Methodism – its fracture and re-union in 1933 – (c) Andrew Pratt extract from my Liverpool University PhD – also ‘O for a thousand tongues’, Epworth Press

Seeds of Division

Prior to the death of John Wesley in 1791 Methodism already held within it the seeds of division. The characters of John and Charles Wesley were different,[1] the elder, John, having to remonstrate with this ‘sprightly, rollicking young fellow, with more genius than grace’.[2] During John’s temporary absence from Oxford Charles began to receive communion weekly in Christchurch Chapel  (Oxford Cathedral) encouraging others to do likewise. In all their conduct they were methodical. They gained the name ‘methodist’[3] as a consequence, but they were also called ‘sacramentarians’ or ‘supererogation men’[4]. The nature of the movement, begun here, was one of seeking perfection in all things, but particularly in those things that would lead to holiness. John later defined Christian perfection as ‘the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, ruling all the tempers, words and actions: the whole heart and the whole life’.[5]

It was in John’s character to organise this movement in an authoritarian manner so that those adhering to it could be enabled to conform. Currie notes that this is a satisfactory method for those in the hierarchy of the church who seek to apply principles to their followers, which should be adhered to in minute particular. It is less satisfying for ordinary Christians who lack the abstract commitment of their leaders, yet hold deep loyalties to people and to their community, formulating their faith on a basis of individual freedom and fellowship, rather than obedience to an ethical code. ‘The conflict between these viewpoints was intensified in Methodism’.[6]  John Wesley was an autocrat who could not envisage the mantle of authority resting on anyone else. He wrote of those who ‘demand a free Conference … wherein all things shall be determined by most votes … It is possible after my death something of this kind may take place; but not while I live’.[7] This autocracy was applied to everyone.  Disunity was bound to result following his death.


At the time of John Wesley’s death, because of the manner in which he had made decisions and taken judgements, many matters were left unresolved.[8] What was the relation of Methodism to the established church? Could Methodist ministers administer the sacraments? How was the Connexion to be governed?  The majority sought to retain links with the Church of England following John Wesley’s express wishes.

The first Conference took place in 1791. William Thompson, then at Halifax, was elected President[9] and Dr. Coke, Secretary. Alexander Kilham pressed for a Wesleyanism which would administer its own sacraments and give parity of  power within the denomination to ministers and lay people alike.

The Wesleyan Conference of 1797 expelled Kilham. Along with William Thom he established the New Connexion in 1797. The year 1807 saw the first Annual Meeting of the Independent Methodists and in 1812 Hugh Bourne and William Clowes adopted the name, ‘Primitive Methodists’. O’Bryan and James Thorn took the name ‘Bible Christians’ in 1815 and the first Conference of the Bible Christians was held in 1819. The year 1836 saw the first Assembly of the Wesleyan  (Methodist) Association followed by the failure in 1837 of negotiations for a union between the Association and the New Connexion.[10] Each group developed its own traditions and, importantly for this study, published its own hymn book.

The division was not at an end with the differing claims of democracy and autocracy providing rallying points in Wesleyan Methodism.

Reunion began to be considered with the first Methodist Ecumenical Conference taking place in 1881. In 1906 the Bible Christian Church, United Methodist Free Churches and the Methodist New Connexion agreed to unite and The United Methodist Church[11] was formed by Royal Assent on July 26th 1907.[12]

In 1911 the fourth Methodist Ecumenical conference took place. The process of reunion continued inexorably, if slowly.[13]

From 1918 to 1932 negotiations, which were to result in the organic union of the United Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church, took place. The Methodist Church Union Act was passed in 1929, the sixth Methodist Ecumenical Conference took place in 1931 and in 1932 the Methodist Church was formed.[14]

The Churches and their Hymns

The Wesleyan Methodist Church

At the time of Union in 1932 the Wesleyan Methodist Church used the Wesleyan Methodist  Hymn Book which had been published in 1904.[15] This was considered to be a lineal descendant of John Wesley’s  A Collection of Hymns for the Use of  The People Called Methodists.[16] This appellation is interesting on two counts. Firstly, given the description of the MHB of 1933 as ‘a lineal descendant of Wesley’s collection’,[17] the parallel is noted. Secondly, the Methodist Hymn Book, was closer in structure to the Wesleyan Methodist Hymn Book of 1904, than that had been to A Collection of Hymns for the Use of  The People Called Methodists. The WMHB was to have a profound effect on the shaping of the MHB.

