Hugh Bourne was born on 3 April 1772 at Ford Hayes Farm, Ford Hayes Lane, Bucknall, now within the present-day boundaries of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.
Hugh was the son of Joseph and Ellen Bourne. In 1788, after basic training as a carpenter, Hugh moved to the nearby mining village of Bemersley (in the north-eastern fringe of the present-day Stoke-on-Trent) and was apprenticed to his uncle as a wheelwright. After ‘serving his time’ learning the trade, Hugh specialised principally in making and repairing windmill and watermill wheels.
Hugh Bourne was brought up in a religious family and from the age of seven was increasingly troubled by existential and religious questions. He lived with a rather morbid fear of being condemned to Hell and spent, as he phrased it, "twenty sorrowful years" in pursuit of salvation. Naturally, the shy young Bourne read the Bible, but it was only when his mother brought him an anthology of Christian writings in 1799 that the Christian message of salvation really began to resonate. Bourne wrote, “I believed in my heart, grace descended and Jesus Christ manifested himself unto me, my sins were taken away in an instant, and I was filled with all joy and peace in believing”.
Bourne's conversion at the age of twenty seven led him to join the local Wesleyan society at Burslem, one of the historical six towns of the City of Stoke-on-Trent. He continued as a wheelwright but, after a period of group bible study, soon became a Methodist lay-preacher.
By 1800, Bourne had moved a short distance to Harriseahead, a mining village near Biddulph close to the Staffordshire – Cheshire border. Bourne was appalled at the moral state of his new surroundings, saying, "There was not in England a neighbourhood that was more ungodly and profane. A stranger could hardly go over Harriseahead without insult and sometimes not without injury”.
Bourne was "constitutionally shy, somewhat dour, yet - strange union of opposites - courageous and doggedly persistent". He soon earned a reputation as a zealous preacher but the Wesleyan leadership were uncomfortable with his radicalism. Initially, he conducted a recognisably Wesleyan form of service but, later, he rejected this as being boring and of out-date; in short, the traditional service was ‘not fit for purpose’. To engage with people, Bourne developed a style of open-air preaching, combined with public confession of sin, group prayer, and hymn singing. This was clearly distinctive from the Wesleyan norm and provided the template for the later Camp Meetings. A chapel was established at Harriseahead and, by 1804, the religious ‘revival’ Bourne began in his new village had spread to the northern Potteries towns of Burslem and Tunstall and into south Cheshire. One notable achievement of this revival was the religious conversion of Burslem-born William Clowes (1780-1851), the other joint founder of Primitive Methodism.
Often overlooked is the change following what may be called "Hugh Bourne's Pentecost". In 1804, some "revivalists" from Stockport led the Michaelmas Love Feast at Congleton where they spoke of John Wesley's teaching of "entire sanctification". Jesse Ashworth, who knew some of these revivalists, records the change in Hugh Bourne and his companions. Their preaching, and the Church, found a new freedom and blessing from God. They held a Christmas Love Feast at Harriseahead, with many standing on or between the pews for lack of space. This began the time of revival when some key Primitive Methodist leaders, most importantly William Clowes, were converted.
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