« The Coming of Methodism to Weardale »
By H.K. (1898)

[original liberally illustrated with black-and-white photographs -- see below]
[visual emphasis added e.g.

The first Methodist preacher who visited Weardale was Christopher Hopper. Wesley says that in 1749 Mr. Hopper and John Brown came and preached among them. He adds that Mr. Hopper, though meeting with no encouragement at his first appearance in the dale, made several visits in the ensuing spring and summer. It was not, however, until the autumn of that same year that the great work of conversion began. Four then found peace with God and agreed to meet together. At the Christmas following there was another incursion of Methodist preachers. Hopper had crossed over the mountains from Allendale, and it was from the same quarter that the two exhorters set out. Their coming was quite dramatic, and the tradition of it has perhaps for that reason been cherished. Before entering the dale they knelt down in the snow and earnestly besought the Lord that He would incline some person, who was worthy, to receive them into his house. At the first house where they called they were bidden welcome, and they stayed there four days. Wesley adds, "Their word was with power, so that many were convinced, and some converted to God. One of these exhorters was Jacob Rowell. They continued their visits, at intervals, all winter. In the beginning of summer about twenty lively, steady people were joined together. From that time they gradually increased to thirty-five, and continued about that number for ten years. There was then a remarkable revival among them, by means of Samuel Meggot, so that they increased to eighty; but, four years since (this was written in 1772) they were reduced to sixty-three. From that time they increased again, and were, in August, 1772, an hundred and twenty."

It was rough work travelling up and down the dales and across the mountains in those days. Mr. George Story, who was Samuel Meggot's colleague in the circuit, says, "I exerted myself much above my strength both in preaching and travelling, often venturing in tempestuous weather over those dreary fells when even the mountaineers themselves durst not. I was frequently in danger of being swallowed up in the bogs, or carried away by the torrents. Sometimes I have rode over valleys where the snow was eight or ten feet deep, for two or three furlongs together." And then he adds, "When the danger was most imminent, I not only found a calm resignation, but a solid rejoicing in the God of my salvation."

These early Methodist preachers had a great many discouragements, as we may gather from the old records. There were dull times then, as now, and long periods when the people did not get converted, and sometimes disaster in the societies, and quarrelling and the outbreak of wild fanaticism that would not be controlled, and dry-rot in the classes. But then, ever and anon, there came a time of refreshing, when the Divine power descended on the assembly, and people dropped down one after the other, crying for mercy, and the work revived, and spread through the dale, and the society was doubled, and God made His servants to understand that they were not forsaken and that their work was not a failure.

Mr. Christopher Hopper's account differs in certain material respects from Wesley's. It seems certain that there was a still earlier visit in 1748, and that this was really the beginning of Methodism in Weardale. Mr. Thompson, who, judging from the notes he has given me, has tested everything by most careful inquiry up and down the dale, where traditions are consistent and likely to be reliable,, because the people have intermarried and the facts of local history have come down from father to son - Mr. Thompson says that Christopher Hopper was the first Methodist preacher who visited the dale, that he came in 1748, and that he crossed over from Allendale.

This Christopher Hopper was the apostle of Methodism through a large section of the North country. We meet the abiding fruits of his work far and near around Newcastle, in co. Durham, and in Lancashire, Cheshire, and elsewhere, as far as Bristol. He was a Durham man, born at Low Coalburne, in the parish of Ryton, in 1722. A farmer's son, through the years of his early youth he lived a wild, rollicking life. It was through the coming of John Wesley to Newcastle-upon-Tyne that he became converted. He was one of the earliest of the Methodist preachers, making his own "round," without stipend or steward, going forth at his own charges, enduring hardness, passing not infrequently through tornadoes of persecution, and not strange to fightings within. Here is a glimpse - and it refers to the very year (1748) with which we are concerned - of the sorrows through which these heroic pioneers of Methodism passed. "My little substance," he writes, "soon failed, and I saw nothing before me but beggary and great afflictions. Sometimes I was carried above all earthly objects, and had a comfortable view of the heavenly country. At other times I was much depressed, and I could see nothing but poverty and distress." It must be remembered that he was a married man, and that in the interests of the preaching, at a time when there was no income for any preacher, he had given up his school and come to the dales - led by the good hand of God as surely as was St. Paul when he went forth into the mountains of Asia Minor.

