Methodism in Swaledale
by John Ward (1865)

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AMIDST the hills and dales of the North Riding of Yorkshire lies the romantic and quiet valley of the Swale. Although it cannot boast of possessing beautiful mansions and wealthy residents, yet for bold and striking scenery, rich mineral deposits, and industrious and intelligent inhabitants, it is second to none of the adjacent dales. Swaledale derives its name from the river Swale, which rises a few miles above the village of Keld, and pursues its course past Muker, Gunnerside, Low Row, Healaugh, Reeth, on to Richmond, and, after forming a junction with the Ure at Myton, ultimately falls into the Ouse. It is supposed to have received this designation on account of the swiftness of its progress resembling the flight of the swallow, the Saxon word for which is sualew. Tradition informs us

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that when Christianity was first made known to the inhabitants of this neighbourhood by Paulinus, the first Archbishop of York, so numerous were the converts that ten thousand were baptised in this river in one day, in consequence of which event it was looked upon with veneration by our Saxon ancestors, and called the Jordan of England. Flowing along the lowlands of the valley in irregular and serpentine courses, it forms a most beautiful and picturesque object, contrasting strikingly with the giant hills which look down with frowning aspect upon its impetuous current at their base.

The fourteen miles which form the strip of country called Swaledale comprise a greater diversity of scenery than can be found within the same limits in any other part of England. Vale and mountain, wood and water, rippling streams and bursting waterfalls, green fields and moorland wastes - some of these meet the eye which ever way we turn. White, the well known tourist, in his "Month in Yorkshire", when speaking of this dale, says "How beautifully the bright green contrasts with the dark purple distances, and softens the features of the dale, and, as I looked from side to

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side, or around to the rear, as the falling road made the hills seem higher, I saw how much Swaledale has in common with the valley of the Alps. I felt that here the desire for mountain scenery might be satisfied, and amongst these hills, and glens, and ravines there was many a spot which it would be a pleasure to explore."

The late Thomas Coates of Reeth, a well known local preacher and poet, celebrated the beauties of Swaledale in a poem which he published, in which he sings,-

"'Tis charming in the month of May,
When nature is so blythe and gay,
To view at once the distant hills,
The rivers, bridges, and corn mills.
The towers of churches, seats of squires,
Such scenes the mountain soul inspires.-
If to the north you turn your eyes
The "Edge" doth so majestic rise,-
Just as the sun, with light askance,
Throws out a last departing glance,
Presents a scene so rich and bold,
The cliffs appear as tinged with gold;-
And scattered fragments all around,
Split from the rocks, bestrew the ground."

The above lines are descriptive of the lower parts of the dale. Another local poet, (Mr. T. Ford,) describes the scenery higher up, more particularly in the neighbourhood of Gunnerside :-

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"Hail! fairest village of the dale!
Peace reigns within thy rural pale;-
Behold the smooth and verdant mead
Where lowing cattle frisk and feed!-
The lofty hills that heavenward rise,
And seem to touch the azure skies,
Cannot their world of wealth conceal!-
But in the miner's hands reveal
Their spreading veins of useful ore,
Of which no doubt there is good store,
But which is often hard to find
In quantities to suit the mind :-
Amongst the mines we may relate
Surrender, Kinnin, and Blakewaite,
With Bunting, Blind Gill, Beldi Hill,
And celebrated Swinnergill."

Although Swaledale occupies but a very subordinate place on the page of history, it is, nevertheless, not altogether void of historic interest. Several traces of the presence of Roman legions are to be seen, especially in the neighbourhood of Fremington and Grinton. Coins, implements of labour, weapons of war, and articles of personal adornment, belonging to some unknown ancestors have been found in various places. On the slopes of Fremington Edge the remains of a Roman entrenchment exist, which seems to have crossed the Swale in parallel lines, running up Harker side to the south and south-west.

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Very recently a Roman coin in a good state of preservation was picked up near this place, and is now in the possession of Geo. A. Robinson, Esq., of Reeth. Many of the old workings in the lead mines show evident marks of ancient operations. It is supposed, not without some reason for it, that the lead mines at Hurst are the oldest in the kingdom, and that this village was one of the penal settlements to which Rome sent its convicts above a thousand years ago. This supposition is strengthened by the fact that some years since a piece of lead was discovered in one of the old mines bearing the inscription upon it of "Hadrian" one of the emperors of Rome, which is now in the British Museum in London. It is not at all unlikely but that the entrenchment at High Fremington just named, may have had some connection with these mines; probably a guard of Roman soldiers may have been stationed there to watch the convicts in the vicinity.

