Bradwell: Ancient and Modern

A History of the Parish and of Incidents in the Hope Valley.

By Seth Evans (1912)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2013

Chapter IX.


John Wesley and His Pioneers.

The story of the introduction of Wesleyanism in Bradwell has already been told in Evans' “Methodism in Bradwell”. It dates back to the very beginning, for in 1738 David Taylor, the earliest preacher of Methodism in Sheffield, missioned the Peak, Bradwell included.

In 1747 John Wesley himself visited Bradwell and preached in the Town Gate, close to the stocks, and in his journal for 1765 he wrote: “March 23rd, Saturday, we took horse from Sheffield in a furious wind which was ready to bear us away. About 10 I preached at Bradwell in the High Peak, where, notwithstanding the storm, abundance of people were got together. I had now an opportunity of inquiring concerning Mr. B___y. He did run well till one offence after another swallowed him up. But he scarce enjoyed himself after. First, his eldest daughter was snatched away, then his only son, then himself. And now only two or three of that large family now remain”. But twenty years before Wesley came, earnest men and women were daring to carry on the work and worship God in their own fashion at the risk of their lives. The first to open their houses for the reception of the Methodists were Isabella Furness and Margaret Howe - names that yet survive - and in their homes Sarah Moore, a young woman from Sheffield, used to hold prayer meetings, and walk from Sheffield to Bradwell and back. But the first society class here was formed by William Allwood, a young butcher, of Rotherham, about 1750.

The work was carried on in those days by devoted men and women, upon whom insult and assault were heaped regardless of the consequences, and so much did Benjamin Barber suffer for his religion that he went to his grave as “the Methodist martyr”. A story concerning him is well

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First Primitive Methodist Chapel
(1) First Primitive Methodist Chapel in Bradwell.
Built 1823; now a cottage.
Old Baptist Chapel
(3) Primitive Methodist Chapel.
Built 1845.
Primitive Methodist Chapel
(2) Old Baptist Chapel; now the
Primitive Methodist Sunday School.
Wesleyan Chapel
(4) Wesleyan Chapel. Built 1807.

worth repeating. Mr. Joseph Clay, of Sheffield, who was interested in lead mines here, and was the principal proprietor of Water Grove Mine, which then employed between 200 and 300 men, interviewed Benjamin with a view to engaging him as his agent, but as though he had received some previous intimation, he asked “What is your religious profession?” “A Methodist, sir”, was the reply. “Well, now”, said Mr. Clay, “if you engage in this work I shall expect you to renounce all connection with the Methodists, and attend the services of the Church of England”. “Sir”, said Benjamin, “I am a poor man, and have a large family to support, but if that be one of the conditions of my engagement, I must say that from the good I have received from the Methodists, rather than renounce them I will beg my bread from door to door”. Benjamin was engaged, and ever after Mr. Clay spoke of him as “my trusty servant Benjamin”, and when he died he bequeathed to him his old-fashioned silver watch.

In 1760. when accompanying William Green, of Rotherham, from Castleton, where they had been endeavouring to hold a meeting, but were prevented by a mob, they were followed on the road to Bradwell and almost stoned to death, Benjamin being almost murdered, and the marks of the wounds he carried to his grave.

From a barn the Methodists removed to the upper room of a house on Smithy Hall, belonging to Wm. Cheetham, and on one of the old window-panes there still remains, cut with a diamond, the verse:

“If any ask the reason why
We here together meet.
To such inquiries we reply,
‘To bow at Jesus' feet’”.
William Cheetham, 1768.

On another pane there is the following:

“Would you credit Jesus' cause,
Walk uprightly in His laws;
Would your soul to Jesus win.
Let your life be free from sin”.
William Cheetham. June 14, 1770.

“I wish, William, your name was written in the Book of Life”.

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First Wesleyan Preaching Room
First Wesleyan Preaching Room, in William
Cheetham's House, Smithy Hill; it is now a
Bedroom marked X.
Portion of the First Wesleyan Chapel
Portion of the First Wesleyan Chapel in
Treacle Street (now Fern Bank), at the
top of Smithy Hill.

The first chapel was built in 1768, in what was known as “Treacle Street”, now Fern Bank. Benjamin Barber was the principal factor in the work. In 1807 the present chapel was erected at a cost of £877 3s. Sid., on land sold by Thomas Somerset, carpenter, the first trustees being: John Middleton, miner; George Maltby, miner; Benjamin Barber, shopkeeper; Thomas Hill, miner; Philip Barber, miner; Josiah Barber, mineral agent; Joseph Barber, miner; Edward Somerset, carpenter; Nathaniel Somerset, carpenter; Thomas Cheetham, miner, ail of Bradwell; and Ralph Penistone, of Baslow, farmer.

The chapel was renovated in 1891 at a cost of £1,358 3s. 1d., including a new organ, and the cemetery has been enlarged from time to time. Many of Methodism's most famous preachers have held forth in this chapel, with which all the old families in the village have been prominently connected at one time or other. Bradwell was constituted the head of an important circuit in 1812, but in 1905 was, much against its will, included in the North Derbyshire Mission.

Some Curious Items.

There are some curious and amusing entries in the well-preserved account-books of the Wesleyan body. A hundred years ago teetotallers were unknown, and ale drinking was apparently the proper thing to do. At any rate, even a chapel could not be built without it. Some of William Marsh's (the contractor's) men were thirsty souls, and the Bull's Head and White Hart were handy then as now. At Mrs. Ellen Bradwell's, the Bull's Head, they put on a shot of £7 0s. 6d. “for ale”, and £2 11s. 6d. at Richard Bennett's the White Hart, and the trustees paid the bills. And seven years later even the scaffold holes could not be filled up without a wet, for we “paid Ellen Bradwell for ale that William Marsh had 7s. 6d.” Twenty years later the chapel could not be painted without “ale for the workmen 5s. 9d.”, and we have “ale for the workmen 4s.” when the gates were erected at the entrance to the chapel yard.

