Ilkeston’s Wesleyan Reformers.
The ‘Fly Leaves’ did create tensions within the Wesleyan Methodist community and caused much recrimination and bitterness.
Ilkeston was not immune to these feelings.
Many Ilkeston Wesleyans – let us call them the ‘Wesleyan Reformers’ — protested at the expulsion of the three ‘Methodist Martyrs’ and on Monday, August 20th 1849, a meeting was held at the Wesleyan School Room to discuss the expulsions. It was chaired by Henry Carrier, a member of the Wesleyan Society for 50 years, a Trustee and Leader, and father of Joseph and Samuel.
The outcome was to vote against the expulsions and to set up a contribution fund to help support the three ‘Martyrs’.
However the retaliation of the ‘Establishment’ to this decision was abrupt, and contributors to the fund were dealt with severely.
The Rev Hume cracks the whip.
One of the men leading this retaliation in the Ilkeston Circuit was the Rev. Alexander Hume, a man determined to suppress disaffection, restore order and reassert the authority of the ’Establishment’.
He planned a visit to Ilkeston and a handbill of the time warned inhabitants of his coming!!
“Wesleyan Reformers in the Ilkeston Circuit prepare for Death ! Death ! Death !
“The Pope’s legate is come invested with a Star Chamber Commission and armed with the instruments of destruction. He has opened his commission at Long Eaton, and (many Reformers) male and female, by one stroke fell at his feet, and they are no more !
Wesleyan Reformers, gather up your feet and address yourselves to your exit, for the judge is at the door, and his hand has taken hold of vengeance. Give him cheers as he passes through the Circuit; hail him into God’s holy temples as the messenger of death; lick the hand that grasps the sword to slay you; lay your necks quietly on the block, and die like Wesleyan Reformers”. (from William Smith)
The Nottingham Review of 1850 describes a visit to Ilkeston by Alexander.
He was fiercely unpopular among some sections of the Wesleyan community because of his ‘combative propensities‘ in unceremoniously expelling members from the society, reading what people called the ’Riot Act’ from the pulpits, and in continually ‘breathing out threatenings against all that shall oppose his authority‘.
Alexander arrived in town to preach in the new South Street chapel while, to show the extent of their opposition to him, a number of ’rebels’ held a public service and Sunday school in the old Cricket Ground chapel. The reverend gentlemen thus tried to preach at the old chapel too but he was physically barred from doing so. When he tried to address the scholars there, they made noises to drown his voice.
He was forced to retreat to the new chapel, ’saluted by the hootings of the more thoughtless part of the populace’.
Such confrontations and treatment caused, by 1850, the Ilkeston Circuit Wesleyan Methodists to lose three-quarters of its members to the Reform movement.
The conflict also had its effect upon the Wesleyan Missionary Society.
In November 1850, after sermons at the South Street Chapel, collections were made on behalf of the Society and raised only £4, an unusually small amount. The reason for this was the mistrust among the ‘Reformers’ in the secretaries of the Society who refused to open their expenditure books for scrutiny. There was a feeling that the income from donations, which amounted to over £100,000 nationally, was being wasted and used extravagantly.
In March 1851 a census of places of worship was taken, in addition to the National census of population.
Among other detail the Religious census requested figures of attendance on March 30th, as well as average attendance numbers for the previous year, from all churches and chapels.
The effects of the split amongst the Wesleyans in Ilkeston can be seen in this census.
It reports that a relatively small group of the Wesleyan Methodists was still at the new South Street Chapel, “separate and entire, exclusively used, .. in lieu of one erected before 1800” (the ‘one erected before 1800’ was the Old Cricket Ground Chapel).
With accommodation for 530 persons, the actual Sunday morning congregation was 35, a morning Sunday School of 30, with an evening congregation of 50. However the average morning attendance is given as 120 with an evening attendance of 150 and a morning Sunday School of 170.
A note added by Alexander Hume, who supplied these statistics, states that ‘the usual Average attendance has been lately affected by certain temporary local circumstances’.
In November of 1850 the Rev. Hume had written to John Beecham, President of the Methodist Conference, to explain these ‘temporary local circumstances’…
“such is the state of anarchy and disruption in which we found the circuit, we have not been able to take any account of who are members and who are not, so that for the last quarter the Schedule Book is a blank. With the exception of one or two only of the congregations, all the congregations in the circuit are the most disorderly riotous assemblies of wild beasts: and the pulpits regularly the spit of contention between the authorised local preachers and those patronised by the mob. I have instructed the Brethren on the Plan (i.e. the local preachers) to retire quietly from the ungodly contest when they have claimed their places…. I do not think it right to be any further a party to the desecration of all that is sacred on God’s day, by contending with infuriated men, some of whom have again and again, squared their fists in my face in regular pugilistic style and all but struck me….”
(Quoted by W. R. Ward in Religion and Society in England. 1790-1850 (1972), p269)
The same 1851 Religious Census shows the Ilkeston Wesleyan Methodist Reformers still at the old Cricket Ground Chapel, with much healthier attendance figures. The chapel had accommodation for about 370 persons, an actual morning congregation of 100, a morning Sunday School of 170, an afternoon School of 250, and an evening congregation of 350. (No average attendance was given and the figures were supplied by steward Samuel Carrier).
However the ‘local circumstances’ were far from temporary, as Alexander Hume hoped.
Unable to maintain them, the Ilkeston Circuit had to give up most of its chapels to the ‘Reformers’ — except in New and Old Brinsley, Eastwood, Stanley and Sandiacre.
Cotmanhay, Stanley Common and Kimberley lost their chapels and their entire membership, while Long Eaton and Stapleford lost the chapels but retained some members.
In Ilkeston the ownership of the South Street Chapel was disputed and it seems that as late as December 1853 was jointly used by the Reformers and the Old Wesleyans.
Eventually however it was occupied by the Wesleyan Reformers, leaving the ‘Old Wesleyans’ out in the cold, with no chapel home. Before it was handed over their minister preached to “a feeble remnant, the melancholy wreck of a good congregation”.
The old Cricket Ground Chapel in Burgin’s Yard was thereafter used by the ‘Reformers’ as a Sunday school.
The United Methodist Free Churches.
Some years later, in 1857, many but not all of the Wesleyan Reformers merged with other smaller breakaway groups to form the United Methodist Free Churches.
According to Adeline it is this group that stayed at the Cricket Ground Chapel while the ‘Old Wesleyans’ built the South Street Chapel.
There appears no other evidence to support this and Adeline is misleading when referring to the United Methodist Free Church in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s.
But where were the ‘Old Wesleyans‘ to go after their move out of the South Street chapel?