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From: 'Mow Cop and the Camp Meeting Movement: Sketches of Primitive Methodism'

By: Arthur Wilkes and Joseph Lovatt 1942


The Camp Meeting idea originated, as we have , in America. In whose mind and heart the notion had its birth is not known. Reports in cold print had appeared in the Methodist Magazine, but a far more graphic and warm blooded account was brought to our North Midland Counties by Lorenzo Dow. His glowing story of Camp Meetings in America enthused the Bournes and Daniel Shubotham, and the latter, recalling his famous promise "You shall have a whole day's praying on Mow," and thinking that May 31st, 1807, would be an auspicious occasion for the purpose, linked the two things together in another notable exclamation, "That's the Camp Meeting." And so it was.

For thus it came about that when these euthusiasts of evangelism foregathered at their Class Meeting at Harriseahead to prepare for holding a Camp Meeting at Norton in August to counteract the evil influence of the Wakes, it flashed in upon the mind of Shubotham that without waiting until August they might try out the novel experiment of a Camp Meeting on Mow and make it the occasion for the fruition of their long-cherished dream of a "day's praying" on that "bleak and frowning summit." So, with,little, if any preparatory organisation and no advertisements other than that from lip to ear, the great emprise was adventured on Sunday, May 31st, 1807.

The morning opened unpromisingly. There were ominous clouds and some rain, and a "weather permitting" understanding having been previously agreed on by Bourne and the Harriseahead folk, they were a little late in arriving. But William Clowes, who had slept overnight at Mow so as to be there early, was at the appointed rendezvous by 6 o'clock, and began the proceedings with a Prayer Meeting, at which he was soon joined by Bourne, as the sun by now had conquered cloud and rain. As the day grew brighter, vast crowds assembled, necessitating three stands in the morning and four in the, afternoon. From the Potteries, from Congleton, from Macclesfield and the Cheshire plain, from distant Warrington and many other places the folk flocked to see and share in the new religious phenomenon, which, though all unwittingly to them, was to become a notable landmark in the religious history of England.

Captain Anderson hoisted a make-shift flag to guide pilgrims to the site. Heaps of stones appear to have been improvised as pulpits, while in little nooks here and there groups of workers served as praying companies which did not break up for the preaching. All of which, is in perfect keeping with the statement in the contemporary records, "It was like Judges xxi., 25, 'Every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

There appears to have been no lack of preachers, but of their names and antecedents we know next to nothing. Hugh Bourne tells us most of what we know. He speaks of abundance of preachers and praying labourers of the old Methodist Connexion. These came from Macclesfield, Congleton, and many other places. From Tunstall there was a considerable number who were not preachers, but who laboured diligently, including James Nixon. There were also several preachers of the Independent Methodists.

There must have been no lack of variety in the flood of fervent oratory that day, for it is on record that there were exhortations, readings, the recital of experiences, and the telling of anecdotes, while the medium of versification was resorted to by one of the speakers. This was Captain Anderson, who, in addition to being flag-hoister, was also something of a rhymester. He told in verse the story of his remarkable life, which had been full of adventure and romance. He had been a shepherd lad, a sailor, and an anti-slavery and temperance advocate. He had been shipwrecked, captured by French soldiers and the press-gang. But in Liverpool he had been soundly converted and was now a fervent evangelist.

A lurid touch is given to the account of one of the preachers who is nameless. He was an Irish lawyer who had been converted under the preaching of Lorenzo Dow. He gave vivid details of the horrors of the Irish Rebellion which he himself had witnessed and in which he had lost all his worldly goods. But it had led to his spiritual enrichment. From all this he deduced the lesson that we should praise God for our privileges as English Christians, improve them to the glory of God and both pity and pray for the poor and spiritually degraded Irish.

Another of the preachers was "Peg-leg" Eleazer Hathorn, of whom we shall hear more anon. In his sermon on this occasion he told the story of his life, how he had been a Deist, and an army officer, that he had lost a leg in a war in Africa, but had been converted under the ministry of Lorenzo Dow. He spoke of the "happiness of our land and of the gratitude we owed to God for its exemption from being the seat of war."

By six o'clock in the evening the crowds had diminished so that now only one preaching stand was needed and a little later still the whole service assumed the character of a prayer meeting. Many were the converts won for the Kingdom that day. Bourne tells us that "towards evening a work broke out among the children, of whom several were converted," while Clowes in characteristic fashion winds up his narrative of the day's proceedings with the exclamation "Myriads of Saints and Angels will everlastingly laud the Eternal Majesty on account of the day's praying on Mow Cop."

