Ranter Chapel revival in Filey

From the book "Filey - a Yorkshire fishing town" by Irene E Allen and Andrew A Todd


John Oxtoby was responsible for the great Christian revival which began in 1823. One of the first families to embrace the Primitive Methodist cause was that of William Jenkinson (1786-1865). Tradition has it that Oxtoby stayed at his house "at the top of Spring Row" and at the time of his earliest evangelical work [Filey Ebenezer: the romance of the Filey Fishermens ranter Chapel, souvenir 1871-1971]. Converted at the same time were William's sons John (1807-1886), William (1811-1901) and George(1815-1876).

John Oxtoby married Ann Cooling in 1833, after which time she was always referred to as "Nan Jenk". Shaw suggests that some nine years before, she had become an Oxtoby convert, and specialised in obtaining contributions to the society's "missionary box". She had so impressed the fishing community with her goodliness that they readily contributed a percentage of their catch in return for her prayers for their safety at sea!

The Society eventually established a regular system by which it received such contributions. Terence Collins told us that fishermen who belonged to the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Filey would shoot a tenth line with every nine of theirs. Whatever was caught on this line was sold for the benefit of the chapel. It was effectively a tithe.

Another of William's converted sons, George, was the Master of the yawl "Good Intent". Shaw relates the story of William's death in 1865 as follows:

"He trained up his family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and had the happiness of seeing, before his death, his sons office-bererers, and about one hundred of his relatives members of our Filey Society."

"His son, George, who is a local preacher and class leader, was going up the street one morning, when ,as he drew near the window of the parlour where his father slept, he was surprised to hear a voice - and pausing - found it to be his father's, who was engaged in prayer. With much feeling he listened to the voice he knew so well, and heard his reverend parent pray for his aged wife and his family, supplicating earnestly for their spiritual prosperity, and then for their temporal welfare."

"The circumstance occured about six weeks before his death. From that time he gradually grew weaker, until he was confined to his room, where, with many others I visited him, and found him to be remarkably happy and resigned. At times, his state of enjoyment was most rapturous, and he assured his friends, that he had unspeakable visions of glory. In this happy state he continued until the end came. His last words were, "The Kingdom! The Kingdom! It is a Kingdom of grace". His son George said, "You will soon be in the Kingdom of glory, father!"

The impact on the Filey fishing community of the revival was certainly profound. We have seen how committed to the faith so many of the fishermen came to be, how they became pillars of the Primitive Methodist Society in the town. One of the earlier effects of the revival was to bring an end to Sunday fishing. It had been lamented by a writer in 1823 that fishermen regularly fished on the Sabbath, possibly at the insistence of the boat owners. It was asserted that there was "no sunday in the ten fathoms of water"[Sailors Magazine 1823]. According to Shaw (1867), John Jenkinson was one of the three men who, whilst involved in the "Yarmouth fishing" in a small three man yawl, resolved not to break the Sabbath. The three Jenkinson brothers subsequently sailed together in the "Three Brothers" in which they were able to outfish boats that persisted with "Sabbath breaking". It became a proverb in the town that "if there were twea herrings in the sea, Ranter Jack would be seaar to git gan on em." Or if a "ranter" went "to sea in a wesh tub he would come home wiv mair than anybody else". From then on, Filey fishermen abandoned even the skeining, baiting and loading which had been common Sunday pastimes. Such is the traditional explanation in Filey of the end of Sunday fishing.

The abstemiousness of the Primitive Methodist became a by-word in Filey, and much mickey taking must have occured at the expense of those recently "brought in" (Converted). George Burton told us the local story of "Ginger" Bill Scotter who took a bottle of rum on to a fishing boat to wash down his breakfast the next morning! "Sham on thee sen", the outraged ranter skipper growled as the bottle came on board. "Here, maister, have a drink with me, "Ginger" politely offered, to aggravate him further. The Captain took the bottle and promptly supped the lot in one go! "Ginger's eyes stuck out in disbelief.

George also recounted how local tradition has it that some time after the general conversion, a ship laden with brandy was wrecked at Filey. Barrels were hastily retrieved by the "converts", and the brandy was drunk there and then on the sands out of the sou'westers! Barrows and flat carts had to be employed to bring the men back home!

Yet it would be wrong to trivialise the effect of Primitive Methodism on the fishermen. Their faith gave them resilience to cope with the hazardous nature of their lives. It also gave them a willingness to accept the tribulations of life. Captain Sydney Smith told us how a man might complain of a poor catch with the words

"Thats what the Lord says you should have, so be glad of it!"

He also remembers how, in 1923 (at the age of 15) he acted as a cook for Jack Johnson, a greatly religious Filey man. Whilst "midsummering", bad weather lost the boat its herring nets. "He didn't turn a hair", Captain Smith recalls. "I took him a cup of tea up to the wheelhouse... and he was stood at the wheel there and he was singing

"I know that my redeemer liveth!"