Upon the dark and sombre declivities of Harkerside there are remains of an ancient structure known by the name of "Maiden Castle." "It is as nearly circular as the nature of the ground will admit, and the ditches still continue deep and wide. On

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the east side is an avenue above a hundred yards long leading towards it, and formed by stones gathered from the adjacent common. Near the west end of the avenue, but towards the north, is a large Barrow of stones and gravel which has been imperfectly opened, and of which tradition reports, it yet contains an iron chest filled with money. About three hundred yards south west from the encampment, and on a kind of natural terrace, is another oblong barrow, and farther west are the remains of several cairns." The chest of gold still floats in the visions of the marvellous, but like other treasures of the mountains, it remains yet undiscovered, and ever will do. Conjecture fails to arrive at any definite conclusion respecting the origin and uses of this place. It is generally supposed to have been of Roman construction, and probably connected with the before mentioned excavations. The name itself would seem to indicate a later period than the one just named. The question has arisen in the mind of the writer, whether it has ever been identified with an instrument of capital punishment employed in ancient times, and known by the name of "The Maiden." This machine was something

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similar in construction to the French Guillotine, and was used at an early period in Yorkshire, especially at Hull and Halifax. Certain districts were empowered to execute their own prisoners, which was done often for the most trifling thefts. From this circumstance arose what is called the thief's prayer- "From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, good Lord deliver us."

Higher up the valley, on the south side of the river, evidences have been found of bloody fights and hostile frays having taken place, especially about Crack Pot and its vicinity. Such names as Bloody wall, Bloody Stones, and Bloody Vale, by which several places are still called, strengthen the impression that some sanguinary conflict has occured in that neighbourhood. It is very probable that in the fierce encounters between the English and Scotch, which occurred in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when Northallerton was burnt, the battle of Cowton fought, and a great part of the North Riding of Yorkshire was laid waste, that Swaledale was the scene of some of these bloody struggles. The dalesmen have also a tradition that a battle was fought somewhere in the dale during the time of the Scotch rebellion,

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and when the political and religious principles of the leading families of this neighbourhood are considered, this will not appear improbable.

GRINTON is the head of the parish which embraces the whole of Swaledale, and stretches its parochial arms even as far as Westmoreland. The parish Church is an ancient structure dedicated to St. Andrew; in the East window is a figure of St. George in painted glass, with the words in old black letters - "Maria of brydlington," to which priory it formerly belonged. About half a mile from Grinton, near the river Swale, stands an ancient edifice called Swale Hall. It is at present used as a farm house, but was formerly the residence of an old and influential family named Swale. Alured de Swale was a relative of Walter de Gaunt, first lord of Swaledale. The first baronet, Sir Solomon, was raised to that dignity by Charles the Second; he sat in Parliament in 1660, was expelled the House of Commons as a Popish recusant, and died in 1678. His grandson bore the same name, but was most unfortunate in life. It having been discovered by certain parties that the lease by which the Swales held their estates from the crown

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had for a long time been left unrenewed, suits at law were commenced to dispossess them of it, which issued in the person who sought to gain possession committing suicide, and poor Sir Solomon dying in prison of a broken heart. The last baronet was fond of giving his full address in the following words :- Sir Solomon Swale, of Swale Hall, Swaledale, by the river Swale. On the north side of the river at the village of Fremington, is the seat of Sir George William Denys, once called Fremington Hall,
then A.D. Hall, after the Arkendale mines, but now Draycott Hall.

REETH is the principal place in the dale. It was once a busy, thriving, little market-town, but of late years it has been greatly deteriorated and thrown into the rear of human progress owing to the unproductiveness of the lead mines, and the want of railway communication. The market, which was chartered in 1695, is now about extinct, and the fairs which were once the scenes of crowd and bustle, have become the wretched ghosts of their former activity and life. Beside the Wesleyans, the Independents have a chapel, erected about the year 1780, of which the Rev. Matthew White is the minister.

