Camp Meetings were American in origin. Accounts of them by American correspondents were printed in the Methodist Magazine in 1802 and 1803.. The American evangelist Lorenzo Dow became an enthusiastic advocate. He revisited England 1805-7, and both Hugh Bourne and William Clowes heard him preach at Congleton in November 1806. Dow's personal advocacy of camp meetings suggested the idea of holding them in England. Camp meetings involved short and varied preaching or exhorting by a number of speakers, in the context of fervent prayer. The first, held on Mow Cop on 31 May 1807, was mainly a meeting for prayer. Thousands came from the towns in Cheshire. Further meetings (which included preaching) were held at Mow Cop on 19 July, at Langtoft-on-the-Wolds near Driffield and at Brown Edge on 16 August, and at Norton-in-the-Moors on 23 August. The WM Conference's judgment on them was: 'They are highly improper... we disclaim all connexion with them,' and Bourne was expelled from the society. The birth of the Primitive Methodist Connexion was a result. Camp meetings became a feature of the movement and many were held in different parts of the country, especially at the time of District Meetings and when the Conference assembled. They were characterized by processions, singing and preaching. Hugh Bourne had a sermon, which he preached up and down the country, on Pentecost as the first great camp-meeting. George Borrow describes a camp meeting on Mousehold Heath, Norwich, in ch.XXV of Lavengro.
'Mow Camp meeting was appointed to be held on Sunday, May 31st, 1807. The morning proved rainy and unfavourable, which rather put it back; but about six o'clock the Lord sent the clouds off, and gave us a very pleasant day.
'The meeting was opened by two holy men from Knutsford - Captain Anderson having previously erected a flag on the mountain to direct strangers, and these three, with some pious people from Macclesfield, carried on and sustained the meeting a considerable time, in a most vigorous and lively manner. They conducted it by preaching, prayer, exhortations, relating experiences &c. The Lord owned their labours, grace descended, and the people of God were greatly quickened. The congregation rapidly increased, and others began to join in holy exercises
'Meanwhile, the people were flocking in from every quarter. The wind was cold, but a large grove of fir-trees kept the wind off, and made it very comfortable. So many hundreds now covered the ground that another preaching-stand was erected in a distant part of the field, under the cover of a stone wall. Returing over the field, I met a company at a distance from the first stand, praying for a man in distress. I could not get near, but I there found such a measure of the power of God, such a weighty burning of joy and love, that it was beyond description. I should gladly have stopped there, but other matters called me away. I perceived that the Lord was beginning to work mightily. Nearer the first stand was another company praying with mourners. Immediately the man in the other company was praising God, and I found that he had obtained the pardon of his sins, and was born again. I believe this man to have been the first that was born of God at this meeting. Many were afterwards born again or converted in the other company; the number I couild not ascertain: but from what information I was able to collect, I suppose about six.
'Meantime preaching went on without intermission at both stands, and, about noon, the congregation was so much increased, that we were obliged to erect a third preaching-stand; we fixed it a distance below the first, by the side of the fir-tree grove. I got upon this stand, after the first preaching, and was extremely surprised at the amazing sight that appeared before me. The people were nearly all under my eye; and I had not before conceived that such a vast multitude were present; but the thousands hearing with attention as solemn as death, presented a scene of the most sublime and awfully-pleasing grandeur that my eyes ever beheld
'The congregation increased so rapidly that a fourth preaching-stand was called for. The work now became general, and the scene was most awful and interesting. In this glass, any one might have viewed the worth of souls. To see the thousands of people, all (except a few stragglers) in solemn attendance; a company near the first stand wrestling in prayer for mourners; and four preachers dealing out their lives at every stroke. These things made an impression on my mind, not soon to be forgotten; this extraordinary scene continued till about four o'clock, when the people began to retire; and before six, they were confined to one stand.'
Hugh Bourne, Observations on Camp Meetings, reprinted in John Welford, Life of Hugh Bourne (1855) pp.119-25 and A History oif the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988) pp.316-19
'About four o'clock in the afternoon the numbers of the people were podigious; but after this time many began to retire. Yet the power of the Highest continued with undiminished force to the last. Towards the conclusion, the services were principally carried on by praying companies; and at the close, which took place about half-past eight o'clock in the evening, several souls were set at libertry.'
Wiliam Clowes, quoted in John Petty, The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, p.18