by Richard Gill.(1896?)

Barton Wesleyan Chapel
Taken by Eric Heaton

Barton Chapel was opened on Sunday, November 17th, 1796, by the Rev. Thomas Rutherford, then but newly stationed in the Manchester Circuit as the second preacher. Nothing certain is known as to the hour at which this opening service took place, —but an old circuit plan with appointments beginning in October 1799, that is three years after the opening of Barton chapel, gives the hours of the Sunday services at Barton as being at 9 in the morn­ing and one and five in the afternoon. According to this old plan, the travelling preachers came to Barton once a fortnight, and always in the morning. The Services at one and at five being taken by the local preachers. It would be interesting to have some further particulars of this first service in a chapel which was destined to stand for a hundred years and more. The official records, however, if any were made, cannot now be traced, nor has even a misty legend, told from father to son, concerning this dedicatory service, survived the lapse of time. Manchester had in 1796 three weekly newspapers, but the opening of a Methodist chapel in so quiet a spot as Barton was much too obscure an event to ensure a notice.  

Rear of chapel and old graveyard.
Taken by E. Heaton


The building of a chapel, and especially a Methodist chapel, a hundred years ago, was no light matter. Davyhulme for instance. Mr. Wesley was at Davyhulme as early as May 1747, and many times subsequently, but it took thirty years of hard work before the Methodists of Davyhulme were able to build a chapel, and that too, although they had both regular and irregular visits by the best of Mr. Wesley’s preachers, and were all the while in close touch with the famous Cheshire Methodists at Booth Bank and at Alpraham, and with the equally famous Metho­dists at Manchester. If the material were at hand for the story of the building of Barton chapel, it would be the record of a struggle perhaps as long and arduous as that at Davyhulme, but without the advantage of occasional visits by Mr. Wesley, and under circumstances not near so favourable, ex­cept for the fact that in this later term of years the religious activities of England were expanding by “leaps and bounds.”

Centenary Commemoration, February 1897
kind permission of J. Smethurst.

It may be ventured, that the opening of the chapel at Davyhulme meant increased activity in the bringing of Methodism to Barton. With their chapel as a centre, the Methodists of Davyhulme doubtless found that organised aggressive work was much more possible; and so with heartened zeal and bolder step, they crossed the Barton bridge, and continued their meetings for prayer and for preaching at the Higher Croft on the Peel Green Road. Sometimes out of doors, and sometimes in a sandpit, and some­times in a cottage house. Now and then such meetings appear to have been held near the ‘cut side,” as the site of the Barton chapel is styled in the first of the parchment deeds. The names of these Davyhulme missioners, as well as the names of the Barton men and women who first opened their doors to these early Methodists cannot now even be guessed. Nor is it known when the first society class was formed at Barton, nor in whose house it met, nor who was the first appointed leader. All this has been forgotten. And yet, the men and women who took part in these early class meetings were the real founders of Methodism at Barton. They did their work — they walked well within their providential path — and richly deserve the grateful thanks of the Barton Methodists of to-day. There is a misty le­gend that the Methodists at Barton, for some few years occupied a disused joiner’s workshop, which is said to have then stood on the site of the present school building behind, and that this circumstance led to the securing of a site for the chapel. It is not at all likely that the site was “selected.” The probability is that in 1796, all things being considered it was either this site or none. Suffice to say that the agreement of lease of the plot of land on which the chapel now stands, and including the land on the easterly side where the first burials have taken place, is dated 9th June, 1796. The owner of the land is described as Mr. Thomas Mee, yeoman, “yeoman,” as used in this deed, simply meant a person possessed of “freehold” land. Mr. Mee was also the owner of the houses known as Mee Square. It is not known whether he or any of his family were at that time Methodists, but after the building of the chapel, the family became regular at­tenders, and some sixteen years or so afterwards one of Mr. Mee’s sons acted as treasurer for the Sunday school. The old school account book, some of the pages of which are evidently in this younger Mr. Mee’s handwriting, has been carefully preserved, and is a model of neatness and probably of accuracy also. It is said that the land for the chapel and burial ground was secured by the good offices of Mr. Samuel Burgess the elder, corn miller, of Worsley. This Mr. Burgess was certainly a useful Methodist. He is credited with having quietly secured the land for the chapel at Worsley, holding it until the Worsley Methodists were ready to build, and also with having done the same at Walkden, and at Great Bridgewater Street, Manchester.

