“From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse, the going up was worth the coming down”.
The Pilgrim by Kris Kristofferson
It’s 18th October 1786. John and Mary have just got married. He will be twenty two in a few days and she six months younger. Mary is probably feeling a bit nauseous in the mornings and wondering why. The ceremony was at St Oswald’s Church in Guiseley. They will live one mile down the road in Yeadon all of their lives.
There first son John was born eight months later on the 18th June 1787. Mary was to have a child every 18- 24 months until she was forty three in 1808. Twelve children in all, eleven survived.
Oddly Mary gets very little mention in the diaries, although they lived together for thirty nine years. The most detailed account in which she figures is her own funeral. John’s days were intensely busy. And between his day job and the affairs of the chapel I wonder how much time they got together. Her days must have been equally fully, there was never a time in the next quarter century when she did not have two or more children under three to take care of as well as create a home for them all. Maybe their affection was so integral to his life that it was not something to be discussed in a diary. On balance I think that is the best fit
It is around this time that John’s diary begins to be written contemporary to events. It is evident that the journal is in part being used by him to chart his own religious development. He is fond of reflecting upon sermons.
”In 1789 our preachers at this time were Blair, Godwin and Brown. I was most affected under Blair. One sermon I shall not forget. Text Isa 49- 24, 25- “Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? Surely thus says the Lord: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken and the pray of the tyrant be rescued for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children”.
There was no ambiguity or discussion of context. To John these were words from God, directed personally to him. His duty was to reflect up the words, extract the message and apply it to his life. The preachers who rotated through the local chapel were important figures.
A Methodist Archives website provides a brief biography of large numbers of Methodist ministers back to the 18th Century. Unfortunately John’s favourite Andrew Blair’s is not included but we have information about the other two
Ministers were attached to a locality in pairs or greater numbers. Yeadon at the time had three. Typically one would rotate out each year and be replaced by a new person. John Goodwin (1739-1808) was stationed at Yeadon in 1789. He had been born in Cheshire and had become involved in Methodism from an early age. He became a local (or lay) preacher just a short while after joining the society.. He entered the Itinerancy in 1768 when he would have been 29 years old (Ministers were itinerant in that they were expected to move to where they were needed and regularly re-locate as instructed). He served mainly in the north of England, but also did spells in Cornwall & Dublin.
I can’t identify the third minister Brown with certainty but it is very likely to have been Isaac Brown. He was a Yorkshire man. His year of birth is not known but he entered The Itinerancy is 1760.He travelled mostly in his native Yorkshire for over forty years, and died 1815. These were men from ordinary backgrounds, whose talent and native intelligence had been recognised and then shaped by the Methodists. They grew in that milieu and were allowed to take on positions of religious authority which would have been unthinkable in the established church which was very slow to wake up to the transformative effect of the industrial revolution and the movement of former agricultural labourers to the towns. The Church of England was not to provide Yeadon with a Parish Church until the middle of the nineteenth century. They very nearly missed the boat because by that time Yeadon had a number of Methodist and non conformist chapels. Men and women like John and Mary felt Methodism was their natural home because it gave them a role and did not treat them with arrogance. In John’s chapel the men standing in the pulpit were not so different from himself.
On December 6th 1789 John made the following note in his diary. “Mary joined Jonathan White class and I, the next day David Long’s class for the first time in our lives”. Class members were provided with renewable class membership tickets. John kept the tickets for his wife and himself for the rest of his life. This ticket has survived, and a copy is in my possession. These classes were not just some religious discussion group. They were fundamental to the organisation and had a clearly defined purpose.
Methodist congregations from the earliest days of the movement were divided into members and adherents. Membership meant you had kept certain rules which included an obligation to meet, usually once a week in a ‘class’. After a period of being on trial these members were given a membership ticket which in the early years was reviewed quarterly by the minister. To retain the ticket you had to keep the rules including attendance at class which was normally on a weekday evening (after a ten hour plus day at work!). Class size was set at a maximum of twelve but in these years numbers often exceeded that.
The class leaders would meet as a group and would be overseen by a minister. The classes as a collective group were called the Methodist Society for that village or town. They met as a congregation on Sundays for services in a Preaching House, Chapel or church. Those enrolled in the membership group would only form about a third of the people at services. The others were known as Adherents. That is people who had not yet agreed to be bound by the rules of membership.
There is an obvious intention in this structure to create a sense of belonging to a group, and the use of the group to mould beliefs and reinforce commitment. A Class Leader seems to have been a mixture of Mentor and Teacher. John was in the class operated by David Long, who is likely to have come from a background not dissimilar to John’s own. As well as basic instruction in scripture, the arrangement assigned people to an enduring membership group. These affiliations carried over in people lives in the community and at work. There was a time when if one asked someone what they were, one of the first words out of their mouth would have been Methodist. By the twentieth century these classes had been abandoned. From John’s time up until the 1960’s Chapel membership marked you as having respectability, of being of good character and would help you rent a house or get a job. Your class leader on a Tuesday evening could well be your foreman on the Wednesday morning.
There were schisms and clichés though. A hundred years later these would lead to riot between the Wesleyans and the reform Methodists (CHECK)METHODISTS IN 1851, In the year of the French Revolution the Methodists of Yeadon were arguing about circuits.
The circuit was a basic geographical administrative unit for the Methodists. The argument was should Yeadon be aligned with Keighley which seemed a long way off or remain with more prestigious Leeds. The circuit was also the area within which the ordained Ministers and Local Preachers operated. A preacher would be on a rota which could take him to all parts of the district, either on foot or horseback.
Yeadon had been part of the Leeds circuit for the previous 15 ½ years. The change upset a lot of people-
John’s diary gives a short account of the dispute. “The proposal was promoted by the Minister, Andrew Blair who did not respond to petitions and remonstrance’s opposing the idea”. Keighley won out. Any preacher would have an aptitude for fell walking as the district included some isolated moor land communities, as John was to later discover.
In 1790 John records the death of his grandmother, the person who effectively had brought him up. He does it in a way which sounds odd to modern ears but no doubt fitted with his view of what was most important. His concern is for her prospects in the afterlife.
“My grandmother died in Feby of this year aged 83 years but as her mental powers were weakened and she in a state of dotage I can say nothing about her experience only that she had the opportunity of class meeting every week before her death and I hope God would fasten on some good thing on her mind”.
As a I say very odd to modern ears. Poor woman!
Later in the year John and Mary had their first daughter Hannah-
“On October 1st Hannah born so more are added to our family and one more entrusted in our care. Hannah was to develop a mental impairment and Epilepsy after surviving a bout of smallpox. Her welfare was to bring John much anxiety over the next fifty years. One of the last entries in his diary as a very old man was on the possibility of her entering the workhouse, the thought of which filled him with despair.
But for now things were going well. On his birthday in 1790 he wrote “I am this day (Nov. 5th) 26 years of age and a wife and three children……At the end of this year my wife and me earned this year £31. 1.7 And paid out £5.1.7 that we owed. We lived on 10s per week five of us, or 2s each per week and no other help”. This is the only mention of Mary providing income, but it is not clear if this involved work outside of the home.
In 1792 a second daughter Mary was born on the 5th May.
John described living most of that year “under a nervous fever”. It would have been interesting to know more details about this condition, but he does give an account of his experiences with a Quack Doctor-
“Mary our fourth child was born May 5th this year. This year was also a year of affliction to body and soul. I walked under a nervous fever nearly all this year. I remember in July a Quack Doctor called at our home for his bill and told us strange tales of my disorder and its consequences. He over persuaded us to waste (unclear in text) 5/6 of him in a box of pills and a bottle of liquid, Turpentine Spt. of, and water. This is the first and last time of my ever imploying a Quack. It did me no good”. The turpentine would have been a powerful laxative. Lord knows what would have been in the tablets, but it can’t have been worth 1/160th of his annual income. He must have felt a fool but the nervous malady; whatever it was must have caused him severe distress to have laid him open to such a conman.
