Nineteenth Century Methodism in the Audley Area

David Dyble

The Wesleyan revival began in the mid-eighteenth century as an attempt to rejuvenate the established Church of England. However, many Anglican parsons did not wish to be stirred from their comfortable routine, and resisted to varying degrees. Dominant landowners who were patrons of the Established Church used their local power to prevent chapel building, or at least restrict them to inconvenient sites away from population centres. By the early 19th century there had been two separations from the main Methodist cause. The first schism created the group known as the Methodist New Connection in 1797, but this had little impact upon the Audley area until after 1860, and then only to a minimal extent. The more effective separation became the Primitive Methodists. Their addiction to large, open-air camp meetings and to a fervent preaching style, earned them the disparaging title of "Ranters". It also caused alarm and suspicion to the Wesleyan leadership. By 1808 the Primitive leaders Bourne and Clowes had been expelled from Burslem Circuit. This did nothing to curb their activity and numerous cottage meeting places were set up in a matter of weeks in the nucleus area around Tunstall, Mow Cop and Talke-on-the-Hill. By the end of 1808 further meeting places were established in a much wider area.                                                                           

The law held dissenters in suspicion and since the Toleration Act of 1689, Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists, and the like, had been obliged to register their meeting rooms[i] (whether purpose-built or borrowed) so that all of these sects could be closely scrutinised. Such registration was normally with the local bishop, and the records of these registrations give the earliest, albeit incomplete, evidence of Methodism taking root in particular localities. The large rural parish of Audley lies on the edge of productive coal measures, which were commercially exploited in two phases. Firstly, on the Apedale side of the parish where communications were in place to reach growing markets from 1775, and later from the early 1800s when means of transport gradually improved beyond the Apedale ridge. By 1830 the expansion of mining was attracting large numbers of migrants from North Shropshire and South Cheshire villages to swell the local population, and provide the "hearers" for the Methodist revival.

The first Methodist influence in the parish came from over the border in Chesterton, where a house had been registered in 1764 for Wesleyan meetings, and a chapel opened by 1787. Some of the congregation must have come in from Audley, as one leading member was William Bathwell of Park Lane, a partner in a Red Street pottery works. In the summer of 1808 houses in Park Lane and Alsagers Bank were registered, with a Samuel Bedson being a prominent witness to the legalities. Not registered, but clearly in use, were the homes of Daniel Riley at Hullocks Pool, and of Tom Bowers in Old Road which became a centre for class meetings. This early missionary work was carried out with such enthusiasm and energy that by 1811 two small chapels had been built. One close to Bowers' cottage in what became Chapel Street, the other at Alsagers Bank on the Epworth site. Primitive Methodists were soon to follow the same pattern, first in Chesterton, with a chapel there by 1819. Their membership soon spread into Halmerend and Audley village (both registered cottage meetings from 1831) and Wood Lane (1833). These two main connections in Methodism came with the serious intention of evangelizing and extending their influence. In both cases they found receptive hearers, and much of the missionary work was soon being done by local converts.  They were not hampered by local landowners as these were absentee lords who left their estates in the hands of a multitude of small tenants, and largely part-time agents. Methodism flourished where the control of the squire and the parson  was weak.

The Lord of the Manor of Audley and largest landowner was Sir Thomas Boughey, who resided at Aqualate Hall, Newport. Manor courts were largely ineffective by 1800, and his involvement in the community, other than collecting rents and royalties, was largely in benevolent gestures, which grew smaller as the century progressed. The Apedale and Podmore Estates were in a lengthy process of changing control during the first thirty years of the century. The Gresley family control had been remote, only blossoming into interest with the prospect of increased mineral exploitation. With the premature death of Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley in 1808, the estates went under the control of trustees. When Richard Heathcote emerged as sole owner of the estate by 1830, he had built himself a mansion on site, Apedale Hall, and became the first live-in Lord of the manor for over 300 years. He made no attempt to create a "closed" manor. He was a Liberal in politics, sitting as an MP at this time, and had he been of a mind to restrict freedoms of worship and political expression, it was probably too late to do so after half a century of unfettered mining community development around this coalfield.

Immediately to the west of Audley was the estate of Barthomley in Cheshire, owned by the Crewe family, who exercised a strict control over their inhabitants in an archetypal "closed" manor. No dissenter chapels would be built on their territory, though Primitive Methodists were meeting in a cottage there by 1820. To overcome this opposition, a chapel was built in 1828 at Englesea Brook just yards outside the Crewe estate, in Weston parish where no lordly hostility existed[ii].

At this point it is pertinent to examine the perceived and actual differences between what were then two rival branches of the Methodist cause. The Wesleyan hierarchy is seen in the early nineteenth century as authoritarian in political persuasion. The itinerant or travelling preachers were called ministers and from 1818 were allowed to prefix their names with Reverend. Laymen were consulted but had no vote in any assembly from national conference down to church level. This was to change half way through the century, particularly after the demise of the despotic Jabez Bunting (1779-1858), who had managed to impose his will upon the connection from 1814 to 1857. This he did mainly by force of his personality, as the national offices he held would not give him such power on their own for so long. He warmly approved of the "Peterloo Massacre" in 1819, and when miners on Tyneside formed an early Brotherhood, or union, Bunting used his influence to have the Wesleyans among them expelled from the church. The "Tolpuddle Martyrs" of 1834, who were mostly Methodists, were disowned by Bunting and thus by the church[iii]. It is easy to understand, therefore, the notion that "Wesleyanism was FOR the working man, while the Primitives were OF the working man". It is interesting that the Wesleyan church, whose social policy was driven by such views, could captivate the majority of the miners and other labouring people of Audley. Indeed the legendary working-class Wesleyan preacher, Samuel Brindley (1792-1875) of Boon Hill, in 1837 actually christened one of his sons Jabez in Bunting's honour[iv].

The Primitive Methodists were different from Wesleyans in almost every aspect except doctrines. Both connections preached the same route to salvation; but in organisation, ministry, method of government, politics and attitude to social questions, their routes diverged. Whilst the Wesleyans had just about achieved acceptance within the country by 1812, the Primitives were seen as agitators and potential insurrectionists, which caused their public rejection by their original parent body, in case they too were condemned and lost all they had achieved since Wesley's great days. The early Primitives were determined to be a layman's 'Connection', they refused to call themselves a church until 1901, and for many years the full-time ministry were known as Travelling Preachers to distinguish them from Local Preachers. The term Reverend was forbidden, as were Mr.or Mrs., each was to be called either Brother or Sister[v].

In 1808 the first "Camp Meeting Methodists" were expelled from the Wesleyan church because they refused to give up holding open-air meetings for what seemed like dangerously large numbers of working people. The first camp meetings had been held on the slopes of Mow Cop in May 1807, but the practice spread to even larger gatherings at Norton-in-the-Moors, and other similar sites surrounding the Tunstall area by 1810. The leadership revolved around a group of expelled Wesleyans, most of whom lived in Tunstall. The brothers Hugh and James Bourne were at the organising core, while William Clowes was the most magnetic preacher. Cottage meetings were being held on a regular Sunday and weeknight basis, in an area of up to a ten mile radius of Tunstall, so that in June 1811 the first "Places plan" was hand written and copied for preaching appointments. This shows a meeting place at Talke o'th'Hill in Audley Parish, which had moved into one of the connection's earliest chapels by 1814. This early plan also shows meetings at Roggin Row on the Bignall Hill border between Chesterton and the coalfield side of Audley, thus reaching miners in this locality less than a year after the first Wesleyan chapel had been opened in Audley. When the fourth such preaching plan was authorised in February 1812, it was to be printed on the Bournes' new press at Bemersley, and carried the group's newly decided title of Primitive Methodists for the first time.          

