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EARLY METHODISM IN HUNTINGDONSHIRE AND ITS

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IMMEDIATE VICINITY:

BY THE REV. HENRY SMITH.
(Concluded from page 592.)

METHODISM at Tempsford, in the St. Neots Circuit, has a history of more than ordinary interest. In the year 1794, the Rev. Thomas Linay, one of the Preachers in the St. Ives Circuit, was on his way to the hall of an eminent Methodist in Herts, when he fell in with an old farmer, a General Baptist, who held very tenaciously his views of 'immersion.' In order that he might profit under such a Ministry, he was accustomed to drive a distance of twenty miles every Lord's Day. He had often heard about the Wesleyans; and though he did not believe their doctrines of 'instantaneous conversion,' and 'perfection,' was compelled to acknowledge that some whom he had known were as Christlike as any of the Baptists. After a long conversation with the Tempsford farmer, Mr. Linay promised him that the next time he came on his 'round' he would preach a sermon there. Not long afterwards the farmer met with another Methodist, to whom he said in the course of conversation: God has so blessed me in temporal matters that I know not what return to make for His goodness.' 'Go home,' said his friend, and take the Methodist Preachers into your house.' This unexpected counsel he took. When Mr. Linay next came on his round Mr. Bennett welcomed him to his house. A society was soon formed, and early in the present century the friends resolved upon building a chapel.

Nearly all the land belonged to Sir Gillies Payne, and it was rather doubtful whether he would be will

ing to sell land to the Methodists, or even to allow them a barn or any room in which to worship. It was hoped that he would not be less liberal in his dealings with them, than he had been to some Christian slaves, who at that time were permitted to worship God upon his estates in the West Indies. They agreed to pray about the matter first. It was then arranged for Mr. Bennett to wait upon Sir Gillies with a request that an old barn might be appropriated to Methodist services. 'Bennett,' said the baronet, 'those Methodists will ruin you, as sure as you are a man.' 'O, no, Sir Gillies, they will do me no harm, but good; and they will do good to the whole village.' Sir Gillies was not willing to give his consent. Bennett continuing to plead with him burst into tears. At length Sir Gillies said, half-jesting and half in earnest: Bennett, you take advantage of my kindness for you; you know I don't like to deny you anything. I suppose you must go and do what you like with the old barn.' The barn now became a sanctuary.

One day, as two daughters of the baronet were passing through the village, they heard some one praying in the barn-chapel. They drew near the window, and eagerly listened to prayers offered for all the inhabitants of the village, and for the landlord and all the dwellers in the Hall. Fanny,' said the elder sister, as they left the window, 'did you ever hear people pray so? such poor people, too, and without a book! I am afraid we could not have prayed so. And they prayed for us

See this Magazine for 1827, pp. 436-441; 1841, p. 707, etc.

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so earnestly. If they are right, I fear we are wrong.' They could not get rid of their sense of guilt. Before the next day closed the baronet's daughters sent a message to Mr. Bennett, requesting him to come to the Hall, as they had a particular wish to see him. He went. Mr. Bennett,' said they, we have sent for you to tell you we are wretchedly unhappy. We are really afraid that we are not going in the path which leads to heaven. Can you tell us how to get rid of this horrible feeling?' He tried, and not in vain, to explain the way of life. They became truly converted to God, and soon united themselves to the Methodist Society.

The venerable baronet did not live many years after his daughters had publicly espoused Methodism. About the year 1803, a new chapel was thought desirable. As the baronet's successor was bitterly opposed to the Methodists, they knew it was, humanly speaking, useless to ask him to sell them land. Another person in the village owned a small piece of land; but they feared that he would ask such a price as would put it beyond their power to buy. As they were deliberating, one of them proposed that a special Prayermeeting should be held for the purpose of pleading that the Lord would prepare the way for the purchase of land. The next morning, while farmer Bennett was at family prayer, a knock was heard at his door. Upon opening it, an old man was seen standing there, in a state of great excitement. When asked the occasion of his visit, he said: 'I am come about that ground you wanted for a chapel. I count you must have it after all. I have not been easy in my mind since I said "No" You are like to have it, and the sooner the better.' The land was at once secured, and, in 1804, the chapel was built.

to you.

We have frequently heard of the

remarkable answers to prayer which

God gave Mr. Bennett. His six sons and one daughter were truly converted. All who came to his house were under the necessity of conforming to his regulation with regard to family prayer. A gay foxhunting old gentleman from a neighbouring county had come to Mr. Bennett's on business. At the usual hour the servants assembled. Mr. Bennett having explained to his guest his custom, assumed that he would not take exception to it. He at once acquiesced, and knelt with the rest around the family altar. Rising at the close of the prayer, and before the servants could leave the room, he said: 'Well, Mr. Bennett, I wish I was one of your neighbours; I have never heard such a prayer as that before, long as I have lived. I have some of Lord Nelson's, and some of our good old King's; but I have nothing like that which I have just heard, I am sure. You must let me have that prayer.'

