Methodism in Badsey dates back to the very earliest days of the Methodist movement, which began as a popular revival movement in 1738. William Seward, who grew up in Badsey, embraced Methodism in its first few months. It was because of his friendship with George Whitefield, one of the founders of the movement, that Methodism first appeared in Badsey in 1739 when Whitefield came to preach in the village.
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Methodism in Badsey – mid 18th century
William Seward (1702-1740) was born and brought up at Seward House in the High Street. He moved to London as a young man, embarked on a career as a stockbroker and acquired considerable wealth. He became a generous benefactor of the poor and an enthusiastic promoter of charity schools.
In 1738 William Seward was introduced to Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Whilst studying at Oxford, Charles and his older brother, John Wesley (1703-1791), together with several other students, had formed a Christian group devoted to Bible study, prayer and helping the underprivileged. They were called "Methodists" as a term of criticism from fellow students because of the orderly way they used rules and methods to go about their religious affairs. In 1735, the brothers went to America to be ministers to the colonists and missionaries to the native Americans. Unsuccessful in their work, they returned to England conscious of their lack of genuine Christian faith. As the result of support from members of the Moravian Church, both brothers experienced an evangelical conversion in May 1738. They embraced evangelistic preaching with an emphasis on conversion and holiness, preaching in homes, farmhouses, barns, open fields, and wherever they found an audience. In November 1738, Charles Wesley recorded William Seward’s own conversion to Methodism in his journal:
Monday November 13th. Charles brought Mr. W. Seward; a zealous soul, knowing only the baptism of John.
The Charles mentioned was Charles Caspar Graves (1717-1787), born at Mickleton, Gloucestershire, the son of an antiquary. Mickleton is only seven miles from Badsey, so the two had presumably met each other in their home area. William Seward quickly became involved with the movement. He met George Whitefield (originally from Gloucester), who was another significant early leader.
In January 1739, William Seward attended a conference of Oxford Methodists and came increasingly under the influence of Whitefield, accompanying him on his preaching tours. In a letter of February 1739 to his brother, Benjamin Seward, William mentioned the possibility of Whitefield visiting Badsey. Benjamin replied, saying that he:
..… had no great notion of it, but was rather against it. I thought him in some points an enthusiast and that he made religion a heavier burden than it is, but believe it was my own corruption that could not bear the test of his purity …..
In a letter of 14th March 1739 from Benjamin Seward at Badsey to an unknown correspondent, he said that they were expecting the imminent arrival from Bristol of William in the company of George Whitefield. He remarked that there had been much prejudice raised against Whitefield, but he thought that the chief cause of the animosity was the general corruption of mankind. Benjamin said that he had regarded Whitefield as an “enthusiast” for some time, but now believed that he was greatly mistaken and that he should be regarded as an “exemplary Christian”.
Whitefield wrote in his diary in April 1739, "went to Badsey and preached in Mr Seward’s brother’s yard". (This was in the yard of Seward House on the High Street.) In all, Whitefield preached at Badsey on three consecutive days, on the third occasion to "a weeping audience". William Seward received a letter from Dennys De Beret, written on 24th April 1739, shortly after the visit. He hoped that William would not think the letter impertinent but was intended to be:
….. a solemn congratulation of you on your arrival to the place of your nativity, but more especially the place of your blessed meeting with your new born relations, the account of whose conversion in Brother [Daniel] Abbott’s and Mason’s letter filled me with a spiritual joy and I joined you in spirit praising the Lord for his remarkable to you and your family, and cannot but continue to do so time after time (though I never saw your face in the flesh) and to be a pleader with you for your brother, who yet stands out, and indeed for the success of your noble designs to promote the Kingdom and interest of our dear Redeemer.
He indicated that he would love to hear of some “new-born babes” in the Badsey societies.
It is obvious from these comments that there were many new recruits in Badsey to this new faith. Wesley had laid the foundations of what now constitutes the organisation of the Methodist Church. He formed converts into local societies, which were then sub-divided into “classes” which met weekly. These were grouped into circuits to which travelling preachers were appointed for two-year periods. Circuit officials met quarterly under a senior travelling preacher or "assistant."
We have no idea how long these Methodist societies lasted in Badsey. It may have been for just a short time – perhaps brought about by the untimely death of William Seward in 1740 – or may have continued to flourish.
Seward joined Whitefield on his American tour of August 1739 and was a generous financial sponsor of the mission. In April 1740, following his return from America, William Seward commenced open-air preaching on his own account. He encountered hostile crowds in South Wales and then at Hay-on-Wye in October he was heavily stoned by a particularly aggressive mob. A few days later he died from his wounds, thus becoming the first Methodist martyr. He was buried at Cusop near Hay. His grieving mother, who had not been in the best of health, died at Badsey 20 days later.
