P.M.World 3 Jan 1907 pp10/11

The Story of Primitive Methodism
in the Isle of Man.

By Rev. W. Curry.




For nearly twenty years the whole Island was one Circuit. This was the period of change, trial, and yet of triumph. The foundations had been laid and the structure put up hurriedly; time alone could test the nature of the ground and the quality of the stones. And it is to be feared that in some place the ground was a little sandy, and that all the stones were not fitly prepared for the spiritual temple. . Nor must we forget, in telling the story of this period, that the events of this little nation; history, especially in the former part of the period were of. the most distracting nature. It will, therefore, help us the better to understand our true progress if we can have before us a brief and general historical background*1.


The Island was practically private property, owned by the Duke of Athol who was called Lord of Man. Like many others who own large lands, all he seemed to care for was that the Island might minister to the. gain and pleasure of himself and friends. In seeking to promote the interests of his family at the expense of the Islanders, he made his nephew, the Hon. G. Murray, Bishop of the Island. The next move was an attempt to raise by tax a sum of £6,000, in lieu of tithe: The people resisted this, serious disturbances followed, and the hateful tax was dropped. Nothing daunted, another attempt was made to swell the family coffers by extorting money from the poor. A tithe was demanded for "green crops," such as turnips and potatoes. This was especially oppressive to the poor people, who lived chiefly on "priddas and herrin" (potatoes and herrings). They were living under the gloom of agricultural depression, and the tax would make life harder still by raising the price of their staple food and placing a disability on the industrious cottager and small farmer who strove to cultivate their potato patch. The people still had some independency of character, thanks to Methodism; they were enraged at the unjust tax, and determined to appeal directly to the Governor of the Island. From all parts of the Island, on a given day, the people. marched to Castletown. Governor Smelt came forward to hear. their grievances, and the result of what is known as the Potato Mob was that the unjust tax was remitted from that time forward.

The Duke, finding that the Manx people were not a herd of dumb, driven cattle, nor the Island the gold mine he desired, determined to sell out. He had already forfeited to England some of his rights, and. in. the year 1829 occurred the momentous transaction,


to the British Crown for the sum of £416,114. This had far-reaching results. To this little nation it was the beginning of the New Modern Epoch, which has been marked by liberty and independence. The serf has become citizen, and the Government has become representative. It s generally known that the Manx have "Home Rule" in a large degree. There are two Houses: the Council of seven paid officials, including the Bishop, answering to our House of Lords; the :House of Keys, like our Commons, consisting of twenty-four members elected by the people. No law can be passed except by a majority of a united Council of both Houses, called a Tynwald Court. Once a year, in July, all laws that have been passed and received the King's sanction, are promulgated by the Open-air Parliament on Tynwald Hill, in both the Manx and English language. Now for a long time the House of Keys was representative only in name, for vacancies were filled by co-option. But this new era gave the people an elective and representative House.

The Island was brought into closer contact with England by a regular line of steamers plying between them. Its health-giving climate and natural scenery attracted the tourist, and so the gloom which for many years had lain on the Island began to lift, and brighter days cheered the hearts of the poor. Much is still to be desired; the old spirit of privilege and conservatism dies hard, but the House of Keys has felt the fresher breeze from the young Free Churchmen who have recently entered, who care more for the good of the people than for any out-of-date custom. There is on foot a reform agitation, led by Mr Hall Caine and our own local preacher, Mr. T. Cormode, which is likely to bear fruit in the near future.

This brief outline will give us a general idea of the conditions under which our Church had to carry on its mission work. It will explain, too, in some degree, the fluctuations in the number of members reported from time to time. The Church can never be like a water-tight compartment-shut off from the world. She imbibes and reflects the spirit of the age, and is helped and hindered by the prevailing public opinion. During the former part of this period, as we have intimated, our Church had to pass through dark days which tested her to the utmost. Every Society was tried and sifted, and many were found weak. From 1824 to 1830 the numbers fell from 640 to about 300. No doubt the chief cause of this serious decrease was to be found in the most distressing and distracting events to which we have referred. However, the dark days passed, and the Church emerged, if weaker in numbers, stronger in faith and richer in experience. In the short space of three years that followed the number of members went up to over one thousand.

We must now continue our story of progress which went on from the various centres which we have seen established. Although the Circuit included the whole of the Island, thirty miles from end to end and twelve miles across, the work was very care-fully organised. In this we see a continuation of Butcher's wise methods, by which he sought to secure continuity, concentration, and variety We have before us a copy of the Circuit plan, which is headed "Isle of Man Circuit," and gives the preachers' appointments for July-September, 1824. There are twenty-three preaching places, at eighteen of these Sunday as well as week-night services are held; at five only week-night services are planned. Castletown stands first, followed by Douglas, which has a service at eight o'clock on Sunday mornings in Manx; the English service is at eleven. There are four preachers-T. Butcher, J. Partington, J. Kellet, and H. Johnson-four local preachers, six on trial, and nineteen exhorters. The Circuit is divided into four sections, or " rounds," as Sharman called them. These four sections are grouped round the four principal towns -Castletown, Douglas, Peel, and Ramsey. The four preachers each labour one month on one " round," preaching three Sundays out of the four in the town pulpit, and paying a weekly visit to the villages included in the section.

