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The Wesley Historical Society Welcomes You and Values Your Interest

The Wesley Historical Society was founded in 1893 for the advancement of interest in the history of all branches of the Methodist Church.

Rev John Wesley
1703 - 1791

Rev John Wesley
'I look upon the whole
world as my parish'

Rev Charles Wesley
1707 - 1788

Rev Charles Wesley
'God buries His workmen,
but carries on His work'

Wesleyan and Methodist heritage is an integral part of the history of countries worldwide and we welcome everyone who is interested in their own roots, culture and history to visit the pages in this web site.

Please note the following changes and click on the link for full details.

The 2022 Annual General meeting will now be a Zoom meeting at 2.00pm on Thursday 7th July.

The 2022 Conference and Annual Lecture will now take place on Friday 17th June, at the New Room, Bristol


To book to join the Annual Meeting via Zoom and/or the Conference see Events page or click here.

The Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, Cumulative Index to Volumes 51 to 60,
is now available on the Biblical Studies.org.uk website. The direct link is https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/whs/51-60-index.pdf

Do you have a query? See the "Frequently Asked Questions" on the About Us page.


HUGH BOURNE : 250 years on


Hugh Bourne was born in North Staffordshire on 3rd April 1772 and was associated with the movement of revival called Primitive Methodism, which started in South Cheshire and the Potteries over 200 years ago; in this he played a central role, along with his colleague William Clowes, as co-founders of the movement, until his death on 11th October 1852. .

His parents made sure he had a good education, in a church school, reading from an early age, with books given to him by his mother including the life of saintly John Fletcher and the sermons of John Wesley. He trained as an engineer and millwright with his uncle. When he got to be a preacher, he travelled mostly on foot, upwards of 20 miles a day, leaving him with lifelong problems with his feet. For him, as for many of the early Primitive Methodists, the turning point came with a conversion experience similar to the one that John Wesley had in 1738, of an experience of the assurance of the forgiveness of sins.  He wrote: "I was able to believe in Christ with my heart ... the burden of my sin was quite gone."  After that he joined the society of Wesleyan Methodists at Burslem, attending their prayer meetings, listening to the sermons of the itinerant preachers and participating in the love feasts which were occasions of great spiritual renewal.

It was at Mow Cop a hill on the borders of Cheshire and Staffordshire that he preached for the first time in the open air, somewhat nervously on 12th July 1801. Mow Cop was that day "consecrated to the Most High". Someone later wrote that he "caused a camp-meeting to be held without a name!" Times were difficult; they were in the middle of the war with Napoleon and the government was afraid of any troubles at home. So open air preaching, especially if it involved ordinary uneducated people, especially when women too were involved, caused them to be anxious, even though the numbers of those converted and becoming members greatly increased. Nevertheless, the Wesleyan Methodists became increasingly cautious, not wanting to end up in jail or to have themselves banned from preaching. So when Bourne and others started to advocate for more open air preaching, for camp meetings and for the use of the gifts of the women preachers, then the more traditional Methodists drew back. Having met William Clowes a local potter in 1805 they took up the example of Lorenzo Dow the American evangelist who had come to the area. And on 31st May 1807 as many as 4,000 gathered to hear these preachers; many lives were changed. But the Wesleyan conference meeting in Liverpool that year outlawed camp meetings, declaring them to be "highly improper". And the Burslem Circuit meeting turned against Bourne and Clowes and turned them out. More camp meetings were held nearby, and at the Wrekin and elsewhere, which were equally successful. So, they were forced out of the chapels and into the kitchens and barns of their supporters. Many started to leave the Wesleyan chapels in disgust, not that they wanted to form a new denomination but to be true to their calling.

Camp meeting hymnals were gathered and published, based on the collection of songs that Lorenzo Dow, introduced. He was a revivalist preacher so eccentric that they called him "crazy Dow"!  He was republican by sympathy. The only Kingdom he believed in was the Kingdom of God calling the fire down from heaven like the prophet Elijah.

People often asked, when did the Primitive Methodist Connexion come into being? And why Primitive Methodists? Well, the name came from John Wesley when he reminded his followers that they should go back to the primitive simplicity of the early days of Christianity and of the Methodist movement.  The Connexion emerged over a whole decade, from the first camp-meeting at Mow Cop in 1807, to the formation of the first circuit and printing of class tickets in 1811, to the first assembly or Conference held in Hull in 1820. By then they took on the shape of their rivals the Wesleyans. But the Prims were very different in the way they used the gifts of lay people and the status of the itinerant preachers. Bourne and Clowes weren`t the first Presidents of the Connexion but from the beginning took on the leadership roles as servants of the local circuits and evangelists. Hugh, with his brother James, did much of the work on the publications, of magazines, and tracts, and hymnals which resourced the movement, many of them printed on the press at the family farm at Bemersley.

Inevitably money was short, and the preachers were not given much to keep themselves - they needed other employment to support their ministries. Many of their members were poor and illiterate, in contrast to the rather better off Wesleyans. But they were initially content to be a people on the move without the debts of building large chapels around their necks. Primitive Methodism moved rapidly beyond rural Cheshire and Staffordshire, to the towns of Derby and Nottingham and beyond as the word spread with the fire of their revivalist preaching and praying, in the way the Ranters did, loudly and enthusiastically. And thousands came to those early camp meetings becoming members of the growing number of societies, 16,000 in the first ten years.

Like most such movements which became denominations, it adopted the features of its parent church, with conference and districts and circuits, minutes and meetings, chapels and colleges, as Primitive Methodism grew.  By the time of Bourne`s death in 1852, it was the second largest nonconformist denomination in England. His legacy was to have founded a radical mostly lay-led movement which espoused temperance, workers` rights and the place of women in the church, which took root particularly amongst the miners and agricultural labourers of the industrial North and East Anglia and rural areas.

This 250th anniversary year gives Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum the opportunity to re-assess Bourne`s legacy and the contribution of the Primitive Methodists in British society. The year was launched with a conference at the John Rylands Library and Research Institute on 1st (Professor David Bebbington , Dr Jill Barber and the President of WHS Rev Dr Tim Macquiban being amongst the panel of speakers). On 3rd April a service was held at Englesea Brook celebrating his birth and life with a birthday cake in the cottage afterwards.  During the coming year a special exhibition will go on tour. For enquiries from those who would like to host it, please email director@engleseabrook.org.uk  and for further details,  please visit the website or contact the Museum on admin@engleseabrook.org.uk














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