The New Year is traditionally a time when our thoughts turn to self-improvement, whether that is trimming our figures, getting fit or learning a new skill.
For my great-grandfather, Tom Robinson, January 1906 saw the start of an entirely new way of life. Just before Christmas 1905, he converted to Methodism – albeit after a delay of a few days. Apparently Tom, who delivered provisions by horse and cart to farms in his rural area of Westmorland, had postponed his conversion in order to enjoy a Christmas tipple or two on his round. It is rumoured in the family that Tom liked a drink or two, but he knew that once he converted, he could never touch a drop again – teetotalism being almost synonymous with Methodism at this point.
We don’t know exactly when Tom’s wife, Ann, was converted – it may have been at the same time as Tom. In any case, he managed to convince her that their four children should be baptised as soon as possible.
So on 7 January 1906, the second Sunday of the new year, Thomas Edward (aged 5), Robert Holme (aged 4), Margaret (aged 2) and John (7 months) were baptised together at Newbiggin-on-Lune Primitive Methodist Chapel, the family’s new spiritual home.
Tom and Ann had been baptised as infants (in the Anglican churches in their native villages), and could not be re-baptised but the baptism of their children sent a strong signal that this family was making a new start. Their children’s lives were now dedicated to God.
Methodists were great believers in ‘holiness of life’ and for the Robinsons this meant a changed lifestyle. For Tom, this meant no more visits to the pub (which had been conveniently located a few doors down from the family cottage). For the whole family, it meant strict Sabbath keeping – anything considered ‘work’ could not be carried out on a Sunday, and this included the banning of seemingly innocent pursuits, such as fishing or knitting.
The harshness of this regime was not appreciated by some of the children, including my great-grandmother, Nellie – but that’s another story.