Through the influence of Mr. Bennett the widow of John Macartha Sharpe, Solicitor-General of Grenada, had been brought to God. She be came instrumental in the conversion of E. M. Sharpe, of Elstow, who subsequently married the daughter of the Chaplain to His Royal Highness, the Duke of Clarence. Mrs. Sharpe's daughter was, in the year 1811, convinced of sin in the Tempsford Chapel under a sermon preached by the Rev. F. Calder, whose wife she afterwards became. She never forgot her spiritual birth-place, but often gave practical proof of her attachment to Tempsford village

Methodism.

Dr. Haweis, (the intimate friend of J. Newton, W. Romaine, and Lady Huntingdon,) was connected by marriage with the Sharpe family, and though belonging to the Calvinistic branch of Methodism, sympa

thized with Mr. Bennett in his evangelistic work. While Mr. Bennett was thus engaged at Tempsford, John Fielding, a zealous Methodist farmer from Yorkshire, laboured abundantly and successfully in Honeydon, another village in the St. Neots Circuit.

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But

He was a burning and a shining light' in a dark place. His uncle owned several estates in Bedfordshire. In the year 1794 one of these became vacant, and he wished his nephew to enter upon it. Mr. Fielding was then living at Halifax. He was a Local Preacher. It was a trial for him to go from Halifax, where he enjoyed the ministry of such men as Charles Atmore and George Gibbon, to Honeydon, where there was no Methodism. The nearest Methodist chapel was four miles distant. he remembered that it was as truly a Christian duty to communicate to others as it was a privilege to receive. He entered upon the farm, and soon made it known that he was a Wesleyan, and began to exhort sinners to flee from the wrath to come. His uncle did not show him the kindness and forbearance that were reasonably expected, still, there was no positive prohibition of Methodist services in Honeydon. Not only did Mr. Fielding preach our doctrines there, but in most of the towns and villages in Herts., Beds., Hunts. and Cambs. for nearly thirty miles around. Many seals were given to his ministry. His wife, Rachel, also 'laboured much in the Lord.'

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that I believe the half has not been told of her who is the subject of this memoir. Were I to make a supplement to it, I should have to acknowledge my own conversion, as well as that of very many in my own parish and elsewhere some of whom have died in the faith, in the enjoyment of the blessing of entire sanctification; and many others are now walking worthy of their vocation, as the blessed result of a union between Methodism and the Church of England. Indeed, were I to narrate all that has been effected under the blessing of God in my own parish alone through this union, and in answer to the prayers of her who being dead yet speaketh," I could fill many pages of your Magazine, but delicacy forbids me to say more; though my conscience would not allow me to say less, having a desire to acknowledge, in some little degree, the debt I owe, as a minister of the Church of England, as well as many of my people, to the doctrines and discipline of Methodism.'

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The Vicar established Class-meetings in connection with his church, and, like Berridge, Hickes, and others, was in some sense a Methodist Preacher.

Mrs. Fielding had not long been a member of the Society when she went to reside at Honeydon. The following incident led to her awakening: She was one Sabbath-day taking a walk with a friend when she passed a Methodist on the way to the chapel to hear the Rev. J. Entwisle. She was struck with the happy appearance of the woman, and immediately after passing her, exclaimed to her companion, 'O, how I wish I was like that woman!' Her companion urged her to continue the walk; but Mrs. Fielding firmly refused. She followed the good woman, and heard Mr. Entwisle preach from 'How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? The word proved to be the power of God to her salvation. Methodism in St. Neots owed much to the piety and virtues of Mr. and Mrs. Fielding.

We may fitly close our sketch of Methodism in this Circuit by refer

ring to the town of Potton. When Mr. Wesley first visited the place, he 'could not find a living Christian therein; but wild beasts in abundance. A remarkable revival of religion took place here in the days of Berridge. It is not clear that any Methodist Society was formed here, however, until about fifty years ago. For many years the Society was very feeble. When, in 1851, Mr. Henry Inskip went to reside at Potton, things were in a low state. Some of his friends urged him to leave the Wesleyans. 'No,' said he, 'as long as there are any Methodists in the place I shall worship with them.' At this time he was not a member of the Society, though strongly attached to the Cause. He began a successful movement for a new chapel. Soon a new school was also built. The chapel and school may be regarded as a memorial of his zeal for the Lord's house. He became truly converted, and a Local Preacher, and was instrumental in the conversion of not a few. His influence lasts unto the present day.*

At one time the Biggleswade and St. Neots Circuits were united. The year in which Farmers Bennett and Fielding welcomed the Methodist Preachers to Tempsford and Honeydon, an excise officer named Freeman gave a cordial welcome to them to Biggleswade. Mr. Freeman had, prior to residing at Biggleswade, been accustomed to the ministry of a pious Clergyman; but, not finding the Vicar of Biggleswade of the same class, Freeman wrote to his old friend, and asked whether he should invite the Methodists to preach occasionally. He returned

prompt and definite answer, 'Get them by all means.'