The most likely explanation is that his malady was Depression. Something similar afflicted him again in middle age and had more lasting residual effects.
By the autumn of the 1792 he was in a dark state but some light was creeping in through the window. “I was almost sunk down to earth in the latter part of the year; however on October 22 I walked to Otley to hear Mr Richard Birdsall preach at 7pm.I felt it did me good. Text Heb 13,19”. So what was this powerful text?. “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them”. That was it, 33 words. How can arrangement of letters and spaces play a part in shifting a mindset. These ones obviously resonated in some way with John and played some part (? Cause ? effect)t in the unthawing of his dark mood. ‘People’ in the very biggest sense, a distinct species have got a thing about language. Some arrangement of words and meanings, can be catalysts. They are just perfect for the peculiar need of the moment. For me, strangely Chuck Berry’s words “he could play a guitar like a ringing a bell” is the absolutely perfect way to describe how it feels to be good at something. Heb 13, 19 helped in some way for John.
There were other signs of the cogs beginning to turn again-
“Word was brought from Guiseley that Jonathan Clapham’s wife was in deep despair and her relatives desired some from Yeadon to pray with her. I was very, very unfit to go for one, my nerves shattered to pieces and myself on the brink of despair according to my judgement. However we went and though I had power to pray with her it did me much harm afterwards by reasoning over it. It was on Nov. 5th in the evening when we went and I was 28 years old that day. The woman soon got better and lived to an old age.
Through the months of 1793 it is evident that John is considering taking up preaching. He was aged 29 years, and drew a parallel from this to the life of Jesus. “I often feel a desire to be more useful thinking and praying on this subject I opened my Testament on these words—“much people of the Jews , therefore know that he was there and they came, not for Jesus sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also whom he had raised from the dead”. ….“My saviour did not begin his public ministry until he was thirty years of age and if God should call me to so great a trial I hope it will not be sooner”.
News of major International events seems to have been readily available, even to people living in a backwater like Yeadon. John must have had chance to read newspapers on a regular basis. He may have bought one locally but this seems unlikely to have been a regular habit considering how chronically short of money the family was. A more likely explanation is that he was a member of some sort of library. This might have been associated with the Methodist Society or a self improvement association of some kind. In 1792 he made the following comment about events in France, and their impact-
“The French Revolution began in August of this year. A stagnation of trade soon followed. I remember earning one Guinea in the week before Yeadon Feast in August also this year by painting”. During 1793 the recession in trade continued and had an impact upon John and his family.(WHAT HAPPENED IN FRANCE IN 1792…..REVOLOUTION 1789…OTHER DEVELOPMENT
“We are 3 pounds worse than last year. Poor trade, French wars the cause”.
The year 1794 was an important one for John, in that he took up preaching. The first occasion was at Brearah (now Breary) near Bramhope, a village close to Yeadon. This must have been a bit of a try out session for him. Could he stand up at the front of a group, make some kind of sense and hold people’s attention? He took on the role more formally a couple of years later when he became a Class Leader. I often drive past these fields and imagine him stood upon one of the raised areas at the edge of the woods, holding forth or frozen by terror.
The disruption of trade produced by the French Revolution and subsequent war had an impact in Yeadon. Desperation prompted the local community to take unusual measures to directly sell their goods.
“The woollen cloth trade being so low at Leeds, Thomas Denison my Class Leader with other two left Yeadon on Jany. 29th with a large quantity of finished cloth for Hull. Stopped 10 days at Hull and left Hull for Amsterdam in Holland. He had left the care of his class to me on Feby. 9th I read part of his letter to us from Hull in our meeting while some wept. But they found they was affected in Holland as much as England and it was not a prosperous journey.”
In 1795 John and Mary’s fifth child Nanney was born on the 26th July. The family had moved house a short time before possibly to an area which from the mid-19th Century was known as Kenion’s Fold. “We came to this house where I am writing on May 11th this year.”This house became the family home as all the children grew up there and it was the last place that John was to live independently.
This fold, or enclosed street or courtyard was possibly near the Sandy Way area in Yeadon. At the time this and other streets clustered around The Steep and The Green which were the main residential areas in upper Yeadon. Early maps show dense networks of lanes and courtyards. John remained in this house for the next 42 years until 1837. His landlord for at least some of these years was a man named Clayton.
When I lay the time lines for other ancestors against that of John’s it becomes very evident that they were all sharing the same geography. Probably twenty yards from John was a family whose grandson would marry his granddaughter and give birth to my grandmother. Did they get along, what they thought of each other? The landlord named Clayton was probably related to me through another line of family, and may also have been related to the man John’s granddaughter married! The only reason I don’t know of more connections is that I have not looked for them. This weaving of family lines and DNA had been going on probably for hundreds of year and would continue until the great social shakeup of the post war years.
The try out at ‘The Breary’ cant have been such a disaster because in 1795 John became a Class Leader and Local Preacher. He recorded the following in his diary-
“I received my first plan as Local Preacher on June 14th this year”…”I first became a “Class Leader and found it a weighing concern”.
So within a space of six years, following an apprenticeship which included a form of bible based education in the Class Group, and mentorship from the Class Leader and other senior members of the local society John became a Local Preacher and Class Leader himself.
‘Local Preacher’ was the term for someone who conducted services and preached without being ordained as a minister. We might nowadays call such a person a Lay Preacher’. Many thousands of working men would have identified this process as the real source of their education that is other than basic tools of literacy and numeracy.
John had been given, in the local part time schools and night classes a spattering of elementary education which got him to the point where he could understand simple written information and write notes and keep records. There was also probably a little geography, history and religious education but the accuracy of this would have been heavily reliant upon the person teaching it and there would not have been access to textbooks. . He certainly was also somebody who had considerable natural curiosity and would have directed a lot of his own education. His journal lists as it goes along some pretty demanding books on geography, travel, history, theology and biography. There would surely as been as many from his earlier years.
It was possible to take someone such as John and facilitate a metamorphosis which ended in an individual who could lead services, take passages from the bible and draw meaning from them and inspire many hundreds of people over the years. The last thing John was was a one off. There were untold John Yeadon’s each making their own way but being nurtured by the organisation to which they belonged whether it be churches, chapels, or in later years trade unions and political organisations.
The Methodist Church’s was partly led by professional ministers but to survive it had to find ways developing members of its congregation to take on leadership roles. People brought different gifts though and could press other buttons.
”Poor Richard Walker of Woodhouse near Leeds, laboured much amongst us at this time, and not in vain……he did not preach but held meetings, and his particular gift was prayer and exhortation. In this he excelled”. The Methodists had a reputation at the time for the energy of its ‘Exhorters’. SOME WERE CALLED RANTERS
Another local preacher was a man called John Preston who became a favourite of the people of Yeadon. His story is so good I am going to quote extensively from a passage in a pamphlet written about the history of Methodism in the area by a chapel member, John Peel in 1926.
“Joah’n Preston was born at Joah’n Preston was born at Yeadon in the year 1779, and like his father chose the trade of cloth maker which at that time consisted of Jenny Spinning, warping and weaving. It was late in the afternoon of Sunday (in April 1846…added) when Joah’n was sitting in the ‘George and Dragon’ at Apperley Bridge enjoying his favourite ale. He had finished off four pints and a fifth was standing before him. The hostess unable to write unable to write resorted to a method very common at that time of chalking down one mark for each jug supplied upon the wall under the chimney piece. John now became drowsy, but before gong quite off to sleep he noticed five strokes, each of which would make a demand upon his pocket at the reckoning time”.