Methodism in Badsey – early 19th century
No more is known about the Methodist movement in Badsey until the early 19th century. Records from the Wesleyan Methodist Circuit in Evesham exist from the early 19th century: baptisms from 1813 and a list of members for the years 1816, 1824 and 1838. The Wesleyan Methodists by now had a chapel in Chapel Street, Evesham, which had been built in 1803 (thanks to a legacy and public subscriptions).
For the year 1816, there is a list headed, “Names in Society in the Evesham Circuit”, which listed all the classes that were taking place within the circuit. Evesham had a good many classes, but classes were also held at Pershore, Broadway, Honeybourne, Donnington, Bidford, Welford, Pebworth, Badsey, Ilmington and Marston.
Badsey was the smallest of the classes, with just eight people listed. Edward Bootle was the Leader. The others in the class were Joseph & Sarah Heming and S Heming Junior, Elizabeth Gibbs, Elizabeth Jones, Hanah Jeff, and F Jeffs. Nothing is known about the Leader, Edward Bootle, other than the fact that he is mentioned in the Aldington Award Schedules of 1808 as he owned a small orchard. He was awarded £11 12s 6d as compensation, as he was not entitled to a specific allotment of land. His name does not appear in any further lists of the Evesham Circuit, whether in Badsey or elsewhere. Neither is anything known about the Heming or Jeffs families (the latter was probably the surname, Jelfs, rather than Jeffs). The only two about whom information is known is Elizabeth Jones (c1761-1826), who was the first wife of Joseph Jones, a major landowner in Badsey, and Elizabeth Gibbs (c1747-1824), the wife of John Gibbs, a baker.
By 1824, in a list headed “Members of the Methodist Society in Evesham Circuit, June 1824”, new classes and societies had formed in some of the villages. Stratford, Littleton, Harvington, Admington, Mickleton, Campden, Wick, Elmley and Cropthorne now had meetings, in addition to the existing ones at Broadway, Honeybourne, Donnington, Bidford, Welford, Pebworth, Badsey and Ilmington. Pershore and Marston were no longer listed. The Badsey class was still the smallest with just five members. John Hemming was the Leader. Elizabeth Jones still attended, as did a family named Andrews: Thomas, Mary and Sarah. Elizabeth Gibbs had recently died.
For a short time, Thomas and Hannah Hunting would most likely have formed a part of the Badsey class. They had three children baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Evesham: Elizabeth in 1816, William in 1819 and George in 1821. It was in 1819, when William was baptised, that their address was given as Badsey.
Methodism in Badsey – the 1830s and 1840s
By the 1830s, there is evidence that Methodism was becoming more popular, the Jones and Roberts families being the mainstays of the society.
Elizabeth Jones, who had been a member in 1816 and 1824, had died in 1826. Her widowed husband, Joseph, married again in 1828 to Eleanor Roberts. Eleanor Roberts had been listed as a member of one of the Evesham classes of the Methodist Society in 1824. Joseph and Eleanor had six children, all born at Badsey, five of whom were baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Evesham:
- Joseph, born 24th October 1829, baptised 10th January 1830
- Benjamin, born 27th January 1832, baptised 17th April 1832
- Not given [this was Elizabeth], baptised 2nd July 1833
- Sarah, born 7th March 1836, baptised 3rd May 1836
- Theophilus, born 22nd July 1837, baptised 27th October 1837
For some reason, another daughter (born about 1834-5) does not appear in the baptism list. In 1862, Ann Jones married Austin Davey, a Wesleyan Minister.
Eleanor’s brother, John Roberts, a baker, also lived in Badsey with his wife, Caroline. They had five children baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Evesham:
- Richard, born 17th August 1831, baptised 4th December 1831
- Ellen, born 17th March 1833, baptised 4th June 1833
- John, born 17th September 1835, baptised 3rd November 1835
- Sarah, baptised 29th March 1840, aged 8 weeks
- Charles Sylvestor, baptised 27th April 1847, aged 12 weeks within 2 days
The Badsey class list for midsummer 1838 of the Evesham Methodist Circuit gives eight names. Four of these were the Jones and Roberts families: Joseph Jones, Elizabeth Jones [thought to be Eleanor Jones, Joseph’s second wife], John & Caroline Roberts. The others were Ann Stanton, Winfield Gee, and John & Mary Hall.
