Proceedings of the Wesleyan Historical Society Volume 1 – 5 (1898) Pages 129 – 137 CLASS TICKETS
Proceedings of the Wesleyan Historical Society Volume 1 – 5 (1898) Pages 129 – 137
One of the earliest customs of the people called Methodists – which has continued down to the present – is that of the quarterly visitation of the classes by the minister, at which a Ticket is given to each fully accredited member of Society.
There is some obscurity resting upon the origin of this custom. It is generally believed that Wesley did not give tickets before 1742, but it has often occurred to me to ask if tickets were ever given by any religious communities other than the Methodists, e.g. the Moravians, Dr. Horneck’s or Dr. Woodward’s Societies.1* Dr. Smith, in his History of Methodism (Vol. I. p. 321), thinks it very probable they were. In a plate of engraved specimens on p. 322 he reproduces one in facsimile, with the following inscription, “John George, Sep. 4, 39, J.R.” It has been suggested that the figures “39” may refer to the number of the member, as the name stood upon the register, for on some of the engraved specimens there is provision for the number, thus, ” Nr”, ” No” ; and it is known that Wesley did number many of the Societies. ” In the year 1745 he carefully examined the Society in London, one by one, and wrote a list of the whole with his own hand, numbered from 1 to 2008″ (Stevens, History of Methodism, London Ed., p. 106, note), and there certainly is a number on some of the early tickets. But the close proximity of the figures “39” with the day of the month “Sep. 4” seems to be fatal to this theory. 2*
Mr. Wesley’s own account of the origin of the custom is given in a letter entitled “A Plain Account of the People called Methodists,” written to Mr. Perronet, vicar of Shoreham, Kent, 1748. After describing the origin of Methodism, which was established in 1739, he goes on to say that ” after a while some grew faint and fell back,” this necessitated more careful oversight and suggested the custom of ” Catechumen ” Classes, or classes of instruction in the Christian religion, ”which were met apart from the congregation.” But this did not accomplish all that was desired; some still “grew cold,” and these exposed the brethren to reproach. He says, “We groaned under these inconveniences long before a remedy could be found, the people were scattered so wide in all parts of the town, from Wapping to Westminster, that I could not easily see what the behaviour of each person in his own neighbourhood was, so that several disorderly walkers did much hurt before I was apprised of it. At length while we were thinking of quite another thing, we struck upon a method for which we have cause to bless God ever since. I was talking with several of the Society in Bristol concerning the means of paying the debts there, when one stood up and said ‘ Let every member of the Society give a penny a week till all are paid,’ another answered ‘ But many of them are poor and cannot afford to do it.’ ‘ Then,’ said he, ‘put eleven of the poorest with me : and if they can give anything, well. I will call on them weekly, and if they can give nothing, I will give for them as well as myself. And each of you call on eleven of your neighbours weekly to receive what they give, and make up what is wanting.’ ” The date of this conversation was Feb. 15th 1742 (see Journal). ” After a while,” continues Wesley, “some of these informed me they found such and such an one did not live as he ought. It struck me immediately, ‘This is the thing, the very thing we have wanted so long.’ I called together all the leaders of the classes (so we used to term them and their companies), and desired that each would make a particular enquiry into the behaviour of those whom he saw weekly. They did so. Many disorderly walkers were detected. Some turned from their evil ways. Some were put from us. Many saw it with fear, and rejoiced unto God with reverence. As soon as possible, the same method was used in London and other places.”
This going round to the members was found to be inconvenient for several reasons; so each class or company was met together at one time and place. Wesley goes on : “As the Society increased I found it required still greater care to separate the preclous from the vile. In order to do this, I determined, at least once in three months, to talk with every member myself, and to enquire at their own mouths, as well as of their leader and neighbours, whether they grew in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. At these seasons I likewise particularly enquired whether there be any misuliderstanding or difference among them : that every hindrance of peace and brotherly love may be taken out of the way. To each of those whose seriousness and good conversation I found no reason to doubt, I gave a testimony under my own hand, by writing their name on a TICKET prepared for that purpose: every ticket implying as strong a recommendation of the person to whom it is given, as if I had wrote at length ‘I believe the bearer hereof to be one that fears God, and works righteousness.’ Those who bore these tickets wherever they came, were acknowledged by their brethren and received with all cheerfulness. These were likewise of use in other respects. By these it was easily distinguished when the Society met apart, who were members of it, and who not. These also supplied us with a quiet and inoffensive method of removing any disorderly member. He has no new ticket at the quarterly visitation, or as often as the tickets are changed, and hereby it is immediately known that he is no longer of the community.”