In this systematic way the work was prosecuted, a forecast of the days when the Island would be divided into several Circuits. Since the Quarterly Meeting of December, 1823, and the opening of Castletown Chapel, the work went forward at the rate of about one fresh place per month. The progress during the first six months of 1824 was chiefly in the North. In the neighbourhood of Castletown the ground had been well covered and nearly every village touched. Peel branched out to Knocksharry, where a chapel was built, and to Ballaugh, which became a strong Society, and to St. John's. Ramsey extended its borders to the extreme North to KirkBride, where the service was held in the parish room, to Kirk Andreas, Kerrowmoor, and Kirk Maughold.

However carefully the work had been planned to save time and labour, long journeys and hard physical toil could not be avoided. The number of services increased rapidly, far in advance of the number of preachers. It was usual for preachers to walk from Castletown to Kirk Michael, a distance of sixteen miles; from Douglas to Castletown, nine miles; and even from Castletown to Ramsey, which is about twenty-five miles. To the numerous Camp Meetings local preachers walked ten and fifteen miles by nine o'clock in the morning, and after a long, ten-hour day of missioning, preaching, and praying, walked home at night, counting it a great honour to have had a share in leading some poor wanderer back to the fold. Butcher set a good example; he was not afraid of a long journey nor a full day. He would often walk from Castletown to Renshent, about seven miles, and conduct a service at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning, and be in Douglas to begin the English service at eleven o'clock-that was another seven miles. He was not able to walk it in the time, else there is little doubt that he would have done so. A farmer in the neighbourhood placed a horse at his disposal, so that when the service was over at Renshent a man on horseback, leading another saddled horse, would appear. Butcher immediately would mount, and the two horsemen galloped to Douglas. Just before entering the town Butcher dismounted, and the man who had accompanied him would bring the horses back. This went on until people began to complain about furious riding on the public highway, especially on a Sabbath morning.


Laxey was missioned from Douglas as early as 1823. In 1818 the village had become the centre of mining operations, and several Cumberland people had come to work in the mines. This greatly assisted in the founding of our Church.

Laxey New Sunday School
Laxey New Sunday School [1896]

The first preachers were the Butchers (father and son). Capt. Killip, whose father was one of the first Primitive Methodists in Laxey, tells me that Butcher Beg (Little Butcher) preached at Balla Lheney Farm, Glen Roy, from the text " Avenge me of mine adversary." This was the first sermon by a Primitive Methodist preacher in the neighbourhood. It was no easy matter to find a suitable room for the infant church.- The only available place was a stable, which during the week was occupied by horses. These early days at Laxey, reminiscent of the beginning of Christianity, soon passed, the work spread rapidly, and the parish was covered with cottage--prayer meetings with regular conductors. This gave rise to the " Plan Beg " (the little plan), where so many fluent speakers made their first attempts at addressing their fellows. In after days it became a proverb, if any layman gave a powerful address,:that " he must have been on the Plan Beg."

In 1825 the first chapel was built, at a cost of £112. It was several times enlarged until at last Minorca was built at a cost of £825. There was much free labour about, for the people had a mind to work. It was finished when the Rev. W. Harris was in the Circuit and although it was several times larger than the old chapel, so great was the demand for sittings that there were not enough for the families who applied. The history of our Church in Laxey is a most creditable one. Primitive Methodism has been, and continues, the strongest religious force in the neighbourhood, and, especially in the days when the lead mines flourished, was one of the most intelligent and vigorous village Societies you could find in our or any other Church. The leading spirits were strong, earnest men and women-T. Lewin, J. Gelling, J. Beck, McLean, the Killip family. Capt. Killip has done long and honourable service. Mr. and Mrs. Killip entertained the Butchers and others of the first preachers. Their son, John Killip, M.H.K. for many years a local preacher, and for the last three years has represented his native parish in the Manx Parliament One of the daughters became the wife of the Rev. James Travis. Several have gone abroad to do good work there. Mr. Cowin went to America, and was one who took no small part in establishing the Eastern Conference. Nor must we forget that the blind preacher, George Lace hailed from Laxey.

The Taking of the Villages

We are not able to give a detailed account of the missioning of each villaage, even with ample records space would be out of the question. The method generally followed was that of planting our flag on the village green, and beginning with an open-air service. After such a service it was often the case that an invitation was given to hold the service in ome cottage or farmhouse. This invariably became the homes for the time being of the Society, until the building of a chapel was mooted. These little chapels were not always built near the dwellings of the people, but on the roadside at a suitable distance from the surrounding houses. King Edward VII. was much struck with the number of Methodist chapels which stud the whole Island.