The Wesleyans had begun to recognise the estrangement, and the need, of the masses. Centres of evangelism and social amelioration, such as St James’ Hall  (ancestor of Kingsway Hall), the Manchester Mission and the Central Hall in Birmingham, where Luke Wiseman (Chair person of the Hymn Book Committee which produced the MHB) was to minister, were established. In these places preaching predominated, with congregational participation limited to the singing of hymns. Choral performances took place. There was an awareness of the need of bodies and minds to be fed. ‘Growth in discipleship was as vital to them as conversion’.[18] To this end the hymns that were sung were important. Manning has commented that ‘Hymns are the safest protection and the surest vehicle of orthodoxy’.[19] The hymns that Wesleyan Methodists chose to sing were informed by this awareness. The consequence of this attitude was an inherent conservatism which was clearly demonstrated as the 1933 book began to take form.

Over 60% of the material in the WMHB survived in the MHB[20], a figure which was not exceeded by any other source.

The Wesleyan Methodist Conference of 1901 had appointed a Committee of Revision charged with the task of preparing a new hymn book. This committee took as its starting point the first edition ofA Collection of Hymns for The People Called Methodists of 1779 but they were also cognisant of the various revisions of that book which had taken place since its original publication. By their own admission ‘In the delicate task of removing hymns from Wesley’s original book, the Committee have sought to act in a spirit of reverence towards compositions which possess a special sacredness in the eyes of all Methodists’ endeavouring ‘to retain all the hymns that have gained a permanent place in the affections of our people’.[21] There was a conscious attempt to ‘preserve intact the clear and full expression of Methodist doctrine … ‘ in Methodist song’.[22] This conservative attitude did not, however, lead the compilers to retain the ordering of the original and this, together with the addition of some 300 hymns not in the edition of 1876, most of which were by hymn writers of the nineteenth century, enabled this book to be regarded in every sense as a new tome.[23] In this light it is interesting to witness the relative conservatism of the Committee charged with the production of the MHB.

Aware of the need to reassure people in the face of change, the 1901 Committee nevertheless stated that ‘The main object of those to whom the present compilation was entrusted has been to preserve the continuity of the present with the past’.[24] From a Wesleyan standpoint the Hymn Book Committee of 1933 more than lived up to this statement.

 In 1901 the church was regarded as ‘widely ramifying’.[25] Attention was given to the needs of children and young people, seasons and festivals of the church and the need of  ‘workers in sundry departments of active service’.[26] It was not thought necessary to include a specific section for mission or evangelistic services, the indication being given that hymns for such occasions could be readily found throughout the book. This bias continued in the attitude of the Wesleyans charged with the genesis of the MHB. The explanation was given that the book had a wider purpose than simply to furnish texts for use in public worship, echoing Wesley’s intention to provide ‘a little body of experimental and practical divinity’[27] that would serve its readers in their private devotions, at times of ‘sickness and trial’.[28]

            The volume totalled some 981 hymns, of which, as has been noted above, over 60% found their way into the Methodist Hymn Book. In addition there were a further eight Ancient Hymns and Canticles, the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The book was produced jointly by the Wesleyan Methodist Church, The Methodist New Connexion and the Wesleyan Reform Union, and in correspondence with the Methodist Church in Australasia.  As well as being prepared for the Wesleyan Methodists Church and the New Connexion, it was also used by the Methodist Church of Australasia.[29]

Within the structure of the book worshippers firstly had their sights turned towards ‘The Glory of God’. They were presented with the call of the gospel which sought to help sinners to return to God. Thereafter ‘The Christian Life’ was described. Six hundred and 33 hymns, roughly two thirds of the content of the book comprised these sections. A further 47 were devoted to ‘Time, Death and Eternity’ the remainder of the book having two sections, ‘Family Religion’ and ‘Special Occasions’

Cultural and semi-cultural interests were built around the church or hall building. This ‘outreach or … creeping secularisation’,[30] depending on how you regard it, did not ignore the young who were taught to pray, to think, to debate and to question. Hymnody, however, was largely unaffected.