"I well remember," he adds, "once, on the top of a cold mountain, in a violent storm of snow, when the congealed flakes covered me with a white mantle, Satan assaulted me, and pushed me hard to return to my school, or some other business to secure bread. I staggered through unbelief, and almost yielded to the tempter. But as the attack was sudden, so the battle was soon over. The Lord sent these words to my heart, like lightning. 'When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything ? And they said, Nothing, Lord.' I answered with a loud voice, 'Nothing, Lord ! Nothing, Lord !' All my doubts and fears vanished in a moment, and I went on my way rejoicing !

  " 'Constrain'd to cry by love Divine,
   My God, Thou art for ever mine.' "

As I have followed in the footsteps of Christopher Hopper, and stood on the very spot where he opened the Methodist commission in Weardale, I have wondered at the story of the heroic life work of these pioneer preachers - literally without purse or scrip, absolutely cast on the fidelity of their God. If any village Methodist should be harassed by an empty-headed Ritualistic curate with the taunt that Methodism is a schism and no part of the true Church of Jesus Christ, let him take a dose of Christopher Hopper's Journal. He will find it in the "Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers." And then let him ask himself, and the devil, and the curate, and anybody and everybody who tries to stand between him and his God, "Was not this Methodist preaching of God ?" If ever a Church could trace up the history of its founding to the right hand of the Most High, to the Spirit of God who shapes all human ends to Divine purposes, it is the Church of the Wesleys and Christopher Hopper and the heroes of the great Dales in the North Country. The young Methodists of to-day in all the Dales, from Wharfedale to Weardale, have reason to be proud of their ancestry.

In 1748 Christopher Hopper pitched his preaching tent in Allendale, forming, straight out of hand, four societies. "In the latter end of this year," he says, "I visited Weardale. Some of the brethren attended me from Allendale.

"It was in a storm of snow that we crossed the quagmires and enormous mountains. When we came into the dale we met with a very cold reception. The enemy had barricaded the place, and made his bulwarks strong. But the Lord made way for His troops. He opened the heart of a poor Scotch shepherd to receive us into his little thatched cabin, where we lodged all night.

"The next day I preached under the walls of an old castle. A few children and two or three old women attended, who looked hard at us. When I had done we followed them into their houses, and talked freely to them in their own language, about the kingdom of God. They heard and obeyed the Gospel. The next evening I had a large congregation, who heard with much attention, and received the Word gladly. Some time after I preached in private houses, alehouses, cockpits, or wherever I could find a door open. The fire then spread from heart to heart, and God was glorified.

On this account I may make two remarks. The latter portion refers, as it seems to us, to the work done by Christopher Hopper, which Wesley describes in his Journals and which all lay within the year 1749. For he says distinctly it was at "the latter end of the year 1749 I left the Dales and the dear children God had given me." Secondly, we can identify the place at which the preaching first began. It was "under the walls of an old castle." This locates it at Westgate - the village on the railway before you reach "St. John's Chapel." The old castle has vanished, leaving only mounds behind. But, by diligent inquiry on the spot, Mr. Hunter (the superintendent minister) and Mr. Thompson enabled me to discover the very spot on which Christopher Hopper must have stood - the spot that fulfils all the conditions, and the only one that does so. A fragment of the wall remains, overgrown now by a hedgerow, and immediately opposite there is an alley of very old cottage houses, at the end of which I set up the camera, and whilst my friends stood where they could command the houses - looking, by a curious coincidence, into the faces of "a few children and two or three old women," I took an excellent photograph, which was developed quite successfully one night in our Conference home at Hull. And then, alas, two accidents befell the negative, and it was smashed beyond recovery. However, we now know the very place where Weardale Methodism was born, and fortunately, in the landscape photograph of Westgate, taken by the side of the mill stream that rushes down to the Wear, the old houses in front of which Christopher Hopper preached are included.

The story of Methodism in Westgate would itself make a chapter in WINTER NUMBER, a chapter which my friend, the Rev. J. Conder Nattrass, who is proud to think of Westgate as his ancestral home, ought some day to write. There is a tradition in Weardale, so Mr. Thompson informs me, that Mr. Hopper was so pleased with the kind reception he met with from the people of the dale on his first visits, that subsequently when coming over from Cumberland, as soon as he reached the boundary between the counties, he commenced singing: -

  "The promised land from Killhope top,
   I now exult to see;
My hope is full ! (O Glorious Hope),
   Of good spice cake and tea."