It was a red-letter day in that out of it sprang the Primitive Methodist Church. Though only an experiment, it was a far bigger success than its organisers dared to dream and they were inspired to go confidently forward, as they did to a second attempt on Mow two 'months later. True, some few as we shall see, were hesitant and fearful in view of the opposition of the Burslem Circuit and the disclaimer of the Liverpool Conference and therefore were not present at the Norton Camp Neeting in August.


The first Camp Meeting proved to be a prelude to similar but more ambitious and better organised efforts, which followed it in fairly quick succession. Hugh Bourne wrote an account of the first Camp Meeting which ran into a thousand words and was sold in pamphlet form at a penny.

In it he announced a second Camp Meeting on Mow Cop, and a third at Norton-in-the-Moors, in the following terms, "I have now to inform our friends that (God willing) there will be a Camp Meeting in the same place, to begin, on Saturday, July 19, 1807, at four o'clock in the afternoon, to be held day and night for two or three days or more, and also that a Camp Meeting is appointed (Providence permitting) to be held at Norton-in-the-Moors, in the county of Stafford, near the chapel, to begin on Saturday, August 22, 1807, at four o'clock in the afternoon, to be held day and night as above.

Then he goes on to say that "The provision made for the Camp Meeting that is past was small, the cause of which was that such a Meeting was a new thing in England. The Managers were unacquainted with the proper method of making preparations for it. In those that are now appointed they intend to follow the advice of their friends, that is

(1) To get the ground regularly licensed under the Toleration Act, so that misbehaviour in the time of the Meeting may be prevented as the law directs.

(2) To provide a sufficient quantity of stands for the preachers and seats for the hearers.

(3) To provide tents, etc. sufficient to defend the people from the inclemency of the weather.

(4) To provide a large supply of coals, lanterns, candles, etc. to light the Camp during the might.

(5) To get provisions sufficient to supply all distant comers during the Sabbath.

(6) To defray these expenses by public collections during the Meetings.

The expense of the above items, licenses, candles, provisions, fuel, tents and wooden structures, which totalled over 100, was, in the event, borne by Hugh Bourne himself, with the exception of a single shilling, which was the only other contribution. Evidently in the spiritual fervour of the Meetings the collections were forgotten.

Prior to this second Meeting on Mow Cop there was much unfriendly activity originated and engineered by the Macclesfield and Burslem Methodist ministers. The former issued printed propaganda decrying all such meetings. The latter canvassed the people in the vicinity of Harriseahead urging them not to attend. This sapped the enthusiasm of a number of the Camp Meetingers, whilst Shubotham and some others were induced to stay away.

The organisation of these meetings and the following one at Norton involved journeys to Lichfield and Stafford, distances of forty-five and thirty miles respectively, which Bourne did on foot in order to obtain the necessary legal authority for the occasion, a license for the building he erected and another for himself as an authorised preacher, for he had been warned that a person from Cobridge intended to be present to challenge the legality of the assembly. Then, too, local friends upon whom he had relied for help in the preaching were now not to be depended upon, as they had become fearful in view of the imminent opposition. This necessitated journeys to Knutsford and Macclesfield to solicit the assistance of other preachers, which he did on the Thursday previous.

The result was all that could have been desired, for when the time arrived there was no shortage of preachers who were glad to proclaim the evangel. Bourne himself probably took no part in the preaching owing to his being kept so busy day and night erecting huts and tents, guarding materials and provisions, tending the fires, keeping tlle candles and lanterns alight during the darkness. all of which left him with little time for the spiritual side of the work.

Indeed so preoccupied was he with these things that it was not until Sunday afternoon that he became aware of the fact that he was still in his overalls! Then no sooner had he retired to change his attire and to spend a brief period of rest and prayer than Mr. Stevenson, the gentleman from Cobridge, arrived "drest in a little brief authority," demanding to see his licenses.

Only then did Bourne remember that he had inadvertently left one of them in another pocket at home at Bemersley, some two or three miles away. Stevenson then became aggressive and threatful, upon which Bourne announced that he was ready to pay any fine that may be inflicted upon either preacher or hearer. He then invited Stevenson round to the other side of the Camp ground, where a pole had been erected bearing a copy of the license for preaching, whereupon the disillusioned objector, after wishing the promoter success in his undertaking, made a discreet and speedy departure.

This meeting was held upon land that stretched right across the boundary between the two counties, one portion of which was called "The Close." It was on this Close that the organisers wished to hold the Centenary Celebrations a hundred years later, but as that was not practicable, they were held on meadow land a little distance away. This second Camp Meeting was evidently planned more on the American model than the first and was organised with greater forethought and care, with an eye to the legal requirements of the period. It lasted two days longer and was probably in many respects a bigger success in the best sense of the word.

The leaders

Hugh Bourne: Organiser and Statesman
William Clowes: Flaming Evangelist

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