Ann Stanton lived at Wickhamford where there was no Methodist class, so she would have walked to Badsey for the meeting. In 1844, she married William Cook at Wickhamford. William had a sister, Mary, who had married Richard Knight in 1838. Their first-born child, Elizabeth, was born at Badsey in 1839. They then moved to Willersey where five more children were born. Five out of the six children were baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Evesham:
- Elizabeth, baptised 1st October 1839, aged 6 weeks
- John, born 29th December 1842, baptised 29th January 1843
- John, baptised 6th October 1844, aged 2 weeks
- Eliza Ann, born 21st June 1850, baptised 4th August 1850
- William, born 23rd June 1856, baptised 3rd August 1856
As there was no Methodist class in Willersey, they may well have stayed with the Badsey class.
Wingfield Gee had moved to Worcestershire from Cheshire in the 1820s to work in the silk mills at Overbury and Badsey. He had married Ann Pickering at the Ebenezer Chapel, Prestbury, Cheshire. It was in the mill towns of the north that Methodism was fairly prominent. Their first three children were baptised in Cheshire and his last three children were baptised in Evesham at the Methodist Chapel:
- Wingfield, born 8th May 1824, baptised 24th September 1828
- Sophia, born 10th June 1826, baptised 24th September 1828
- John Harding, born 2nd July 1830, baptised 28th September 1830
A reference in The Worcestershire Chronicle of 16th March 1842 referred to a sad accident that occurred at “Mr Gee’s silk mill at Overbury”. Reverend William Smith, Vicar of Overbury, in a letter to The Worcester Journal in July 1843, referred to “the master of the silk mills, a Methodist and violent Radical”. In reply, a notice in The Worcester Journal, sent by the Bishop of Worcester to the Reverend Smith, Vicar of Overbury, listed “Wingfield Gee, silk throwster (dissenter), Wingfield Gee Junior, silk throwster (his son, under age), Thomas Gee, silk throwster (ditto)”.
Methodism in Badsey – the 1850s and 1860s
There is evidence from questionnaires completed in 1851, 1859 and 1872 that a building in Badsey High Street was being used as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel until 1869, and may well have been in use prior to 1850.
First confirmation of the chapel’s existence came on 30th March 1851, when a nationwide religious census was carried out in conjunction with the national population census. The survey was conducted in Badsey by the Curate, Edmund Boggis, as the absentee Vicar, the Reverend Charles Phillott, lived in Frome, Somerset, where he was also the Vicar. The population of Badsey was 521. On 30th March 1851, 100 people were in the general congregation for morning service, plus 50 Sunday scholars. For the afternoon service, the general congregation attendance was 250, plus 50 Sunday scholars. Details of the Wesleyan Methodists were supplied by Robert Taylor, the Society Steward for Badsey. He said that there was a Wesleyan Methodist Preaching Room which was part of a house used exclusively for worship. There were 60 sittings, all free. On 30th March 1851, the afternoon general congregation was 40 and the evening congregation was 42. The average attendance over 12 months was 35 for the afternoon general congregation and 45 for the evening congregation.
In 1859, Christ Church asked a question about non-conformist worship in Badsey. The Vicar was by now the Reverend Thomas Hunt who, unlike his predecessor, was resident in the village. Reverend Hunt referred to “a sort of meeting room opposite Badsey Church”. The Preaching Room appears to have been located in a house on the High Street which was pulled down in 1869 (the present-day 28 High Street is roughly on the site).
Robert Taylor, the Methodist Steward for Badsey, was a shoemaker. Originally from Henley-in-Arden, he had married Eliza Jones at Badsey in 1838. They were not living in the village in 1841 but, in 1851 were living in a cottage (since demolished), where the present-day Poplar Court is now located. They had gone from the village by 1861.
The Evesham Methodist Circuit plan of 1854-55 shows that regular services were held in the village. John Noake (1816-1894), a journalist and antiquary, known for his writings on Worcestershire, attributed the continuance of the Wesleyans in Badsey to the neglect of some, at least, of the assistant curates of the parish church. He said that he had been credibly informed that if all the incumbents had done their duty faithfully, no such evidence of sectarianism would have been visible.
Whilst people like the Jones and the Roberts families with their several children would have formed a large part of the congregation, other families would have swelled the numbers from time to time, such as the Cherry family. Joseph Cherry was a silk winder from Cheshire and moved, with his new wife, Jane, to Badsey to work in the silk mill. Their first-born son, Alfred, was baptised into the Church of England in 1843 but Arthur, born on 12th June 1844, was baptised at Evesham Methodist Chapel on 23rd July 1844.
Henry and Theodosia Steel lived briefly for a time in Badsey. They were living there when their daughter, Mary, was born on 8th January 1849, but had moved to Willersey by the time she was baptised on 18th February 1849 at the Evesham Methodist Chapel. They may have continued to worship at Badsey.
The Maddocks family were living in Badsey in 1854 when their daughter, Louisa Mary, was born in the March. On 13th July 1854, Louisa and her older sister, Amelia (born 15th July 1852), and cousins, Frances and Emily of Evesham, were baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Evesham.