One of these little chapels may be seen at KNOCKSHARRY, about two miles out of Peel. The chapel was built chiefly through the energies and liberality of Mr. Cowin, father of Mr. W. Cowin, of London House, Douglas, and the father of Dr. Wood (Manx Wood, as he is called for distinction). Mr. and Mrs. Cowin farmed Balla Nairn near by, and were the principal supporters of the little cause. Mrs. Cowin was a missionary collector, and when the time for collecting came round the cattle plague was very bad in the neighbourhood. The friends advised Mrs. Cowin not to go near The plague-stricken farms for fear of bringing the infection to their own cattle. Her heart was In the work, and she was determined to follow the path of duty. And so it turned out that the path of duty was the path of safety. She went on her usual round without missing a single call. and, while every farm round about was afflicted, their own little form was the only one free. Thus the promise was literally fillfilled, " There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling."

KERROWMOAR is about four miles from Ramsey. A Society was formed here, and for many years remained stationary, numbering about fourteen. At length the little Society was stirred up to pray form blessing upon themselves and the district. Their prayers were answered by a gracious revival. The special services were conducted by Mr. C. Cannell, and the people flocked down the mountain side to the chapel, and scores were brought to God.

KIRK MICHAEL is an example of a strong village cause which forms the very salt of society. One of the first places to be "taken," its growth was slow. Manx people are noted for being very cautious, but the Michael people are specially so. The old chapel was built largely by free labour. When it became too small it was some time before they would venture on a scheme to secure a larger one, and when once it was commenced their hearts~grew faint, and the building for some time stood unfinished. The Rev. Fred Smith found it so when he vame to travel on Ramsey Circuit. He set to work to have it completed, going day after day and toiling with the men, using both barrow and spade until the sanctuary was ready for worship. There are many worthy names connected with this Society that deserve honourable mention-the Corjeags, Cannon, Rogers, Mylray; Cannell, and John Kaighan, M.H.K. The last-named was a strong, loyal member of our Church, a well-informed man, trusted and beloved by all the people. He was the first Primitive Methodist on the Island who gained a seat in the House of Keys, and it was largely owing to his efforts that a public day school was established in the village of Michael. The relation between the Anglican and our Church on the Island has been, on the whole, friendly. Sometimes our people worshipped in.the parish schoolroom until they secured a chapel of their own. And in Santon it was the usual custom to hold the Primitive Methodist Sunday School Anniversary in the Parish Church. At Michael, however, things were different; the vicar was ritualistic and exclusive, and sought to create ill-feeling between the people of the respective communities and had our people been less strong and independent he possibly would.have succeeded. For many years, our Church had been in the habit of holding their annual tea meeting and concert on Good Friday in the parish schoolroom. Whether the vicar considered this annual effort too sacred for a Good Friday, or whether its great success roused his envy, we do not know, but when Good Friday came round he gave the clerk orders that he must not open the door for the Primitives. Now the clerk was a shrewd man; he was too wise to disobey orders, and yet too much of a sensible man to have his friends the Primitives shut out of the parish room on Good Friday. He obeyed the vicar, and did not open the open the door, and yet the Primitives held their tea and concert in the parish room as usual. The clerk did not open the door but left the key where our people could find it, and so they opened the door and took possession. The vicar, anticipating the collapse of the tea meeting, had announced a service to be held in the Parish Church, but, while the tea meeting was crowded, the latter service was not held, for the simple reason that no one went to it. Not having learnt his lesson, the vicar tried his hand again when the Primitive Methodist Sunday School Anniversary came round. He forbade any of his choir, as was their usual custom, to attend the chapel and help in the singing. The vicar's choir heard what he said, and went. He, as may be imagined, was very wrath, but saw that there was a sturdy independency in the people which, he must respect.

Towards the end of this period under review a great revival broke out, and many were converted. At Michael alone there were no less than one hundred and fifteen added to the Church, and throughout the Ramsey section 500 professed conversion

The opening of many other places took place during the years of which we are giving account, but the above must suffice as fair specimens of the kind of work which was being done, and we must pass on to matters of a more general kind.

We are interested to find that several leading men in the Connexion paid the Island a visit during this period, and from the old Magazines we have gathered some of their impressions of the work. In 1828 William Clowes visited the Island presumably to attend a " round " of missionary meetings. But I have found no record of that visit beyond the statement of the fact.

In 1835 John Hallam found the people active and enthusiastic, and he threw himself heart and soul into the good work. They sang through the streets of Douglas, gave exhortations to the people, kneeling down in the streets to pray. He attended a famous Camp Meeting at Castletown, where he heard several Manx local preachers speak with great unction in their own language, and was highly interested to hear the hearty responses of the people in Manx, "-Ghloyr daa Jee " (Glory to God);

(to be continued.)


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