The Primitives were nervous in these early years about how their activities would affect their future as a cause. They had obeyed the law and registered buildings for worship. Hugh Bourne had twice walked the return distance to Lichfield for this purpose. When the first three chapels were built at Harriseahead, Tunstall and Talke, they had been so constructed that should the cause fail, conversion into groups of saleable cottages would take little extra expense. They moved outwards and stormed into Derbyshire and Nottingham, Cheshire and Shropshire by 1820, adding several thousands to their number. By now the Primitive cause had a distinctive way of life which did not appeal to everyone, but when embraced by its converts was done so completely and with fervour. This was more than an acceptance of salvation through the gospel. Personal morality was foremost, with a social exclusiveness which set them apart from ordinary mortals wherever possible. They were total abstainers from alcohol, whereas Wesleyans in various parts of the country were serving ale at Circuit functions, and even offered the preacher a glass of wine in the vestry before a service.

The Primitives did little to encourage education in these early years, particularly basic reading and writing skills, and even preachers were denied further education in case they become aloof and separated like the Wesleyan "clergy". Ordinary members who could read might be tempted by worldly or corrupting material. There was a qualified relaxation of this strict attitude in June 1839 when the Tunstall Quarter Day Board ruled "That writing in our Sunday Schools is not considered sinful provided religious or scriptural copies are used". Some Primitives even saw education as a possible means of extinguishing their spiritual fire, and opposed every move into providing Day schools. The first P.M. school in England eventually opened in 1863, but this was for preachers' and members' children only. Very few such institutions followed. The Wesleyans had opened their Day School in Audley by 1812, and made great strides in literacy in the area, thus encouraging personal independence rather than obedience.

The Primitives energetically supported the aspirations of the working class, occasionally with a zeal which sometimes blinded them to their basic gospel. A miner's strike in 1840, at Seaton Delaval in Northumberland, was inspired and led by three Primitive local preachers. They held a prayer meeting with the strikers on the first day, asking the Almighty to give them success in their struggle and for the defeat of the mineowners. They also prayed for accidents or worse to befall the "blacklegs" brought in to break the strike. When such a calamity did occur, the same preacher led the cheering![vi]. In the Potteries, the Primitives took up common cause with the Chartist campaigners, and when this came to a violent climax in August 1842, a number of leading preachers, including Joseph Capper of Tunstall, were imprisoned for their contributions. The Wesleyans were conspicuously absent from this local turmoil, though many of their members may have been there in spirit. Sydney Webb, writing later of the contribution of the earlier Primitive Methodists to the rise of the Labour movement, says they stood out as "men of character gaining the respect of their fellows", filling the posts of influence in the formation of Friendly Societies, early Trade Unions and the Co-operative Movement. Webb asserts that, particularly in County Durham, the Primitives provided "an astonishingly large proportion of Trade Union leaders..."[vii]. At an enquiry in 1841, a Durham colliery official said "the educated people, or the Methodists, are put forward to be spokesmen on occasions of dispute with their masters... and these are the hardest to deal with"[viii]. The manager of Evenwood colliery in Co.Durham asserted that "The Ranters were the worst agitators at the time of the (1844) strike. The Wesleyans were quite the other way".[ix] In the Audley-Apedale coalfield this involvement by Primitive Methodists in working class movements is not very pronounced until the end of the century and early into the 1900s. Indeed by the 1870s the North Staffordshire Miners Federation was led by a Methodist miner - John Billington of Chesterton - but he was a Wesleyan!.

One episode which demonstrates the peculiar impact of Methodism upon the working class movement locally, occurred in July 1842. Some miners and furnacemen in Longton were subjected to an arbitrary reduction in their wages by the owner, William Sparrow. They came out on strike and then went on a rampage through the district for several days, initially forcing other miners and ironworkers to join them, and then set about closing almost every pottery works as well. Their grievance quickly became inextricably enmeshed with the Chartist campaign of that summer. Strikes of cotton workers in Lancashire were being diverted to the goal of demanding that the Charter must become the law of the land before they would return to work. On hearing that mining operations were continuing west of Newcastle, the belligerent Longton men marched first to Silverdale, causing the mines and furnaces there to stop working, and then moved over the hill to Apedale by early afternoon. Here the local press and Richard Heathcote's reports agree, that the indigenous employees were as much the victims of the invaders, as was the mine and furnace property which was so badly damaged. Ordinary workmen were assaulted and some of their homes ransacked for food by the mob. When Apedale Hall was threatened a large group of local workmen, armed with makeshift weapons, surrounded the building and defied the attackers until troops were seen approaching from Newcastle barracks. The Longton men fled towards Kidsgrove to attack Kinnersley's mines and furnaces. Many were arrested, but only one local man (from Kidsgrove) was among them.

Trade was bad at this time and worker's incomes were lower than was usual, yet most of the local workforce had been reluctant to join in militant action. It could be argued that the loyalty to local employers was a product of the good relations which existed between them and their workers, fostered in no small way by the Methodist, particularly Wesleyan, influences at work here. Mineworkers were organised on a system of contracted labour. An individual would contract with the mine operator to supply labour to a particular underground district, which would bear his name. Most contractors were Wesleyans and gave first places to fellow chapel members in their work teams. On chapel premises they worked as equals, without attempting to appear as equals when at the coal-face. It seems both an illogical and an improbable system but it worked for decades, and prevented all but the most pressing of national disputes from impinging upon the local scene.

Both principle strands of Methodism relied heavily upon laymen for mission and to conduct routine Sunday worship. The local preachers were drawn from all classes of men in the Wesleyan church, with no record in the Audley area of women being called to this work until the First World War. The Primitives, however, drew upon both men and a small number of women, almost entirely from working class backgrounds. The Primitives did not allow the humbler origins of their preachers to dilute the effectiveness of their delivery, for the strictest control was used upon them by the Quarter Day Board, and every complaint investigated, whether of personal conduct or of questionable pulpit performance. If not up to the standard or confidence required of a full preacher, a person could be appointed as an exhorter, and Primitive records show such people in the Audley district from the earliest years[x]. Exhorters usually accompanied local preachers and supplemented their work, but could operate alone at weeknight meetings or in the event of an appointed preacher failing to arrive.