There are two ways of writing or speaking to children: the one is to let ourselves down to them, the other to lift them up to us. Dr. Watts has wrote on the former way, and has succeeded admirably well speaking to children, and leaving them as he found them. The following hymns are written on the other plan: they contain strong and manly sense, yet expressed in such plain and easy language as even children may understand. But when they do understand them they will be children no longer, only in years and in stature.[31]

The Wesleyans followed John Wesley’s adage. Material for children was, broadly speaking, of sound literary quality written to elevate them, rather than for them to sing from where they were.

Theology at this time was largely inadequate to meet the evolutionary mood of the age, and Methodism suffered from this weakness as did all basically non-liturgical churches. Free Church Ministers were left either to compromise with this mood, leaving themselves open to the criticism of being modernists, or to ignore it, which led to irrelevance. Hymns for Service and Influence related to a Christian call with little reference to the world of work.

The commitment to meet together in a disciplined fashion was beginning to wane. The local society could no longer claim unquestioning allegiance. The sense of corporate holiness that marked earlier periods of Methodist history was in decline and class divisions of the Victorian era, rather than fading, were being perpetuated.[32] In this situation hymnody served two functions. ‘Singing together brings us together’[33] and hymn singing enabled a sense of corporate unity to be maintained at least on a Sunday. What was sung perpetuated the Victorian ethos of the church. This influence continued as Wesleyans brought up on this book sought to put their stamp on the new project.

In spite of this, Turner has asserted that no succeeding generation achieved more in terms of mission to ordinary people.[34] There was an attitude of acceptance of the authority of the church. Along with this went a sense of being chosen, which heightened people’s obligation to their local congregation and to the wider Connexion. This in itself also gave rise to a certain arrogance evident in committee proceedings and Conferences as the new book of 1933 was in gestation. Willey recognised that respectability rather than reverence was the chief trait of the church he remembered from the opening decades of the century.[35] The church was both inbred and out of date.[36] Even in the 1920s this sense of estrangement from those outside the church remained. Bill Naughton, speaking of his experience in Bolton, related that he found the atmosphere at a mid week Methodist meeting ‘quite novel’, that the preacher’s appeals to avoid the evils of drink rang as half-baked’, knowing as he did ‘much less about them at first hand’ than did this adolescent observer whose father chose ‘to spend his hard earned money on beer every Saturday evening’.[37]

In spite of all this the possibility of change began to present itself through the work of ministerial training colleges. William Fiddian Moulton introduced critical biblical study at Richmond, while his son, James Hope Moulton, followed suit at Didsbury. Such work began to transform the training of ministers for the church and offered an opportunity for renewal.[38]

The Wesleyan church began to be able to hold together people of a broader theological and social disposition. By the time of Methodist Union the denomination was very much in need of a new hymn book and new hymns.

The United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church, formed out of the union of 1907 between the Methodist New Connexion, the United Methodist Free Church and the Bible Christians, provided a wide and varied source of hymnody. The denominations retained their own hymn books, A Collection of Hymns for the use of People called Bible Christians,[39] the United Methodist Free Church Hymnal,[40] the New Connexion Hymn Book.[41]

The Methodist New Connexion had close links with Wesleyan Methodist and had collaborated in the production of the WMHB of 1904. The New Connexion used this book under its own covers.

The Bible Christians had their own book, published first in 1889. Its editors asserted that ‘a hymn is not the best vehicle for the expression of rigorous and exact theological views, but it is often the means of conserving the highest truths in all their divine beauty and completeness’.[42]   This view would seem to run exactly counter to that which had been a guiding principle in the editing of the Wesleyan/New Connexion book. It would become a source of dispute as it pointed to a fundamentally different manner of approaching the texts of hymns.

BC[43] was offered by its compilers as ‘“a labour of love” and even a “means of grace”’. They heartily commended it to the attention of the ‘pious and intelligent in the Churches’ for whose use it was particularly intended and ‘to the blessing of Him Whose glory has been sought that He may make it the channel of instruction and comfort to multitudes, and instrumental in extending His kingdom in the world’.[44]