Wesley, who always had an eye for the beautiful, thus described the view from Pike Law when he came over from Teesdale: "From the top of the next enormous mountain we had a view of Weardale. It is a lovely prospect. The green gently rising meadows and fields, on both sides of the little river clear as crystal, were sprinkled over with innumerable little houses, three in four of which (if not nine in ten) are sprung up since the Methodists came hither. Since that time the beasts are turned into men, and the wilderness into a fruitful field."

And this is what the good man says about the people, especially the young people. He had been preaching at High House, and there was so great a multitude that they could not get into the chapel. So he preached again the next day, and then adds, "On Thursday at five o'clock I took my leave of this blessed people. I was a little surprised, in looking attentively upon them, to observe so many beautiful faces as I never saw before in one congregation, many of the children in particular, twelve or fourteen of whom (chiefly boys) sat full in my view. But I allow, much more might be owing to grace than nature, to the heaven within, that shone outwards."

At Eastgate, which is the next station beyond Westgate travelling from St. John's Chapel, there is a remarkably fine specimen of an old Weardale farmhouse. It is rich in Methodist associations. The late Mr. Emerson Bainbridge, father of Mr. T. H. Bainbridge, of Newcastle, was born there. I was told by the circuit steward, who now lives in the house, that the room in which Mr. Bainbridge, sen., was born is the little bedroom on the ground floor behind the black oak panelling in the great house-place, a photograph of which I was kindly permitted to take. The camera stood by the door of the little bedroom. That house-place is one of the sacred spots in the history of Methodism. It was one of the farm kitchens of the olden time to which the neighbours used to come for the Methodist preaching, precisely as the early Christians of Colosse used to come to the house-place of Philemon, in which Luke the evangelist and most of the famous preachers of that day proclaimed the evangel of Jesus Christ. When you stand inside that glorious farm kitchen you feel as though you would like to make it your home to the end of your days. As I took the photograph the place was filled with the delicious aroma of the bread-baking. The young daughter of the house, as I was told by her mother, had just distinguished herself by taking the first prize offered by the County Council for butter-making. You may see father and mother and daughter standing on the little islet above the waterfall, which is close to the farmhouse. The Bainbridge Memorial Chapel, in the same village, was erected by the generosity of the Bainbridge family, in memory of their grand-father, Mr. Cuthbert Bainbridge, whose name is fragrant in the Methodism of all this country side.

The number of ministers and laymen of note who have been raised in the dales is simply bewildering. I stood one day close to the manse of St. John's Chapel. Behind me at Hilltop, nestling among the sheltering fir trees, was the farmhouse in which the late Rev. William Gibson's father was born, who, like his son, was also a Wesleyan minister. In Pryse House, now the manse, died Joshua Dawson, the father-in-law of the Rev. Thomas Cook. Across the valley on the hillside of High House I could see the birthplace of the Rev. Joseph Race, who died in China. At the Hermitage across the river the Philipsons lived, and below, at the foot of the hill, the brother of the Rev. Thomas Nattrass was harvesting the hay. At Middle-Rigg, below Ling Riggs, not far away, the Rev. Featherstone Kellett was born; at Burnhope, the Rev. Thomas Thompson; at Ling Riggs, the Revs. Joseph and George Watson and Dr. John Watson; at Westhall, beyond Wear Head, the Rev. Jonathan Hewitson; at Stanhope, the Rev. William Wallace; and in the neighbourhood at Eastgate, the Rev. George Golightly. I do not suppose that this by any means exhausts the list. The dale literally teems with Methodist associations.

I have a few notes with reference to two of the names mentioned above.