The role of the Sacrament of Holy Communion in Nonconformist worship caused much controversy in the nineteenth century. Wesleyans, through their loose relationship with the Church of England, insisted that presiding at communion was a function of the ordained ministry alone. With so few ministers relative to the number of churches and house meetings, many members were able to partake of communion only once a month or less, and therefore exercised dual loyalties with their parish church. Attempts by Burslem Wesleyan circuit in 1807 to get dispensation from Conference for local preachers of long standing and unquestioned integrity to conduct communion, were dismissed so emphatically that many members defected to the New Connection which was then arising in the Hanley area, and which did allow this practice in its earlier existence. The Primitives too, clung to this Wesleyan rule and allowed only Travelling Preachers to administer the rite. However, as a practical convenience both connections made use of the "lovefeast" in areas seldom reached by the Travelling Preacher. John Wesley had introduced this simple meal into his congregations where a loving cup was passed round the table as a symbol of fellowship. Its origins were in the early Christian church, but Wesley took its revival from his Moravian friends. The lovefeast was often a midweek event in Primitive societies, but the Wesleyans in Audley were planning it for a Sunday service from the 1820s. The Audley societies of both connections observed communion and lovefeasts at regular intervals throughout the nineteenth century, and they were remarkably similar in form and content.

It is in the planning of worshipping events that marked differences are noticed between the two sects. The Wesleyan circuit superintendent had complete authority in this area, directing his resources as he thought fit in consultation with his ministerial colleagues. The Primitives organised almost everything on a more democratic basis with the Quarter Day Board acting as planning committee, and voting on almost every Sunday and weeknight appointment, including those of the Travelling preachers. These latter gentlemen were expected to keep a journal of their movements which was to be available for inspection by the meeting. They were constantly being reminded to visit all members in their homes to instruct, and check up, on the finer points of Primitive discipleship, which was meant to permeate into every aspect of family life.

By 1851 Wesleyans and Primitives were established firmly in this coalfield around its two population concentrations, Audley-Bignall End, and Halmer End-Alsagers Bank. Within these two settlements were five chapels, three Wesleyan and two Primitive, and at least two cottage stations in each cause. Most of the evangelistic work was performed by local members relying upon their workplace and neighbourhood contacts, as much as hoping for a Sunday congregation of the curious. As the years went by, Sunday school work bore fruit as the children of the area were trained for the Christian life. But this could not replace the essential ingredient of conversion which was so important in nineteenth century Methodism. A man or woman needed to be able to confess their conversion as being "saved" or "born again", in order to be fully accepted into the fellowship. They had plenty of encouragement in class meetings, chapel services or even open air rallies.

Some became great characters in the area, and even further afield, as they became local preachers and were either planned or invited to lead worship often fifteen or twenty miles away from home. This really was dedicated service as travel was usually on foot. There are many legends of their adventures regarding travel, hospitality and diversions en route. Most are probably true, but unlikely to have all happened to one man. Preachers were distinguished by their style, which was either self-taught or acquired from a mentor, an older preacher whom they accompanied in their early apprenticeship years. Most were roughly spoken, being convinced that everyone spoke as they did, in a dialect. This plain speaking was an asset when addressing fellow colliers or ironworkers, but not so well received in the more sophisticated town chapels. Both Wesleyans like Sammy Brindley[xi] and the Primitive Brother F.Brown were censured at their respective Quarterly meetings for their manner in the pulpit and particularly their mode of speech. Brindley was unconsciously humorous on occasion though straight-faced throughout, and congregations laughed at some of his figures of speech. Respectable Newcastle congregations objected that, not having been born in Audley, they could not always follow his dialect! Brown from Newcastle was requested, in June 1838, "to preach plainer ", though no details were recorded beyond that in the minutes.

The ultimate achievement of any preacher was to convert a sinner, and sermons throughout the century were geared to that end. Learned men came and went, both as stationed ministers and as visitors attracting huge congregations. They preached on the finer points of theology and discipleship, but the local men largely confined themselves to the mortal dangers of sin and to the sure route to salvation. On matters of good Christian behaviour in everyday life, the minister was the appropriate preacher while the local preacher would demonstrate this by the way he personally behaved. The Primitive circuit meeting in 1838 requested its senior Travelling Preacher, Brother Batty, to build his sermons for the next quarter around the evils of debt "the habit of borrowing and not repaying". Primitive local preachers were continually being investigated, usually on hearsay complaints and even gossip, and chastised when necessary. James Clay of Burslem was suspended in 1837 for "going to see the railway on a Sunday with his wife". Did he really walk to Crewe to see this new-fangled transportation? Their principles did include forgiveness. A year later the same James Clay was not only back in favour, restored to the plan, but also elected as secretary to the Quarter Day Board which had disciplined him. Others were charged with unspecified immorality, never minuted in detail, but were immediately suspended from preaching and fellowship until the matter be resolved. Not all were found guilty. John Walford, one of the Travelling Preachers, was cleared of three separate charges of being intoxicated in December 1838. The mildest punishment was "to sink one place on the plan"; one's position here was a status symbol, which rose with service over the years.

This tone is absent from the Wesleyan records; both circuit and preachers' meetings left such delicate matters to the minister or even the District Chairman in Macclesfield. In Audley the Wesleyan preachers were mostly working men of minimal education, indeed some were self-taught in literacy. By 1876, of 16 preachers in the new Audley Circuit, five were in professions or trade (a doctor, mining surveyor, and three grocers - one of these a former miner), and the rest were colliers, furnacemen, nailers, labourers and a blacksmith[xii]. Despite the eventual size of its population, Audley was not a small town, but a collection of recently expanded settlements, without the class structure which could be expected in a town. So ordinary men and women moved freely into the influential posts in chapels, both as officials, and as trustees guaranteeing the repayment of the building mortgage, which was in their names. The 17 Halmerend Wesleyan trustees in 1893 consisted of four from the managerial class, four shopkeepers and nine working men, of whom six were coal miners[xiii]. The 1876 trustees of the new Audley Wesleyan chapel numbered twenty, of whom ten were miners together with John Vernon, who was the village doctor, a farmer, schoolmaster, colliery manager and three shopkeepers who were the notional middle-class element. For most of the duration of this trust (1876-1908) the secretary had been a miner and the treasurer a shopkeeper[xiv]. To this social advance must be coupled the respectability which went with it. A saying without attribution credits Methodism with "putting the working man into his Sunday best suit". In order to do this, Chapel clothing funds were set up in the early days and special discounting arrangements made with local tailors, outfitters and shoemakers. Children, too, could look forward to a new outfit for the Sunday School anniversary. These weekly savings schemes were later copied by non-chapel Provident associations for the whole of the working class. Some of the Audley chapel clothing clubs were wound up as late as the 1960s.

Nothing has been said so far of the reaction of the Church of England to this Nonconformist invasion of what had been a conventional English parish. Audley had been given its ecclesiastical boundaries and institutions in the twelfth century, and for over 600 years had been allowed to progress unaltered as a vicarage of comfortable proportions. In 1724 the vicar had reported to his bishop that, with only two papist families and no known Protestant dissenters, he had a  completely Anglican village. The question arises as to why there was no competitive, or even combative reply on the part of the established church to this nineteenth century challenge for the hearts and service of a great number of its parishioners. There is no single answer, but clearly the attitude of the incumbents in the crucial period of Methodist expansion must be the most important factor. If the vicar did nothing to oppose these interlopers, then no one else had the authority to do so in an area with no resident lord of the manor.