            This last clause is characteristic and the editors of the new book noted that, while its predecessor had been ‘improved and enlarged in 1838’ and slightly altered in 1862, at its core had been hymns gathered together in a section entitled ‘Missionary Exertion’.[45] Nevertheless the omission of some hymns, such as ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun’ they regarded as ‘unaccountable’.[46] This they sought to remedy by drawing on the great hymns of the church from all denominations, though it is recorded that ‘the proprietors of “Hymns Ancient and Modern” refused to allow the use of any of their copyright hymns’. The compilers sought to provide a source of hymns that would be useful in ‘The Service Song in the House of the Lord’.[47] In doing this they asserted that ‘a hymn is not the best vehicle for the expression of rigorous and exact theological views, but it is often the means of conserving the highest truths in all their divine beauty and completeness’,[48] a contention which would not ride easily with the Wesleyans when the MHB of 1933 came to be compiled. BC provided 53 texts for ‘Evangelistic Services’. Hymns for ‘Special Occasions’ included ‘Hospital Sunday’, ‘General Charities and Almsgiving’ and items ‘For Those at Sea’. Nine hymns were listed under the theme of ‘Temperance’. The picture is one of a church which, while holding to its roots (there are hymns for Class-Meetings), is altogether outward looking.

The Bible Christians were to find over 450 of their texts included in the MHB. They had, perhaps, mixed motives in entering into the Union, recognising the possible protection that such Union would provide against loss of members brought about by migration. 

The editorial committee of the UMFC of 1889 noted that ‘in recent years, many hymns have been published, whose fervour and poetic power have won the approval and acceptance of nearly all sections of the Christian Church’.[49] Many hymns in the 1860 collection had become obsolete and it did not offer the best form of classification.

 In preparing their new collection the committee were concerned not to remove any hymn which ‘had become familiar by use’ or that had ‘endeared itself to our Churches’.[50] The editors were more than willing to amend otherwise useful, hymns. By contrast, within Bible Christian circles hymns moved from book to book with little amendment or alteration.

 In looking for new material the committee boasted that ‘No collection of hymns or sacred songs of any repute has escaped attention’.[51] The criterion for inclusion was firstly, spirituality, but poetry was also important. The intention was to provide a vehicle ‘for the outpouring of the heart in prayer, the uplifting of the soul to nobler aims, holier aspirations and fuller consecration, and the realisation, through sacred song, of communion and fellowship with God’.[52] The hymns included were also to provide for praise and thanksgiving, the language of praise being regarded as the ‘universal language of the children of God’.[53]

 The committee hoped to have produced a collection which would stimulate practical Christianity and ‘to supply a medium for the devout utterance of the varied emotions and experiences of the Christian life’.[54] The hymns were to speak not only to those who could praise God out of comfort, but also those who sought courage in suffering.

 The collection was comprehensive, the spirit catholic. It provided 45 hymns for ‘Evangelistic Services’ and a section devoted to ‘Temperance Services’. Hymns in this book again related to the real world. ‘O Lord be with us when we sail/Upon the lonely deep’ is not metaphorical suggesting some spiritual pilgrimage but also providing images that seamen would recognise. The collection is altogether more earthy than that of the Wesleyans (for them Temperance was allied to Christian Philanthropy) but the common Methodist source is not denied, Watts and Wesley (both John and Charles) being well represented. A defence was given against those who might have questioned the inclusion of certain texts which are specifically Methodist in tenor.[55] Users of the UMFC would have found some 45% of its content repeated in the MHB.

The Union of 1907 had formed a body from disparate parts that had sufficient resources to support a properly trained ministry, with capital for expansion and the production of literature that was capable of political influence. This new Church adopted a more liberal position with regard to Scripture than Wesley had espoused. ‘The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments through Divine Inspiration contain a revelation of the will of God to man and furnish a sufficient rule of faith and practice’.[56] Thirteen hymns in the Wesleyan/New Connexion book were devoted to the scriptures, 15 in the UMFC and 12 in BC.  The sacraments were regarded by the United Methodists as of ‘divine inspiration and perpetual obligation’.[57] A mere 15 hymns in the UMFC were allocated to sacramental services compared with 20 in the Wesleyan/New Connexion book.[58] Interestingly 30 texts were provided by the Bible Christians and these were differentiated into Baptism of Infants (4), Baptism of Adults (2) and the Lord’s Supper (24).

Many of the United Methodist Free Church societies had been almost congregational in outlook. Churches which had been involved in the disruption of the 1840s and the consequent expulsions from the Wesleyan Methodist Church were represented. What had been formed was in effect a bridge church amalgamating those who had sought a more democratic form of organisation within Methodism. The United Methodists and the Methodist New Connexion were distributed for the most part in the North, the Bible Christians in the South and West of the country. This latter group, though not always financially secure, brought a virility to the wider body of the Church.

