Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A short biography of William Clowes

William Clowes became the apostle, leading evangelist and missionary pioneer of the Primitive Methodist movement, much like the apostle Paul. Known as apostolic Clowes, he preached in the open-air to vast crowds and saw many men and women come to faith in Christ.

William Clowes was born in 1780, in Burslem in North Staffordshire, which was the centre of the pottery making industry. He became a master potter by trade and earned a good wage. In his youth he led a decadent lifestyle marked by drunkenness, swearing and violence. He was often involved in fights and sometimes bore bruises all over his body. He wasted his money and ran into debt. He was also a champion dancer.

By nature he was an extrovert with a charismatic character. One writer says “He had a vivid, magnetic personality which seemed as though it could focus itself in his eye and concentrate in his voice.” He possessed that mysterious quality called charm.

For a period of time he went to live and work in Hull. There as a prank, he and other friends pretended to be members of a “press gang” who forced men into serving onboard naval ships in the port. This prank back-fired when after a fight in a pub, he himself was arrested by a real press gang, and he narrowly escaped being forced into a life at sea. He fled Hull the next morning, to return in very different circumstances in 1819.

At the age of 24 he had a long lasting conversion after attending a Wesleyan Methodist love-feast (communion service) on January 20, 1805. From that time he grew rapidly in his new found faith and soon became a Wesleyan Methodist class leader.

He joined with Hugh Bourne and others in promoting open-air Camp Meetings from 1807 onwards. Because of his involvement in, and commitment to these events, he was expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists in 1810. This expulsion resulted in Clowes and Bourne beginning a separate movement which took the name Primitive Methodism in 1812.

He traversed the cities, towns and villages of England. In each location and at each meeting he made handfuls of converts, and gathered followers who formed a local class meeting. Later, as these class meetings grew, local chapels were built.

His visit to Hull is typical of his method, when he arrived in January, 1819. With the reputation of the movement spreading far and wide, the cry soon went out that “a Ranter preacher” had arrived, and a lively crowd of the curious, the intrigued, rabble rousers and many others soon gathered around him.

Clowes records in his journal “On the very day of my entering into Hull I preached in an old factory in North-street. Vast numbers of people attended, many influenced by curiosity, others with an intention to create disturbance, having heard of the arrival of the “Ranter preacher ”; however, God was present in my first effort to make known the riches of his mercy, and the wicked were restrained, so the meeting terminated in peace and quiet.”

William Clowes preached in the open air, in the market place, in farmers’ fields, barns, sheds, factories or any other convenient location. In 1820, he preached in a theatre.Within four years there were over eight thousand members of this young and dynamic movement. He records that by 1826 from Hull, “twenty-one circuits had been made, with 8,455 members; … consequently, from January 12, 1819, the day when I began the Hull mission, a period of seven years and two months, the Hull circuit alone had raised up in the Primitive Methodist Connexion 11,996 souls ! Hosannah ! Hosannah!”

Later he went as an evangelist and missionary to London and Cornwall. As a result of the efforts of William Clowes and fellow travelling preachers the movement spread to many towns and villages in England.

He died in 1851 and the chapel in Hull is named the Clowes Memorial chapel in his honour.

More details in “The Journals of William Clowes”, originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (

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