When the Methodist cause first took an interest in Audley, the vicar was William Hicken. His incumbency lasted 42 years up to 1832, and during his latter years he suffered ill-health. He was often absent from the parish for long periods. He did nothing to thwart the building of the first chapel in 1810, which was close to the parish church, an arrangement which was prevented in many parishes at this time. Hicken was followed by his curate Thomas Garrett. His nine years come to notice for his outspoken disputes with the larger local landowners over the running of the Poor Law arrangements in Audley, and he too was afflicted with failing health from 1836, and died at the early age of 45, in 1842. He also features for his emotive criticisms of mine safety facilities made during the funerals of local mining accident victims. He probably sympathised too much with a working class movement like Methodism to oppose it. However, the thirty year term of office of Charles P. Wilbraham, which followed, is well documented and covers the crucial period 1844 to 1874 when most progress was made by the various Methodist connections.

Wilbraham was of the Liberal persuasion in politics, counting Gladstone among his friends, and this great man, already a cabinet minister, actually visited the parish, as the vicar's guest, in October 1855. Besides the comfortable living, he had a sizeable personal income which he used to finance good works in the parish and his own passion for foreign travel. This frequently took him away from the parish, to places as far away as India, for up to four months at a time. Upon his return the parish was treated to lantern slide lectures of his visits. There was always a curate to cover his absence, though this person was ex-officio the master of Audley Grammar School. Wilbraham was faced with several problems. The growth of population in Audley was not in the main village around his parish church. New settlements arose in a belt along the coal measures. To build mission churches would be expensive, and his parishioners were already engaged in a long term scheme to renovate St.James Church. A portion of his parish, Halmer End township, had been removed to be combined with part of Wolstanton to form the new Chesterton Parish in 1846, just as he took up office. He made one attempt to branch out into this new area in 1858 when he built a mission room at Wood Lane. It soon became apparent that this was in Methodist territory, so he decided to convert the scheme into a National School.             

In 1874 Wilbraham retired and was replaced by the Rev. John Pauli, who stayed for 45 years. It was too late to challenge nonconformism now, and peaceful coexistence set in. However, the 1880 Burial Act, which allowed Dissenting clergy to officiate at burials in Anglican churchyards, brought out a normally submerged resentment. After each and every such burial Pauli always added a comment in the Burial register, which was both sarcastic and pedantic. This continued for over twenty years, and reached its most ridiculous when a female Salvation Army officer conducted an interment. Here he wrote two lines which began "For the first time in a thousand years, a woman has officiated on church territory". In spite of this normally unseen hostility, he co-operated amicably, when necessary, with the local Methodist clergy. It is probable that one of the attractions of the Methodist cause was that the church members not only chose their minister, but would be asked annually to sanction his continued stay, up to a maximum of three years. Thus they were never encumbered with an absentee pastor, or one chosen by a distant patron. Vicar Garrett had been appointed in 1833, to the £600 a year living, by his father-in-law. The Wesleyan minister received less than £150 a year, in the 1830s, which was a princely sum compared to that given to the Primitive Travelling Preachers.

In the early 1870s it was clear that the Wesleyan cause in Audley was the largest denomination, with tremendous local influence. On this wave of confidence they took steps to detach themselves from Newcastle circuit and form their own, with five churches (including Chesterton) and one minister. Conference had approved by 1875, and the new arrangement began in September 1876. Parallel to this the Audley chapel members decided that, as the head church of a new circuit, their enlarged building of 1838 was not grand enough for this new role of responsibility. So a new, larger chapel was constructed which would have been an architectural asset to a large town or even a city. In Bignall End it towered above the cottages like a medieval castle, making a statement of the Wesleyan supremacy in the area. By 1904 they had replaced the minister's manse, which till then had been a small rented terraced cottage in Chapel Street. The new manse was a large, purpose-built, detached residence which they now owned, in the most fashionable part of the village, Wilbrahams Walk.

As a footnote to Anglican-Methodist relations, it should be noted that until 1872 virtually all chapel people got married at the parish church. In that year Audley Wesleyan Chapel was licensed for the purpose, the first nonconformist building in the area to be so. Until 1914, all Methodists were buried in the churchyard, and up to November 1880, by the vicar or his curate. The Wesleyan burial ground was ready in 1914, and took any denomination who wished to use it. The fees helped to repay its purchase price.                                                

The Influence Grows:               

The most urgent problems faced by the working class, both in Audley and in the rest of the country, can be collected under the heading of social security. This umbrella term includes the dread of accidents at work and general sickness, or when elderly and unable to work. The former brought medical expenses and loss of income when the family breadwinner was the victim. Death at work from mining mishaps and the like, brought burial expenses and more permanent financial loss. The workhouse was an unwelcome safety net for those families with no other means of support. From the end of the eighteenth century there had been a number of small, semi-secret societies in various parts of England which promoted the mutual welfare and security of their poorer class members. Often they resembled the Masonic movement, which was probably their inspiration, and their more modern descendants have often been referred to as "poor man's freemasonry".

Nonconformists began taking an interest in the possibilities of these groups for improving the conditions of the growing numbers of industrial workers who formed the bulk of their congregations. Quakers and Methodists in Yorkshire managed by 1813, to rejuvenate several lodges of the Royal Foresters[xv], which had existed since at least 1745, but were in decline. From a loose federation of these groups emerged the Loyal Shepherds, while in Lancashire other Methodists were forming Oddfellow lodges around Manchester. Finally a Baptist inspired movement was formed, in 1835, dedicated to total abstinence and named the Rechabites after the Old Testament inhabitants of Rechab. This proved very attractive to the growing Primitive Methodist sect. It should be stressed that no church made formal resolutions to form or manage these Friendly Societies, as they became known, but members became involved with the approval of their parent bodies, recruiting fellow members and even meeting on church premises. Managerial skills had to be learned, and experience gained in chapel and connectional affairs proved to be valuable training for the groups of largely voluntary officials[xvi].

The first Audley members were attached to Newcastle or Wolstanton branches, but as numbers rose Audley formed its own. The Ancient Order of Foresters Court in the village was instigated by the vicar in 1868, and took his name, "Wilbraham", as its Court title for the first fifty years of its existence. Paradoxically it was immediately run by Methodists, as at least twelve of its first nineteen officers and trustees were Wesleyans, and possibly even more[xvii]. The Rechabites founded a Tent here at the same time and was mainly a Primitive enterprise, its meetings being held in Audley Primitive Sunday School. The Loyal Shepherds, who were allied to the Foresters, formed their Sanctuary in Halmerend, using the Wesleyan chapel there for meetings. In each case, however, the business centre was the local secretary's home, though after 1902, the Foresters rented an office in Church Street in Audley, where John Dodd, a pillar of the Wesleyan chapel, was secretary. He held this post for forty-four years (1875-1919).