As with the Primitive Methodists benevolent lay domination was the norm for many societies. Such leaders had pastoral, preaching and financial responsibility which provided benefits, but also dangers, and was regarded as a threat to good order by the Wesleyans. This was to affect the way in which discussions would take place with regard to the production of the MHB.

Above all these people had a shared hymnody which demonstrated itself to be founded on historic Methodist tradition but also contained within it a wider spectrum of emphasis. The New Connexion Hymn Book was very much an ecclesial tome, UMFC offered a greater laxity in terms of literary quality while BC provided the denomination with a sense of enthusiasm and vitality.

The Primitive Methodist Church[59]

Free worship was championed by the Primitive Methodists with extempore prayer being of central importance. The denomination had two hymn books, the Primitive Methodist Hymnal of 1886[60] and the Primitive Methodist Hymnal Supplement (1912).[61] This latter book was the most recent denominational hymnal available to the compilers of the MHB.

Primitive Methodist hymnody began in revival and its first collection of hymns reflected this, being a collection chiefly intended for open-air meetings and evangelistic outreach. The contrast of purpose with that of Wesleyan hymnody should be noted. Hugh Bourne edited The Large Hymn Book in 1825 and this was superseded by John Flesher’s collection in 1854.

In spite of the origins of Primitive Methodism the PM of 1886 had no section devoted to evangelistic services and only 25 hymns for ‘Missions’. A closer examination of the book indicates that a revivalist influence, rather than resulting in specific sections, is evident throughout the book. This is especially true of the section entitled ‘The Christian Life’ which addresses issues of conversion, justification, and regeneration as well as declension and recovery. The section of the PMS devoted to ‘Service’ also has a distinctly evangelistic tone with the inclusion of texts such as ‘Rescue the perishing, care for the dying’. Hymns for ‘Mariners and Travellers’ in the hymn book are more metaphorical than those of the UMFC. This supports Turner’s assertion[62] that the denomination was closer to Wesleyanism than the more proletarian groups.

In spite of this, Primitive Methodism was characterised by a theology that went hand in hand with radical politics, and an anti-sacerdotal stance while worship was almost Pentecostal in style. Congregational participation was encouraged. This was very different from the Wesleyan Church and its church government was more democratic. Such democracy was to provide a point of contention in relation to the composition of committees delegated with the task of producing the MHB.

The PM[63],[64] was compiled by a committee appointed by the Primitive Methodist Conference of 1882. Over 40% of the hymns from this book are represented in the MHB. This is interesting, when compared with WMHB, given the amount of unique material available here.[65]

There had been a call for a book more suitable for contemporary use and so the compilers sought ‘to retain the older hymns which are endeared by many hallowed associations to the hearts and memories of Christians of every name, and to add the choicest productions of our own times’.[66] It was acknowledged that the greatest number of hymns included would still be attributed to Wesley and Watts but ‘selections from numerous other authors and translators’ were to be included.[67] Lengthy hymns were not abbreviated but lively, vigorous singing, characteristic of the connexion was encouraged, though ‘a hurried style … [was] deprecated’.[68] The arrangement of hymns within the hymnal was idiosyncratic. In each section they were grouped according to metre. The later The Primitive Methodist Hymnal Supplement  of 1912 continued this practice.

One would hardly expect a collection of 1051 hymns, together with a setting of the Te Deum and sundry additional tunes, to require supplementing, yet the Conference of 1910 saw the need to augment this considerable collection. There was a feeling that, good though the book undoubtedly was, after a quarter of a century, it might be ‘no longer completely adequate’.[69] The editors were aware of the amount of new material that had become familiar to the people of the church. There was also the necessity to address themes which had, thus far, been neglected. Consequently they felt comfortable including hymns in the Supplement simply on account of their merit or, on other occasions, in spite of their inferiority because nothing else relating to a particular theme was available. They recognised that the usefulness of a hymn does not relate solely to its literary qualities. Many popular hymns were included that, with a more stringent approach might have been eliminated from consideration:  ‘… we are taught that high poetical excellence may be but little help and its absence but little drawback’.[70]  The suspension of literary criteria later referred to in relation to the inclusion of ‘chorus hymns’ in the MHB is anticipated. Similarly, hymns which others might regard as ‘too austere, too mystical, or too subtle’,[71] found their way into the collection. The committee seem to have realised that what they were presenting was new and likely to be met with resistance.[72]   

