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Methodism in the Potteries 
Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme


Duck Bank Chapel

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The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and Arnold Bennett

"The Duck Square region is a little obscure; apparently it is the rather shapeless little tract between Waterloo Road proper and the market-place, with a chapel, a school, and a playground on the eastern side. At its south end (on the south side of Wedgwood Street, that is) stood the Steam
Printing Works of Darius Clayhanger ; Mr Duncalf's office, first scene of the Card's activities, was also in the Square.

Here again is a ganglion of roads, the chief of them Waterloo (" Trafalgar ") Road, the main trunk line between Hanbridge and Bursley. Where Trafalgar Road joined it Aboukir Road" or " Warm Lane" (Nile
Street) stood the " Dragon," while exactly parallel to Trafalgar Road, for some distance, ran "Woodisun Bank."

The two Methodist chapels Primitive and Wesleyan are said to have been in King Street and Duck Bank respectively; but certain details here are incongruous with to-day's topography. The other Anglican Church, St Paul's (" St Peter's"), is a little distance due north-east of the market-place..."

from.. "Writers of the Day" - general editor: Bertram Christian

The Methodist - the ideal workman

"If potting was the industry of the district, Methodism was its religion, and the two together formed the Bennett inheritance. By the time Bennett was born, religion was a more potent force than potting in the family. The first member of the Bennett family to take the significant step of becoming a Wesleyan Methodist was Sampson, son of John the potter; he joined the Methodist faith round about the year 1816, by which time Methodism was flourishing all over the Potteries. It was a religion ideally suited to the district, as Wesley found when he visited Burslem: his first visit, in 1760, was rather a wash-out because, as he crossly remarked in his Journal, 'the cold considerably lessened the congregation. Such is human wisdom! So small are the things which divert mankind from what might be the means of their eternal salvation!'

But the word did not fall on deaf ears, for he made converts; when he went back three years later he found 'a large congregation at Burslem; these poor potters four years ago were as wild and ignorant as any of the colliers in Kingswood. Lord' [he says, enigmatically, possibly intending a pun?],

'thou hast power over thine own clay!' (a)

After this, Methodism spread rapidly, and chapels sprang up all over the Five Towns: the first was built in 1766, and chapel-building went on right through the decline of the congregations at the end of the nineteenth century, for, as Bennett cynically observes in These Twain, the response of the Wesleyan community to a falling attendance and shortage of ministers was to 'prove that Wesleyanism was spiritually vigorous by the odd method of building more chapels'. (b)

At the beginning, however, Wesleyanism was truly a religion of the people and for the people. It was a genuine working-class movement, which offered spiritual hope and material improvement to its followers. It offered education, betterment, a brighter future in material terms, and an emotional release from the grim realities of the present. It preached thrift, discipline and frugality. Unfortunately these very virtues were to become weapons in the hands of the employers, and created the ambiguous attitudes to wealth and self-help and industry that were almost to ruin the religion's spiritual power.

The Methodist was the ideal workman, as the employers were quick to realize: Robert Peel, writing in 1787, says: 'I have left most of my works in Lancashire in the management of Methodists, and they have served me excellently well.' (c)

The improved Methodist, with honestly saved money in his pocket, became just as repressive and worldly as the churchmen he had despised. Wesley himself foresaw this dilemma, when he wrote:

'. .. religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will anger and pride and love of the world. . . . How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it now flourishes as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they disproportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life.' (d)

from.. "Arnold Bennett a biography pp 8,9" - Margaret Drabble

(a) John Wesley, Journal (London 1827), entries for 19 March 1760 and 20 June 1763-
(b) These Twain, Book i, ch. 3, 'Attack and Repulse'.
(c) Robert Peel, quoted by L.Tyerman in John Wesley (London 1870), vol. 3, p. 499.
(d) Wesley, op. cit.

From Wesleyan Methodist Chapel to Paris Brothel

"The Old Wives' Tale celebrates the romance of even the most ordinary lives in the course of tracing the passage of time over three generations. It tells the story of the two Baines sisters, placid stay-at-home Constance and rebellious Sophia, from their girlhood to their last days. They move from the family drapery shop in provincial Bursley during the repressive mid-Victorian period to old age in the modern era of mass marketing and the internal combustion engine. The setting ranges from the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Bursley to a Paris brothel, the action from the controlled domestic routine of the Baines household to wife murder and the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1."