An extension of this type of formally organised mutual aid among working people, was the Co-operative movement for the retail supply of groceries and clothing. This began in its successful form in Rochdale in 1844, and spread through industrial areas during the rest of the century. The Audley area was served eventually by the Butt Lane Co-operative Society, one of the smallest in the country. It served no big urban areas, but a collection of mining settlements.  Primitive Methodists in the Talke circuit banded together to found this society in March 1879. The church as such was not involved, especially in finance, but its members were. Early meetings were held in chapel premises until offices were built. The distribution of retail stores exactly matched the circuit's extent, indeed the chapels and shops were in every case within a few yards of each other in Butt Lane, Kidsgrove, Whitehill, Talke, Talke Pits, Audley and Wood Lane. Even by the 1920s most directors were Primitive local preachers, as were all shop managers and most of their junior staff. As a workforce, unity was complete for seven days in the week. Employee discipline was rigidly enforced, like Primitive morality of old, well into the 1950s. It should be noted that the Audley coalfield was split between two Primitive circuits, the Halmerend district being in Silverdale circuit. The Co-op shop there was run by the Silverdale society, which had similar origins, as its annual meetings in the 1860s and 1870s were held in Silverdale Primitive Sunday school. Obviously there would have been no discrimination against non-Primitive customers, all were both welcome and indeed essential if the enterprise was to be viable. During the miners' strikes of 1922 and 1926, the union gave vouchers to local members on strike to obtain food at the Butt Lane Co-op branches. Once the strike was over, the union was in no financial position to redeem these promissory notes, and the society lost several thousand pounds. However, as many of its members were beneficiaries this loss was written off as the society's contribution to the working class cause.

In the workplace the Methodist influence was seen at its most practical. The everyday stresses of earning a living combined with mixing with a varied collection of workmates tests a man's personal religious commitment. It is one thing to be fervent on a Sunday with like-minded people, and enjoy their fellowship, it is far harder to maintain this conviction under working conditions. The accounts of personal witness in the mine or ironworks, on the part of local Methodists, are legion. Such a man was Sammy Brindley who lived and worked at the bottom of Boon Hill, and carried out his trade as a nailmaker from at least 1806 to his gradual retirement, in the face of factory-made competition in the 1850s. He had no formal education, the Wesleyan school in Audley had opened about 1812, when he was twenty years old. He was taught the essentials of scripture in the early class meetings at the Boon Hill cottage of Daniel Riley (1794-1867) his close friend, and he never really mastered reading and writing with any fluency. As a preacher, from 1824 onwards, he chose and rehearsed his Bible passages carefully so that he read them with a confidence which deceived strangers. His preaching was, by all accounts, simple and direct using his own everyday experiences for illustrations of his text, and thus appealed to his hearers whose environment was similar to his own. His local dialect was an asset in the local chapels, filled largely with his fellow working-class members, and he was much sought after for special services. His themes, like those of most of his lay colleagues, were invariably set on the need for salvation, the rejection of sin and the rewards of leading a spiritual life. Brindley was welcomed as a preacher in the humbler chapels and house meetings all over the North Staffordshire coalfield, which involved much travel on foot. He continued to preach locally almost to the end of his life.

Having examined the arrival and settlement of the Wesleyan and Primitive connections upon the Audley coalfield, mention must be made of two smaller schisms from the mainstream which prospered to a lesser extent from about 1860. In Alsagers Bank the Wesleyans opened a new, larger chapel in 1855 and intended that the original building of 1810 should become a Sunday School. A dispute arose because a majority of the original trustees, 5 out of the 8, who were also technically owners of the building, were reformers opposed to the then current Wesleyan form of government. Bunting was still in power, and officially the church was not sympathetic to the political advance of the working man. From 1847, the "Fly Sheet" agitation[xviii] had been dividing Wesleyans. The controlling conference had refused to consider the criticisms made of their constitution and of Bunting's style of government, and it expelled ministers thought to be part of the incipient revolt. Because of this dispute, the Wesleyans lost nearly 100,000 members nationwide in the years 1850 to 1855, including the loyalty of a number in the Audley area. These Alsagers Bank reformers would not release the old chapel building for its new purpose, and despite several offers to buy them out, they remained as a problem to the local society until 1870. Then they did settle for a cash sum, which went towards converting three cottages into a United Methodist Free Church, later to be replaced by a new chapel, Zion, almost next door to the Wesleyans. To this new "home" went the lost membership, and also to a new chapel at Wood Lane for those in a similar situation there. This was built at the highest point in Wood Lane in 1872, and took the title "Hilltop". Each of these chapels spent almost a century until their demolition being universally referred to as the "Free" church.

The other, much earlier schism, the New Connection, has already been mentioned. Unlike the rest of the North Staffordshire area, particularly Hanley, where this cause was well represented, the Audley coalfield had little contact with it. Eventually, in 1863, a chapel was built in Wood Street, off Ravens Lane, close to the main Wesleyan church in Audley. The New Connection made little impact upon the area, the Wesleyans had too big a hold by this time, and this was the first chapel to close in the present century, in the 1950s, through lack of support. Most of the Wesleyan dissent in the area had already gone to the Free Methodists.

By 1879-80 it is possible to glean accurate membership figures from both main bodies to compare their relative strength, after seventy years of mission. For the Audley coalfield the Primitives had three chapels and 156 members, while with four chapels the Wesleyans had 400 members[xix]. The impact of Methodism had reached its zenith by the period 1890-1914. The extent of the Methodist grip, even on the workplace, is illustrated by a mining calamity which befell the Audley area in early 1895. On the morning of Monday, January 14th that year, a sudden inrush of water inundated the workings of the Diglake Colliery, while some 238 men and boys were below ground. In all, 77 local workers were drowned or died as a result of being trapped in a diminishing air supply. Only two bodies were recovered in the twenty-four hours afterwards, and three more were retrieved via other workings nearly 40 years later. The composition of the workforce of any nineteenth century coalmine is almost impossible to determine in modern times as few records have survived. It is a grim fact that only by studying accidents, can the working practices and the names and personal details of the miners be revealed for any pit.

But the Diglake disaster has an additional dimension which can be summarised by the address given by the Audley Wesleyan minister. The Rev.Henry Lewis said, "You know, and the friends in the immediate neighbourhood know, what remains yet to be stated outside this district that, with few exceptions, the whole of the entombed men and boys belonging to Audley and Wood Lane, belong to the Wesleyan Methodist Church."[xx] He went on to say that he drew attention to this fact because no reference had been made in the media to the presence of such a large Nonconformist element in the district, and that this was largely the cause of the good morale of the Audley colliers. When the figures are analysed he is proved correct. There were only two Anglicans and two Primitive victims among the dead. One of the two funerals was of a Chesterton man belonging to the United Free Methodists in that village. The resulting loss of membership reported to the next quarterly meeting in March, was given as fifty, comprising 27 adults and 23 scholars. The latter is exactly the number of boys aged between 13 and 17 who were killed. 

A possible explanation of this apparent saturation of Wesleyans in the workforce, apart from the obviously large proportion of the local population who were in membership, can be found in the list of victims, and in the roll of honour of rescuers. Two of the dead were John Elsby and William Sproson who were listed as Contractors. These were men who, in the mining custom of the district, contracted to supply labour to the coal face and were allocated a complete underground area to work. This was known as the "Butty" system. Elsby and Sproson were both leading Wesleyans in Audley and Wood Lane respectively, indeed the former was a highly regarded local preacher and class leader. It seems likely that both men would recruit their workforces from their chapel colleagues in the first instance, and only when this source was exhausted would they look elsewhere. The miners themselves worked in teams of six, which were often family groupings, the leader engaging his sons, brothers and nephews. Because safety and efficiency relied upon teamwork, this family relationship proved most suitable for many years. However, if disaster struck it also meant a heavy loss for a family, and the womenfolk left behind could have no breadwinner at all. Thus we find numerous groups of related men and boys in the casualty list. Sproson died with his brother and two nephews.

