In an important document recently discovered, and never, up to this time, quoted, William Clowes passes certain strictures on the first official History of the Primitive Methodist Church. "I must confess," he says, "though I never said so to anybody in my life, that I did not approve of its being drawn up in the way it was." To William Clowes, the history of the Primitive Methodist Church began when the Camp Meeting Methodists and the Clowesites came together in 1811 to form one united Church. He furthermore maintained that Hugh Bourne, William Clowes, James Steele, James Nixon, and Thomas Woodnorth, should be recognised and honoured as the real founders of our Church.
As though to confirm the view of Clowes, the historical preamble to the Deed Poll of the Primitive Methodist Connexion - its document of highest official authority - sets forth the origin of the Connexion, and finds it in the fusion of the Clowesites and Camp Meeting Methodists. Having mentioned the societies at Ramsor, Wootton, Stanley, and Tunstall, this carefully-drawn legal instrument proceeds: -
"And the said several societies and classes, together with other congregations, societies, and classes, in several parts of England, were afterwards closely united and connected, and the whole thereof under the care of the said Hugh Bourne, James Bourne, William Clowes, and James Steele, were formed into one general community or Connexion, known and distinguished by the title or denomination of 'The Primitive Methodist Connexion.'"
Undoubtedly, then, William Clowes is right in his main contention, viz., that the Primitive Methodist Church began in 1811, and, therefore, that the proper history of the Church must also begin with that date. It is an anachronism to speak of Primitive Methodism before 1811. Any incidents which took place prior to the union effected in this memorable year, must be regarded as incidents and episodes belonging to a revivalistic movement, or series of revivalistic movements, locally differentiated, proceeding on early or primitive Methodist lines, partaking, therefore, of the nature of a survival, reaction, or return to an earlier type of aggressive agency, and finally converging and coalescing in one general community or Connexion.