Saul Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

There is nothing very time-worn about Methodism; it is only 140 years old; but during that period its admirers have contrived to split numerous hairs, and have extended very fairly what is known as “the dissidence of dissent.” The ring of Methodism includes many sections: it embraces, amongst others, ordinary Wesleyans, Bryanites, New Connectionists, Primitives, United Free Church men, and Independent Methodists. They can’t all be right; but they think they are; and that is enough. They have as yet requested nobody to be responsible for them; and weighing that over well, the fairest plan is to let the creed of each alone – to condemn none, to give all legitimate chance, and permit them to “go on.” Antique simplicity seems to be the virtue of those whom we have now to describe. And yet there is nothing very ancient about them.

There is more in the sound than in the name of primitive Methodists. They are a comparatively young people with a somewhat venerable name. It was not until 1810 that they were formed into a society. Originally they were connected with the Wesleyan Methodists; but they disagreed with them in the course of time, and left them eventually. The immediate cause of separation was, we are informed, a dispute as to the propriety of camp meetings, and the utility of female preaching. The Wesleyans couldn’t see the wisdom of such meetings nor the fun of such preaching: probably they thought that people could get as much good as they would reasonably digest in regular chapel gatherings, and that it was quite enough to hear women talk at home without extending the business to pulpits. The Primitives believed otherwise – fancied that camp meetings would be productive of much Christian blissfulness, and thought that females had as much right to give pulpit as caudle lectures. With a chivalry nearly knightly they came to the rescue, and gave woman a free pass into the regions of language and theology. A third point of difference had reference to the representative character of Wesleyan conferences; but into that question we need not enter.

The first regular quarters of Preston Primitive Methodism were in Friargate, in a yard facing Lune-street – in a small building there, where a few men with strong lungs and earnest minds had many seasons of rejoicing. The thermometer afterwards rose; and for some time a building which they erected in Lawson-street, and which is now used as the Weavers’ Institute, was occupied by them. Often did they get far up the dreamy ladder of religious joy, and many a time did they revel with a rich and deafening delightfulness in the regions of zeal there. They were determined to “keep the thing warm,” and to let outsiders know that if they were not a large, they were a lively, body. Primitive Methodism does not profess to be a fine, but an earnest, thing – not a trimmed-up, lackadaisical arrangement, but a strong, sincere, simple, enthusiastic species of religion. It has largely to do with the heart and the feelings; is warm-natured, full of strong, straightforward, devotional vigour; combines homeliness of soul with intensity of imagination; links a great dash of honest turbulence with an infinitude of deep earnestness; tells a man that if he is happy he may shout, that if under a shower of grace he may fly off at a tangent and sing; makes a sinner wince awfully when under the pang of repentance, and orders him to jump right out of his skin for joy the moment he finds peace; gives him a fierce cathartic during conversion, and a rapturous cataplasm in his “reconciliation.”

Primitive Methodism occupies the same place in religion as the ballad does in poetry. It has an untamed, blithesome, healthy ring with it; harmonises well with the common instincts and the broad, common intuitions of common life; can’t hurt a prince, and will improve a peasant; won’t teach a king wrong things; is sure to infuse happiness amongst men of humbler mould. Its exuberance is necessary on account of the materials it has to deal with; its spiritual ebullitions and esctacies are required so that they may accord with, and set all a-blaze, the strong, vehement spirits who bend the knee under its aegis.

Primitive Methodism has reached deeper depths than many other creeds – has touched harder, wilder, ruder souls than nearly “all the isms” put together. It may not have made much numeric progress, may not have grown big in figures nor loud in facts, but it has done good – has gone down in the diving bell of hope to the low levels of sin, and brought up to the clear rippling surface of life and light many a pearl which would have been lost without it. Primitive Methodism is just the religion for a certain class of beings just the exact article for thousands who can’t see far ahead, and who wouldn’t be able to make much out if they could. There are people adoring it who would be stupid, reticent, and recalcitrant under any other banner, who would “wonder what it all meant” if they were in a calmer, clearer atmosphere – who would be muddy-mottled and careless in a more classical and ambrosial arena. After this learned morsel of theorising, we shall return to the subject.

