Radical Objects

Radical Objects: Primitive Methodists

This commemorative plate was sold in 1907 to mark the centenary of the Primitive Methodist Connection. The Prims – or more particularly their founders Hugh Bourne  (on the left of the plate) and William Clowes (on the right) were expelled from the Wesleyan Church for refusing to stop preaching in the open air.

They held their first great ‘illegal” camp meeting on Mow Cop in Staffordshire (the romantic ruin at the bottom of the plate) on 31st May 1807. Claiming to be the true heirs of the Wesley brothers the ‘Prims’ preached a gospel of ‘free and full salvation by faith alone’ and held an enormous appeal to working men and women. Their (initial) religious radicalism led them to allow the ministry of women and a fundamental internal democracy which bred at least two generations of local labour activists and trade unionists.

The Primitive Methodists were particularly strong on the Durham Coalfield and in Norfolk and north Suffolk where they dominated the farm workers’ unions from the 1870s until the 1950s. It was probably the Prims that led to Hugh Gaitskell’s famous remark that ”the British Labour Party owes more to John Wesley than Karl Marx’. The Prims rejoined to Wesleyans in 1932 but their often tiny spartan chapels can still be found all over East  Anglia and the North-East of England.

The plate was made (appropriately) by John P Humphrey’s Farm Pottery at Tunstall in Staffordshire.


  1. Why were the Primitive Methodists not to preach in the open air? Surely Wesley himself did?

    1. Oh dear – sorry to have not to have  replied before – yes Wesley did preach out of doors but the practice had been abandoned during the revolutionary years after 1792 by the 1800s the increasingly conservative Wesleyean leadership refused to allow its revival since it could encouarge popular disorder – alun

  2. I have in my possession-handed down in my family 2 plates, one identical to that above. The other with one large rose on either side. Can you tell me anything about the difference & potential value?
    Daphne Birkett

    1. Hi Daphne –

      Would you be able to send photos and we’ll post then on the page and see if anyone can answer your query.


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