In short he fell asleep and dreamt that he walked into Yeadon Old Methodist chapel where he had not been for several years. The preacher was sermonising from the text “Behold ye despisers and wonder and perish”. John woke in agitation, attempted to down his drink but found it impossible. He then walked directly to the chapel which was about two or three miles (including a famously long, steep hill). He got to the chapel and of course the words being spoken by the preacher John Crosby were the same as in his dream. After three dark nights of the soul he found a piece which characterised his preaching for the next forty years.( John Peel, History of Wesleyan Methodism in the Yeadon circuit’ 1926. John loved by the people of the town not least because he preached in dialect. Other reasons were that he simply added Preacher to two other pastimes i.e. that of “poaching and cock fighting. “I allus went abaht wi’a dog on a band’ and a ‘Cock in a poke’ he declared. The Robin Hood Inn on the Green was the poachers rendezvous. Preston’s best known convert was Wm. Starkey of ‘Perpetual Motion fame’ (Illingworth. History of Yeadon book). That is another wonderful story. John Yeadon would have certainly known John Preston and was probably present when he walked into the chapel as we will see below, as this was at the time of an event known as ‘The Great Revival’ in which John played a central part.
John mentioned that he was included in ‘The Local Plan’ for Methodist preachers at this time. This meant that after serving a sort of informal apprenticeship which would have included attendance in study groups, and mentoring from more senior members he was routinely scheduled to preach at villages within his local Methodist Society Circuit. He was to continue preaching on a regular basis until 1832. During his busiest years he commonly preached at 2 or 3 villages scattered over a ten mile area in one day.
(PHOTO NOT AVAILABLE ON THE BLOG SITE)This example of a circuit plan has survived from the much later date of 1832, at which time John was reducing down his commitments because of age and infirmity. It gives a general impression of how things were organised though. John is allocated the number three. In addition to these core responsibilities they would be required to visit outlying villages in the broader circuit regularly. In 1799 when Yeadon was in the Keighley circuit John preached at sixty places including..
“Calling Yeadon the center of my operation I have been enabled to bear my testimony at Bramhope, Rawdon, Horsforth, Woodhouse Grove, Calverley, Eccleshill, Wodall Hills, Farsley, Staningley, Idle, Bolton, Undercliff, Upper and Lower Esholt, Baildon, Hawksworth, Tranmire, Menston, Burley, Greenholme, Ilkley, Addingham, Skipton, Middleton, Denton, Askwith, Weston, Farnley, Otley, Pool, Leathley, Stainburn, Clifton, Riggton, Beckwith Shaw, Hearby,Huby, Harewood, Weadley, Dunkeswick East, Wyke, addle, Eccup, Shipley, Kirkdeighton, Wetherby, Folleyfoot, Pannel, Guisley, Shiven End etc. Thus at more than sixty places has God enabled me to bear my testimony of his son from heaven and some of them forty times over”. Most of these places are within ten miles of Yeadon but at the very edge of that limit. He mentions that to preach at two or three villages a day was not uncommon so at times he would easily be ranging over a twenty mile span and all on foot and at times in bad weather.
John’s association with the Methodist Society brought him tasks that implied people had trust in his integrity, but it could also place him at risk.
“My friend George Beecroft is on his sick bed and in going to prey with him he decided I would along with another submit to be put in trust with his Will. I could not deny him unconscious of my future trouble on that hand. He died and we got the Will proved and paid the six legatees in the later part of the year and now has the six releases for the same by me and the probate of his Will”.
During 1798, John was invited by the ‘Currer’ (?) at Otley to be included in their Plan as well as that for Yeadon. This resulted in him preaching at a number of villages over a very large area of Wharfedale. I have not been able to find out what a ‘Currer’ was but presumably it was somebody who carried out an administrative role with the Otley Society.
“John Whitehead Currer, Otley sent me a letter in August to preach one Lords Day at Otley and took the opportunity to solicit I would enter the Otley plan also, and in the October following I received a plan for the following places in the Otley circuit namely Ilkley, Hawksworth Burley Wood Head , Pool, Bramhope, Stainburn, Denton, Askwith. Mr Samuel Botts their Superintendent at the time sent it to me with a complimentary letter”.
Later in the year John was again asked to take on the task of executing another will. This one did produce problems
“In this year (1798) John Walker School Master and Bachelor died in Yeadon and I was left in Trust with two others to execute his will. He had left 20 pounds towards defraying the debt on our preaching house and 10 for the poor people at Yeadon together with about £20 in smaller legacies. This I hope we executed faithfully but with a great deal of trouble. I have the 9 releases by me and the probate of his Will. Also in 1799 the planned transfer of Yeadon to the Keighley Circuit took place.
Onwards and upwards. In the following year John made this entry in his diary-
“I also continued to fulfil my plan in preaching and it was a very extensive circuit, when Yeadon belonged to Keighley. I went to a Love-feast to Keighley and at its close, the Superintendent gave out that a stranger would preach there at 6pm. He afterwards told me, I was the stranger and must get ready. By the time at 6pm the house was filled and overflowed. When I entered the pulpit I was greatly intimidated to find 6 or 8 preachers in the pulpit, and as many below and me so young as preacher”. John enjoyed the experience, which must have added to his confidence. A Love feast sounds a bit spicy but the reality seems equally out of character for the pre-industrial West Riding. People would gather for an open air picnic. Preachers addressed the crowds and then members of the congregation inspired would talk in tongues or make personal testimonies. These were famous for getting out of hand especially when in the hands of charismatic speakers. In the early 19th century a group who were particularly enamoured of such things broke away and formed the Primitive Methodist Church (‘often known as ‘The Prims’). The main stream Methodists then quietly suppressed such goings on. Years later In Yeadon the Wesleyan Methodists occupied upper high street, and the breakaway Prims held a strategic position overlooking the Town Hall. MENTION THE RIOTS.
Back to Keighley John was getting into his stride but it is tempting to ask what Mary thought about all of this. By this time they had six children less than eleven years of age and another one on the way. His work with the church would not have been paid although he may have got some expenses. I have seen old chapel records that show some small payments were made to him presumably for subsistence costs when visiting outlying villages. The Preaching House Book: 1788-1834 which is kept by the West Yorkshire Archives service at Leeds shows regular payments to him in his role as class leader beginning in October 1794 which totalled between 4- 8 shillings a quarter. From 1798 these were specifically listed as expenses. He also got paid for work done directly to the chapel. For example on the 15th October 1801 he was paid “£2-2-0 for paint and painting”. On the 27th January 1805 it was £4-4-0 for a similar job. Mention is also made of payments forwarded by him in his role as executor of wills. The sums being fairly large ie £20 and £30. Interestingly all class payment and disbursement to him stops in 1806.
His regular trade of Slay and Geer making would at best bring in a border line income. A theme running throughout the diary is anxieties about money. Mary would have been justified in calling time on all of this but we don’t hear her voice or an echo of it through him. I hope she had good friends and neighbours. In 1801 John made this entry-“I ought to have said in its proper place that Benjamin was born in the spring of 1797 and Betty in June 1799”. Priorities!
Periodically infectious diseases would affect the town and cause large numbers of deaths. Such things are regularly mentioned in his diary but almost as post scripts….like we would comment on the weather. This entry is also from 1801
“…..A bad Puttered Fever visited the inhabitants of Yeadon and in a few weeks very many died. I soon had my wife and 7 or 8 children in it for 10 weeks but I had it not. The Lord spared me to wait on the sick and praise be to God, not one died. I am now 37 years of age (Nov. 5) and we are now in the height of this fever”.
Putrid Fever was the contemporary name for what would now be called Typhus Fever. The name derives from “the decomposing and offensive state of the discharges and diseased textures of the body”. It was also known as Enteric Fever. A modern medical dictionary describes it as “An infectious and often fatal disease characterised by intestinal inflammation”. A bit more than a bad patch of weather! In the following year they lost a child.
