William Clowes – Primitive Methodism in Hull

The community of Clowes Memorial Methodist Church, Greenwood Ave, Hull, and Hull Civic Society, put together a calendar of events to celebrate the life and work of a charismatic missionary and preacher, who was based in Hull and from there walked many miles to deliver passionate sermons across the country.

William Clowes is one of 47 influential Primitive Methodists, who are buried in Prims Corner at the now disused, Hull General Cemetery.

William and Eleanor Clowes headstone in HGC

Historical points.

  • For a century, until the Methodist Union (1932), Hull had a higher proportion of residents following Primitive Methodism than elsewhere in the country.
  • Women preachers always worked alongside men. In fact, William Clowes was invited by women to come to Hull. One of the strengths of the Prims was their acceptance of women as equals at a time when the mainstream churches resisted this.
  • Primitive Methodists set up Sunday schools and generally promoted education among the poorer population, looked after the sick and were instrumental in encouraging workers’ representation.
  • Prims’ Corner has fine monuments to wealthy businessmen such as Henry Hodge, who were determined to create a better life for the poorest and needy.
  • Their generosity and their achievements in all areas of city life left their legacy in countless and remarkable ways.
Henry Hodge memorial (HGC)

The time line below tries to give an impression of what daily life was like for the inhabitants of rapidly changing urban areas in the North of England, during the 19th century.

Progress of Primitive Methodism in Hull – William Clowes Bi-centenary
(Prims Corner at Hull General Cemetery)
Important Dates and Facts  in Hull’s History
1780 –  William Clowes born 12th March in Burslam, Staffordshire son of a local potter from the Wedgewood family.  1720 – Daniel Defoe commented that Hull was ‘exceedingly close built’.  
1800 – William Clowes marries Eleanor (Hannah?) Rogers.End of 18th cent. population 22,000
1778 – The docks were growing and the safe haven dock-extension to the river Hull, was the largest in England.
1804 – Clowes begins work in a new Hull pottery .1799 – poor relief committee was set up. It was estimated that 1 in 20 were receiving poor relief.
1804 to 07 – The American evangelist, Lorenzo Dow (1777 – 1834) preached in Cheshire. Hugh Bourne and Clowes attended meetings.Non-conformism grew – Methodism became firmly established.
1805 – 20th January. Clowes was converted. He and his wife decided to put their lives in order.Severe overcrowding in Hull – in many residences up to 12 people from 3 families said to occupy one single room.
1807 – First Camp meeting in England on Mow Cop. Clowes assisted  Bourne at the event. Some view this as the beginning of the movement.1809 – Humber Dock opened for business. ‘The Hull Dock Company’ was established to  create an entrance to the Humber.
1808 – Clowes appointed as local preacher by the Wesleyan Methodists.1829 – Princes Dock connected the rivers Hull and Humber. Built with five million bricks from town wall.
1810 – Clowes’ name was omitted from the Methodist preachers’ plan because of his association with the Bournes.1832 – Cholera outbreak in Hull, 270 deaths recorded largely in the North West of the City.
See Cholera Monument at HGC.  
1819 – 1839 For 2 decades preachers from the Hull Circuit covered more ground and secured more converts than anywhere else. (‘Fruitful Mother’)1835 – Introduction of the New Poor Law. Policy to transfer unemployed rural workers to urban areas where there was work.
1829 – Decision made for a mission to America.1832 – 1849  ‘heightened awareness of fragility of life’.
1830 – Total number of Prims in England estimated at 35,535, of which a third were in the Hull circuit.1850 – Victoria Dock opened. The first on the east side at the site of the citadel.
1830 – Prims establish a ‘Sick Visiting Association,’ funded by 330 subscribers.‘Ragged persons, starving crying children, smoking houses… the depth of human misery and degradation’ (Primitive Methodist Magazine 1827).
1844 – 46  William Clowes president of three Primitive Methodist Conferences.  1850s – ca 500 illiterate residents in Mill Street, Hull, alone.
1844 – Clowes’ Journal is published.1849 – cholera outbreak in Hull is said to have killed 1,860 inhabitants with 500 recorded in one week alone.
1851 – William Clowes dies from paralysis in Hull and is buried at Prims Corner Hull General Cemetery. Described as a ‘Burning and Shining  Light’ (George Lamb).1851 – Hull’s population 85,000.
About 30 Wesleyan and 20 Primitive chapels were built.
1850 – 1881 The number of people attending  Anglican services in Hull increased  only by 12%, whereas Wesleyan  Methodist numbers rose by 54% and Primitive Methodists by 75%.1856 – The Mission to Seamen was founded as a denominated society with Anglican outlook. Ministers went on board and cared for spiritual as well as physical wellbeing of crew members.
 1852 – Hugh Bourne dies.1854 – ‘North and South’ by E. Gaskell is published.
1851 – Nearly 30 Wesleyan and about 20 Primitive chapels were either built or taken over.
1881 – The fourteen Prim chapels in Hull can accommodate 12,650.1871 – Hull’s population 130,426.
George Lamb (1809 – 1886, buried at Prims Corner HGC) sets up Hull School Board.1885 – Alexandra Dock built in 24/7 shifts; (5000 navvies live as lodgers in Hull).
An early Siemens lighting system enabled an unprecedented 24-hour working approach.
1889 Henry Hodge dies (b 1813).
– Seed crusher and oil miller.
– Builder of chapels.
– Buried in Prims Corner.
The ‘Friends of HGC’ are in regular contact with his descendent.
1892 Parkinson Milson (b. 1825) dies and is buried in HGC. He was a renowned Prim minister.
1891 – Hull’s population 199,135.
– Over 1700 men listed as either shipbuilders or shipwrights.
– The newly formed Hull Brewery Company owned 160 licensed premises.
1900 – James Charlesworth (b.1847) died and buried in HGC.
1920 – ‘100 years of Primitive Methodism’ conference in Hull (see cover sheet in Englesea museum).

1932 – Methodist Union takes place in London – Albert Hall. The Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodists adopted the Deed of Union.

Parkinson Milson headstone (HGC)

What this time line does not show, is the industrial pollution and smoke, the squalor and the cramped conditions breeding disease.

Many agricultural workers arrived in towns and cities to find work and brought their farm animals with them.

Hull was also overcrowded with –

  • Irish building workers, who lived as lodgers among the local community.
  • Sailors from across the world, who had to wait 3 weeks while their ship unloaded, due to lack of mooring space.
  • Large numbers of migrants come from the European continent. Famines and political turmoil drove 2.5 million German speakers alone, to find a better life elsewhere. Most travelled via Hull to America, but a significant number stayed (e.g. Hohenreins).

In 1809, waits of 17 days for a berth were possible. Dock capacity increased during the 19th century, but this meant many months of huge building sites in the centre of the city.

2019 was the bicentenary of William Clowes and his compatriots beginning two decades of preaching across the country. The records of the men and women buried in Prims Corner should remind us that in Hull and in other Primitive Methodist communities around the world there is a history, which cannot be found in textbooks, but would bring us closer to the real past.

Charlesworth headstones (HGC)

As Hilary Mantel says: ‘History is not the past, it is the method we have evolved of organising the past’ (1st Reith lecture 2018).

Eva La Pensée – Edited May 2021

Published by Clive La Pensée

Clive La Pensée, ex-science teacher, recognised writer on history of beer, novelist, expressionist, dreamer, believer in never giving up, empathiser, hopeful for a future without class, gender or racial prejudice. It's tough and at the moment, one has to remember distance travelled, rather than where we are at.

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