Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Rise of Methodism in Bedfordshire

BHRS's new volume The Rise of Methodism: a Study of Bedfordshire 1736-1851 was published in July 2014 by Boydell & Brewer.  Its author, Jonathan Rodell, was born in Bedfordshire and educated at Aylesbury Grammar School and Pembroke College, Cambridge.  He was awarded a doctorate by the University of Cambridge in 2011

About the book, which is based on his thesis, he says 

'By the early 19th century Methodist societies constituted perhaps the largest voluntary organisation in Britain with possibly as many as one in seven of the population of England and Wales associated with the movement in some way or other.  This radical re-examination of Methodism’s emergence and growth draws on a wide range of evidence to give a bottom-up account of its life and impact. Overturning many myths and presumptions, the study digs beneath the seemingly steady advance portrayed by official membership statistics to uncover a much more unstable and rapidly changing picture in which different generations and social groups appropriated the religious structures of the movement as vehicles to express a wide variety of aspirations and grievances.'  

The book focusses on what Jonathan calls 'the unlikely Methodist stronghold of Bedfordshire and its neighbouring counties of  Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire'. His bottom-up approach quotes extensively from the ordinary men and women of the area and shows much of rural and small-town life as well as their religious experiences - and inner turmoils.

Jonathan discusses not only the 'familiar Methodist groupings but others whose more transitory popularity has veiled them in obscurity, including the Moravians, various kinds of Calvinistic Methodists, the Primitive Episcopal Church and the early Mormons.'  

This book is a delight - both scholarly and also down-to-earth.  Full of statistics for those who like to quantify their research; full of local colour for those who want to see the people.

Additional information on Methodist preachers, not in the book, is on his website.

By day Jonathan works as a specialist teacher with children who exhibit serious learning and behavioural problems; by night he writes and lectures on the disappearing world of England’s Nonconformist communities, with several articles and book chapters to his credit.  He was a Visiting Fellow at Southern Methodist University, Dallas in 2012 and is a Panel Tutor for the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge.

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