Ultimately what was produced was later to be described by Turner as ‘a collection which catches the somewhat exuberant and romantic atmosphere of Edwardian Methodism’.[73] This was the most recent Methodist collection prior to the production of the MHB and 139 items from the Supplement found their way into it. This small percentage is probably indicative of two things. Firstly, hymn book supplements often contain material which, by its contemporary nature, is untested. Secondly, the lack of a literary-critical approach to the collection, observed above, meant that, in the view of some members of the 1933 Hymn Book Committee, much of the content fell below the quality required for the MHB.

What is seminal, from the point of view of our understanding, is the sheer range of material provided for the editors of the MHB by this denomination (the two Primitive Methodist hymn books together provided in excess of 1,300 texts and many additional tunes) and their belief that hymn books ought to be updated regularly (25 years was regarded as a sufficient lapse of time after the production of PM to warrant the production of the Supplement).

Methodist Union  (1932)

Methodist Union and the background against which it took place is well documented elsewhere.[74] Churches of all denominations in this period had a declining influence.[75] At the same time the population of the United Kingdom had grown.[76]

Amalgamation of the more liberal Methodist bodies with Wesleyanism was made possible by the fundamental change which took place in 1878 when the Wesleyan Methodist Conference admitted lay representatives.[77]  The Rev. J. Scott Lidgett in 1909 regarded Union as fundamentally logical:

The theology of all branches of Methodism is identical. All attach the same 
importance, at least in theory, to church fellowship and offer similar means of 
satisfying it. All enforce the duty of unceasing evangelism, which is based 
on the will of God that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of 
the truth. All admit the right, and enforce the duty, of the laity to take part in 
evangelism, and in the pastoral supervision of the church. Above all, the 
emphasis is everywhere laid on the importance of experimental religion, and 
therefore on conversion, on the possibility of the direct witness of the Spirit 
of adoption giving the assurance of present salvation, and on the calling to the 
life of entire sanctification which is brought about by the reign of perfect love 
in the heart. 

At this stage the Primitive Methodists, led by A. S. Peake, continued to consider union. Conversely the Rev. Arthur Jones of the United Methodist Church asked at the fourth Ecumenical Conference  (1911), ‘have we not really had enough of Union to last us for a little while?’ adding, ‘And, further, I must frankly say that I, for one … do not see that we are particularly near our Wesleyan friends’.[79]  Conversations, nevertheless, proceeded.

These tensions would, naturally, continue in the united denomination and have an effect on the work of the committees delegated with preparing the MHB. They are further illustrated by the attitude of leading figures to the necessary rationalisation. When statistics relating to the location of churches other than Wesleyan were sought nothing was available. F.L. Wiseman, then Home Missions Secretary of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and later Chairman of the Hymn Book Committee, wrote to Aldom French when the same statistics were requested in relation to Wesleyanism, that neither did he have such information, ‘The work of compilation would be enormous’, and ‘the utility of the whole is not obvious to me’.[80]

Aside from the clear practical value of rationalisation there is a great sense of threat embodied in such a process. Ultimately, even after Union in 1932, such rationalisation was difficult to achieve. Those societies which were threatened with closure perceived themselves as defending a bastion, not only of their religious and theological heritage, but also, of a cultural, political and societal nature. This was to reflect on the process of union and the reception, if not the production, of the MHB.

The First World War brought a transformation of tone. Movements that drew people together, the League of Nations and a desire within the Church of England for a renewed church to serve all classes, became popular. In 1916 Toc H[81] had been formed to provide a place of respite where all ranks were regarded with equality. Such a spirit was threatening to the Wesleyans, a denomination which preserved a sense of hierarchy and order, of inherent conservatism. It was easier for the Free and Primitive Methodists to accept. Again this would be a source of tension for the Hymn Book Committee.