The first plot of land in 1796, was taken on lease for 999 years, at an annual rent of 45s. The lease was granted to “John Wood of Barton-upon-Irwell, tailor.” Of this Mr. John Wood present informa­tion is extremely scant. He died in March 1814, having acted as the one sole trustee for the Barton Methodists for 18 years. , His grave may be seen in the older portion of the burial ground. His will, as sworn at Chester, states that at the time of his death he was possessed of two looms, one of which is said to have been the dowry of his wife at the marriage and one small cottage. Was this Mr. John Wood, the most well-to-do person amongst the Barton Methodists of 1796? May be not. Whatever, else, however, might be said, he was evidently a right worthy man, having the respect and confidence of his neighbours, and willing also to stand in the breach so that the chapel at Barton might be built. Let his name have kindly remembrance now at the end of a hundred years.


The !8 years during which every six months Mr. Wood regularly carried the half of the forty-five shillings to Mr. Mee, the yeoman, were years of ac­tivity on the part of the Barton Methodists and of prosperity to their chapel and school. If the Metho­dists at Davyhulme had been heartened, and their zeal for home missionary work quickened and strengthened by the possession of a chapel, so were the Methodists at Barton. In the earlier of these years, prayer leaders from Barton were heard of on the hills at Swinton and Walkden, and in the course of these years the friends at Barton carried Methodism to Eccles. Walkden and Worsley were also preaching places, although their chapels were not built until some years after that at Barton. But to Eccles — cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and said to be ill-mannered Eccles — at the beginning of the present century, hardly more than a casual visit had been made, even by the most ardent Methodist spirits from Manchester, or Stockport, or Davyhulme. Rumour has it, that once upon a time, but only once, Mr. Wesley had occasion to ride through the village and that he ventured to dismount at the Lower Cross and preach. But the Barton Methodists at the beginning of the present century were persistent in their endeavours to found a Methodist cause at Eccles. And they succeeded. It is on record, that some six or eight years after the building of Barton chapel the Sunday school had so greatly improved the Barton boys and girls that a contingent of picked youths and maidens attended the Sunday school at Eccles, in order to show the boys and girls in that village what good behaviour was like.


In the year 1813, Salford was made the head of a circuit, with Gravel Lane as the principal chapel. The official returns of the membership at each place grouped in this new circuit, happens to be at hand, and possibly the figures may be of some interest. Gravel Lane is credited with then having a society of 465 members, Davyhulme 211, Carrington 20, Partington 10, Worsley 77, Walkden 91, Swinton 38, Pendleton 63, Stretford 12, Kersal Moor 16, and Barton 90. It will be noticed that there is no mention of Eccles, although Eccles appears on the Plan as a preaching place some two years before 1813.


When standing in the oldest portion of the burial ground, the limits of the side wall of the chapel of 1796 can readily be made out. First, by the difference, in the colour of the brickwork some little distance from the top, showing that the roof has been lifted so as to give space for a gallery. Second, by a well defined line in the brick work extending from the top to the ground, showing that the wall has been extended so as to make the chapel longer; and finally by the central position of the square stone which is still waiting for its inscription. The inside proportions of the chapel of 1796, are equally obvious. The roof was much lower than at present, and there was no gallery. The back wall of the chapel stood somewhat to the front of the site of the present pulpit. Indeed, most of the hearers now seated in the body of the chapel are actually within three of the walls of the first Barton chapel. Nothing having been taken away. Mr. Rippon’s description, as given to him by Mr. Henry Hall, is very graphic. ‘ When Mr. Hall first attended, the chapel was very homely in its character, — a brick floor, a few benches a small desk for the preacher, and everything else corresponding therewith.” Such was the appearance of the Barton chapel when opened a hundred years ago.

