Clayton Family of Great Harwood and Early Methodism in the Town

Did John Wesley ever visit Great Harwood? Many books about the town mention ‘a tradition’ that he did, and Louie Pollard in Miscellany states, ‘It was a warm spring morning when John Wesley rode into town on the 4th May 1747’ but finding actual evidence to support that assertion proved difficult. This short essay began as an attempt to find out the truth behind the tradition but has become a short history of the origins of Methodism in Great Harwood.

That Lancashire in the 17th and 18th centuries was a Catholic stronghold, particularly in the west of the county, is well known; what is perhaps less well known is that the non-conformist population was second only to Essex and that perhaps only half of Lancashire people accepted the Anglican Church. Prevailing social and economic factors influenced this; Lancashire was a place with large parishes and mainly non-nucleated settlement which both local landowners and the church would find hard to control. The dual-economy whereby many gained their living not solely from the land (and those in larger towns who did not rely on the land at all) and a rising population would contribute to the situation.

At the beginning of the 18th century Great Harwood was a community of farmers, but with an increasing dependency on textiles. Enclosure had been taking place in the town since at least 1730, with parts of the waste and common being allotted to various tenants. This would be in response to the rising population, itself fuelled in part by the dual economy and the need for land and housing. Although as Rose states ‘in the early 17th century the Puritan fires’ were in slow decline the prevailing social situation in the town may have made some of the population receptive to new religious thought.

John Wesley was ordained in 1725 but stayed in Oxford after this for a while to teach. While there his brother Charles and he became part of a group that met to discuss the Bible, which earned them the name of Methodists. By 1739 Wesley’s passionate preaching had upset many churchmen and he was not welcome in many churches, which led to his preaching in open spaces and the homes of sympathisers. Over the next fifty years he travelled many miles and preached many sermons; he kept a meticulous journal, beginning in October 1735 and this would prove to be the best source to find the truth of whether he did in fact preach in Great Harwood.

William Darney was a Scot who began preaching in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1743. He formed societies in Rough Lee, Bacup, Newchurch-in-Rossendale and perhaps Padiham. John Wesley, in his journal entry dated Monday the 4 May 1747 wrote “At his earnest request I began examining those that are called W. D.’s societies. At three I preached at Great-Harding; in the evening at Roughlee, where there was a large Society.” This then seems to be the origin of the statement by Louie Pollard – there being no other references in the journals to visits to the town. I have not been able to find any reference in published works to a connection with the town and William Darney, and most ignore the reference to Great-Harding with the exception of B. Moore in ‘The History of Wesleyan Methodism in Burnley and East Lancashire’ in which he wrote “at three he [Wesley] visited Great-Harding (? Harwood)”. From published works it is not conclusive that Wesley did preach in Great Harwood, but the forgoing statement from the book seems to be accepted by Wesleyan scholars that he did so, at least once.

Of all the sources I have consulted the earliest to say that Wesley visited the town is in a pamphlet titled ‘The Rise and Progress of Wesleyan Methodism in Blackburn and Neighbourhood’ by the Reverend John Ward and written in 1871. He said “Although we can find no reference to it in Mr. Wesley’s journal, yet several authorities in the village seem to confirm a tradition that he visited Harwood and preached, once in an old thatched cottage in Church lane, where he was stoned during the time of service and on another occasion in or near the house of the late Mr. Frank Clayton, at the Back of Bowler (sic) Hill.” This was written 124 years after the supposed visit and therefore not the most reliable information, but as he mentions a descendent of the Clayton family it must be supposed that the event was passed through the generations of that family, and probably others in the town.

Although it would seem certain then that John Wesley did preach here, at least once, the true details of those visits are lost by the passage of time. What is certain however is that Great Harwood became, during the following century, a stronghold of the Methodist faith.

Progress of the Methodist Church in Great Harwood

Colne Circuit
The Haworth Round was divided in 1776 and the Lancashire section now centred on Colne.

This was a large area and there were only three staff, with two horses and they each covered all the area in six weeks. Each place on the circuit was visited once every two weeks, usually on a weekday. In 1786 the circuit had added 800 members in two years but two years later was in decline.
It is not clear when Blackburn embraced Methodism, but would be sometime between 1751 and 1780, and in 1787 Great Harwood was a preaching place on the Blackburn Circuit. The following is from the Reverend Ward:

“Mr. Clayton, the grandfather of Mrs. Walmsley of Harwood, was a sincere Methodist who opened his house for preaching, where it was continued for some years. At his house it is said Mr. Wesley stopped when in the neighbourhood. Divine service was afterwards held in a room over an entry in Cross Gates. A while after it was removed to the School room at what is called the Cliffe, where a Sabbath school was carried on, as well as preaching. In 1822 a small chapel called the Butts was erected and occupied by the Methodists until 1853, when the present one was built. Prior to the erection of this chapel unhappy circumstances arose which it will profit no one to recite, and which had better be buried in forgetfulness for ever. [Taken over by the reformed church.] These circumstances, however, obliged the society to remove to a cottage for a while, and, through the liberality of the late vicar, the Rev. R. Dobson, the Sunday school was held in the Day school premises belonging to the Church of England. Sixty-two years ago [1809] the society numbered thirteen members, whose names were – N. Aspden, leader, Mary Clayton, Joseph Clayton, John Lighfoot, Ann Lightfoot, Isabel Vickers, Jane Taylor, Mary and Ellen Wolstenholme, Alice Swain, Ellen Peacop, Mary Barron, and Ann Folds.