Nevertheless, in Methodism the social distinction between the Wesleyan Methodists and the free Methodist denominations had begun to reduce, so that in 1924 stipends of ministers across the three denominations approximately equated. This did not prevent a charge of snobbery being made against the Wesleyans, but a difference of preference as to styles of communion service was more deeply rooted than any class distinction.[82]

The Rev. J. Ernest Rattenbury, a Wesleyan and eminent hymnodist, stated that ‘There is a clearer kinship between many Wesleyans and Anglicans than with either of the junior Methodist Churches.[83] 

Ultimately  the Methodist Church Bill was passed in 1929 with each of the uniting denominations holding its final Conference in the summer of 1932. The Uniting Conference took place on 20 September 1932 at the Royal Albert Hall. The Deed of Union was signed and three Wesleyan Methodists were elected to office: John Scott Lidgett as President, Sir Robert Perks as Vice-President and Robert Bond as Secretary.

The membership of the denominations at the point of Union was as follows:[84]

DenominationMembershipOrdained MinistersLocal Preachers
Wesleyan Methodist (Great Britain)517,5512,51018,785
Primitive Methodist222,0211,13112,896
United Methodist179,5277295,232

The Union was an uneasy one that did not address the issues that were presented by society or the church. The amalgamation did not provide a source of new ideas about church organisation but, rather, a source of compromise.[85] At least they would sing from the same book, the outward and visible sign of their unity, but this would not be published until December of 1933.

[1] G., ‘Charles Wesley: A New Evaluation of his Life and Ministry’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, 2002, provides a new appraisal of the relationship between John and Charles Wesley.

[2] Brook, D., The Oxford Methodists, in A New History of Methodism, ed. Townsend, W.J., Workman, H.B., Eayrs, G., Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1909, Vol. I, p.139.

[3] See Heitzenrater, R.P., Kingswood, Mirror and Memory, Reflections on Early Methodism, Nashville, 1989, p.13 –32, for a discussion of the origin of the name ‘methodist’ and its significance.

[4] Brook, D., The Oxford Methodists, in A New History of Methodism, p.145.

[5] Wesley, J., The Letters of John Wesley, edit. Eayrs, G., Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1915, p.83.

[6] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, Faber and Faber, London, 1968, p.17.

[7] Baker, F. quoted by Currie, Methodism Divided, p23.

[8] Lloyd, G., Charles Wesley: A New Evaluation of his Life and Ministry, p.237 – 283, examines this in some detail.

[9] Turner, J.M., Conflict and Reconciliation, Studies in Methodism and Ecumenism in England 1740 – 1982, Epworth, London, 1985, p.67.

[10] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, p.317ff.

[11] See Thorne, F. S., ‘All together now! The United Methodist Church 1907 – 1932’, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, Volume 51, Part 3, 1997, p.73.

[12] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, p.317ff.

[13] John Munsey Turner provides a detailed assessment of this period in Davies, R., George, A. Raymond, Rupp, G., A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, p.309 – 361

[14] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, p.321ff.

[15] Wesleyan Methodist Hymn Book, Wesleyan Conference Office, London, 1904. Hereafter referred to as WMHB.

[16] See The Works of John Wesley, Vol.7.  A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists, Edit., Hildebrandt, F., Beckerlegge, O.A., Oxford University Press/Abingdon, Nashville, 1983.

[17] MHB, Preface.

[18] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p.312.

[19] Manning, B.L., The Hymns of Wesley and Watts, Epworth Press, London, 1942, p.143.

[20] This figure raises the question as to the degree to which the material chosen form each book was unique or overlapped with that of the other books. Examination of Appendix 3, p.198, demonstrates that such a question is simplistic. The overlap varies from section to section through the book. The significance of the choices that have been made is addressed in the body of the thesis.

[21] WMHB, (1904), Preface,

[22] WMHB, (1904), Preface,

[23] Wiseman, F. L., ‘Early Methodist Psalmody, with a note on Wesleyan Methodist Hymn Books’, in A New History of Methodism, Vol. II, p.561f.

[24] WMHB, Preface,

[25] WMHB, Preface,

[26] WMHB, Preface,

[27] WMHB, Preface, p.v.

[28] WMHB, Preface,

[29] Townsend, W.J., Workman, H.B., Eayrs, G., edit., A New History of Methodism, Vol. II, p.561f.

[30] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p.314. Newton has also noted the Wesleyan concern over such secularisation voiced by the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship following Union. Newton, J., Heart speaks to heart, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1994, p.70.

[31] Wesley, J., Preface to Hymns for Children, 1790, quoted by Works of John Wesley, Vol.7.  A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists, p. 132.

[32] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p.315f.

[33] Wren, B. Praying Twice, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2000, p.84.