In 1836 the Primitive Methodists left their Lawson-street seminary and pitched their tent eastwards – on a piece of land facing Saul-street and flanking Lamb-street. Its situation is pretty good, and as it stands right opposite, only about eight yards from, the Baths and Washhouses, we would suggest to the Saul-street brethren the propriety of putting up some sign, or getting some inscription made in front of their chapel, to the effect that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” and that both can be obtained on easy terms. The chapel is a very ordinary looking building, having a plain brick front, with sides of similar material, and a roof of Welsh slate, which would look monotonous if it were not relieved on the western side by 19 bricks and two stones, and on the eastern by four stones, one brick, and a piece of rod-iron tacked on to keep a contiguous chimney straight.

The chapel has a somewhat spacious interior; and has a large gallery fixed on six rather slender iron pillars. The pews have at some time had one or more coats of light delicate green paint – the worst colour which could be chosen for endurance – put upon them, and many are now curiously black at the rear, through people leaning back against them. A glance round shows the various sombre places, and their relative darkness gives a fair clue as to the extent of their use. At one end there is a small gallery for the choir and the organ, and in front of it the pulpit, a plain moderately-subtantial affair, is located. The organ is a very poor one. It has a tolerably good appearance; but it is a serious sinner with reference to its internal arrangements. We quietly examined it very recently, and should have gone away with a determination not to be comforted if an intimation had not been made to the effect that “the organist was organising a plan for a new organ,” and that there was some probability of a better instrument being fit up before very long. The members of the choir are of a brisk, warbling turn of mind, and can push through their work blithely. The singing is thoroughly congregational – permeates the whole place, is shot out in a quick, cheerful strain, is always strong and merry, is periodically excellent, is often jolly and funny, has sometimes a sort of chorus to it, and altogether is a strong, virtuously-jocund, free and easy piece of ecstacy which the people enjoy much. It would stagger a man fond of “linked sweetness long drawn out,” it might superinduce a mortal ague in one too enamoured of Handel and Mozart; but to those who regularly attend the place, who have got fairly upon the lines of Primitive action, it is a simple process of pious refreshment and exhileration.

The chapel will hold between 700 and 800 persons; if hydraulicised 1000 might be got into it; but such a number is rarely seen in the place; and the average attendance may be set down at about 600. There are about 400 members in connection with the place, and they respectively contribute 1d. per week towards the expenses. We may here remark that in Preston there are two Primitive Methodist chapels, that in Saul-street being the principal one. The “circuit” runs mainly westward, its utmost limit in that direction being Fleetwood. Formerly three ministers were stationed at Saul-street chapel; but two are now considered sufficient; and they are, as a rule, married men, the circuit being considered sufficiently large to keep parties in the “olive branch” category. In the whole circuit there are between 700 and 800 “members.”

The congregation of Saul-street chapel is almost entirely of a working-class character. In the front and on each side of the body of the building there are a few free seats, which are mainly used by very poor humble-looking people. The ministers are the Rev. J. Judson, who is the superintendent, and the Rev. W. Graham. They are paid on a systematic and considerate plan. Money is given to them to accordance with the number of their family. They get so much per head – the more numerous the family and the larger the pay becomes. But it is not very extraordinary at the best of times; and if even a preacher happened to have a complete houseful of children, if his quiver were absolutely full of them, he would not be pecuniarly rich.