The colliery was leased from the ground landlord, Sir Thomas Boughey, by the Rigby brothers, and actually managed by one of them, Frank Rigby, the senior partner. This family too, had a three generation association with Audley Wesleyans, their grandfather, Robert Rigby (1787-1867), had been a Wesleyan local preacher for 40 years. When the Rev. Lewis had spoken of "the good morale of the Audley colliers" his opinion was confirmed by the Official Report published at the end of 1895. The Inquiry Chairman, Hon. Mark Napier, Q.C. interviewed many of the surviving miners, who might be thought bitter at the loss of relatives, friends and workmates, and resentful at being unemployed as the pit never reopened. The following quotation from the report illustrates the feelings and attitude of these men. "..(they) made no complaint of any neglect of proper precautions, or want of care for their safety, and to me it appeared remarkable that, though many of the witnesses had lost near relatives by the accident, in no instance did any witness show any animosity towards the management, but sympathy rather for the misfortune which had befallen Messrs. Rigby, who seem to be held in high esteem by the men."[xxi]

A disaster on this scale was exceptional for the Audley coalfield, and a study of the workings in the area during that century show few periods lost because of underground calamities. In the period 1800-1894 almost 200 local miners had been killed in local mining accidents, mostly in single or at most four man incidents. Labour disputes were rare, particularly when both parties in pay negotiations were members of the same chapel. Because of this continuity of gainful employment, miners were able to accumulate a degree of relative wealth not found elsewhere among the working class. This does not imply riches which could be flaunted, but does mean a sufficient surplus to finance both chapel building, and rebuilding, together with the ancillary halls and classrooms, and the purchase of individual family homes. The trend for home ownership is pronounced after 1880, because the main friendly society in the area, the Foresters, introduced a form of mortgage for its members, making use of its accumulated funds[xxii], and always charged 4% interest. It is worth noting that in 1895 this society had to draw upon national funds to sustain its obligations to Diglake disaster dependents, and suspended giving loans for a year or two.

With the security of their own homes, a number of elderly men in chapel records are described as retired miners, and that was two decades before national pension legislation took effect. Given the support of fellow chapel members, a younger man could branch out into one of many minor retail enterprises being assured of Methodist custom at least, which in the Audley coalfield, was most of the wage earning population. A Methodist miner turned shopkeeper could count upon the chapel as his shop customers, as occurred for Richard Bailey in Alsagers Bank, Lionel Richardson and George Saunders (Halmerend), Isaac Durber (Wood Lane), Enoch Riley, Thomas Dean and Frederick Whalley (Audley) and John Proctor in Ravens Lane. In return for this loyalty these men were seen to be generous benefactors to the chapel and its fabric. It was the custom at donation times for lists of the money contributions from named individuals to be circulated at Sunday school anniversaries and during building appeals.

When it came to fund raising, there is an absence in the Audley records of the modern practice of holding "Jumble" or "Bring and Buy" sales. Audley Wesleyans in the late nineteenth century would confront any financial need with the inevitable committee. The need could be a deficit in their working accounts for running the circuit, which included payment of the minister's stipend. Often they wished to engage an evangelist to supplement the ministry, mission being constantly on the agenda. The most popular fund raising event was the Public Lecture. A short-list of appropriate nationally known celebrities was drawn up in order of preference, and these were approached by the secretary. These included the Rev.Silas Hocking in 1895, a leading author of his day. Over 500 tickets were sold and a net surplus of over ten pounds was made, which cleared the circuit debt for that year[xxiii].                

In the early years of the twentieth century the pace of Methodist activity levelled out. No new chapels were opened, though existing premises were improved or extended, particularly by the Primitives in Audley village and at Halmerend. The Wesleyans, always the stronger body, had improved all their buildings some thirty years earlier, and were in some cases still repaying loans for the work. Membership of both denominations, having remained fairly static over the turn of the century, now began a gentle decline. The Wesleyan total of 420 in 1904 dropped to 350 by 1914. This made little difference to their work, and the characteristic emphases of Methodist life continued. The Primitives were moving further into politics, actively supporting candidates in local elections for Audley Urban District Council. In 1905, seven of the 15 seats were held by Primitive Preachers who presumably adapted their pulpit oratory for the hustings. From 1907, Halmerend P.M. chapel was regularly used for local Labour Party branch meetings, and this continued up to 1939[xxiv]. Social issues still occupied circuit meetings, and in 1912 the Wesleyans resolved to "draw the attention of the District and County Police to the surreptitious breaking of the Licensing Act in the Audley and Chesterton district  ".                                 

Methodism in Wood Lane.

The small community of Wood Lane grew up along a roadway which led to the Woodhouse Farm, which had been part of Apedale Manor from the twelfth century. With the cutting of Gresley's Canal in 1775, deeper mines were sunk below Wood Lane in clearings made in the extensive woodland which gave the area its name. More miners were needed and for them a few new cottages were built along the lane. Growth was slow up to 1841 when the census showed 199 people living in 37 houses, mostly occupied as miners, with only five households engaged in agriculture. Yet to this small community had come both Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, who, by 1833 had each established a planned preaching station with regular Sunday worship and weeknight meetings.

In 1835 the Wesleyans constructed a makeshift chapel upon rented land in the hamlet, and apparently this was sufficiently complete in a single day, Good Friday, for a service to be held there on the same evening. Clearly this was a wooden, possibly prefabricated structure, using the combined and varied talents of these working men. Both farmers and miners were used to urgent practical joinery, and the resultant hut would have served for all church purposes, being larger than any of the cottage rooms which had been used up to that date. However, it does not appear in the returns of the Religious Census of 1851, so it must not have been deemed officially as a church.

The Primitive Plan of 1833 has the first mention of the place with a cottage preaching station, the home of Joseph Stubbs, an engineer who became a recognised exhorter in 1837. The number of services held on a Sunday increased to two in September 1837, and a year later they were honoured by a preaching visit from the district chairman, Samuel Hawthorne, of Burslem. Their evangelical work was supplemented by Camp meetings held at intervals during each spring and summer at Knutton Heath (Silverdale), Chesterton and Talke. By 1839 a fortnightly midweek service was being planned, and it is likely that Miles Green was considered a part of Wood Lane at this time as it lay at the foot of the hill leading to Audley village. There were several farms here and a number of miner's cottages. Inhabitants of both villages were related and the Methodists of both causes met at Wood Lane. By 1842 the Primitives set up a cottage preaching station at Miles Green and rearranged the appointments so that the preacher sent there would now lead Sunday worship at Wood Lane at 2pm, and then move to Miles Green for 6pm. Probably the accommodation at Wood Lane had become overcrowded, and the prospect of a small chapel like that of the Wesleyans was beyond their resources. In fact they did not build a chapel of any kind until 1869 in Wood Lane and until 1880 in Miles Green. This must mean that their numbers did not match their fervour, and they grew at a slower rate than the Wesleyans. Indeed, the minutes show no activity at all in 1840-41, with Lovefeasts suspended, and only Sunday worship continuing. It is possible that their cause floundered at this time as Joseph Stubbs lost a child in an epidemic, and his wife died shortly after. If their driving force had problems, they must have stagnated for a while. But 1842 showed a recovery in activities, and Wood Lane was never again absent from the Primitive plan.

