Nineteenth Century Craster differed from the Craster of today. Gone the old herring boats, the 27-strong coble fleet of yore shrunk to three, and fish no longer selling, as it sold in 1877, at Is. 4d. a stone! Little change in population numbers - a rise from 270 to around 300 - but the memorial harbour completed in 1906, Diesel engine replacement of sail and oar, better housing, better lighting - beneficial changes in an era of change.
Life in Craster 100 years ago was a hard, tough life for its fisher-folk and quarrymen, yet a fuller life for many in the inspiration they sought and found in the homely intimacy of the prayer meetings.
Picture the scene. Seated around the room - but a few of the latecomers having to stand - the fishermen and their wives, one or two older children besides. In the middle of the room, erect, thoughtful, the prayer leader. He bends forward now over the Book on the table before him - this blue gansied, grey-haired, fatherly figure - and in the light of the oil lamp turns to the chosen passage. Conversation ceases. In the momentary quiet, a spatter of rain on the window - in the background, from the dark, the sound of the sea. And so, the leader's fervour shared by his cottage congregation, he reads aloud from the Word.
After the reading, as before it, prayer.
" Then kneeling down to Heaven's Eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
Hope `springs exulting on triumphant wing',
That thus they all shall meet in future days."
Early Methodism seems to have by-passed this part of Northumberland, but in 1867, two years before Stephenson went fishing off the Tyne, Primitive Methodism - a branch of British Methodism which re-united with the parent church in 1932 - brought the Gospel to neighbouring Seahouses through evangelists William Dunn and Andrew Taylor. There, in 1868, a Primitive Methodist society was formed and attached to the Lowick Circuit, the Rev. William French becoming the first Seahouses resident Methodist minister.
In due course, young Mr. French was invited by the Craster brethren to preach to them, an invitation he readily accepted, and to which a sequel - Craster as yet without a Methodist church - was an application to him by 26 of their number to become society members. They included Matthew Stephenson ; William, Ralph, Joseph, and Robert Archbold ; Robert and John Smailes, Robert Sanderson, George Dawson, Richard Simpson, William Simpson ; and wives.