The success of the Primitive Methodism in Filey was probably due in no small part to its emphasis on simple but powerful preaching. "Ranter" became the Chapel's by-name, and the word is still used today in Filey, even though the Chapel no longer has a seperate identity. The traditional lay preaching was maintained by many Filey fishermen, and their shared knowledge of the fishermen's life gave their message a relevance and immediacy which the sermons of the Established Church lacked.

Captain Smith knew one of these fine preachers, Matthew Haxby, quite well. As a boy he cracked whelks for him at Scarborough. Matthew once owned a series of boats whose names reflected his religious persuasion - "The Felicity", "Ebenzer" ( after the Filey Chapel), and "William Clowes" (a famous local preacher) and the herring coble "Piety"! All the crew were ,of course, Chapel going men. Captain Smith recalled Matthew's favourite sermon, on Christ's calling of Peter and Andrew. He was "like an Old testament prophet ... a great white beard he had", and he would address his congregation in terms they understood, and in broad Yorkshire:

And Jesus said y'ar day I'll gannay have a walk on t'sand ... then he gets doon there ... there's ould Zebedee sat in there an t'lads with him... an' there they are mendin' nets. Bad state they was in - all rove t'pieces - must have been a nourtherly wind that night. He had a yarn to 'em there ... and thee had a yarn back an' he says to 'im, 'what der yer call thoo?' He says 'They call me Simon.' 'Well (he says) I'm gonna call thee Peter in future ... thoo an' thee brother 'ere Andrew .. an' him an' all... better come with me ... I can show you better fishing than these herrings... I'll mak thee fishers o'men - thoo come wi' me!' And straightaway they left ol' Zebedee in t'dae, 'cos when you sign up for fishin' you're supposed to finish that fishing' ... your not supposed to leave 'alf way through it ... what was he gannae to do for another crew when he wanted them the next morning'? O ah it was a rum do altogether... but anyway thats where they went ... and thats how he cum te call them disciples"

Another of Matt Haxby's renditions would begin

"And the Israelites descended into gross darkness"

and leaning over the pulpit, he would say to the uncomprehending:

"You know what gross darkness is, don't yer? Well, if yer don't I'll tell yer... its a 'undred an fouty four darknesses, that's what it is!"

Methodist preachers are,of course, renowned for their ability to improvise an appropriate prayer to fit any occasion. Captain Smith remembers a story his father told about a service at Scarborough seamen's mission, perhaps around 1900. Fileymen were often invited along to preach, and there was a supper afterwards, "a good slap up do". On this particular evening, after a poor winter, nobody had much, so it was not much of a spread. A Filey fisherman was asked to say grace. With commendable tact,he intoned this couplet:

"We thank the Lord fer what we've getten.
If there had been maer it would have been etten!"

Open air services were a regular feature of the movement. JS Wane listened to one on Sunday 30th August 1908, on the cliff top.

"All the fishermen strolled slowly to it", he recorded in his diary. " The preaching is rough, but is one of the old Filey institutions."

Throughout the bulk of the year, however, Primitive Methodist services were held inside the imposing chapel on Union Street. It was built in 1870-1, and initially could seat 700 people. It was used every evening of the week, and for a large number of the fisher families it was the focus of their social lives. From 1868, the 20 or so trustees met regularly to manage the chapel's affairs, and the two minutes books which record their debates and decisions give a fascinating account of non-conformist life in Filey up to 1937.

Much of the business was to do with the Chapel building - 200,000 bricks were to be bought for its construction(July 19th 1868); the preacher's house was to have gas laid on "in the three lowest rooms and the study ", to be fitted by Mr Ross(26th September 1868 - John Ross established an ironmongering and gas fitting business in Filey in the 1850's); the house was to be papered, but the paper was "not to exceed in price 6 old pence per role!" There were familiar problems with the weather : It was resolved "that something be done to prevent the water from blowing in at front doors of Chapel" (20th September 1872) The congregation would have had enough of that substance during their week's work!)

"Our apparatus does not warm the chapel sufficiently", they minuted on the 9th January 1875, adding that "piping burst in several places with the frost."

The passing of society members was minuted:

"A letter of condolence to be sent to the widow and family of the late Bro RT Cammish. It was passed in the usual way, all the Brethren standing. Bro Fenby to send a wreath from the trustees."

(3rd June 1922 - Richard Thomas Cammish was buried at St Oswald's on the 4th). The minute book would wax lyrical when a brother passed on: in this case, the deceased was noted as "a loyal follower of the Lord Jesus Christ." Even the retirement of the organist, Miss M Towse, could ocassion minuted mellifluence: it was recorded that

"we most sincerely wish her all possible happiness and that her future may be rich in Christ - leasing service so that day by day the well tone of the loving Jesus may let her soul to the sweetest music."

