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Ford Hayes Farm
"Visit to childhood home of radical Methodist 'Bourne'"

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

Last week marked a significant event in Methodism.

“It was on 27 June 1808 that the originator of Primitive Methodism, Hugh Bourne, was expelled from the Methodist Society by Burslem’s Wesleyans,” Rev Stephen Hatcher, manager of Englesea Brook Methodist Heritage Centre tells me. “The implications of this expulsion split the movement that lasted 124 years until Methodism was united again in 1932.”

It was Bourne and his colleague William Clowes of Burslem, who founded the Primitives. Bourne was a socialist who brought spiritual direction to the labouring classes. Historian Steve Birks outlines the history of Methodist preaching.

“The Methodist church was founded by John Wesley (1703-1791). Although his family were Church of England clergy, Wesley became a non-conformist who felt the church was not doing all it should in getting to the people. And so he became a travelling evangelist organising open air meetings in the new industrial towns where Methodism grew rapidly. After his death though, some felt the church had moved away from the basic principals that Wesley had established.”

In 1800 Mow Cop and the surrounding villages was a turbulent district of labouring miners. Hugh Bourne by this time was living nearby at Bemmersley and his first-hand impressions were of despair, telling people he couldn’t walk the area without encountering physical or verbal assault. And so he began to hold prayers at Pointon's Farm, which became the site of his first camp meeting that led to the expulsion Stephen Hatcher spoke about.

“Bourne had no idea how popular these meeting would become,” adds Steve. “Before long there wasn’t enough room in the farmhouse and so in 1807 he held a full day of prayer in Mow Cop fields. This event launched Primitive Methodism.”

The story of Hugh Bourne has been told often. But there is one part of his life that is less well-known, and that relates to his birthplace at Ford Hayes Farm Bucknall where he spent the first 16 years of his life from 1772.

“It’s little wonder that Bourne was appalled by the ungodly conditions at Mow Cop when you look at the secluded place he came from,” continues Steve. “There can’t be a more remote place than this farm at Ford Hayes. Two-hundred years ago it was virtually inaccessible. Here Bourne’s father Joseph ruled with the rod. Even though Joseph was a religious man, he was a drunkard and had a restless and violent side to him. Hugh and his siblings grew up under paternal domination and religious doctrine in equal measure. It was his mother Ellen who provided his protection and anchor.”

Trained by his father to be a carpenter, Hugh Bourne moved to Bemmersley to work for an uncle, where he converted to Methodism. It’s worthy of note that this house and the barn that was used as a library are still here in Bemmersley Road. But my goal is Ford Hayes Farm which is owned these days by Eric and Dorothy Parrish.

“We bought the farm twelve years ago,” recalls Eric age 80. “It came up for auction but it was in such a bad state there were no bids for it. Another drawback, which I didn’t know at the time, was its listed status. Anyway we bought it and what a shock we had when we saw its rundown condition. We lived for ages in a caravan before we could get it near to being liveable.”

The birthplace of Hugh Bourne - Ford Hayes Farmhouse
The birthplace of Hugh Bourne - Ford Hayes Farmhouse
Virtual Earth   2008

The only lane leading to the farm is narrow with no passing places, whereas the approaches from Bucknall have been closed and overgrown for years. Consequently the farm emits a deep feeling of solitariness.

“I actually come from nearby Kerry Hill in Eaves Lane which is quite close,” Eric continues. “My dad was a miner and I had no connections with farming until I left school at 14 and got a job at a farm in Bignal End.”

Eric and Dorothy met in Bucknall as children.

“Fenton was my home and I used to visit an aunt who lived in Eaves Lane,” says Dorothy. “I loved coming to my aunt’s because country life was so different from the Potteries. Eric later told me that he’d watched me grow up and decided to wait until I was eighteen before asking to marry me.”

The couple wed in 1952, and after living at a number of farms they invested in Ford Hayes.

“If I’d known it was listed I probably wouldn’t have bought it,” says Eric ruefully. “There was seventy acres with the house and at first I bred livestock. But I sold some land to finance the project and now we have just twenty acres and some horses which are my pets. Farming is too much for me now, but I love the house and land. It’s such a special place.”

a distant view of Mow Cop
a distant view of Mow Cop

It is indeed Eric. The modernised house still carries many features that the Bourne’s would have been familiar with. Best of all are the surroundings, so peaceful with no aircraft flight paths to bother the hovering skylarks and no traffic noise to break the hush of a summer breeze. To the south the heights of Park Hall and Hulme loom darkly, while on the northern horizon Hugh Bourne’s distant Mow Cop shimmers in the summer sun.

see more on Hugh Bourne

7 July 2008

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