Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How a Primitive Methodist chapel was established in Shelford

(or how planting churches may not be easy)

By 1819 the Primitive Methodist Movement was expanding rapidly in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Wherever their travelling preachers went, new converts were made, and groups of believers were gathered to form a “society”. Over time a society would establish a chapel in a local town or village. This is the story of how a church was established in the village of Shelford by the Primitive Methodists (or Ranters as they were also known).

Shelford is a beautiful village near to Nottingham, in the UK. The river Trent flows downstream from Nottingham to Shelford. The problem at that time was that all the land around the village was owned by the Earl of Chesterfield, with only one acre not belonging to the estate. Furthermore, the Earl and the steward of his estate were hostile to the Primitive Methodist believers.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting in a basic thatched-roof house of Joseph Vickerstaff on the village estate. It was known as a “stud and mud” house, because of the simple construction. They began to use the house as a venue for a new church, and soon the Primitives became subject to severe persecution by the national church party in the village. In spite of various threats, the infant church continued to meet in this humble home. The persecution came to a head when workmen were sent to pull the house down and throw the Vickerstaff family and their furniture onto the street. The nominal justification was that the house degraded the amenity of the village.

The response was immediate: the Primitive Methodists began meeting in a similar mud and stud, thatched-roof home of Henry Fukes, also on the estate. The church continued to grow and develop with new converts being made. The persecution continued however and rage against the Primitives increased. Henry Fukes was threatened with the same fate as Vickerstaff, if he did not “turn those noisy people out”. Henry did not waiver in the face of threats to his “stud and mud” house, but finally the moment of crisis came. He returned home one evening to find that his house had been pulled down, and his wife and furniture having been ejected onto the road. They were provided with shelter and a home in the family of friends.

No sooner was this house levelled to the ground than the Primitive Methodists began to meet in the house of Matthew Woodward. This house was of much more robust construction, and there was no argument that demolishing the house would improve village amenity. However, Woodward was threatened and taken to court. He defended his case admirably in court and the magistrates found in his favour. It was then said “it is of no use tormenting ourselves with these incorrigible Ranters – we may pull half the village down and not get them out at last.” Then the church had respite from persecution, took root and grew.

However, the church struggled to find a plot of land upon which to build a chapel. So finally they purchased the watermen’s floating chapel at Nottingham and took it down the river Trent and located it at the edge of Matthew Woodward’s garden. They fitted out this boat and used it as an amphibious place of worship!

In the course of time, favour was shown by the steward of the Earl of Chesterfield, and they were given a site on which to build a neat brick chapel. And that is how a chapel came to be established in the very heart of the Earl of Chesterfield’s estate. Planting churches is easy, really!

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p347-350 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

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