John Kellett was born a year before the death of Wesley. He was a prominent member of the High House Society for upwards of seventy years, for nearly sixty years a local preacher, and for fifty years a class-leader. Left an orphan at twelve years of age, his advantages in early life must have been meagre. He married early, and not long after was led to think upon his ways. Under deep conviction he sought out a little band of Methodists who met in a class at Lowburn. They heartily welcomed him to their meetings and led him to Christ. He united himself to the people, and for seventy years continued a firmly attached member of the Methodist Society. The dalesmen remember with pride to this day that John Kellett was a zealous servant of the Divine Master, never whiling away time, never triflingly employed. He was a reader, and according to his opportunity, I am told, a great reader. The little cottage in which he lived, now in ruins, I looked upon with reverence, and thought of the good man living sparely, and, in the leisure hours of a busy life, studying Wesley, Fletcher, Benson, and Clarke - his great authorities on Christian doctrine - the men who taught him how to teach the people on all that country side, and how to teach the boy who was destined to go forth into a wider sphere preaching the Gospel in the greatest chapels of Methodism, and, in his turn, training sons who were destined to teach in one of the greatest schools of English learning and, one of them, the sons of Brahmins in the University of Madras. No wonder that Featherstone Kellett and his sons love Weardale and are proud of the memory of brave old John Kellett.

I may add that the Hill House [1] minister's house of the olden time still survives. It adjoins the chapel at the back. In this tiny house lived the Rev. W. Hirst, and, later, the Rev. W. Rodwell Jones. The little daughter of the latter, at that time one of two, is still remembered in the Dale. She has since become famous in literature as "Dora M. Jones." In those days there was a little shop under the minister's house. The shop window - a very tiny window - may be seen in the photograph.

John Kellett was a practical preacher, and always more anxious to lead his hearers to repentance and rectitude of life than to please their fancy. He preached in the dialect of his native valley. As he was wont to say, his aim was to be understood in speaking for his Lord rather to employ fine words, or to round his periods. He was a sturdy Methodist of the olden type, a firm believer in Methodist doctrine and polity - a Methodist by intelligent choice. Upon Christ he based all his hope of everlasting life with God in heaven. He was not always what could have been desired in word and temper, and sometimes unfortunate expressions would occasion feelings not of the pleasantest among his brethren. But when the breeze subsided no one was more ready to accept, or to give, the reconciling word. He was conscious of weakness, and therefore, though a thorough believer in the higher life, he never felt that he could venture to profess it. He was a diligent attendant at prayer-meetings and week-night services in his own locality, and often walked miles from home to preach in cottages. Throughout a large circle he visited the sick and dying and anyone who might be under conviction of sin. His manner was to impress people by relating striking instances which had come under his own observation. He had a quaint way of introducing incidents met with during his visits. He once caused a smile in a great public meeting at High House by commencing his speech thus: "I sometimes think that in some respects Satan and I are not unlike each other. Satan went to and fro and up and down the earth, and so do I - but to undo what Satan has done." And then he narrated remarkable facts he had met with in his travels. John Kellett has an honoured place amongst the planters of Methodism in Weardale and the adjacent dales. He rests from his labours and his works do follow him.

Joshua Dawson belonged to a later generation of Weardale Methodists. He was born in 1821. His parents were connected with High House, and gave their children training according to the manner of the Methodists. Nevertheless, Joshua, in his youth, fell among evil companions and drank and fought. In a quarrel his leg was broken. Obliged to stay at home he began to improve himself in the rudiments of knowledge. His brother, who was a fair scholar, helped him. By the time he had recovered from his accident he thought himself competent to take charge of a school at Ireshopeburn. He married Miss Frances Tinniswood. She disliked his habits, but had boundless faith in his father's example and prayer. In 1844, just after their marriage, Scotch missionaries visited Weardale, and one night, under a sermon by Mr. Robertson, a Morrisonian Presbyterian, in High House Chapel, on the word "Eternity," the two young people gave their hearts to God. In this revival Featherstone Kellett, Thomas Nattrass (both of whom afterwards entered the ministry), with Mr. Thomas Hodgson, who became a useful local preacher and leader, and many others were converted. Joshua Dawson passed through terrible spiritual experiences at this time. "As he was coming the devil threw him down." But he was desperately in earnest for salvation, so earnest that he afterwards said to a friend, "I loved my wife as much as any man could love his wife, yet I could have left her, and home and friends, and could have gone to the uttermost parts of the earth and there dragged out a miserable existence alone, if only I might have been satisfied that God would save my soul." It occurred to him one day that some time before he had said to an employer of labour that which was not true about a man who had tried to injure him. It was only a trivial matter, yet he set off at once to Nent Head, a village about seven and a-half miles away over the mountains, that he might confess his sin and make restitution of character. "Now all this time," says Bunyan, and so also Joshua Dawson through these days and weeks of distress never ceased saying, "If I perish it will be crying out for God."