Thus we see that Wesley in issuing the quarterly ticket had in his mind the apostolic custom of “commendatory letters.” The early specimens were very diverse in shape, size, and design. A certain amount of art and symbolism entered into the design ; some were engraved on wood, some on copperplate, bearing a symbolical emblem sometimes with, sometimes without a text of Scripture. One would have an anchor and a crown, another an angel flying on the clouds of heaven with a trumpet to its mouth and another in its hand, another an open bible bearing the text, ” Blessed is the man that endureth temptation,” surmounted with a crown to suggest the “crown of life;” another a pointed text in an ornamental frame, another pourtraying the Saviour washing a disciple’s feet, another exhibiting our Lord’s crucifixion,3* another
His coming again ; others were severely plain containing a simple text in a neat border, with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, others wlth just the word ”Society ;” others, the Sun of Righteousness shining on a phoenix rising out of fire. Some have a dove encircled with glory, and others have no engraving whatever ; others have a lamb carrying a flag, and others a tree with a broken stem, Jehovah as a sun shining on it, and at its foot two men, one planting a new cutting, and the other watering one already planted ; others represent the Christian kneeling before an altar, inscribed with the words ” Pray and faint not ; ” another the image of “Time” hurrying along with a scroll in his hand, inscribed with “Now is the accepted time.” The same design was used more than once at intervals. Some were printed with black ink, some with red, and some with blue.
Tyerman in his Life of Wesley, ii. 188-9, describes a specimen of one which he says is “without a fellow.” The original was given by John Hampson, senior, to Ottiwell Higginbotham, “a man of considerable property, who lived at Marple, near Stockport,” and was intended to serve for four quarters. It was quite plain, except for a border outside, with the text at the top, and four lines beneath for the name of the member. The first line bore at the beginning the date ” March 25, 1754,” the second line June 25, the third Sep. 29. the fourth Dec. 25. The member was required to bring it each quarter to have his name inscribed.
Tyerman is wrong in saying this ” is without a fellow,” because in Smith’s specimens there is another for the year 1755. Moreover Tyerman’s specimen was not the only ticket issued for 1754, as Smith gives one for Jan. 9, 1754, with quite a different design – an ornamental shield-like device with the words “Watch and Pray” in the centre. There are instances of diversity of design even for the same quarter, e.g. June 1765, and others. This great diversity in the early specimens is largely accounted for by the fact that they were printed and issued in three towns.
After the Conference of 1765 diversity gives place to greater uniformity : ” Let there be one ticket everywhere, and the form sent direct from London, and so in every succeeding quarter “- Myles, Chron. Hist., p. 106. At this Conference it was also decided to give ” Notes of Removal” signed by the Preacher to members removing from one place to another. The “form ” adopted for the tickets was wlth few exceptions a plain upright oblong (2 1/2 ins. by 1 5/8 ins.) with a text of Scripture and a simple border, with the letters of the alphabet in succession quarter after quarter, also the date. This form was continued with but few changes except variations of the printer as to type and border to the year 1822. These variations are frequent, even on tickets bearing the same date ; e.g., two tickets for Sept. 1816, although having the same text and consecutive letter, differ in many details,- in one case the border is a thick wavy or zigzag line, the alphabetic letter leans, the first line of the text has four words, “Now the Lord of” : in the other the border is a light openlinked chain, the alphabetic letter is upright, the first line of the text has only three words, “Now the Lord.” This may imply that the printer had not enough uniform borders and capitals to fill up the sheet, or for the sake of variety introduced changes of no vital importance. Sometimes the border is single, sometimes double. Nightingale in his Portraiture of Methodism, ed. 1807, p.246, writes, “These tickets are printed at the Conference Office, North Green, Worship Street, and are regularly sent to every town and village in the United Kingdom which contains a Methodist Society.” Nightingale’s illustrations, as given on p. 246, are only ideal suggestions and not actual reproductions of the tickets for March, 1807. It may be parenthetically stated that up to thirty or forty years ago, the tickets were issued to ministers ” in sheets,” which gave no smali trouble in cutting them up into single tickets, whose margins and edges were very uneven.
For three quarters in 1822, viz., March, June, and Sept., there was a distinct change introduced,- a larger, and profusely ornamented floral design, horizontal oblong in shape (3 1/8 ins. by 2 1/2 ins.) But evidently this innovation did not meet with general approval,as in December of that year, the “fancy ” border gave way to the present neat but inartistic design; the shape, .however, has continued to the present time.
In Dec. 1893, the first ticket was issued containing the words ” Wesleyan Methodist Church,” thus dispensing with the old and familiar words ” Wesleyan Methodist Society, established 1739.”
