Apart from the Stanhope assembly in 1822, it is stated that the first camp meeting in the neighbourhood of Westgate took place in June 1823. For weeks before the weather had been unsettled, but Batty had "got into faith," and in one of his prayers had said, with confidence: "Lord, we shall have a fine day." The report of this prayer spread for miles; some said it was blasphemy, others hoped it would rain, "but many believed in the Lord." Joseph Walton was very anxious about it. "Now, Thomas," he said, "you rise or fall with this camp meeting. If it be a fine day, you will rise; if it be a wet day, you will fall in the estimation of the public." Batty replied: "Let the Lord see to that." It rained until the Thursday afternoon, but on the Sunday there was not a cloud to be seen until towards night. Great multitudes attended the camp meeting, the preachers being Emerson, Batty, Young, and Anthony Race. Eleven souls professed to find liberty in the love-feast. A violent storm broke over the dale that night, and the Wear and its tributaries became so swollen that many persons were prevented from going to their work next morning.
As illustrative of the eagerness of the people to hear the gospel at this period, Mr Kendall gives an incident which occurred at Wellhope. To economise every inch of available space in the room, all the tables and chairs, except one for the preacher to stand upon, were removed, "and then some stalwart miner would come forward, and stand with his back to the preacher, so that he the preacher might find support by resting his arms on the man s shoulders. There was competition for the honour of fulfilling this office; and who shall say that such a living reading-desk was not as pleasing in God’s sight as the eagle lectern of polished brass? "
The intensity of the feeling prevailing amongst the dales-folk is further shown by the miles some of them walked to attend a love-feast, even in the winter time, and over a mountainous country. Two young men tramped nine miles to Westgate to get their souls saved, on November 9th, 1823, and were among twenty-six mourning souls in a ring that day. Batty afterwards preached in the place where they came from, and soon "a blessed work broke out there." November 10th, at Prize, was a night to be remembered, Batty says. Ten souls were converted, and "it was near twelve o clock when we broke up."
After the revival had spread to Nenthead and other places in that direction, Westgate was detached from Barnard Castle, of which branch it had been part, and made a separate section of Hull Circuit. That was in 1824, John Hewson being the superintendent, and George Whitfield Armitage the junior minister. In a few months John Oxtoby (" Praying Johnny ") was added to the staff, and the revival got a fresh impulse.
Another phase was given to the work: the sanctification of believers as a definite work of grace was now a prominent feature of the revival, as well as the conversion of sinners. "Praying Johnny " a remarkable servant of God was the apostle of this new phase. Originally from Warter (Yorkshire), he was vicious in conduct and foul in speech until he was thirty-seven years of age; but in 1804, by the work of the Holy Spirit, he saw his lost condition, and " hell from beneath appeared as if open to receive him." Confessing his sins, crying aloud for mercy, and exercising faith in the Saviour, he received forgiveness. He regularly thereafter visited every house in the village. He and another also visited various places around, exhorting the people to flee from the wrath to come. In 1819 he became the right-hand man of William Clowes at Hull, and a few years afterwards was regularly employed as a travelling preacher. He was a man of extremely slender abilities, of little or no education, very provincial in his dialect, and in his attire a rustic of the rustics; yet his "unaffected address, plain faithfulness, engaging simplicity, and devotedness to the work of Him that sent him," endeared him to the people, and his prayerfulness, consuming zeal, and faith made him one of the greatest of the pioneers of Primitive Methodism. Men who worked with him, lived with him, overlooked his weaknesses and incongruities, and spoke with warmth of the way in which he was used in bringing believers to realise the higher altitudes of the salvation of God and in bringing sinners to repentance, even the irreligious confessing that no man could speak and act as he did except God was eminently with him.