Musicians were famous for having to wet their whistles, and it was feared that if the tap stopped the music would cease to have charms. Hence, when the harmonium was opened one Sunday in 1818, Clement Morton, himself a musician, and landlord of the “Rose and Crown”, was paid “for refreshments to the Hayfield singers £2 1s. 4½d.” It would be interesting to know how these Hayfield singers reached home.

And at festivities for children, here and elsewhere, ale was often given to children, and on Queen Victoria's Coronation Day in 1837 the scholars partook of “currant cake and ale” in the chapel. We have improved on those times.

The first Sunday School was established by Benjamn Barber about 1780, and at one time was conducted in an old silk mill, now Brook Buildings. In 1826 the school over the brook was built, now the Conservative Club; in 1814 the one at Bridge End, now the Liberal Club; and in 1878 the

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present school was built in Town Gate at a cost of £700.

Rise and Progress of Primitive Methodism.

As with the parent body, so with Primitive Methodism, to Bradwell belongs the distinction where it first gained foothold among the mountain villages of Derbyshire. In fact, it was one of the fruits of the Sheffield mission, begun by Jeremiah Gilbert, who was imprisoned in Bolsover Round House for preaching there in the year 1819.

Another of these pioneers was James Ingham, one of the first itinerant preachers, who afterwards left the itinerancy and settled in business at New Mills. Ingham wrote: “Six of us, including Gilbert, went from Sheffield, October 7th, 1821, to Bradwell, to hold the first camp meeting there, and I believe we had not a member in the town. Well might we say ‘What are these among so many?’ Many expected it would be a wet day, but God can answer prayer. It was a fine day, and the wicked were heard to say, ‘See, they can change the weather’. As the result of that Michaelmas camp meeting there were quite a score of converts ready to be enrolled as members”.

Thus began Primitive Methodism. Then it was that George Morton allowed the new sect to hold their services in his barn, next to his house in Netherside. That barn is now the property of the trustees.

In 1822 a chapel was opened by the famous Hugh Bourne, and in 1823 Bradwell became the head of a circuit, and had as its first minster the Rev. Jeremiah Gilbert. The old chapel was plain to the last degree; no porch, no vestibule, no pews, but loose forms without backs; no stove or heating apparatus; no boarded floor, nor even flagged, but the ground covered with what was called “small feith” or spar from the lead mines, which sparkled and glistened with little particles of lead ore; this was renewed every year. The Rev. John Verity, one of the most notable pioneers of the movement, who was appointed to this circuit in the year 1831. gave an exceedingly quaint description of this time-honoured sanctuary to those who had never seen it. He would say: “My chapel is floored with sparkling gems and diamonds; the people make no noise treading upon it, coming in or going out; if a baby cries the mother quietens it by putting it down on the floor to play with the diamonds. If I want anyone to engage in prayer two or three forms from me, I get up a handful of gems and throw them at the person's back”. Yet from this humble place of worship such gifted ministers were sent forth as Joseph Hibbs, John Hallam, Joseph Middleton, George Middleton, John Morton, and others. It is now a dwelling-house on Farther Hill.

From Bradwell the seed was sown throughout the villages of the High Peak, and the circuit extended over a radius even to Marple and Disley, in Cheshire, and included what is now Bradwell, Buxton, New Mills, and Glossop circuits.

Fancy that little tabernacle, now a cottage, the principal chapel in the Peak in Derbyshire! But so it was. Many amusing stories could be told of the early Primitive Methodists, both men and women. Among their women preachers were Violet Hill and Ann Maltby, and Violet Hill (Mrs. Violet Hall) lived and died in the Chapel House after the new chapel was built.

In 1845 the new body extended their borders by erecting the present chapel at a cost of £700, and in 1878 it was enlarged at a cost of £700, other improvements, including a new organ, having been carried out since.

The Sunday School is an enlargement of the old Baptist Chapel, and the old gravestone with an undecipherable inscription, in the lower part of the graveyard, close to the school, was in the old Baptist graveyard before the Primitive Methodists acquired the premises.

The chapel contains several memorial tablets to the Eyres, Hallams, Halls, and Mortons, one of these being to George and Hannah Morton, who first opened a door for the reception of the Primitive Methodists; one to Thomas Morton Moore, a famous soldier, whose career is noticed elsewhere; one to the Rev. Jacob Morton, Wesleyan minister; one to the Rev. John Morton, Primitive Methodist minister; one to the Rev. John Hallam; to Isaac and Catherine Eyre; and to the late John Hall, of New Wall Nook.

The Baptists - “Dipping” in the Holmes.

The Baptists had a cause here in the latter part of the 18th century, and built a chapel. But the adherents were never very numerous, although there was a regular minister. Those who joined the cause were immersed in the waters of Bradwell Brook down the Holmes, and not long ago there were persons living who could well remember witnessing these “dippings”, as they were termed. But the cause never prospered, and about the year 1841 services ceased and the chanel was abandoned. By this time the Primitive Methodists had established a Sunday School, and occupied the old Baptist Chapel, which they acquired, improved, and enlarged as it is seen to-day. There was a small burial ground attached to the Baptist Chapel, containing a few graves, over one of which is an old headstone still remaining. The chapel was all on the ground floor, which was composed of lime ashes, with an old stove in the centre and the pipes through the roof of the building. The ground floor, with the stove and the pulpit of the Baptists, was in its original condition down to forty-five years ago.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in February 2013.

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