[34] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p316.

[35] Willey, B., quoted by Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p317.

[36] Turner notes that in the church of  Peter Fletcher’s parents once a year there would be a ‘mission’ with the emphasis on conversion and ‘Sankeys’ replacing the more sober Methodist hymn book. For Fletcher this marked the end of Christian observance, while others made their way to the Church of England.  (Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p317)

[37] Naughton, B., Neither Use Nor Ornament, Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1995, p.135f.

[38] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p.318.

[39] A Collection of Hymns for the Use of People Called Bible Christians, Bible Christian Book-Room, London, 1889. Hereafter referred to as BC.

[40] United Methodist Free Church Hymnal, United Methodist Free Churches’ Book Room, London, 1889. Hereafter referred to as UMFC.

[41] The Methodist Hymn Book, Methodist New Connexion Book-Room, London, 1904.

[42] BC, Preface,

[43] BC; see Mankin, K., ‘How they sang on the way to Zion – An Examination of the Major Hymn books of the Main Methodist Traditions during the period 1875 – 1890 and their Relationship to Church and Society’, unpublished M. Phil. Thesis, Council for National Academic Awards, 1992, p.135-151. According to him ‘almost a quarter of the total number of hymns in the hymn book [belong] to the Bible Christian Tradition alone’.

[44] BC, Preface, p.x.

[45] BC, Preface, p.v.

[46] BC, Preface,

[47] BC, Preface,

[48] BC, Preface,

[49] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[50] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[51] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[52] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[53] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[54] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[55] UMFC, Preface p.1.

[56] Quoted by Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p326.

[57] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p326.

[58] Newton, J., Heart speaks to heart, p.70. Newton’s commentary implies that some Wesleyans recognised this as symptomatic of a diminished view of the importance of Eucharistic observance and a source for concern.

[59] For a summary description of this denomination see Lysons, K., A Little Primitive, Church in the Market Place Publications, Buxton, 2001.

[60] Primitive Methodist Hymnal, Primitive Methodist Publishing House, London, 1886. Hereafter referred to as PM.

[61] Primitive Methodist Hymnal Supplement, Primitive Methodist Publishing House, London, 1912. Hereafter referred to as PMS.

[62] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p.328.

[63] See Mankin, K., How they sang on the way to Zion, p.123-134. Mankin comments particularly on the uniqueness of this book.

[64] See Lysons, A Little Primitive, p.201 – 206.

[65] Mankin notes that 254 hymns are in the PM alone which he regards as ‘significantly more than those unique to the Wesleyan tradition’. Mankin, K., How they sang on the way to Zion, p.123.

[66] PM, M.T. Pickering, London, Reprinted with the Supplement, Preface p1.

[67] PM, Preface, p1.

[68] PM, Preface, p2.

[69] PM, Preface, p.iii.

[70] PMS Preface, p.iii.

[71] PMS, Preface, p.iii.

[72] PMS, Preface, p.iii.

[73] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p329.

[74] See Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol.3, p.333 – 361.

[75] Stevenson, J., British Society 1914-45, The Penguin Social History of Britain, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1990.

[76]Whitaker’s Almanack, J. Whitaker and Son Ltd, London, The Softback Preview, 1997, p112.

[77] Kent, J. The Age of Disunity, Epworth Press, London, 1966, p1.

[78] Lidgett, J.S., in A New History of Methodism, Vol. I, p421.

[79] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, p248.

[80] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, p250.

[81] Philip Thomas Byard Clayton went to France as an Army Chaplain in 1915. He opened Talbot House in Poperinge. This club, just behind the lines in Flanders, which became known to thousands of soldiers by the nickname of TOC H (TH in the army signallers’ code of those days). After the war he enabled the rebirth of TOC H. This was an attempt to preserve and to hand on to succeeding generations the special atmosphere which had characterised Talbot House in Poperinge, an atmosphere of friendship which made all the barriers that normally keep people apart seem totally irrelevant. (from the official Toc H website,

[82] Kent, J.,  The Age of Disunity p6.

[83] Currie, R., Methodism Divided, p250f.

[84] Davies, R., George, A. R., Rupp, G., A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 4, Epworth, London, 1983, p.648f.

[85] Turner, J.M., in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Vol. 3, p340.

Published by

Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt was born in Paignton, Devon, England in 1948.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s