From the day Johnny Oxtoby entered the Dales, signs and wonders accompanied his ministry. On the second day after his arrival at Westgate, an extraordinary display of saving power occurred at Swinhope Burn the meeting in which Emerson Muschamp was converted and two days afterwards he was at Hunshalford. "Held a fellowship meeting; three or four were sanctified wholly, and eight justified." That is all John says about the occasion in his journal; but George W. Armitage, who accompanied him, gives a full and glowing description of the service:
"While many spoke of the goodness of God, a mighty power came down. It struck one (a believer) speechless; two others fell to the floor in great agonies and rose praising God for what they felt. Another man began to pray for a clean heart, which he received; and soon after he was so filled with the perfect love of God that he jumped up and down, shouting Glory! with all his might. His countenance testified the reality of what he professed he was indeed extremely happy. Sinners then began to tremble before God, and presently five or six fell down and cried for mercy. . . . That was truly the beginning of good days. . . . The members grew in faith, and, when they began to pray the power came down, and frequently struck one and then another down, till sometimes six or eight lay on the floor together."
What took place at Hunshalford became a common scene, and the matter got noised abroad. Men travelled distances of twenty miles to get sanctified, and "many devout Wesleyans" attended the services for the same purpose. Two or three months after these manifestations began, Mr Armitage confessed that he had not received the blessing so many declared they had obtained; but he sought it earnestly, and obtained it, while waiting quietly upon God in " Bro. Watson s class at Westgate. "I felt," he says, "changed more fully into the image of the Invisible, and filled with perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect peace." Several more were similarly affected in that class meeting, some being "so filled with the fullness of God that they lay on the floor speechless. Such days were never seen in Weardale before."
There is further testimony in regard to this work by the late William Dent, given in the Connexional History. Mr Dent, who was converted at Westgate in 1823, was called into the ministry in 1827, and, after a fruitful career of thirty-three years, located in Newcastle. Well does the present writer remember "his spare form, ascetic, spiritual-looking face, and his quick bodily movements," when something the preacher said touched him. In Nelson Street Chapel, in the early sixties, "the fire was down" upon a full congregation. William Sanderson was the preacher it was an anniversary occasion; William Dent was on the rostrum. Mr Sanderson had a good time with the great text, "When I consider Thy heavens," and Mr Dent s body swayed like a rolling craft; ever and anon he thrust his arms above his head, his fingers, as they met, moving quickly as if playing upon a stringed instrument, the music for which he himself only knew. By pen and voice throughout the whole of his life, Mr Dent was a foremost exponent and defender of the doctrine of Christian perfection. In his early days he was a keen observer of the phenomena of Oxtoby’s revival. He says he saw as many as fifteen cases of prostration at one meeting, some of them "sober-minded Christians, as humble as they were earnest." There was nothing in the voice or manner of the preacher to account for such effects, Oxtoby standing steadily and talking calmly. "But he was fully in the faith, clothed with salvation, having, in many instances, got to know substantially in his closet what was about to take place in the great congregation." Mr Dent says Oxtoby did not take a falling down as a certain proof of the obtaining of entire sanctification, but ascribed much to physical causes.
John Oxtoby was again in the Dales in 1827, and his journal shows the same results as before. "An inexpressibly glorious day " was experienced at a camp meeting on June 17th. "Individuals were brought to the ground by the matchless power of Deity. Others stood trembling as an aspen leaf." Thirty were "brought to the ground by the sanctifying influence of God s Holy Spirit," at the love-feast. Eastgate, described as a dark and benighted place, got the blessing; and day after day seasons of power were the order at Westgate, Wearhead, Blackdean, Fieldstile, Brother-lee, Prize, Lanehead, Frosterley, Wolsingham, Sidehead, Burnhope, Killhope, Wellhope, Black Clough, Boltsburn, Daddry Shield, Ludwell, Side-end, Coal-clough, Stanhope, Hunshalford, Allenheads, Swinhope, Alston, and elsewhere. So great was the influence at times that persons ran out of the meetings; but some of them were so deeply affected that they fell on their knees on the roadway before reaching home, and cried for mercy.
‘Northern Primitive Methodism’, by W M Patterson, published in 1909, page 159-164
The church closed in 2007. The right-hand building was the 1824 chapel and the lefthand building was opened in 1871.