I’m currently walking in a big circle round England (and a little bit of Wales). Bear with me here, this is not a walk description! The point is, the other day I walked past a village called Mow Cop in Cheshire, which is reckoned to be the birthplace of Primitive Methodism. People discontented with other forms of religion held a camp there in 1807, addressed by a preacher called William Clowes.
Next day, and a few miles further on, I happened across a Chapel and adjoining museum devoted to… Primitive Methodism. As I rested my weary limbs that evening, I got wondering about this movement, and about the aforementioned William Clowes. So I looked him up in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (I don’t carry the 62 volumes in my rucksack, you understand – it’s an online resource made available to members by Westminster Libraries, so a smart phone or other web access is all you need).
Well, this Clowes was quite a character. Born the son of a potter in Burslem, Staffs, he “was considered one of the finest dancers in his neighbourhood and for many years led a dissipated life, but on 20 January 1805 he was converted during a prayer meeting.” He started preaching as a Wesleyan Methodist, but his style didn’t fit, so he upped and went off to Mow Cop to meet with like-minded malcontents. He was then a leading light in Primitive Methodism, as it became known, until just before his death in 1851. Another nugget from the ODNB states that he “was a man of strong common sense and of great persuasive powers [who] was twice married” (he left his first wife after an argument with his mother-in-law). You couldn’t make it up.
(PS A colleague tells me that you can actually search for Primitive Methodists as a group, using one of the ODNB’s advanced search options. I tried it – she’s quite right, it works, the clever girl! And that’s just the start – unlike using the paper version, you can do amazingly complex searches of the ODNB without knowing anyone’s name. There are lots of search options, including “field of interest”, dates, gender, places… the list goes on. I found four female Baptists with a connection to the world of art, alive in the first half of the 19th Century. The possibilities are endless.)