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Primitive Methodism in Basingstoke c.1830 to 1932/9

Sarum Hill Primitive Methodist church

Until the Methodist Re-Union in 1932, the Primitive Methodists remained a distinctive feature of Basingstoke’s ecclesiastical landscape. They did, however, enjoy good relations, and collaborated closely, with the other Nonconformist denominations in the town. Indeed, their ministers were often described as brotherly and served not only their church and circuit but also the wider community. They included the Revd Charles Portnell (1868-70 and 1883-6), whose ‘preaching was plain but forceful’; the Revd Henry Yeates (1869-73), who ‘was especially gifted to stir and edify a congregation’ and later returned to Basingstoke, serving as a borough councillor from 1884 to 1887; the Revd Joseph Beal (1898-04), who ‘in his six years at Basingstoke … preached over four hundred and fifty sermons and retained his reputation for freshness’ and also superintended the erection of the new church; and  the Revd Ezra Ramm (1928-33), ‘a man sent from God, as a preacher fearless and true’.

In leading their church and circuit, these ministers needed the support and encouragement of a large number of lay people, who performed most of the key roles in the organisations that the church sponsored. From Sunday schools to a flourishing Christian Endeavour society; from brass bands to the choir; and from women’s groups to a Peoples’ Pleasant Hour, such organisations cemented the loyalty of members and served as a means of reaching out to those unattached to any church. Indeed, evangelism was the leitmotif running through much of the life of the Church. Its anniversary celebrations, missions, camp meetings and concerts and entertainments served the dual role of affording opportunities for fellowship amongst church members and affiliates and for drawing in the outsider.

In November 1938 the Church (since the Methodist Re-Union in 1932, simply Sarum Hill Methodist Church) hosted the civic service, a particularly significant event since it ‘was the first occasion on which a member of the … Church, … [had] attended as mayor.’ Also present at the service were all the other civic dignitaries as well as representatives of the Territorials, Fire Brigade and Police. The minister, the Revd Harold Pope, preached on a verse from Revelation, Chapter 21:


And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.


The service was clearly indicative of the extent to which what had originally been a religious group that aroused hostility had now become part of the socio-cultural establishment of the town. In the process, however, it could be argued that it had lost something of the ‘spiritual cutting edge’ that had previously characterised Primitive Methodism. 


(For the source of the quotations please see the pdf link below).


Roger Ottewill

October 2018

Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.