The Rev. C. H. Kelly owns a very rare metal ticket, or pass, bearing the date 1787 in the centre, surrounded by the words ” Wesleyan Methodist Church.” These passes were used for admission to the Lord’s Supper, possibly in Scotland. It shows that our fathers were not so much afraid of the word ” Church ” as some of their followers are. The Rev. R. Green also has one or two similar passes.
The first ticket issued for March, 1895, was rigidly suppressed owing to an inappropriate selection of text, and another was issued in its stead. It is believed that this is not the only instance of the kind.
Besides the “Society” ticket there was also the “Band” ticket. The Band-meeting was copied by Wesley from the Moravians (see Wesley’s Works, 10th ed., viii. 365), and had its ” Rules ” drawn up Dec. 25th, 1738, also its ” Directions,” Dec. 25th 1744 (ib. 262-263). Conference Regulations concern!ng bands will be found on p. 295. The origin of the instltutlon amongst the Methodists is described on pages 248-9. For the sake of those who may not have Wesley’s Wbrks to refer to, it may be stated briefly that many of the members of the classes whlch were composed of married and single, old and young, desired a means of closer communion, they wished to consult one another without reserve, particularly with regard to their specific temptations and sins; to this end Wesley divided them into smaller companies, putting the men, married or single, together, and the women, married or single, together. For the method of meeting these Bands and Classes see Meth. Mag., 1781, 604. The “Band” tickets were distinguished from the ” Society ” tickets in various ways, sometimes by the word “Band” alone being printed in large capitals across the face of the tickets, sometimes by the word ” Band ” in small capitals beneath the text, principally however by a different text of Scripture, a slightly different border, and an italic ” b,” or capital ” B ” close beside the consecutive alphabetic letter. In March, 1857, we find the last of the band tickets with a different text, and henceforth the only difference between the two kinds was the italic letter ” b,” which finally disappeared after June, 1880. There are no Bands now.
In addition to the ” Society ” and ” Band ” tickets there were also others issued for admission to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I have seen only two early specimens, both of which were issued to Margaret Somerhill or Somerell in 1774 (?). They have the letters “IHS “in the centre surrounded by what may be termed rays of light.
These various “tokens” were used by the early Methodists for definite purposes. As we have seen, they were used to distinguish those who were members of Society from those who were not. Up to the year 1765 they were used also as “Notes of Removal.” They were rigidly required to be seen before admission could be obtained to the Love-Feasts, Covenant services, and Society meetings. In very old Minute books of Leader’s Meetings you frequently come across the names of gentlemen who are denominated “Ticket Examiners.” So great was the desire on the part of non-members to gain admission, that members sometimes lent their tickets to their friends. This breach of the rules called forth the following regulation at the Conference of 1808 :
“Any person who is proved to have lenb a Society Ticket to another, not in Society, for the purpose of deceiving the doorkeepers, shall be suspended for three months ” (Warren’s Digest, p 95). They were a certificate not only of good character but also of the full rights and privileges of membership in the Society of the people called Methodists. It has often been asked, ” What is the purpose of the large consecutive letter of the alphabet ” ? The answer is simple. It served as an easy guide to the “Ticket Examiners ” when admitting persons to the select meetings, and showed whether the ticket presented was the one for the current quarter or not. In the Meth. Mag., 1822, p. 782, in a letter by James Wood, the public, especially the Methodist public, were warned against the misuse of the ticket, as a means of imposture. Having such distinctive uses the tickets were much more highly prized than now. Some of the old members amongst us think that we are less spiritual today because we have given up the practice of requiring members to show their tickets at our Lovefeasts and Society Meetings. They argue that we have lowered the tone and standard of our meetings by relaxing our discipline, by admitting non-members to our experience meetings, and that in consequence there is a restraint put upon the full and deep utterance of the interior life.
In any case the ticket as such is as precious as ever and ought to be carefully treasured and preserved. It is still a token of fellowship with, and membership of, a great Christian Church, and may become a proof of unbroken association with the people of God. If our customs and methods change, the spirit of our fathers ought to remain, viz., the spirit of entire consecration to God of all that we have and are.
It may be asked, Seeing there were so many members, how it is that the early tickets are so very scarce? It is very doubtful whether there is a complete collection in existence, or whether one could now be formed. The only explanations I have met with are that many of the early Methodists had them put into the coffins of their deceased friends prior to interment, not from any notion of superstition, but because they were so closely associated with their religious life : and also that though some people preserved their tickets, a great many did not. From their very nature they were likely soon to be lost or destroyed.
FRED. M. PARKINSON.
NOTE BY MR. GEORGE STAMPE.