Henry Hall's Vault
Taken by Eric Heaton


To this little chapel regularly in their turn, when stationed in the Manchester Circuit, came very many of the preachers who had been sent out by Mr. Wesley himself, and others of later years. Thomas Rutherford, who preached the first sermon in the new chapel, had entered the ministry in 1772. Alexander Mather was the superintendent of the Manchester Circuit when the chapel was built. He had been stationed in the circuit some 25 years be­fore this time, and doubtless had preached in more than one house at Barton, and would therefore know something of the very earliest Barton Methodists. Although Mr. Wesley had been dead only five years Mather had already served one year as president of the conference. Alexander Mather is said to have been in some particulars a man after Mr. Wesley’s own heart, notably in this, that he went to bed at ten and rose at four every morning, winter and summer. In 1796, Mather was just emerging from the con­troversy with Alexander Kilham, the founder of the Methodist New Connexion. It is said that when quite a youth Mather had been a trooper in the ranks of the rebels of 1745, but having heard John Wesley preach, he had joined the Methodists. His reputation as a Methodist preacher in 1796 is said to have been “the number of his children in the Gospel.” Af­ter Mather came William Thompson. He had also been in the circuit some 10 or 12 years earlier, and. therefore had personal acquaintance with the men and women who had so resolutely struggled for the building of Barton chapel. This William Thompson had also the marked distinction of having been elected the first president of the conference after Mr. Wesley’s death. It may be remarked that although it is not known that Wesley ever preached at Barton, the successor of John Wesley regularly in his turn preached in the Barton chapel. Whilst Thompson was in the circuit, he administered the first Baptism in the then newly built chapel. The record reads — “November 20th, 1798, Elizabeth, daughter of James and Mary Shawcross. Minister, William Thompson.” He is said to have been a man of rare judgment and tact,” skilful as a pilot, with the vessel of the church in a storm.” He died the year after leaving the circuit and Samuel Bradburn preached his funeral ser­mon. “There was not among the children of Israel a goodlier than he: from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people.” Following Thompson, came Samuel Bradburn himself, in that year president of the conference. Like the three preceding preachers, Bradburn had been stationed in the circuit some four or five years before the building of the chapel, and could not fail to have been in sympathetic touch with the active leaders of Methodism at Barton who had at length suc­ceeded in building their long talked of chapel. Bradburn has been styled the Methodist Demosthenes, and it is difficult to realise how a speaker with such brilliant gifts would be able to accommodate himself in so small a chapel. Next came Charles Atmore, and with him George Marsden, whose brother William was for many years Vicar of Eccles. Both these men were new to Barton, and both rose to the dig­nity of president. In 1804, Adam Clarke was in the circuit. Then plain Adam Clarke, although the University of Aberdeen had its eye upon him for the degree of LLD. At this date Clarke was busy preparing his commentary. He had been in the circuit some three or four years before the opening of the chapel, and was therefore no stranger to the Barton Methodists. Two years after leaving the Manchester Circuit Clarke was made president. Following Adam Clarke was Jabez Bunting, then quite a young man. Bunting was well-known at Barton, as a local preacher, whilst living with his parents in Manchester.

Assuredly then, in those early years of the Barton chapel, the then hearers had, as the hearers of to­day have, some of the best preachers in Methodism. It should be remembered however that in 1796, the travelling preachers were not at Barton every Sun­day — they came but once a fortnight. Mostly the preacher at Barton was a local brother. When Barton chapel was built, the preacher’s plan contained the names of 28 of these eminently useful men, and from what has come down to our time concerning many of these local preacher’s, they must have been men of character and of gifts, and blessed the people by their godly lives as well as by their preaching.