“Our child Martha died July 1st aged 9 months. This was the first breach in our family. After sitting by her cradle all night, she was all in, in the morning. I am sorrowful indeed. This was luminous proof of our family being vulnerable to the darts of death”. In all two of Johns children were to die before him and one child was still born. A fourth was mentally disabled by the effects of Smallpox. The most likely cause of Martha’s death would have been some form of infectious disease. Other families lost even greater numbers of children through such events as we shall see later in these notes.
A few lines down the page John adds another comment “I forgot to mention in its proper place that I broke the Spell Bone (the smaller bone of the leg)in my left leg in January this year and it was long in getting better, however through Gods help I was able to preach in Calverley in April”. In the first years of the 19th century how did people get a broken leg fixed?
In 1804 a significant change occurred in his life. John had experience of an illness and impairment that was to effect him for the rest of his life, and which progressively over a number of years his ability to carry out the role of Local Preacher. From his description of symptoms, it is possible that he may have had Mennieres Disease or Tinnitus.
“In this year I was much dejected with deafness for the first time in my life and after was better it left a noise in my ears, which I believe will never end until my death”. He was correct in this assumption. People have described this ever present background noise as being like standing next to a waterfall. Speaking, listening and just generally engaging with others are done against this intrusive accompaniment.
The year 1806 was to be an important one. Firstly a daughter , Martha was born. Church records show that she was christened on the 25th May.
“In May of this year Martha was born, yes in the year of the Great Revival, and is our thirteenth child”. This ‘Great Revival ‘was an extraordinary period of several months when many hundreds who lived in the district were overtaken by religious fervour. Revivals were feature of Methodism at this time but writers on the subject often times make special mention of Yeadon as an exceptional example. This brief account by John Peel (History of Wesleyan Methodism in the Yeadon Circuit, 1926) describes how it began
“There have been some remarkable revivals of religion in connection with this Circuit in the past. One took place in the year 1806, when the Rev John Crosby was in the Circuit. Joseph and Betty Wooler took a very active part in the revival. Betty’s name appearing in the class book the first time in 1794. Betty in speaking at the revival relates that the prayer meeting began at 4 o’clock on the Tuesday afternoon , and went on night and day till Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock”.
John’s firsthand account is more vivid and deserves to be quoted in full. This prayer meeting and other events lasted many weeks and must have brought life in the village close to a standstill at times. According to John it all began on a Monday.
“In the latter part of 1805 our (Methodist) Society in Yeadon consisted of 140 members divided into six classes. In the back end of 1805 ten or more souls joined our classes, but on January 27th 1806, on a Monday night at a small prayer meeting some began to cry aloud for salvation. The neighbours heard them, and went to see for themselves and these touched by the finger of God fell on their knees and cried aloud for mercy……this night be then might be called the first night of the Great Revival, and God was pleased to grant every encouragement to the gracious work by convincing and converting, by setting souls at liberty, by freely giving his pardoning love.
The meetings increased in frequency and intensity day by day , thus things went rapidly on and increased in one short week to a most alarming degree so that on Sunday Feby 2nd at night it was thought advisable to throw open the preaching house doors and the gallery was filled immediately. I went over about 9 o’clock and not withstanding I had been a member of this society better than 16 years and had seen many revivals both at Yeadon and elsewhere yet this surpassed all. I heard them to the distance of more than one hundred yards like the rushing of mighty waters. I took my stand in the gallery and in a few moments heard a voice cry very loudly “God be merciful to my poor soul”. I felt that moment Sympathy, Pity, Love and a moving of every tender passion within my heart. I got with difficulty to him prayed with him and felt God to bless me in the doing. Do not let it be supposed that this was the only distressed person in the chapel there was scores more. If you looked over the gallery you could see at any time 5,6 or 10 companies all worshipping God. Some praying, some singing others shouting the high praises of God and scores crying with all their strength in the most pitiable …(?).It was common for these to be four , five and six hours on their knees without once rising, and some so many hours for several nights together but when God was pleased to speak peace to a troubled breast , they instantly jumped up and with heaven in their countenance declared the happy change, and never failed to give all the glory to their God and saviour. It is worth remark, that in general (indeed I do not know of one exception) their load of guilt was removed and the witness of the Holy Spirit was given at the same time. When they thus arose praising God those that were nearest them always sang that verse:
Come Angels! Seize your harps of gold
The song of love to man unfold;
Assist our joys, exalt your praise,
Another sinners saved by grace:
Glory! Glory! Let us sing,
While heaven and earth with glory ring
Hosannah to the Lamb of God!
Our meetings began at 6’clock at night every night, and could not be broken up until 3, 4 or 5 next morning and it was common for scores to be waiting before the doors were thrown open at night for the meeting to begin, and continued thus for months. After some time we endeavoured to meet Class again from 6 to 8 o’clock and then the prayer meeting began.
At these Class Meetings held in the gallery you found yourself in the midst of two hundred souls and 3 or 4 leaders were employed to speak to each in disorder to finish by 8 and these were precious times indeed, immediately after these loosed without going home our prayer meetings commenced when there were 4 or 5 hundred persons present. In one of these meeting it was no uncommon thing for 10 or 15 souls to find liberty, to be saved from guilt the condemning power and be truly adopted into Gods dear family. If you had taken a ramble through our streets by day , you would have heard souls in their own houses crying in the most heart breaking language for mercy, others praying as if heaven must suffer violence and the violent take it by force, others singing the praises of God their redeemer with all the united strength of soul and body, again, if at 3 or 4 oclock in the morning when the meeting was looseing you happened to be in your own house you would have been delighted to hear persons when retiring to their own houses make the streets echo with the praises of God. On Lords Day March 9th after noon preaching a double list was made out , the first for all that had found liberty, the second for all that were fully determined. To seek the Lord in these two lists were entered the names of 270 persons and soon after was added 60 more. Also on Lords Day March 30 Isaac Muff held our Great Love feast and people flocked in such numbers from all quarters having heard the report of our revival. It was absolutely necessary to keep it in the open air in a field before Mr Slater’s house which they kindly offered on this occasion. I think that there could be not be much fewer at this Love feast than 10thousand souls. Remember?”
The early Methodists were renowned for these ‘Love Feasts’. They were open air events where people would gather on a piece of open ground. Those known for their oratory would address the crowd, preach sermons and conduct prayers. Individuals were then encouraged to testify to their religious experience. This of course encouraged others and encouraged a feeling of solidarity. Sometimes, as in this case the crowds were very large. I wonder how they managed to be heard without electric amplification.
John’s account seems incredible. If the numbers given by him are correct, twice the whole population of the village attended.
A Methodist Love feast at Yeadon and in the open air where 10 thousand souls were supposed to be present eternal glory be to God.
This Love feast began at noon and the goodness power and love of our God seemed to pervade the whole. Towards night we withdrew into the preaching house and the Love Feast was continued there to a late hour , this was a time to be remembered for good to very many.
The next evening, namely March 31 the Love Feast was resumed again at about 7 o’clock and continued till near midnight. For simplicity, love and ready speaking I know not I ever hears it’s equal”.
On Lords Day April 13th and the three following days Mr Crosby our Superintendant spent in preaching , speaking to and…….? this people. The whole number joined in Society now in Yeadon alone (which is but a small village) amounted to 480 members. Thus amazing to relate 340 souls were added in about 10 weeks”.
The population of Yeadon at the time was around1, 700 individuals of all ages. The population profile was relatively young so it is probably a safe estimate that one third of this number would have been children. So somewhere close to 2/5th of the adult population in Yeadon were fully fledged members of the Methodist Society in Yeadon. Others would have been occasional visitors or more on the periphery. That probably takes those with some kind of affinity to the organisation to over half the adult population. Just as surprising, it seems that this membership seems to have been sustained.
