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Primitive Methodist Church

Formed in 1811 by the amalgamation of the Camp Meeting Methodists, led by Hugh Bourne,* and the Clowesites, followers of William Clowes.* These groups in turn derived from a revivalist movement which also produced the Independent Methodists in 1806. Bourne, a Staffordshire millwright, was impressed by the camp meetings* introduced into England by the revivalist preacher Lorenzo Dow, who had found them to be a great success in America and Canada. Bourne planned to hold such a gathering at Norton-on-Moors in 1807. In preparation for it members of the Harriseahead class meeting arranged for a “day’s praying on Mow Cop”—a nearby promontory. This was where Primitive Methodism was born, although to call it a camp meeting is something of a misnomer.

Meanwhile, however, the Wesleyan Conference in Liverpool had passed a resolution condemning camp meetings as “highly improper” and “likely to be productive of considerable mischief.” Bourne felt it right nevertheless to proceed with his plans for the Norton camp meeting, and as a result was expelled from the Burslem Quarterly Meeting. Thus in 1810 the Camp Meeting Methodists were formed. At the same time, Clowes had been similarly excommunicated, and in 1811 the two groups merged. In 1812 the name “Primitive Methodist” was officially adopted, the title being derived from the words of John Wesley* himself. The appointment of James Crawfoot as a traveling preacher is generally regarded as inaugurating the Primitive Methodist ministry. A set of rules was confirmed in 1814.

Growth was slow at first, but a revival in the Midlands led to a period of remarkable extension from 1819 to 1824. After weathering a crisis when lack of discipline threatened disintegration, the position was consolidated by the time a deed poll was executed in 1829. In 1843 the removal of the bookroom to London and the reorganization of the General Missionary Committee marked a transition toward connectionalism. Colonial missions were begun in the same year. There were already three Primitive Methodist conferences in America and a growing cause in Canada which in 1884 brought 8,000 members into the United Methodist Church of the Dominion. By 1901 a further development was recognized in the revised edition of the Consolidated Minutes with the replacement of the term “Connection” by “Church.” In 1932 the Primitive Methodist Church joined with the Wesleyans and United Methodists to constitute the Methodist Church, bringing 222,021 members.

Bibliography: H. Bourne, History of Primitive Methodism (1825); H.B. Kendall, The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church (2 vols., 1905); J. Ritson, The Romance of Primitive Methodism (1910); A. Wilkes and J. Lovett, Mow Cop and the Camp Meeting Movement (1947); W.E. Farndale, The Secret of Mow Cop (1950); J.T. Willinson, William Clowes (1951) and Hugh Bourne (1952).