But to return to the building itself once again. Some few years after the opening, four pews appear to have been put in, and the floor boarded, and later on the roof was raised and the gallery built.


Next to the building of the chapel, by far the most important event in its earlier history was the forma­tion of the first real Trust. This took place in 1821, the chapel having then been in existence for 25 years. The document bears the signatures of eleven active working Barton Methodists, and of two other Methodists whose residences at that particular date were outside the Salford circuit. For some time after the death of Mr. John Wood, matters had been allowed to go on as usual, the rent of the land being regularly paid. But the time had come for increased accommodation, and for further venture. The claims of the connexion as represented by the conference, had also to be met. Barton chapel must needs be brought into line with every other Methodist chapel in the kingdom. The lease of 1796 mainly protected whoever happened to be the person to whom the ground rent was due. The position therefore was very undesirable, the best interests of all concerned being in some degree uncertain. And so the right and proper thing was done. The 25 years which had passed since the building of the chapel had how-ever not been wasted. Eleven genuine and hearty Methodists — mostly home grown—were by this time ready.

The order in which the names of these gentlemen are just now mentioned is the order in which they are placed in the document itself. The first signature as a trustee is that of “Henry Hall, Barton, shop keeper.” Mr. Hall is said to have been one of the most reliable men that any church could desire. Whoever else might chance to be early at his post, Sunday or week day, Mr. Hall was there also. Mr. C. W. Rippon records in the Methodist Magazine for October 1857, that Henry Hall received his first ticket of membership at Barton in 1811, when sixteen years of age, and some fifteen years after the building of the chapel; and further, that as Sunday school teacher, superintendent, steward, trustee, and class leader, Henry Hall was for 44 years “a pillar of the church.” His name appears on the Barton prayer leaders’ plan for 1823, and his house at Higher Croft as one of the meeting places. He died in 1855, and his personal appearance therefore must be within the recollection of many. His grave is in the burial ground adjoining. “William Travis of Barton, weaver.” His name appears on the Prayer leaders’ plan for 1824. He died in 1840, at the ripe age of 81, and is buried in the newer portion of the ground. “James Newton of Barton, cabinet maker.” Mr. Newton was a Sunday school teacher in 1818, and Prayer leader in 1823. “Samuel Dean of Patricroft, pencil maker.” Mr. Dean was born in 1771, and whilst still a youth joined the Methodists at Barton. Probably he was a class leader before the Chapel was built, and retained the office until his death in 1840. He died suddenly whilst crossing the bridge at Patricroft and is buried at Barton. Mr. Dean’s son was a Barton Methodist, and so also was his grand­son David. One of Mr. Samuel Dean’s great grand­sons has been for years a trustee at Barton, and another great grandson is the chief Asaph of this centenary celebration. “George Smith of Barton, shopkeeper.” Mr. George Smith is said to have been a quiet, amiable person, but of considerable force of character. He sympathised with Dr. Warren in 1834, and left the Barton chapel, and helped to found another cause on the Worsley road, which became known as “George Smith’s Chapel.” That cause is now represented by the handsome premises in Liverpool road, Patricroft, as the Methodist Free Church. He is buried in the adjoining ground. Let the man who founds a Methodist cause and who builds a Methodist chapel, at all times have his full mead of praise. “Peter Livesey of Barton, manu­facturer.” Mr. Livesey was a local preacher and died young. His name will best be remembered on account of his widow, who with her daughters resided for many years on the Worsley road. Her goodness and her piety won amongst her friends the scriptural title of “elect lady.” “Richard, Barlow, Patricroft, miller.” ” Robert Joynson, Barton, miller.” ” Nathan Joynson of Barton, joiner.” He was connected with the old Quay Company. “Robert Longworth, Patricroft, weaver.” “Lee Speakman of Radcliffe, whitster.” Mr. Speakman was on the plan as a local preacher as early as 1799. “James Walker of Radcliffe, whitster.” “ William Tomlinson Hesketh of Monton Green, corn dealer.” Mr. Hesketh had been in business in Manchester, where he had been connected with the Methodists. Amongst, many other useful things he built entirely at his own expense a large room for the use of the Eccles Methodists about the year 1818, when their usual meeting place in Timothy street had become too inconvenient. In this building in Barton lane, now occupied by the “Blue Ribbon Army,” the Eccles Methodists had preaching for many years previous to their buying the chapel in Regent road from the followers of Alexander Kilham.


