron.
To be concluded
David M. Young
The author was for many years director of the Albanian Evangelical Mission. He lives in North Wales