Methodism in Badsey – the late 19th century
In response to a questionnaire sent by Christ Church in 1872, with the question, “Is there any Dissenting Meeting House or Chapel in your Parish or District and, if so, to what Denominations do they belong?” Reverend Hunt responded:
There used to be opposite Badsey Church gate and thoroughfare a Wesleyan Chapel, where singing of Wesleyan hymns was very audible. The church congregation were assembling for church service on Sundays. For some years, it was void and in 1869 it was bought and pulled down, and the place ….. is no more for a handsome wall and railings have taken its place, letting in full the expanse of land and with a remarkably pretty view of Bredon Hill in the distance and Knowle Hill in the foreground, from the Badsey Church and churchyard.
November 1872, T H Hunt
Following the demise of the Wesleyan Meeting House in Badsey, another place to hold meetings does not appear to have been found. By 1872, Reverend Hunt had been in post for 20 years. He was able to report to Christ Church that the feeling towards the church was good and that it was not necessary to employ the services of a Curate. In response to the question about the number and quality of persons separated from the church, he responded: “Hardly any to mention.”
But whilst Methodism did not seem to have a resurgence, other non-conformist denominations became established in the village. The Baptists held their first service at Aldington on 25th May 1879 and started a Sunday School in November. A new room was opened on 1st May 1881. The Sunday School register then contained around 70 names of children from both Aldington and Badsey. In 1894, the Quakers built the Adult School and Friends’ Mission Room in Chapel Street, Badsey; 300 people attended the tea in connection with the opening ceremony. The Quakers continued to meet in Badsey until 1962.
Joseph Jones, who had been baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Evesham in 1830, had presumably been a regular attender at the Methodist classes and services in Badsey, first with his parents, Joseph and Eleanor, and then with his wife, Emma, and children. His youngest child, Margaret Eleanor, was baptised at St James’ Church in 1875, which was some years after the meeting house in Badsey had closed. Joseph’s mother, Eleanor (née Roberts), who was a lifelong Methodist, died in 1880. It is perhaps significant that the following year, Joseph (or possibly it was his wife) chose to have four of their children baptised at St James’ Church. The entry in the register says: “In the presence of their mother Mrs Joseph Jones & sister Augusta Jones & William Barnard Parish Clerk these 4 adult baptisms were administered on Wednesday evening 4 days before Palm Sunday Apr 6 1881 by self, T Hunt Vicar.”
Methodism in Badsey – the 20th century
Occasional references in the parish magazine indicate that some people in the village were Methodists, and presumably attended the Methodist Church in Evesham, a new church having been built by the bridge in 1906-1907.
Wilfred George Geden, market gardener of Badsey, married Emma Mary Parker of Bengeworth, on 26th December 1907 at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Evesham. Seven months later, their baby son, also called Wilfred George, was born prematurely. He received a private baptism at the Wesleyan Chapel five days after his birth and died shortly afterwards. The Gedens had no further children.
On 20th August 1914, 20-year-old Frederick Charles Jones, market gardener of Badsey, married 19-year-old Lily Hughes at the Wesleyan Chapel. He was not related to the Jones family of a century earlier. Their four children were all baptised at St James’ Church, Badsey, rather than the Wesleyan Chapel.
The Parish Magazine of December 1967 recorded that Richard Glover died in hospital after a prolonged illness and was buried at Pershore after a service in Evesham Methodist Church, where he had been a member.
The obituary in the February 1969 Parish Magazine for William Henry Churchill stated that he was originally a member of the Church of England, but then became a keen Methodist, and also a supporter of the Badsey Friends Mission.
Anniversary of William Seward’s martyrdom
Nearly two and a half centuries after William Seward was stoned to death, on the initiative of the Reverend Peter Braby, for two years running a service of reconciliation was held to commemorate the anniversary date of William Seward’s martyrdom. The service in October 1969 was held in St James’ Church, Badsey. The altar table, which William Seward had donated to the church prior to his conversion, was used for a service of Holy Communion. The local Methodists participated in readings and intercession.
The following year, a united Communion Service was held at Evesham Methodist Church. The Methodist Archivist and historian, the Rev John Bowmer, spoke about William Seward’s life and work.
Maureen Spinks, December 2023
Sources of Information
- The Journal of Charles Wesley
- The Letters of William Seward
- Evesham Wesleyan Methodist Circuit, Vol 1, Baptisms 1813-1879, Lists of Members 1816, 1824, 1838 - transcribed and published by The Eureka Partnership
- Evesham Wesleyan Methodist Circuit, Vol 2, Baptisms 1880-1915, Marriages 1905-1915, Register of Removals 1884-1907 - transcribed and published by The Eureka Partnership