The bulk of Primitive Methodist preachers are taken from the working classes, and the pay they receive is not more than they could earn if they kept out of the ministry altogether. They become parsons for the love of “the cause,” and not for loaves and fishes. Reverting to Mr. Judson, it may be said that he is a quiet, earnest, elderly, close-shaven, clerical looking gentleman – has a well-defined, keen solemnity on his countenance, looks rather like a Catholic priest in facial and habilimental cut, is one of the old school of Primitive preachers, is devout but not luminous, good but not erudite, is slow and long-drawn in his utterances, but he can effervesce on a high key at intervals, and can occasionally “draw out” the brethren to a hot pitch of exuberance. His general style is sincere; he means well; but his words, like cold-drawn castor oil, don’t go down with overmuch gusto.

The junior preacher – Mr. Graham – is more modernised in manner and matter. He is an earnest, thoughtful, plodding man, can preach a fair sermon tears a little sometimes, and can “bring down the house” in tolerably good style. Both of them are hard workers, both are doing good, and neither must be despised on account of humility of position. Primitive, like Wesleyan, preachers are changed periodically; superintendents can, under certain conditions, stay at one place for three years, but no longer; junior men have to cut their straps every two years. Since this description was first published both the ministers named have gone; the Rev. Thomas Doody having succeeded as superintendent, and the Rev. John Hall as junior.

Mr. Doody is a middle-aged gentleman, is a pretty good preacher, has considerable zeal in him, and fires up more energetically than his predecessor. Mr. Hall is a young man with a rather elderly look. His style is discursive, his lucid intervals not as electrical as those of some Primitive parsons, but he is a good fellow, and if he had more physical force and more mental condensation be would “go down” better. There are numerous collections, some fixed, and some incidental, at Saul-street, and on special occasions they can raise sums of money which would put to the blush the bulk of loftier and more “respectable” congregations. Not much time is lost by the Saul-street Primitives: every Monday evening they have preaching at the place; on Tuesday evening three or four class meetings, in which singing, praying, and talking are carried on; on Wednesday ditto; on Thursday evening the singers work up their exercises; on Friday evening there is a meeting of leaders, or committee men; on Saturday evening a band of hope meeting; and on Sundays they are throng from morning till night.

Their prayer meetings are pious and gleeful affairs. Throughout the whole of such gatherings, and in fact generally when prayer is being gone on with, the steam is kept well up, and the safety valve often lifts to let off the extra pressure. Sharp shouts, breezy “Amens,” tenderly-attenuated groans, deep sighs, sudden “Hallelujahs,” and vivacious cries of “Just now,” “Aye,” “Glory,” “Yes,” “Praise the Lord,” &c. – all well meant – characterise them. But prayer meetings are not half so stormy as they used to be; twenty or thirty years since they were tremendously boisterous; now, whilst a fair amount of ejaculatory talk is done at them, they are becoming comparatively quiet, and on Sundays only a few of the old-fashioned and more passionately devoted members make noises. Love feasts are held occasionally at Saul-street as at all other Primitive Methodist chapels. The “members” give their “experience” at these gatherings – tell with a bitter sorrow how sinful they once were, mention with a fervid minuteness the exact moment of their conversion, allude to the temptations they meet and overcome, the quantity of grace bestowed upon them, the sorrows they pass through, and the bliss they participate in. We have heard men romance most terribly at some of these love feasts; but we are not prepared to say that anybody does so at Saul-street Chapel.

Immediately adjoining the chapel there is a large and well made building, which has only been erected about two years. The lower portion of it is used for class rooms; the upper part is appropriated for Sunday school purposes. The average attendance of scholars is 350. Belonging the school there is a good library. The building cost about £1,000 and is entirely free from debt. Considering everything the Saul-street Primitives are doing a praiseworthy work; they may lack the spiciness and finish of more fashionable bodies; they may have little of that wealthiness about them which gives power and position to many; but they are a class of earnest, useful, humble souls, drawing to them from the lowly walks of life men and women who would be repelled by the processes of a more aesthetic and learned creed. We have a considerable regard for Primitive Methodism; in some respects we admire its operations; and for the good it does we are quite willing to tolerate all the erratic earnestness, musical effervescence, and prayerful boisterousness it is so enamoured of.