On a more mundane note, however, it was agreed next "that we advertise for an organist in the 'Scarbro' Mercury' and the 'Filey Post' and £10 a year.(10th September 1894).

Godliness was encouraged wherever possible: A bible and hymn book were to be presented to the first couple to be married in the chapel (28th January 1874); and moral dereliction was to be prevented: on the 28th August 1868, it was solemnly recorded

"that no gambling be allowed at the bazaar"

(coffee and tea, incidentally, were to be provided at one and a half old pence a cup).

Fund raising activities were necessary, of course. The chapel was partly built with money borrowed from men like Vickerman Mainprize of Flamborough, and upkeep of the fabric must have been a constant expense. It is not surprising, therefore, that the trustees found themselves concerned regularly with the collection of pew rents. There was evidently some reluctance to pay: pew rents still outstanding for 1875 were to be collected "as far as practical" (20th January 1876) and nine years later it was decided

"that the financial state of the Chapel be mentioned from the pulpit, and the people urged to pay their seat rents"

(9th January 1885).

One fund raising activity that continued up to World War II will be well remembered by Filey people over 50. Several "fish pie suppers" would be held each year, in the Chapel basement. Requests would be made to the local fishermen for the necessary fish ( in 1902 a "coals to Newcastle" decision was made to buy them in Scarborough!) and potatoes would be obtained. The suppers would be sold at 9 old pence to one shilling, and proceeds used to buy ingredients for a "sale of work" bizaar a few weeks before Christmas. All manner of food and clothing would be made by the women of the society, and these products would be set out on stalls all round the walls of the basement on the Friday and Saturday. There was "a hat triming contest first night, stocking darning on the second night and a "fish pond as usual"(6th November 1899!)

People who believe that the behavior of children has seriously declined since the last century might well be surprised by some of the minutes in the chapel trustees books! There were problems with "the boys who misbehave themselves at the top of the gallery" 1875; and the indiscipline spread further, for "Bro John Jenkinson" was reqested "to look after the boys in the body of the Chapel" (1889). It looks like the horseplay had spilled out onto the street for it was later resolved "that we ask the Policeman to keep the children in order during the Sabbath in front of the Chapel and the Chapel steward to offer a small gratuity as an inducement" (1892(. Who knows what hooliganism had brought the august body of trustees to try to bribe police constables? Names of wrongdoers were to be taken "with a view to further action"(1892); young people were failing to stand in the gallery "during the singing" (1902); and rock bottom seems to have been reached in 1916 when the trustees bemoaned "disorder during public worship" and the need for more reverance!"

The War brought its own problems - the bombardment of Scarborough in December 1914 perhaps moved the trustees to insure their property "against war risks;spring blinds were to be fitted on certain windows and the rest pasted over with paper(1915). By 1917, however, it was safely concluded that the "brown paper be removed from the lower portion of the Chapel windows". In fact, the trustees were by then more worried about the rampages of the British forces since the soldiers, who were lodged in their schoolroom were to be requested not to smoke there before 7pm on Sundays!

But despite the disruptions caused by highspirited young chapelgoers and the indisciplined soldiery, it is the memories of countless communal functions organised by the chapel that figure most strongly in the minds of elderly people in Filey today. Apart from the fish pie suppers and the bazaars, it is the Chapel Anniversary Weekends that are best remembered. Foster Holmes Jenkinson recalls the annual procession around the Old Town. The scholars, all in brand new clothes of course, would assemble outside the Chapel at 9am and proceed down Hope street, Mitford Street and return up Queen Street. At the top of virtually every yard on Queen Street the procession would stop and an anniversary hymn would be sung, to the accompaniment of the little organ that came with them on its barrow! The whole circuit, including perhaps then stops, would take about an hour.

There followed a series of "display" services at the Chapel: the primary scholars were in the morning, and the senior in the evening. Terence Collins remebers how the Sunday School Teacher Edward Scales Jenkinson used to treach the children their "pieces". Special hymns were written each year by a Filey minister, Tom Jones - he probably penned hundreds altogether! Sadly, the custom died out around the time of the Second World War.

Edward Scakles Jenkinson ("Neddy Rasp") is well remebered in Filey, a rather saturine preacher and teacher at the chapel. As well as being a member of the "Band of Hope" temperance movement, he is remembered as making fine models of cobles and full masted sailing ships in his spare time. They were much sought after by visitors. Foster recalls that the yawls he made were lovely sailers.

His son, also Edward Scales Jenkinson, and also a Sunday School teacher, died at the age of 24 leaving a young family. Local tradition suggests that his decline in health was partly a result of his depriving himself of food during a period of poor fishing so that his children should not go short.

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