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At HEALAUGH the celebrated John of Gaunt was once Lord of the Manor, and had a castle or mansion in the village. About the middle of the sixteenth century a large part of Swaledale was granted to the first Lord Wharton. A beautiful park, well stocked with deer, once existed at Healaugh; Park Hail was built by the fifth Lord Wharton towards the end of the seventeenth century. The fourth Lord Wharton built and endowed a Presbyterian chapel at Smarber Hall, which is now in ruins; the endowment has passed into the hands of the Independents at Low Row, where a chapel was erected in the place of the old one in 1809, the present minister of which is the Rev. John Boyd. Low Row has the honour of being the birthplace of the present Lord Wensleydale, better known as Baron Park. The Parks were a respectable family of longstanding in the neighbourhood, but have all died off, or removed. His lordship is an instance of what may be a difficult but yet a possible attainment, viz: that by talent and perseverance an Englishman may rise from humble life, to the possession of the greatest honour's which his nation can confer. Lord Swaledale would have been an appropriate title

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to assume, but his lordship chose the one he bears on account of his property being principally in that dale.

GUNNERSIDE is a considerable village, inhabited chiefly by miners. A forest once covered the immense hills in its vicinity, which made it a place of great resort to sportsmen who came to shoot the game which once abounded there; it has been supposed that this fact had something to do with giving it the name it bears.

AT MUKER there is a small church which was erected in 1580, and is dedicated to St. Mary.

AT THWAITE AND KELD there are chapels belonging to the Independents, the former has been recently built, but the latter was erected in 1745; the Rev. J. Wilkinson is the present minister of both places. Beyond Keld are deep ravines and frowning mountains, the abodes of desolation and dreariness, amidst which the river Swale takes its rise.*

[footnote] * There is amongst the dalespeople a strong tendency to the use of nicknames, especially in" Swaudle," as it is often called. The practice is almost universal, so much so that it is exceedingly difficult at times to find out an individual's real name. Many of them are formed of pedigrees and the names of fore-elders conjoined, such as Peter Tom Willy, Mark Jammie Joss, Dicky Tom Johnny. The Richmond Almanac informs us that [footnote continued at bottom of page 16]

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In giving a rapid sketch of the dale it is but just to its people to notice the almost entire absence from crime which marks the valley. That the population is free from immorality, or fully what it should be, we by no means affirm, but a serious misdemeanor is a rare occurrence, and a deed of bloodshed, so far as we can learn, has never stained the annals of the dale. The preaching of the gospel, the beneficial influence of Sunday Schools, Day Schools, and Temperance Societies, have done much to improve the morals of the inhabitants. Two things at present make against the material prosperity of the dalespeople, viz., the comparative unproductiveness of the lead mines, and also the want

[footnote continued from page 15] *in 1804, when the Loyal Dales volunteers were stationed in that town, the following were the bye-names which distinguished those who bore the common name of Thomas Alderson from one another ;- Grain Tom, Glowremour Tom, Screamer Tom. Poddish Tom, Tarry Tom, Tish Tom, Tripy Tom, Trooper Tom. Modern civilization and refinement have done something towards improving the dialect of the dale, but it is surprising to hear even educated persons designate their neighbours by such singular appellation. It is a fact that some time ago the postman took a letter to a person addressed to Mr. C--, not a hundred miles from Gunnerside; on enquiry for such a name he was told by the party enquired of that he knew of no such person. After considerable exercise of thought he ascertained that it was for himself, whose real name had been forgotten for the moment under the more familiar designation of Assy Will Kit. [end of footnote]

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of railway accommodation, the nearest stations being Leyburn, eight miles distant, and Richmond ten and a half miles. In consequence of the limited supply of employment numbers have had to seek fresh ground in other parts of the country, most of which have done well, and some have risen to positions of wealth and influence. Hundreds have also sought new homes on foreign shores where many of them are bringing forth the fruits of moral training which they received in some of the quiet villages on the banks of the Swale. A day may come, however, when some hitherto concealed treasures of these mighty hills will be discovered, and open up sources of wealth and labour to the population; when the locomotive engine will be heard breaking the silence of this valley; when crowded carriages will bear multitudes of toil-worn operatives from distant parts to gaze upon the romantic scenery, and to drink the health-giving breezes of SWALEDALE.