His life, of course, became entirely changed. But while reading the Word of God, Wesley's Sermons, and Christian Perfection, the Lives of John Smith, William Bramwell, Carvosso, and other Methodist biographies, he saw there was a higher state of grace, and rested not till he had obtained full redemption. Then he gave himself to the Word of God, and, along with Thomas Hodgson, Thomas Watson, and others, commenced prayer-meetings and cottage services. The result was a revival in which many were brought to God. He obtained permission from the minister to commence a new class-meeting, which became so large that it had to be held in the chapel. He spent much time in prayer, praying regularly with his scholars and even on the highway as he went to and from the school. On one occasion he had been home to dinner at Pryse. Starting for the school, which was about a mile distant, he began to pray aloud. When he reached Pryse Hill a tramp, sitting under the hedge, heard him, and had the wit to explain, "That's right, brother, I'm fasting and you're praying, so we'll both get to heaven."

Joshua Dawson's father was a local preacher, useful in his day, but by this time old and infirm. He asked Joshua to take an appointment for him at Burnhope. The son obeyed, and had a fairly good time. His first was his father's last appointment. Until his seventieth year, as a preacher he was in labours more abundant. From the first he was very successful in winning souls, both in his own and in adjoining circuits. After several years he extended the circle of his labours. For a while with Mr. John Clarke, of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, and afterwards for several years with Mr. Jabez Woolley, of Leeds, he laboured in towns and villages in various parts of the country. Few men have been more useful in bringing souls to Christ.

From the time of his conversion Joshua Dawson acknowledged God in all his ways, making every matter a subject of prayer. Soon after his marriage he was obliged to give up teaching at Ireshopeburn, a large school being built in the locality. He determined to commence business as a grocer. But he had no money. It occurred to him that if he only had five pounds he would be satisfied. One day he went into a room adjoining the post office and laid the matter before the Lord. While on his knees he received an impression that a letter had come for him. He rose, went into the post office, and found it was so. The letter contained a five-pound note from an unknown friend. Another friend called shortly after and offered to lend him £5 more. From that time God prospered him in all his undertakings, so that he was in a position to go forth preaching Christ at his own charges.

He was a generous man, and systematic in his generosity, giving a tenth of his income. He bought the house in which he lived, and carried on his business, adding a third storey, so that in the event of objection being taken to their preaching in the chapel, women might preach there. His house was the home of the preachers.

When sixty years of age he told his friends that he had an impression that he would live ten years more to go on with his beloved work. In 1883, however, he was suddenly seized with severe illness. He suffered much, and it seemed as though his end was near. One of his most intimate friends, after praying earnestly for his recovery, opened the Bible, as some of the early Methodist preachers used to do, and his eye fell upon the passage, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord." The message was fulfilled. Mr. Dawson's last mission was at Ormskirk. While there he attained his seventieth year. On the last Sunday he had a glorious time. Writing to his daughter, the widow of the late Rev. Joseph Race, he said, "Yesterday was the crowning day of my life." The next day there came a paralytic seizure, which ended his labours as an evangelist. Once he said to Mrs. Race, "If I had not had this extreme suffering it could hardly have been said I had gone up through much tribulation." Just before his death his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Tinniswood Dawson, asked "Is Jesus precious?" He answered "Yes." It was his last word. He passed peacefully away December 31, 1892, in the seventy-second year of his age.

Accompanying illustrations

~ Wapping Cottage, Westgate
~ Westgate Chapel
~ Mr. Emerson Bainbridge's Birthplace
~ The Linns, Eastgate
~ Kitchen of the Bainbridge Ancestral Home
~ The Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Chapel
~ The Minister's House behind
High House Chapel
~ The Parish Church, St. John's Chapel
~ Mr. Joshua Dawson's Shop at St. John's Chapel
~ Hilltop, the Home of the Gibsons
~ Pryse House

Source: The Methodist Recorder, No. 2044, 1898


(1) This may be a mistake: the author probably meant "High House".