Mr. Freeman was also advised to apply to Madam Harvey, of Hinx

worth Hall, an eminent Methodist, to arrange for one of the Preachers to commence his mission at Biggleswade. The Superintendent, Mr. Linay, one Sabbath preached for the first time on the Market Hill, in a shop which had been procured for the purpose. Madam Harvey built

a Methodist Chapel in Biggleswade, the dimensions of which were ten yards square. It was opened by Dr. Coke in 1795. This lady also built at her own expense chapels in Hinxworth, Baldock, and Stevenage, and, at her death, left three thousand pounds to assist in carrying the Gospel to the dark parts of Hertfordshire. In 1804 she built a Preacher's house at Biggleswade,and for several years supported one of the Ministers. She died in 1806.

About the year 1798 Methodism was introduced into Alconbury by two veterans from the neighbouring village of Weston, named Maddison and Busingham. About the year 1812 a room was hired at Alconbury for preaching-services. In 1845 a chapel was built at a cost of four hundred and fifty pounds. It would have cost much more had it not been that the people upon the spot were able to do some of the building themselves.

When the chapel was in course of erection, they heard that the old pulpit in which Wesley used to preach, at Godmanchester, was to be disposed of. A strong-limbed man hastened to fetch it. In his excite ment, in the prospect of such a prize, he forgot to take horse and cart for it; but, in order to make sure of it, he resolved to carry it upon his back. The Alconbury Methodists were not a little proud of having the pulpit in which Wesley preached.

Daniel Pressland,† who had spent

* See this Magazine for 1869, pp. 474, 475. † He died in 1841. See this Magazine for 1845.

part of his boyhood in a village of Huntingdonshire, was one of the pioneers of Methodism in what is now the Higham-Ferrers Circuit. From childhood Daniel was, in no small measure, under the restraining grace of God. Upon his removal to Higham Ferrers, he became more deeply impressed with the importance of a godly life. The Curate of the parish, observing his deportment, took an interest in him, and kindly offered him the loan of books, and gave him assistance in studies for which he had a taste. He felt it to be a duty to use the gifts with which God had blessed him; and, while yet connected with the Established Church, he held cottage-meetings, at which he sometimes read one of Bishop Beveridge's sermons, and at other times read and explained a portion of the Word of God. For awhile no opposition was raised; but erelong he was told that his practices, being irregular, he must not continue them. To obviate the difficulty, he procured a license to preach, and also secured licenses for several houses in and around the town.

In 1790, hearing that the Methodist Preachers were accustomed to conduct services at Irchester, he resolved to attend one of them. He was most favourably impressed, and in his heart wished that some such Gospel Minister would visit Higham. A short time afterwards, as he was walking towards the market-cross in Higham, he recognised a face which he had seen at the Irchester preaching service. A moment's reflection told him it was the Preacher. 'I wish,' said Pressland, 'you would come and preach to us; we have as much need of your preaching as any place you visit.' 'I have no objection,' said the Preacher. 'But,' asked Pressland, when and where will you preach?' Mr. Jenkins, who was then Superintendent of the

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Bedford Circuit, and who was ever ready to preach the Word, said, pointing to the market-cross: 'I will preach there; and if you will get me a congregation I will preach now.'

Mr. Pressland secured a congregation. The opponents were greatly exasperated. Some of the chief men of the town met together to consult as to what should be done to put a stop to these proceedings; but from that time to the present services have been regularly held there.

The pioneers of Methodism in Wellingborough were Doctor and Mrs. Dermott. The circumstances which led to their acceptance of Methodism were the following.

A

lady belonging to a Methodist family residing in a neighbouring town, rode to Wellingborough to make enquiry about a business which had been advertised. When she came opposite the house of Doctor Dermott, her horse fell, and her arm was fractured. She was taken to the doctor's house, who, when he heard that she was the daughter of a surgeon who had been reduced in circumstances, and that she was a stranger in the town, urged her to remain for a time with his family. Mr. and Mrs. Dermott were then strangers to experimental religion, although both of them regularly attended the services of the Church of England. The surgeon's daughter several times introduced religious topics in conversation. Mrs. Dermott was somewhat prepared for this, as she was just recovering from an illness. On the first Sunday after her recovery, instead of going to church she had a particular desire to go to the Methodist service at Irchester, to which she and her husband had often been invited by two families whom he attended. She went, and was convinced that the strange reports which had been circulated respecting the new sect' were false. Upon her return, Mr.

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