"In the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Duck Bank there was a full and influential congregation. For in those days influential people were not merely content to live in the town where their fathers had lived, without dreaming of country residences and smokeless air--they were content also to believe what their fathers had
believed about the beginning and the end of all. There was no such thing as the unknowable in those days. The eternal mysteries were as simple as an addition sum; a child could tell you with absolute certainty where you would be and what you would be doing a million years hence, and exactly what God thought of you. Accordingly, every one being of the same mind, every one met on certain occasions in certain places in order to express the universal mind. And in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, for example, instead of a sparse handful of persons disturbingly conscious of being in a minority, as now, a magnificent and proud majority had collected, deeply aware of its rightness and its correctness."

"Strange that immortal souls should be found with the temerity to reflect upon mundane affairs in that hour! Yet there were undoubtedly such in the congregation; there were perhaps many to
whom the vision, if clear, was spasmodic and fleeting. And among them the inhabitants of the Baines family pew! Who would have supposed that Mr. Povey, a recent convert from Primitive Methodism in King Street to Wesleyan Methodism on Duck Bank, was dwelling upon window-tickets and the injustice of women, instead of upon his relations with Jehovah and the tailed one? Who would have supposed that the gentle-eyed Constance, pattern of daughters, was risking her eternal welfare by smiling at the tailed one, who, concealing his tail, had assumed the image of Mr. Povey? Who would have supposed that Mrs. Baines, instead of resolving that Jehovah and not the tailed one should have ultimate rule over her, was resolving that she and not Mr. Povey should have ultimate rule over her house and shop? It was a pew-ful that belied its highly satisfactory appearance. (And possibly there were other pew-fuls equally deceptive.)"

"The Old Wives' Tale" Arnold Bennett

Bible Class on Saturdays!

"Six months previously a young minister of the Wesleyan Circuit, to whom Heaven had denied both a sense of humour and a sense of honour, had committed the infamy of starting a Bible class for big boys on Saturday afternoons. This outrage had appalled and disgusted the boyhood of Wesleyanism in Bursley. Their afternoon for games, their only fair afternoon in the desert of the week, to be filched from them and used against them for such an odious purpose as a Bible class! Not only Sunday school on Sunday afternoon, but a Bible class on Saturday afternoon! It was incredible. It was unbearable. It was gross tyranny, and nothing else.

Nevertheless the young minister had his way, by dint of meanly calling upon parents and invoking their help. The scurvy worm actually got together a class of twelve to fifteen boys, to the end of securing their eternal welfare. And they had to attend the class, though they swore they never would, and they had to sing hymns, and they had to kneel and listen to prayers, and they had to listen to the most intolerable tedium, and to take notes of it. All this, while the sun was shining, or the rain was raining, on fields and streets and open spaces and ponds!"


Edwin Clayhanger joins the Young Men's Debating Society

"The Young Men's Debating Society was a newly formed branch of the multifarous activity of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. It met on Sunday because Sunday was the only day that would suit everybody; and at six in the morning for two reasons. The obvious reason was that at any other hour its meetings would clash either with other activities or with the solemnity of Sabbath meals. This obvious reason could not have stood by itself; it was secretly supported by the recondite reason that the preposterous hour of 6 a.m. appealed powerfully to something youthful, perverse, silly, fanatical, and fine in the youths. They discovered the ascetic's joy in robbing themselves of sleep and in catching chills, and in disturbing households and chapel-keepers. They thought it was a great thing to be discussing intellectual topics at an hour when a town that ignorantly scorned intellectuality was snoring in all its heavy brutishness. And it was a great thing. They considered themselves the salt of the earth, or of that part of the earth. And I have an idea that they were.

Edwin had joined this Society partly because he did not possess the art of refusing, partly because the notion of it appealed spectacularly to the martyr in him, and partly because it gave him an excuse for ceasing to attend the afternoon Sunday school, which he loathed. Without such an excuse he could never have told his father that he meant to give up Sunday school. He could never have dared to do so. His father had what Edwin deemed to be a superstitious and hypocritical regard for the Sunday school. Darius never went near the Sunday school, and assuredly in business and in home life he did not practise the precepts inculcated at the Sunday school, and yet he always spoke of the Sunday school with what was to Edwin a ridiculous reverence. Another of those problems in his father's character which Edwin gave up in disgust!"

"Clayhanger" Arnold Bennett



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