Abram, in his History of Blackburn, and speaking of the Blackburn Circuit says:

A leading Methodist layman of this time [1798] was Dr Nathaniel Aspden, a surgeon of position in the town. He was a son of Mr. William Aspden, of Cliff, Great Harwood, born Jan. 21st 1766… He died, aged 32, in 1798. His epitaph at Clayton Street Chapel is inscribed: “In memory of Nathaniel Aspden, surgeon, who departed this life Sept. 24th, 1798 aged 32 years.

It would seem that the Aspden family, like the Claytons, were early converts to Methodism. The Lightfoots, mentioned by Ward above, later moved to Accrington, where a descendant became the first Mayor of that town. The Wolstenholmes are notable as Mary became the wife of John Mercer the noted chemist, himself later a convert and active in the faith in Clayton le Moors, perhaps not surprising as his mother was herself a Clayton.

The following lists of members are from the Blackburn membership roll:

Roger Clayton
Mary Clayton
John Clayton
Sarah Clayton
Jas. Clayton
Thom. Clayton
Ann Clayton
Peggy Clayton
Thom. Mercer
Thom. Cockram
Pricilla Cockram

1789[against these is an indication of marital status] Roger Clayton, weaver, Cross Gate, Lower Town M
Mary Clayton M
John Clayton, weaver, Gileses M
Sarah Clayton M
Joseph Clayton, weaver, White Carr U
Thomas Clayton, weaver, White Carr M
Ann Clayton M
Peggy Clayton U
Thomas Mercer, weaver, Cross Gate M
Thos. Cokeran, Printer, Stopes M
Pricilla Cokeran M
Eliz. Shaw M
Jon. Fielden, Weaver, Rushton M
Abraham Tattersall, Weaver, Rushton U
Hannah Cratchley, Rushton, U
James Westwell, Weaver, Rushton M
Alice Fisher, Rushton U
Mary Bradshaw, Rushton U
Alice Bradshaw, Rushton, U
Thos. Noble, Rushton, U
Wm. Dixon, Printer, Harwood M
Charles Dugdale, U

Local Preacher Roger Clayton
M Roger Clayton Cross Gate Weaver
M Mary Clayton Cross Gate
M John Clayton Giles Weaver
M Sarah Clayton Giles
U Joseph Clayton Jacks, White Carr Weaver
M Thomas Clayton Jacks, White Carr Weaver
M Ann Clayton Jacks, White Carr
U Peggy Clayton Jacks, White Carr
W Thos. Mercer Cross Gate Weaver
M Thos. Cocheran Stopes Printer
M Priscilla Cocheran Stopes
M Eliz. Shaw Whalley Banks
M Jon. Fielden Rushton Weaver
U Abraham Tattersall Cunliff Weaver
U Hannah Tattersall Harwood
U James Westwell Cunliff Weaver
U Alice Fisher Dunscarr
M Mary Baron (Bradshaw crossed through) Cross Gate
U Alice Bradshaw Cross Gate
U Thos. Noble Moorhead Weaver
M Wm. Dixon Moorhead Printer
U Charlotte Dugdale
M Roger Fielden Cross Gate Weaver
M Alice Fielden Cross Gate
U Alice Pickering Cross Gate
U Ellen Pickering Cross Gate
M John Duckworth Backlane Weaver
M Joseph Noble Poverty (?) Weaver
M Betty Noble Poverty (?)
M William Haworth White Carr Weaver
U Anne Haddock Stopes

Roger Clayton M (Local preacher)
Mary Clayton M
Jno. Clayton M
Sarah Clayton M
Jos. Clayton U
Thos. Clayton M
Ann Clayton M
Peggy Clayton U
Betty Shaw M
Jn. Fielden M
Pricilla Clivily M
Alice Hindle M
Jas. Westwell M
Alice Fisher U
Alice Bradshaw U
Roger Fielding M
Alice Fielding M
Eliz. Noble M
? Baron M
Wm. Wainman U
Mary Wilkinson U

Roger Clayton, M
Mary Clayton, M
Jno. Clayton, M
Sarah Clayton, M
Jos. Clayton, M
Thos. Clayton, M
Ann Clayton, M
Peggy Clayton, U
Betty Shaw, M
Jon. Fielden, M
Hannah Crichley, U
Mary Bayron, U
Alice Fisher, U
Alice Fielding, M
Thos. Bayron, M
Wm. Wainman, U
Eliz. Noble, M
James Foulds, M
Ann Foulds, M

Roger Clayton
Mary Clayton
Jno. Clayton
Sarah Clayton
Joseph Clayton
Peggy Clayton
Ellin Clayton
Jonathn. Fielding
Jas. Foulds
Ann Foulds
Hanh. Critchley
Betty Noble
Betty Barron
Betty Bolton
Nath.l. Aspden
Thos. Baron
John Mitchell
Ellin Fielding
Wm. Wainman
Thos. Fielding

Roger Clayton
Mary Clayton
Jno. Clayton
Sarah Clayton
Joseph Clayton
Ellen Clayton
Jonthn. Fielding
Ellen Fielding
Jas. Foulds
Ann Foulds
Hanh. Critchley
Betty Noble
Betty Bolton
Thos. Baron
Betty Baron
Jno. Mitchell
Wm. Wainman
Peggy Wainman
Richd. Sefton
Mary Sefton
Wm. Saddler

Roger Clayton
Mary Clayton
John Clayton
Jos. Clayton
Jas. Foulds
Ann Foulds
Betty Noble
Jon. Fielden
Betty Bolton
Jon. Hobson
T. Bramwell
Ann Bramwell
John Noble

© B. Youds 2021