In 1855 Robert Berks, a local farmer, and three other Wesleyans bought a plot of land in Megacre Lane, later to be called High Street. Here by 1860 a new brick Chapel was built which survived as a Sunday School building and Youth Club until 1975. In 1869 the Primitives erected their only building in Wood Lane, a modest brick chapel which was also the Sunday school. The amount of money collected at a Sunday School Anniversary in this neighbourhood, was considered to be the yardstick of a chapel's success for many years. It would be compared with the rival chapels, and seen if it was an increase upon the previous year. For 1878, the Primitives raised £24, the Free church £43, and the Wesleyan anniversary £73. This is probably the best indicator of relative strengths which is likely to be found over a century later.

By 1879 the records of both Primitive and Wesleyan churches show their combined membership and adherents equal to three-quarters of the Wood Lane population, with the Wesleyans having over twice the numbers of the Primitives. The relative memberships were 13 at the Primitive Chapel, with up to 67 hearers, and the Wesleyans had 78 full members with up to 100 hearers. It is usual to calculate the adherents, or hearers, as being double the number of the members, but this is now felt to be a low estimate[xxv]. Most of the remainder of the chapel-going population were members of the Free church, built in 1872. There were 131 households at this time, with a total population of 650. Some chapel attenders came in from Miles Green, Boon Hill and Roggin Row. It is remarkable that a settlement should be so completely Methodist, but in this isolated position, Wood Lane chapels provided for almost every social need of the people. Apart from working together in the same group of mines or in the ironworks in the valley below, the chapel and circuit provided their further education, extended interest in hobbies, particularly for the children, and gave a welcome escape for the housewives from the domestic drudgery which was so much a feature of their lives. Ladies Sewing Circles thrived and raised impressive sums from the sale of their work for the building funds, missionary work and general chapel expenses. They had raised, over the previous five years, nearly one tenth of the cost of the last Wesleyan chapel building of 1882-3. Taking a similar mining settlement, almost two miles away at Leycett, a similar geographical situation is found. The two collieries, Bang Up and Fair Lady pits, employed men and boys from a wide area. Some walked from Wood Lane and other Audley settlements, but most lived in company housing near the mines. The whole area was owned by the same Crewe family who controlled Barthomley so closely, and similarly prevented the Methodists from owning any property on their Leycett territory. A Church of England mission hall was constructed and was to be the only building of any denomination in the history of the hamlet. Audley Wesleyans cast missionary eyes upon the place and had cottage meetings there from the 1850s onwards, always sending preachers in pairs. Whether this was for safety or to share the burden of an open air service is not explained in any of the available minutes, only their continued resolution to persevere at this place. The circuit reported 5 full members at Leycett in 1885. In 1889, they approached Lord Crewe's agent with a proposal to purchase a plot of land for a small chapel at Leycett. In a more enlightened generation of that family the best response they received was his lordship's offer to lease them a plot in an inconvenient location for 21 years. This was not acceptable, so they then contacted the only other landowner in Leycett, the North Staffordshire Railway Company, for a spare piece of their land. This came to nothing, and no further attempts can be found in the minutes beyond continuing the cottage meetings. So Wood Lane must owe its unusual religious character to being in an area with no constraints, and to some of its earliest new inhabitants being caught up in the Methodist evangelical explosion of the period. In the decade when the Leycett lord was being politely obstructive, the Apedale lord, Captain Heathcote, was making a donation to the Wesleyan building fund[xxvi] in Wood Lane.

The Church of England had opened a National School from 1860, though this was not the original intention, but a mission church would have had little success in an almost totally nonconformist settlement. The school had a continuous struggle to achieve adequate standards, frequently being criticised by the inspectors, with resultant cuts in its government grants, and a high turnover of staff. A number of parents sent their children down to the Wesleyan school, where results were more satisfactory. The vicar persevered and often came in to school to teach and test the pupils, and on occasion took the inspectorate to task for its harsh criticism of the pupils and of their home backgrounds. However, there was no mistaking the religious allegiance of the pupils and their families[xxvii]. Whenever there was a Methodist event in progress, or in even the final preparatory stages, absences from school increased as children were kept at home to assist. This often meant closing the school altogether for a day. Even the funeral of a young local preacher, Aaron Billington (1850-1875), killed in a pit accident, took most senior pupils out for an afternoon merely to stand in silence as the cortege passed. It is a tribute to the vicar's Christian charity that he continued to give of his "time and treasure" to maintain this school, with no prospect of any return to his own denomination, either in membership or in service of any kind. The inspectors' criticism was more and more directed at the inadequacies of the buildings as the century wore on. Some improvements were made, together with an extension, at Anglican expense. But a new school was needed, with more and larger classrooms, and with the outside playground space which the National school lacked. The pupils actually played in the street outside, which was fortunately a cul-de-sac. The Wesleyan circuit began a fund for their second school in Audley parish, and land was purchased in 1893 behind the new Wood Lane Chapel. Plans had been drawn up by 1903, together with similar plans for extensions to the Audley school. The Audley scheme was completed at a cost of £3157, but finances were now too restricted to go ahead at Wood Lane. During the next five years negotiations with the County Council resulted in their building a new school in Wood Lane on a new site, and purchasing the Audley school from the circuit in 1913. Thus the Wesleyans abandoned Day schooling. The plot of land at Wood Lane remained vacant for over 80 years until utilised as a chapel car park in 1990. This cost the present church over £3000, which was the original estimate for the school of 1903.

From the middle of the century the Wesleyans began to embrace the temperance movement in larger numbers, and 'Bands of Hope' began to prosper. By 1880 the total circuit membership in five bands was 1074. It is not surprising to find that no public house has ever opened in this growing community of Wood Lane at any time up to the present day. However, after the First World War, two outlets for the sale of alcohol did open in Wood Lane, an Off-licence shop and a Working Mens' Club both in the 1920s. They were founded by individual Methodists, to the chagrin of their chapel colleagues.

Much of the population increase and new house building in Wood Lane was the result of intermarriage within the community. The Marriage and Baptismal registers show that partners were chosen often from the same street, and after a short time living with one set of parents, they moved to their own home nearby, often next door. Large families were common, as elsewhere in Victorian England, and the practice of choosing Old Testament first names was rife. Today there is only the Wesleyan chapel of 1883 left in Wood Lane, and this is the centre of a lively group of community activities embracing all ages. Both church and secular enterprises revolve around the chapel and its members, ranging from youth to the elderly, the annual carnival, and theatrical productions. A glance at a concert programme cast list in February 1994 showed that over half the surnames which appeared in it, were to be found in chapel membership lists of over a century before. The society which was blended then has largely survived.