In earlier years members of the Methodist Society were more likely to be small farmers or skilled tradesman. In the neighbouring village of Guiseley there were 23 members in the 1760’s. The list included two farmers, a husbandman and a shovel maker. Five are in occupations which are probably related to woollen cloth manufacture. Thirteen though are listed as Spinsters. Its unclear but this may have meant that they spun wool rather than were single women.
The greater expansion of membership would have meant that many new members were farm or other labourers which was to have political implications a century later. The person who would have been partly responsible for this phenomenal growth would have been the Superintendant or senior minister John refers to. This was John Crosby (1754- 1816) who served at Yeadon in 1805 to 1807. John Crosby originally came from Whitby. He was converted by an evangelical clergyman at Pickering when he was twenty one. He entered the itinerancy, or system of three yearly rotation of ministers about eight years later. His biographical record at the Methodist Archive and Research Centre at john Rylands University Library in Manchester shows that during his thirty odd year career he served communities for three year stretches in England and Scotland. He first retired in 1811 at Bradford but then later took up a position at Bristol from 1814. That city was a focal centre for the Methodist Society so he may have been attached to part of the central organisation there. The record at Rylands University makes special mention of his involvement in the 1806 revival at Yeadon
John’s journal mentions that the revival waned at Yeadon in April but not before it had spread to the neighbouring villages of Guiseley and Esholt where another 200 people joined the Society.
An open air Methodist revival meeting from a slightly later date, 1839.
During the following year i.e. 1807 John made writes about three major international and national events. He is writing contemporary to the events as someone reading the latest updates from the newspapers. That certainly challenges some of my assumptions about the place and time. John a person of relatively little formal education and much less money (at this time thirteen children!) living in a large village on the edge of total obscurity is able to get hold of a relatively expensive newspaper. From that perspective he is able to form a view on world events. For me to do this is easy. It’s just a word in a search engine. Presumably for John it was much more difficult unless the chapel or some organisation to which he belonged held a subscription. The first two events relate to the Napoleonic Wars in Europe.
“I am no politician but my attention cannot be more or less engaged in the sanguinary wars of this year.
In Feby. of this year the battle of Eylan was fought . Supposed to be one of the most vigorous and obstinately contested battles in the history of the war. At this battle of Eylan 80 thousand was killed, taking both sides.
On the 14th June Friedland was taken from the Russians by the French and on 9th July a treaty of peace between France on one side and Russia and Prussia on the other, was ratified at Tilsit”.
Interestingly he does not make mention of Napoleon, but instead speaks of the French. To the 21st century this conflict is closely associated with that one individual but maybe for thise witnessing the details of events at the times he did not have quiet so much prominence.
The third event was probably the most significant, and John seems to be an enthuisiast.
Also in this year, on the 25th March at 12 O’clock noon the act for abolition of slavery received the king’s assent and this ended one of the most glorious contests after a continuance of 20 years, ever carried on in any age or country”.
John’s description is not wholly accurate. That date saw the abolition of the slave trade within the British Empire. Thos already enslaved in the same domain were not to be emancipated until 1834, and some had to wait a further four years after that.
The None-Conformist churches had played a prominent role in the campaign which led to the changes of 1807 and 1834.
Locally this is evidenced by a woman called Betsy Sawyer who died at Yeadon in 1839. Her gravestone was saved when the rest of the burial ground was cleared. It is now attached to the exterior wall of the church. The inscription reads
“To the memory of Betsy Sawyer born in slavery in the island of Antigua, West Indies who through missionary labour was brought to the knowledge and enjoyment of true religion and obtained her freedom whilst residing in the family of the Rev. T. Murray in whose service she lived beloved and respected for 16 years. She departed this life on November 24th 1839 aged 65 years in the faith and hope of the gospel. As a mark of affection for her this memorial stone was erected at the expense of her friends in the Methodist Society in this town”. The Rev. Murray’s daughter Sarah’s death is also recorded on the memorial stone”.
By 1839 John was in poor physical health and less active in the society but he would certainly have known Betsy and something of her life journey. No mention is made in the diary though. I wonder what she made of it all.
John then goes onto give an account of an infamous 1807 election in what was still an unreformed parliamentary system famous for its corruption and aristocratic privilege. Yorkshire as a whole returned two MP’s and in the election of 1807 there were three candidates William Wilberforce who had successfully advocated for the abolition of the slave trade in parliament, Henry Lascelles whose family was closely associated with slavery in Barbados and Lord Milton whose campaign was funded by his father Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth woodhouse. Voters had to travel to York to in order to participate. Eligibility was based upon property ownership and it is estimated that only 5% of the adult population were able to vote. According to a pamphlet (“Harewood 1807. A commemoration of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and the Yorkshire election in 1807”) from the Lascelles family archives at Harewood House the main issues of the election were Catholic Emancipation, cloth workers rights at a time of increasing mechanisation and abolition of the slave trade.
“It was also in the summer of this year that vigorous and expensive election between Milton and Lascelles occurred at York. It is supposed to have cost each candidate 100,000 pounds. Number of votes for Milton was 11,177. Number of votes for Lascelles 10,298- margin 887. Milton had those votes over his rival, and of course was duly elected”.
Wilberforce came top of the pole with 11,806 votes. He together with Milton was therefore returned to parliament. Modern estimates put the three candidate’s expenditure at £250,000 which was a lot of money for 31,000 votes.
Lascelles, the Tory candidate was the youngest son of the Earl of Harwood whose estate is on the outskirts of Leeds just a few miles from where John lived at Yeadon and it was a place he almost certainly knew. Harewood House was built from the proceeds of slavery. Lascelles opponents alleged that he work for resumption of the slave trade if re-elected.
Milton, a Whig was supported by his father the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam whose estate was Wentworth House. He had turned 21 earlier that year. The candidates were competing for one of the two ‘County Seats’. The other one was held by William Wilberforce, the campaigner against slavery. His seat was considered safe as he was riding high on the success of his work.
The campaign lasted five weeks. It was a fierce no holds barred contest and hugely expensive even for a time when votes were essentially bought directly or through arrangements for reciprocal favours. The figures given by John are roughly accurate, and would be the equivalent of many millions of pounds today.
The pamphlet includes a few slogans from the election
“No Tyranny, no enemy to the Clothiers (local woollen textile workers), no juggling union of candidates…no slave dealing Lord. No Yorkshire votes purchased with African blood. No Lascelles, no never! Milton for Ever.”
“…No Slave Trade! Who voted against the abolition of the Slave Trade? Earll Fitzwilliam, the father of Lord Milton….deny it who can. Who did not vote against the Abolition, the Hon H. Lascelles who always prefers his conscience to his interests?”
“Who has discovered an intolerant persecuting Spirit, particularly against the Methodists, the sect patronized by Mr Wilberforce……the family of Lascelles.”
“Who insulted the Clothiers….Lascelles”
Henry Lascelles was known to support the increased mechanisation in the cloth working industries. This would have lost him votes in the Leeds- Bradford district where there were fears of resulting unemployment
PHOTO NOT AVAILABLE ON BLOG. The cartoonist Gilray was commissioned by the brother of one of Milton’s supporters to produce a picture which reflected the character of the election. Gilray’s response was this cartoon of a man called John Clarkson, a Leeds Horse Breaker with a criminal record who was one of the strongest supporters of the candidate. The picture is called ‘The Orange Jumper’ as this was the item of clothing Clarkson was known for
The main entry during 1808 was for the birth of Mary and John’s son Jacob. The entry reads “Jacob was born 22nd January in this year and is our 14th child”. This was to be their last child. Two years later John made this comment about his family life
“I was 46 years old in the year 1810 and now we are coming to the year 1811. How rapid is our time. It is but like yesterday that I was a school boy and playing marbles, and at little more than 46 years of age I had seven sons and seven daughters born to me and only 1 ½ years for each child for the whole 14 children. Astonishing.” No mention made of Mary’s part in the process!
