Peculiar People Day is celebrated on January 10th of each year. The Staff at National Whatever Day were unable to discover the origin of Peculiar People Day, however we believe it may have something to do with an offshoot of the Wesleyan denomination, The Peculiar People.
The Peculiar People were founded in 1838 in Rochford, Essex, by John Banyard, a farm worker’s son born in 1800. They derive their name from an alternate translation of the phrase “Chosen people” taken from the book of Deuteronomy.
Banyard was frequently drunk until his wife asked him to attend a service in the local Wesleyan Methodist chapel. The preacher’s message had a profound effect on Banyard so that he became teetotal and regularly attended the church. Before long he became a reputable preacher on the Wesleyan circuit. In 1837 he and William Bridges took a lease on an old workhouse at Rochford which became the first chapel of new group which Banyard and Bridges called the Peculiar People, a name taken from Deuteronomy 14:2 and 1 Peter 2:9.
In the mid 1850s they spread deeper into Essex, much of which was agricultural land occupied by a naturally conservative population. The Peculiar People preached a puritanical form of Christianity which proved popular and numerous chapels sprang up throughout rural Essex. They also practised faith healing.
There is a fascinating account of the Peculiars in nineteenth century Plumstead in “Unorthodox London” by C. M. Davies. In Blunt’s Dictionary of Sects and Heresies (1874), the Peculiars were described as ‘a sect of very ignorant people’.
The Peculiar People practiced a lively form of worship and considered themselves bound by the literal interpretation of the King James Bible. They did not seek immediate medical care in cases of sickness, instead relying on prayer as an act of faith. This led to judicial criticism when children died due to lack of treatment. In response to the concern about refusing medical care, which led to some parents being imprisoned after a 1910 diphtheria outbreak in Essex, the sect split between the ‘Old Peculiars’, who still rebuffed medicine, and the ‘New Peculiars’, who somewhat reluctantly condoned it. The split healed in the 1930s, when in general the New Peculiar position prevailed. During the two World Wars, some Peculiar People were conscientious objectors, believing as they still do that war is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Church membership had peaked in the 1850s with 43 chapels, but it declined until 1956, when the Peculiar People changed their name to the less conspicuous Union of Evangelical Churches. The movement continues with regular worship at 16 remaining chapels in Essex and London. Some of the traditional distinctive features mentioned have been abandoned, so that UEC churches today are similar to other Evangelical churches.