Having traced the history of the Methodist revival in and around the Audley coalfield, it can be seen that in many ways events took a predictable course, following patterns set in similar areas of England at much the same time. There were peculiarities which made the Audley experience different. Being so close to Mow Cop and Tunstall, it might be expected that the Primitive cause would have had a dominating influence in the district, but it was always less prominent than the Wesleyans even though they both arrived at almost the same time. Just over the hill in Chesterton, the Wesleyans were established from 1764, and had a good following by 1819 when the Primitives licensed their first meeting place. Yet by the 1870s the two denominations were fairly equal in membership, influence and building provision. The Audley situation was different. The area never lost its rural character and industry was contained within an agricultural and woodland setting. Ownership was distant, and local management was of the people and not aloof from them. The working class came from an agrarian background either in Audley, or from the Cheshire Plain and its Shropshire extension. They were not housed in long urban terraced streets, but in small settlements which grew slowly, keeping a bucolic charm not overshadowed by mines and factories. In Chesterton the housing was packed into one valley site surrounded by the mines, brick kilns and furnaces which provided their employment, and smoke logged their homes most of the week. The Audley workers could build and extend their homes in many parts of the area, and have small parcels of land on which to grow subsistence crops.

The class distinctions in Audley were not pronounced. The upper class was absent, and the small middle class, mainly of large tenant farmers, was mostly Church of England, and employed few of the growing number of working people. The early Primitives set up a strict regime from the outset, demanding total allegiance from its members and checking upon their conduct. Being a member was an act of dedication and total commitment which could not appeal to everyone in a community where there were few other restrictions on personal freedom. The Wesleyan church, on the other hand, was seen as an extension of Anglican faith and worship, but with active participation by laymen and where each member's contribution was encouraged not demanded. It offered all the spiritual benefits of the Primitives, but few of the restrictions. If at national level the Wesleyan leadership was high Tory in its political outlook, this did not unduly affect local loyalty. So far from the hub of government, the Audley Wesleyans probably did not grasp the Bunting view of society, but when they did hear him preach at provincial rallies, they agreed that he was spellbinding and an inspiration to all who were present, or who heard accounts of him. This would count for more than his alleged extremist opinions. When Sammy Brindley declared himself a Buntingite, he was aligning himself with the great man's powerful and urgent preaching of the need for, and means of salvation, not with any political thought. Any rivalry was not aggressive, preachers were exchanged between the denominations, and mutual help given in times of trouble. When Audley Primitive chapel faced urgent roof repairs in 1892, which would temporarily close the building for worship, they resolved "to ask our Wesleyan friends for the use of their chapel" until their own was reopened. The Wesleyans were adaptable, with conference and circuits allowing a degree of latitude to local chapels in how they conducted themselves, something unheard of in the Primitive cause. There was also a willingness to modify their original principles as time showed growing opinion changes among members. Thus the temperance movement took hold as a result of grass root agitation, and the abhorrence of musical instruments in worship, inherited from Wesley himself, gave way to the installation of organs and harmoniums in most chapels by the latter part of the century. In many towns and villages, the Wesleyan church was dominated by the middle class, and working class Methodists with aspirations to preach and lead others had little alternative but to join the Primitives, which had little appeal to the professions and so-called gentry. In Audley, this Methodist middle class was so small, and self-effacing, that it deterred none of the workers from playing their full part in Wesleyan church life and in fulfilling their aspirations.

On the sure foundations laid in the nineteenth century, the Methodist witness in Audley has continued. The late twentieth century has seen a nationwide fall in membership and consequent closure of chapels. Audley has seen some of this reduction, but not to the same extent as other parts of the district. Whereas Chesterton Methodism reduced from four chapels to one, as did Silverdale, Wolstanton from three to one, and Talke parish from four to nil, the Audley sector which is of similar size and general population, still has five chapels and its own minister, though with a membership which is less than a quarter of that of a century ago. Nine have closed, including the smaller mission chapels of the late nineteenth century. These included Boon Hill and Wereton, which were actually sponsored by Audley Wesleyan Church trustees as 'daughter' chapels.

Many of the active members today can trace their church-going ancestry back to the last century through three, four or even five generations. The Sunday School Anniversary, abandoned as an event in many Methodist societies, is still observed with enthusiasm in four of the Audley churches. The printed programmes are virtually unchanged in form from the 1890s, and show their continuity by proclaiming, in 1997, the 142nd Anniversary (Wood Lane) or 185th (Audley Central). The lasting effects upon the landscape are evident in each locality where there are Wesley and Chapel Streets, streets named after church members who were prominent in the past, and in the buildings which stand out above the village houses, and still act as centres both of Christian mission and of local community life.


A 500th Anniversary:

In 1497, discontent in Cornwall became open revolt, led by Thomas Flamank, son of tax commissioner, and  Michael Joseph, a blacksmith.  They were joined in Somerset by Lord Audley.  At Blackheath, on 17th June 1497, the rebels were defeated and their leaders were captured and executed.  James, seventh Lord Audley, was beheaded at Tower Hill on 28th June 1497.



[i] Barbara Donaldson, ‘The Register of Dissenting Protestant Chapels & Meeting Houses’ Staffordshire Historical Collections, (1960 edition).

[ii] Guide book to Museum of Primitive Methodism, Englesea Brook, 1988, p.14

[iii] C.Davey  The Methodist Story, (Epworth, 1955) p.46.

[iv] The Local Preachers Magazine 1941-42, reproduction of an article on Brindley, p.7. Confirmed  by the Census of 1861.

[v] Tunstall Primitive Minutes, Resolution of September 1837.

[vi] John Munsey Turner, Lecture at Englesea Brook Museum, 29 May 1994. Transcript p.2.

[vii] S.Webb  History of Trades Unionism, (London, 1911).

[viii] Parliamentary Papers, Report of Commission on Employment of Children in Mines, 1842, p.568.

[ix] Parliamentary Papers, The State of the Population in Mining Districts, 1846, Vol.XXIX, pp.8 26.

[x] Tunstall Minutes; 17 September 1838, Joseph Stubbs of Wood Lane appointed as an Exhorter.

[xi] G.Sudlow, Sammy Brindley and his Friends, (Kelly, 1905)  p.82-85.

[xii] Audley Wesleyan Circuit  Local Preachers Meeting Minutes 1876-1913.

[xiii] Halmerend Wesleyan Trustees Minutes of 1893, resolution to form a new Trust.

[xiv] Audley Wesleyan Chapel Trustees Minutes, 1876 formation of new Trust for the new church.

[xv] Information from the Archivist of the A.O.O.Foresters, Camberley, Surrey.

[xvi] For a full history see John Taylor's article in Audley Historian II (Dec 1996)

[xvii] Audley Court of  the A.O.O. Foresters, Centenary Pamphlet, 1968.

[xviii] C.Davey, Op.cit., p.54-55.

[xix] From Primitive Schedule 1879, and Wesleyan Circuit Minutes; Aggregate figure for all chapels in similar area of the coalfield for each Connection.

[xx] Sentinel ; 21 January 1895.

[xxi] Official Report into the Audley Colliery Disaster , (HMSO, October  1895) p.3.

[xxii] Audley Court of the A.O.O.Foresters, Centenary Pamphlet, 1968.

[xxiii] Audley Wesleyan Chapel Minutes, December 1895.

[xxiv] Halmerend Primitive Chapel minutes.

[xxv] D.Hempton, Methodism and Politics , p.12.

[xxvi] Wood Lane Wesleyan Chapel Treasurer's Accounts 1882.

[xxvii] Staffordshire Record Office, D/3483/3/1, (Wood Lane National School Log Book).