It is not known in what year the Sunday school began. Probably immediately on the opening of the chapel in 1796. Scholars had however been gathered into classes in the body of the chapel, and about 1834 the time had come for something more convenient. This was provided by carrying the back wall of the Chapel to the utmost verge of the north­erly side of the land at that time in possession, and in the space thus gained two rooms were partitioned off, one being on a level with the floor of the chapel, and the other level with the gallery, access to the top room being had by a flight of stairs outside the building. Here the school met and thrived for 20 years. In 1852, a further portion of land was purchased at the back of the chapel and the present large schoolroom was built. The portions of the chapel building which had for so many years been used for school purposes was then thrown open so that the length of the chapel inside was greatly extended. About this time, the fiddles, and other musical instruments, gave place to an organ.


Barton has not the distinction of being mentioned in Wesley’s Journal, nor is it on record that he preached at any place nearer than Pendleton pole or Davyhulme. But it seems quite possible that when Wesley rode from Bolton as he did many times by way of Shackerley and thence to Davyhulme, he would travel past Walkden and along the Worsley road, crossing the Liverpool road at Patricroft and so ride very near to the site of the Barton chapel, on his way to the only bridge by which the river could be crossed. Wesley appears to have ridden this way at least once before the making of the Bridgewater Canal in 1760. If this route were taken by him in subsequent journeys, after the canal was made it is difficult to account for the absence of some reference in Wesley’s Journal to the wonderful en­gineering triumph which the canal and the aqueduct are said to have been.


The preachers’ plan of the Manchester Circuit, for 1799, to which reference has already several times been made, has been very kindly lent for the purposes of this Centenary Meeting, by the Rev. Silvester Whitehead, and it will be interesting to notice how in many ways it differs from the plans of to-day. First then, there are no collections although the dates cover the full thirteen weeks. Nor is there any reference to Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, and, although the plan includes Christmas, nothing is said about Watch Night or Covenant Service. At the foot of the plan is a line authorising the bearer, Robert Brierley, to preach, and is signed by Samuel Bradburn, then Superintendent of the Manchester Circuit. The total number of preachers is 31, and the name of Robert Brierley, to whom this plan belonged, appears as number five, so that he must have been at that date well advanced in years. A. good deal is known about this local preacher, and everything, except the remembrance of his wooden leg, is exceedingly pleasant. There are 34 preaching places but only six had chapels. The time of service at Oldham is given as seven in the morning, and. half-past five in the afternoon. At Davyhulme as one and three, at Barton nine, one, and five. At Cadishead nine, and at Sodom ten, at Worsley three; Walkden is not on ; Pendleton is at half-past five only.


Perhaps these scattered notes could have for the present no better ending than by some reference to the venerable Rev. Wm. Shelmerdine, who lived in one of the houses in the Avenue on the Canal Bank at Barton, 1830 to 1849, and is buried in the adjoining ground. Mr. Shelmerdine was a Manchester youth entering the ministry a year or two before the death of Mr Wesley, and continued a travelling preacher for the long term of 45 years. In 1830, he settled as a supernumerary at Barton. For 19 years this good man went in and out amongst the Methodists like a faithful pastor. He preached, he christened, he read the funeral service at the grave side, He was the leader of a class, and so far as strength permitted, Mr. She!­merdine lived and worked as if he had been duly stationed at Barton. When this grand old saint came to die, with his intellectual faculties clear and his speech distinct, he was heard to say — I know God, I feel God, I enjoy God.” Surely, an experience such as that is the end of all chapel building.