Just having a computer with access to the internet and the funds for the monthly website subscription means I can reach back two hundred years and know a bit more about Jacob’s life. He was born on the 22nd January 1808 at Yeadon and baptised almost a month later at Guiseley Church. He followed a variety of occupations including Slay and Geermaker, Grocer and Painter. These probably overlapped as the first and last did for his father.
He married a Maria Hudson on the 11th October 1829 at Guiseley. In the 1851 census Jacob is described as a widower. In the 1881 census Jacob is recorded as living with a woman named Hannah Yeadon, from Willesdon who is described as his wife. I have been unable to find a record of the marriage. Jacob and Maria had 7 children.
He is mentioned in all of the censuses between 1841 and 1881. In the first three he is recorded as living at Abbey Garth in Yeadon. In the later documents he is at Walker Row, off Kirk Lane which is also in Yeadon. I do not have a certain year of death as there are numbers of people of the same name living in the locality.
(Sources: JY 1808 Diary, Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, John Yeadon’s Diary}.
For a number of years John’s account of personal contemporary events in his diary become infrequent. Most entries are transcribed portions of the bible or excerpts from religious tracts. Occasionally he is commenting on national events. There is very little with a personal content. 1809 is all religiosity. 1810 the only note is of his father’s death which we have already talked about. John’s early middle age does not seem particularly inspired or eventful. It’s all births and deaths with no life in-between. Either life was dull or he was just too busy with everything else.
In the following year, 1811 John lists a number of historical events before his birth, and during his life time which he sees as important. I have included this list, concentrating on the account of contemporary issues as it provides a view from two hundred years ago about were considered major events and innovations. These include such things as Mariners Compass invented 1302, Invention of printing 1440, the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492. This list fills a page, but he then goes onto list events occurring during his own lifetime up to the year of writing, and for which he might have had a more personal attachment. It is a view of what he saw to be important and maybe to some extent reflects the perspective of the time. His notes are remembered headlines from newspapers and the distillation of conversations with friends and neighbours. French and American issues predominate, and are the things that I would have identified for the same period but from a 10 degree drift. His view is close to the first draft of history, mine is the umpteenth draft written and rewritten by two hundred years of historians.
“I was born Nov. 5 1764
Otaheite (? Tahiti) in the Pacific Ocean discovered 1765.
War declared against North America. 1775
Peace with America. 1783
Sunday Schools first begun. 1785
French Revolution. 1789
France a republic. 1792
King and Queen of France guillotined. 1793
Bonaparte made emperor. 1804
A great comet appeared Sept 1811”.
A number of firsthand accounts of this comet still exist. The best known is probably the one given by a character in Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. Tolstoy describes the character of Pierre observing the comet. It was visible to the naked eye for 9 months, and at its brightest in October 1811. In Russia the optimum time for observation of the phenomenon was slightly later i.e. around the turn of the year. The following is an extract from that account, presumably based on Tolstoy’s direct experience-
“At the entrance to the Arbat Square an immense expanse of dark starry sky presented itself to his eyes. Almost at the centre of it above the Prechistenka Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides but distinguished from them all by its nearness to the earth, its white light, and its long uplifted tail, shone the enormous and brilliant comet of 1812- the comet that was said to portend all kind of woes and the end of the world. In Pierre, however that comet with its long luminous tail aroused no feeling of fear. On the contrary he gazed joyfully, his eyes moist with tears, at this bright comet, which having travelled in its orbit with inconceivable velocity through measured space, seemed suddenly like an arrow piercing the earth- to remain fixed in a chosen spot vigorously holding its tail erect, shining and displaying its white light amid countless other scintillating stars”, (War And Peace, Leo Tolstoy)
John Yeadon was looking up at the same sky but from Yeadon, West Yorkshire and his line of vision would have been through the first mill chimneys and across Yeadon Haw. These chimneys were putting men out of work and reducing them to wretchedness. Many became machine wreckers as if breaking the looms would make the future go away.
“Second, this was the memorable year of the Luddites in breaking machinery in the manufacturing districts of England. Eight were executed at Lancaster, two at Chester and eighteen York”. A newspaper report of the time (Leeds Mercury) gives an account of the Yorkshire Luddites execution. I have quoted from large sections of the report as it is a vivid account of a public execution.
“The execution of these unhappy men took place yesterday at 9 O’clock at the usual place behind the castle wall, every precaution being taken to make a rescue impracticable. The troops of cavalry were drawn up at the front of the drop and the entrances to the Castle were guarded by infantry. At five minutes before nine O’clock, the prisoners were taken to the fatal platform. After the ordinary had read the accustomed form of prayers on these occasions, George Mellor prayed for about ten minutes; he spoke with great apparent fervency and devotion, confessing in general the greatness of his sins, but without any admission to the crime for which he suffered. He prayed earnestly for mercy, and with a pathos that was affecting. The surrounding multitude was evidently affected. William Thorpe also prayed, but his voice was not so well heard. Smith said little, but seemed to join in the devotion with great seriousness. The prisoners were then moved to the front of the platform and Mellor said: “Some of my enemies may be here, if there be I freely forgive them, and all the world, and I hope the world will forgive me”. William Thorpe said “I hope none of those who are now before be, will ever come to this place”. The executioner then proceeded to perform his fatal office, and the drop fell. Some alteration had been made to the drop, so that the whole body was visible when they were suspended; in former executions only the feet and head could be seen by the spectators. They were executed in their irons. They appeared slightly convulsed for a few moments”.
We forget the awful levels of mortality Tuberculosis produced, amongst young and old before effective treatments were developed in the mid twentieth century. John’s eldest son John died in 1814. He does not call the fatal illness Tuberculosis but the use of the word ‘consumption’ that is wasting and loss of weight which probably suggests that condition-
“John our first child…..had very poor health this spring and long before, yet made slays as well as he was able, but in March he was obliged to give work entirely up. It was a very slow consumption. I left him on March 11th looking over his papers in the forenoon. I was going to Idle (a neighbouring village) on business, and on my return at night found him in a dying state. He departed about 11 O’clock that night aged about twenty six and a half years. He never married and lived at home with us. He first new remission of his sins in the Great Revival when he was about 19 years of age but sometime after he fell from his steadfastness but finding no rest he soon returned to his meeting and I hope to his saviour and his God. I do hope John is in glory everlasting. We committed his remains to its mother earth on March 14th at Guiseley”.
In all of this it strikes me again that there is no mention of Mary the mother who has lost her son. It could be that John refrains from discussion of the distress for Mary and himself as it is a given and does not need to be mentioned. The focus for this journal is upon the son’s immortal soul which is to John the most significant thing.
John makes mention during 1816 of the economic impact of the war with France. The war was over and it might be expected that this would allow for resumption of continental trade and prosperity, but Yeadon had a different relationship to the situation-
“A general peace done at Vienna, June 9th 1815 and before the end of the year we had comparatively no trade at all in this year 1816. I did write “We have had not a Slay or Geer to make in the world and are 11 a family. These are distressing times to very many. Notwithstanding I preached often this year”. Yeadon may have suffered especially as the mills at that time specialised in the production of cloth for what were now unneeded military uniforms. They are all living on fresh air but this does not limit John’s religious work!
The weight of John’s preaching responsibilities, and the extensive area covered is well illustrated by the entries for 1817 and 1818. He mentions attending a hearing of some kind where there was discussion of how responsibilities would be divided. From the list it looks as if John was happy to take on something more than his share.