Having in the foregoing pages endeavoured, by way of introduction, to describe the ground upon which Methodism gained some of its early triumphs, we will now

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proceed to trace its rise and progress in this locality.

Prior to its introduction the religious condition of the people was marked not so much by open opposition to the gospel, as by the love of sports and games, and general indifference to religion. We have not been able to trace any instance of brutal persecution, or abuse of the preachers of God's word, which disgraced so many other places. Methodism did not find the ground unoccupied, for, beside the Established Churches at Grinton and Muker, the Presbyterians, Independents, and Quakers had places of worship in various parts. It did find, however, as it found almost universally, that religion had dwindled into cold and empty formalism, and greatly needed the quickening and reviving influence, to promote which was one of the great objects for which it was originated, and which it was so calculated to impart.

The first nearest approach which it made to this valley without actually entering it, was in a couple of visits which Mr. Wesley paid to the adjoining dale in the years 1743 and 1744. This was only a short time after he commenced his itinerant career.

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In his Journal he writes under date, Friday, Oct. 28th, 1743. - "We rode with Wm. Holmes, 'an Israelite indeed', from Epworth to Syke House. Here I preached at ten, and hastened on to Leeds, from whence, setting out early in the morning I had hopes of reaching Wensleydale before it was dark, but it could not be: so in the dusk of the evening, notwithstanding we had five or six miles to ride, I thought it best to procure a guide. In less than an hour, it being extremely dark, I perceived that we had got out of all road. We were in a large meadow, near a river, and it seemed to be almost surrounded with water, I asked our guide, 'Do you know where we are?' and he honestly answered, 'No.' So we rode on as we could till about eight we came to a little house, whence we were directed into a lane which led to Wensley."

Here he spent the following day, and says, Sunday, 30th :-

"Mr Clayton read prayers and I preached on 'What must I do to be saved?' I showed in the plainest words that I could devise that mere outside religion would not bring us to heaven, that none could go thither without inward holiness, which was only to be attained by faith. As I went back through the yard many of the parishioners were in high debate what religion the preacher was of. Some said 'He must be a Quaker,' others 'An Anabaptist,' but at length one deeper learned than the rest, brought them all clearly to his opinion that he was a 'Presbyterian Papist.' "

We have in this record incidentally mentioned the circumstance of being lost in a

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strange country, and wandering about for hours on a dark October night; also the amusing speculations of his hearers as to the religious tenets of the stranger who had been officiating for their minister that morning. Mr. Clayton was an old college friend when at Oxford, and readily offered his pulpit to Mr. Wesley. In May of the following year he paid another visit, and says, Sat. 19th:-

"I went on to Mr. Clayton's at Wensley, and on Sunday, 20th, preached in Redmire Church on part of John 3rd, the gospel for the day. In the afternoon I preached at Bolton Chapel, on 'We know that we are of God.' I was pleased at the serious behaviour of the congregation both in the morning and afternoon, especially at Redmire, where from a village of about thirty houses we had more than fifty communicants."

Although these extracts are not immediately connected with this dale, we quote them for the purpose of showing that, as these places were at so short a distance, it is very probable that some from this locality would avail themselves of this opportunity of hearing the founder of Methodism at a very early period. Amongst his hearers at Redmire and Bolton would very likely be some from Reeth, Low Row, or Gunner-

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side, who, attracted by the fame of this celebrated preacher, would cross the hills to hear him, and, on returning home, would bear with them the precious seed which had been sown in their hearts, which probably resulted in the formation of Methodist views and principles in the various places where they lived.

Almost contemporaneously with the facts just named we find that in the opposite valley, (Teesdale,) the work of God began its rise. A society was formed at Barnard Castle in 1747, which soon spread into the villages around. This blessed work was originated and carried on chiefly through the instrumentality of Jacob Rowell, and his brother, also, Matthew Lowes, Wm. Darney, and others. Burning with zeal and full of compassion for the souls of men, these zealous labourers pushed their way across the moors and mountains and were the first to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation to the inhabitants of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.

Prior to Mr. Wesley visiting this locality several small societies had been formed, chiefly under the ministry and care of Jacob Rowell, which numbered on the whole, including all the dale,

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