I have read Mr. Parkinson’s able paper on this subject with great interest, especially that part of it relating to the genesis and development of the idea, say up to the year I 745. The whole subject is wrapped in great uncertainty, and we shall probably now have no further light upon it. In common with most other Methodist usages it grew ; but that the custom prevailed to some extent among the Moravians there is little doubt, and from them Wesley would derive the idea.
The giving of money in the Class Meeting began at Bristol where, in February 1742, Captain Foy suggested that every one in the Society should give a penny~a week to pay off the debt on the building. This .building was the new room in the Horsefair erected by Wesley in 1739, the first Methodist Chapel ever built. It was superseded by a larger building, probably on the same site, or very near to it, in 1748.
Up to, if not after, 1750, space was left on each ticket, Society, and Band, for the no. of the member, each large Society having its own register or list. I have one for June 26th, 1750, the date and all but the text, Matt. xxiv. 13, being in Charles Wesley’s minute handwriting. The word ” Band ” is here written in full.
The set for 1753 has no reference after the printed text, and the date is at the left hand lower corner, the no. being above. That for 1754 has the four quarters printed on a single sheet, with a text at the top and spaces for the quarters in which the member’s name might be written. I have heard of single tickets for this year, but they would doubtless be printed at Bristol or Newcastle when the supply of the combined. ticket had run short. There is no evidence that any tickets were printed except in London, Bristol, or Newcastle, though the Irish Methodists probably used their own particular ticket from the beginning.
The ” picture ” tickets were issued at irregular times for several years, some being veritable works of art; and the wonder is how the cost was met. Besides those named by Mr. Parkinson, the one of the Crucifixion, taken from the frontispiece of Wesley’s Thomas a Kempis, considerably reduced in size, is a beautiful example. My copy is No. 1548, but has no date, These engraved tickets were given simultaneously with the plain ones, but generally, I should say, in London only.
After 1762 the date was nearly always printed on the ticket, greater uniformity being thereby secured. I have one for that year with a large capital “S” below the text, shewing it was a Society ” and not a ” Band ” ticket. It is for various reasons impossible to form a perfect set of tickets, the most complete one I have seen being that made by Dr. Adam Clarke, afterwards owned and added to by James Everett, but it unfortunately- went to-.America. One ticket often served for four or more quarters; and where the supply failed old ones were largely used. At this remote distance we have no means of ascertaining the order in which they were printed and issued, and the difficulty is enhanced by the fact of their being separately printed at, at least, three places. For one or more years the same ticket was printed in four separate colours, to distinguish the quarters.
The Band tickets were supplied in the proportion of two to ten Society tickets, and this partly accounts for their greater rarity. Some of mine have a large ” B ” below the text, and some, like that for Sept. 1760, have the word “BANDS” printed above the text, the date being in the right hand upper corner. From March, 1770, downwards mine have all a small ” b ” in italics after the consecutive large letter; and for Sept., 1778, I have two Society tickets with totally different texts and letters. Was one issued in Ireland ?
. Mr. Parkinson is wrong in stating that the Band ticket ceased in June, 1880. I have one with a small ” b ” for Sept.I should like to ascertain decisively if that was the last. They do not know at the Bookroom.
It would doubtless clear up some uncertainties, if the owners of the best collections of tickets could meet, and compare and collate their specimens. It would be a fitting and desirable duty for the Wesley Historical Society to undertake, say at the London Conference of 1899, and I cordially commend it to the consideration of the Council.
1* For an account of these religious Societies see Meth. Mag. 1837, p. 347, and 1845, p. 1073. There is no reference to tickets in the rules or ” Orders ” of these Societies ; see An Account of the Rise and Progress of the Religious Societies, in the City of London &c., by Josiah Woodward, D. D., 1712.
2* In the book entitled The Progress of Methodism in Bristol: or The Methodist Unmasked, the preface to which is dated Jan. 26, 1742-3, the following lines occur :-
But such as Tickets had from John
With this Device upon the same
The Number, and the Bearer’s Name.
3* This illustration probably gave offence to some, and was certainly is interpreted by others. As early as 1744 an offensive pamphlet was published under the pseudonym of Eusebius, and entitled : A Fine Picture of Enthusiasm by Dr. ]ohn Scott, Former Rector of St. Giles’s-in-the-Fields, wherein the Danger of th passions leading in Religion is strongly described: To which is added, An Application of the subject to the modern Methodists, exposing the principles and practices of all such: (London, 1744, Svo., pp. 40). In this pamphlet occurs the following sentence ;-“And lest men should not be enough affected with the name and sufferings of Jesus, one of these artful teachers has ordered the tickets for his people to be impressed with the crucifix; and this, with their confeisions and other customs, intimates a manifest fondness for the orthodox institutions of the Church of Rome.” See Tyerman, Life of Wesley, i. 428.