“I think about this time, I preached 8 Sundays in 9 and attended Sunday school in my turn”.
John listed all the places he preached, and the number of occasions during 1818
January: 4 at Bingley, 11 at Shipley,18 at Esholt and Yeadon
February: 1 at Grove & Guiseley, 8 at Idle, 15 at Carveley
March: 1 at Rawden, 15 at Eccleshill, 22 at Guiseley
29 at Eccleshill.
April: 5 at Idle and Grove, 19 at Guiseley, 26 at Grove
May: 3 at Idle, 10 at Rawden, 17 at Guisley, 24 at Carveley, 31 at Idle
June: 7 at Rawden, 14 at Guisley, 28 at Grove
July: 5 at Eccleshill, 12 at Bingley, 26 at Guiseley
August: 2 at Idle
October: 11 at Rawden and Carlton Poor House, 18 at Idle, 25 at Rawden
Nov: 1 at Carlton Poor House, 15 at Carlton Poor House
December: 5 at Burley, 12 at Upper Esholt, 27 at Carlton poor House, 31 at Yeadon watch nigh.
The appearance of Carlton Poor House in October is significant. On the 7th October 1818 seventeen Wharfedale parishes and townships formed a poor house union and chose this small village one mile north of Yeadon as the location for the institution. I have no contemporary account of this place as it was when visited by John, but we do have a very full account from fourteen years later.
The Poor Law Commission set up in 1832 to appraise existing provision for the poor visited the Carlton Union in that year. The purpose of this was to make recommendations for reform of the system, which eventually led to the Poor Law Reform Act of 1834. The general feeling of the time was that conditions in these institutions were not an adequate disincentive to the undeserving poor. Eighteen eighteen might not have been so different from eighteen thirty two, so I’ve copied in portions of that report, thinking that it would not have been too dissimilar from the place that John new.
“Present number of inmate’s 60 of which 24 males, 23 females, 10 boys and 3 girls: of the men four are above 80 and seven above 60”. The report goes on to describe the conditions in the place diet, medical supervision, segregation of the sexes, education for the children, sanitation etc. There was no instruction (education?) for the children but otherwise the institution was assessed as adequate or good with the exception of the cess pools which were a nuisance. Of special interest though are the remarks about arrangements for the religious needs of the paupers.
“The Methodists give a prayer meeting on Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings; every alternate Sunday there is besides a sermon by the Methodists; once a month also a sermon from an itinerant Methodist preacher. No regular attendance by members of the establishment; a Mr Pickles from Guiseley used to come, but he wanted a salary, and as he could not have it, gave it up”. (Poor Law Commission Report 1832, quoted on the ‘The Workhouse, The Story of an institution’ website). Well Mr Pickles has made his way into history for one thing he did, or rather did not do in his life. The remarks about the Methodist look to have held mostly true for the place when John did the job. We do not get a view from the inmates; some might have favoured the approach taken by Mr Pickles! I am probably being unfair though. The actions of these local men who walked across The Haw from Yeadon was almost certainly for the most part unselfish and provided comfort to people who were ‘Sans Everything’.
Another person who will now make his place into history gets there because he talked about his age to John in 1820-
“On Lords Day Feby 20 I preached in Carleton Poor House and afterwards spoke with Thomas Roberts an inmate there who said he came from Armley (Leeds) and that he was then going on his 116th year of age, said he knew Jesus to be his saviour and prayed to him daily. He died soon after”.
Back to the programme for the year. The villages listed fall into two groups, that is those close by and those that are approximately 2-3 hours walk away. With preparation work and other tasks such as the Sunday school, being a class leader and assorted meetings his tasks as a local preacher were getting close to being a second full time job. The work would have made him known to many people. If he was only heard by about fifty worshipers at each place in that year he would have become known to over 600 people which does not sound much in an age of mass communications but is a lot of personal contact. People would have known and greeted him on the street.
During 1818, John mentions that this diary is a transcription of a (more frequently kept) Journal
“I wrote 6 pages large paper in my journal for this year but what use could it be me transcribing it”. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!
I wonder what John would think to know that his abridged diary has survived two hundred years, and is being read by his descendents, and they would have greatly have liked to see his draft notes on the inconsequential events of each day.
The economy remained depressed for a number of years after the Napoleonic wars. During 1819 and 1820, the poor economic conditions continued. On the 10th July John wrote-
“What can be done? I am quiet overcome, Jesus Christ save me; we are 9 in our family and nearly all without work. We have had nothing to do, nor the least prospect whatever of any work for the future”.
For 1820“This was no better year for trade than last year and still I was strengthened to preach as much as usual”
This is John’s life in his fifty sixth year. Life is still hand to mouth, but his children are mostly grown up or if still at home contributing to the household budget when in work. The youngest Jacob is twelve and most of the others two years older than the previous one! Mary and himself had brought thirteen live children into the world and eleven had survived at a time when premature mortality was not far from the norm. Gear and Slay making was not the way of the future but it provided for him and at least one of his younger children .He had close to thirty years of preaching and holding the status of Class Leader in the Methodist Society. As yet there is no mention of a decline in his health or capabilities. John is doing okay. The something happened
John does not tell us detail, but it in some way related to Hannah, his eldest daughter.
…..July 13th, on which day about 6 O’clock at night our H—–h met with that insult and assault. When I was down, down with grief and sorrow God knows where but it is written somewhere, what though knowest not now though shalt know here after so to that period I must leave it”.
Later in the journal, John makes it clear that Hannah was disabled. At some point, probably during her childhood, Hannah had Smallpox, which resulted in her developing what was probably Epilepsy. It looks as if uncontrolled seizures (effective anti-epileptic drugs were not available at the time) resulted in a mental impairment.
Hannah did not marry. She lived for most of her life with her father, and then when he became unable to provide care; Hannah lived with her sisters. At the time of the event which John eludes to she would have been twenty nine.
At sometime after Easter Sunday in 1822, John again writes about the incident “not withstanding the incurable blow I received in July 1820, which seemed to paralise (paralyse) all my powers, yet I had so far recovered as to preach twice at Yeadon”.
The incident seems to have caused John extreme distress, so much so that he had been unable to preach for almost 2 years. He goes onto describe that he still felt under the weight of the event –.
“I continued doing a little (preaching) according to my plan, through the circuit, but my God has now brought me very low indeed. For I had been shaken through the very centre of my body, soul and spirit, and all on account of another, and not for myself”.
What happened to Hannah which was so bad that John cannot bring himself to put it into writing? Given her vulnerability and gender it is tempting to assume that she was the subject of a sexual assault or exploitative relationship. Less likely would have been another form of physical assault upon her. It had to be something which so got to the heart of John; that it rendered him so distressed that he lost appetite for life for years, and left him permanently weakened.
Something goes out of John at this time and does not properly come back.
John’s diary is fairly sparse on detail during these years. The next major subject he treats with any depth is the death of his wife Mary in 1824. She was fifty nine years old-
“My dear wife died April 10th at 3 O’clock in the morning, of this year after a long and protracted and lingering disorder. Perhaps her health was first undermined with bearing 14 children being 7 boys and 7 girls in about 21 years. She sank gradually for the last ten years, took her bed about the beginning of February and died as stated above. We had both agreed to meet in class about the end of the year 1789, but through her great weakness could not meet for the last two years of her life. The last month of her life was a great tryal to me also, perhaps the greatest of every yet endured. On March 10th not a clear evidence of her salvation but much comforting she resigned herself and all below (I believe) intirely to her god at this time, for her patient spirit remained unruffled to the end…..My wife’s funeral was on Monday April 12th when the following persons were invited to it-
John then goes on to list all the people who came to Mary’s funeral. The numbering system
presumably relates to number of people attending from a particular family, and towards the document something like cumulative numbers but John does not explain this.
Joseph Fletcher, Joshua Gibson, Mrs Kenion, Thom. Smith, Benj. Long, Thom. Hollings, James Brayshaw , Joseph Chippendale, John Myers, Eli Brown, William Peat Sr.
Relations her brothers
Joseph Dawson 2, William Dawson 2, John Dawson 2, Joshua Dawson 2, Samuel Dawson 2
From this point onwards, John inserts what is presumably an accumulating number of the total number of people invited to the funeral (female children listed under husband’s name)
23- James Yeadon 2, 25- Joseph 2, 27- Benj. Yeadon 2, 29- Peter Fieldhouse 2
31- Joseph Claughton 2
32- William Lister Idle (the name of a local village, which is now part of Bradford), 33- Ann Baldwin, 34- John Baldwin, 35- Richard Gibson, 36- Sarah Yeadon, Lister, 37- Ann Dawson, 38- Samuel Marshall, 39- James Townsend, 40- Joseph Slater, 41- John Bencroft, 42- Thomas Nichols
Members of the Methodist Society
44- Meek and Gibson Preachers ,60- 16 Class Meeting, 68- 8 Class Leaders
“Thus am I left at 59 ½ years of age having been married 37 ½ years. I feel as if half of myself was fled away. My wife often said if it was the will of God she should wish to die before me, that wish is granted. I asked her reason why she desired it. She said because “I could not govern and take care of our family. I have poor health and am but a woman”.
“I believe my wife was younger than me by six months. Our first acquaintance began about sixteen years of age, and still were not married until we were about 22 years of age, had 14 children and 11 are alive now, 7 married and 4 unmarried. There is now about 20 grandchildren”.
Of those that are dead, one was still born nearly at his time a fine boy- Martha died at about three quarters of a year old- these two are in heaven. John our first born died at 26 ½ years old- and his mother died at 59 years of age, and I have almost as good hope of their safe landing in glory everlasting as the infants- Oh what anxious car, what diligence, what trouble, what sorrow in bringing into this world, and maintaining family of this description. Some in heaven, some on earth, none in hell, praise my god. I am this day (Nov 5th) 60 years of age, yes through the providential care of god 60 years of age.”
For the next four years the diary is largely left un-kept apart from dismal summaries of his life and health around each birthday
On his sixty first he wrote the following utterly depressing appraisal of his faculties and strength.
“I have had through divine mercy good health ever since I was married. I feel tolerable…but I could not exert myself in any one exercise as when young, there is a numbness, stiffness and a languor through the whole body that young people never feel, lassitude and weariness….constant companions of old age , and these much increase as age increases, until the body becomes little more than a torpid lump of clays, and life is so weak in me of their description that a little muster, and a fall would quite extinguish….. it I still continue to preach a little, but I think my memory is not as good as it was at 50 years old. All my powers seemed to me to be strong at 50 as at 30. I have had no disorder this last 11 years, but notwithstanding I am certain that I have failed much”.
In the same passage, John gives an illustration of how he uses prompt notes to aid his failing memory when preaching. Together with his poor hearing, the need to rely heavily upon prompt notes must have impaired his confidence as a preacher.
The entries on the nest two birthdays are of much the same spirit with added maudlin. He really is feeling bereft of life. 1826 shows some glimmer of john returning to an interest in the world. The description of economic woes and military intervention abroad is familiar.
“Such a year as this I have never seen before. At the beginning of it, Banks began to break as if the whole banking system was rotten. Bankruptcies followed immediately. Tradesmen, Br—(unclear), Merchants failed, factories shutting, universal distress for want of employment in every branch of trade though Great Britain and Ireland and its reaction was felt far and wide. Tens of thousands out of employ not for a week only but months and months. Such a general cry of distress went through all the land that a general fund was raised in London to help and relieve the main factory districts, for it did not affect the farming districts much for (in the original John wrote the word ‘Shilling’, but he probably meant to write a staple product such as corn)……..kept above 40 shillings a load all of this year, and we had an average crop of grain this year because of heat and draught and some have already prophesised of a famine before the crop can be reaped next year and to crown it all in the beginning of December we are entering into a new war in going to help Portugal against its own rebels and Spain who gives them refuge. It may and most likely will be like the letting forth of water, and who can say where this will end”.
This general economic crisis was triggered by a banking crisis in the previous year. Banks were for the most part privately owned and when exposed to losses in risky ventures in South America and elsewhere were unable to absorb the pain. Around sixty of them failed leading to a reduction in credit to what had been a rapidly expanding industrial sector. There were demands for quantitative easing and banking reform. To get the banking system on a more resilient footing, Parliament allowed for the creation of new joint-stock banks outside a 65 mile radius of central London and permitted the Bank of England to set up regional branches. Two hundred miles away up a future M1 John was seeing these events played out in his small industrial village.
There is also some temporary quickening of life for John at this time evidenced by a return to preaching. Not that he had ever totally stopped but chapel records show that he was helping out at the edges instead of being one of the bulwarks. He is now back for a short while to fulfilling his full obligations as a local preacher which includes the necessity of walking the six miles or so to chapels at the near side of Bradford.
Some entries give a telling insight into the lives and expectations. Providing for one’s family even in an area such as death seems to have been something which was important for the head of a family to do. The following entry gives an insight into how such things as burial were handled in times when such things were mostly left to individuals and the churches,
“In August last 1827 I bought of the trustees of the new burying ground as much ground as will make 24 graves which at 7s 6d each will cost 8 guineas or £8-8-0 all said.
He was buying burial places for all of his children and their spouses which seems an extraordinary thing to do nowadays. He spent 8 guineas on this. Where was this kind of riches coming from? If you have that kind of money why not spends it on living. The explanation is probably that this money is the sum of hundreds of little acts of saving and carefulness, and the justification is pride in being able to bequeath a guaranteed, paid for resting place in death at a time when the alternative would have been the communal pauper grave.
The journal then goes silent again. Apart from a couple of quoted verses in 1828, there is a gap in the keeping of the journal until Saturday June 30th 1832, when John wrote the following-
“Studying and writing have become wearisome. However I have gone on this last 3 ½ years the same as 3 ½ years previous doing a little. I feel old and helpless. In this year 1828 I had a sore complaint about May & June. It left a weakness in my knees never to be cured. I now cannot walk to Otley Market and back as usual nor scarce anywhere else. I expect no mend”.
Standing from this distance and using the entry frequency, content and tone of the diary as our source the distressing event of 1820 involving Hannah seems to have had a deeply wounding effect upon John. The death of his wife Mary four years later has left him further bereft. These assumptions of course are all based on an absence of any other information to the contrary, but this because there is no information besides that from the diary. Chapel records are also largely quiet. All told he looks to have been in a wilderness of sorts for more than twelve year. or one sixth of his life. That is from age fifty five to sixty seven. Nineteenth and early twentieth century psychiatrist coined the perfectly descriptive, almost poetic term ‘Involutionary Melancholia’ to describe such circumstances. Melancholia is depression. The flavour of this depression includes ideas of shut down or hibernation, and a turning away from the world. This form of enduring depression was said to occur at the climatic which was their term for the change of life, in its broadest sense, which occurs in later middle age. Some Psychiatrists say that a ruminating anxiety, hankering guilt and preoccupation with physical health problems are also part of this picture. This wonderfully humanistic formulation, with its echoes of Shakespeare’s seven ages went out of fashion in the second half of the twentieth century. In more recent years some clinicians have campaigned for its rehabilitation. I hope they get their way.
At this point in 1832 John has eleven years left of his life. We are moving towards the end of his chronology. If he was so down and his life has become a desert, is he able get across it. Fortunately his internal monologue returns to the diary and we are able to see what happened. Are there every happy endings?