From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Leeds played lead role in early church
09 Oct 1998 15:16:55
Oct. 9 1998 Contact: Tim Tanton (615)742-5470 Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: This is a regular feature on Methodist history by John Singleton
prepared especially for
distribution by United Methodist News Service. A photograph is available
with this column.
By John Singleton*
The story is told how, at the Conference of 1769, held in the "Boggard
House" - the first
Methodist chapel in Leeds, England -- John Wesley read some letters from
a group of pioneering
Methodists in America who said they had formed a society, built a
preaching house and now
wanted a preacher.
^From his seat in the place reserved for the chapel's principal singer
(for there was no platform),
Wesley addressed the ministers who filled the deep gallery around him.
"Does anyone of our brethren feel it in his heart to go and help our
friends in America?" he
One, Richard Boardman, immediately offered to go. Wesley said he must
start out straight away
in order to get a passage on a ship from Bristol, which was setting sail
soon. As the vessel
belonged to friends, he would probably be allowed to travel cheaply,
Boardman started out at once, riding in one day from Leeds to Monyash in
Derbyshire. There he
stopped to rest ... and to preach a sermon on the prayer of Jabez. A
young woman who was
converted under that sermon, Mary Redfern, later married a William
Bunting. Their first child --
named Jabez in memory of Boardman's sermon -- went on to found the first
missionary society in the very town where Boardman had volunteered to go
In 1772, the conference again assembled in the Boggard House, where two
were chosen for work in America. And present for the first time at the
Leeds Conference of 1778
was Dr. Thomas Coke, who afterwards went on to organize the Wesleyan
It was also at a conference in Leeds that the question of whether women
should be allowed to
preach was discussed. Wesley spoke in favor of it in certain
circumstances, with the result that
some of the first women preachers in Methodism became active in the
Leeds area and throughout
that part of Yorkshire.
All in all, Leeds Methodism had a profound influence on the early
Methodist movement, but how
on earth did it come in possession of such a strange-sounding place as
the Boggard House?
It all goes back to a little after Christmas 1742, when the stonemason
and famous Wesley convert
from Birstall, John Nelson, was invited to preach outside the barber
shop of William Shent, in
what was then Leeds market place. Later, as more preachers followed his
lead, including brothers
John and Charles Wesley, the shop effectively became the first base of
the infant Methodist
society in Leeds. John Wesley's first sermon in the town was preached on
"By grace ye are saved
The story of William Shent, who with his wife Mary was a prime mover of
Methodist society in Leeds, is both an inspiring and a cautionary tale.
He had a thriving business
as a barber and wig maker, which he used to full advantage in the
Methodist cause. He spoke
freely to his customers of the salvation he had found, and many
patronized his shop to hear him.
It is not known, however, if Shent trimmed John Wesley's flowing locks
free of charge!
In 1746, he became one of Wesley's lay preachers and traveled throughout
had a high opinion of his abilities and usefulness. But after being a
member of the society for 36
years and a lay preacher for 32, we are told that he "fell into sin" and
was expelled from the
society. Wesley did not forget Shent when he became "fallen and poor"
and continued to do his
best to help him. Shent died in 1787, having been preceded in death by
his wife, who remained a
faithful Methodist all her life.
The first indoor preaching place for the Methodists in Leeds was
actually an empty house
provided by Shent. This was used until March 14, 1744, when, as Charles
Wesley was preaching
to a crowded congregation, the floor gave way at one end and the
preacher and hearers
slid down into the room below. It is thought the accident was the
occasion on which Charles
wrote the hymn:
"The great archangel's trump shall sound
(While twice ten thousand thunders roar)
Tear up the graves, and cleave the ground
And make the greedy sea restore."
Later, perhaps to escape the attention of continuing mob violence, the
Methodists moved to a
variety of places before taking refuge with one Matthew Chippendale, a
basket maker, whose
house at Quarry Hill stood in a field called the Applegarth. A local
name for the Applegarth was
the "Boggard Close," or field. The name Boggard actually signified a
ghost, but there was no
such ghost story in this case to account for it.
Chippendale's house served as a preaching room until 1751, when the
Boggard House complex
was opened. The walls of the new chapel and center were built around the
old structure, and
when the chapel was roofed in, the materials of the old house were
thrown out of the windows of
the new one. The first of the 19 conferences held there met in 1753.
What later became known as the "Old Boggard" was replaced in 1834 by St.
Peter's chapel, once
called the "City Road of the North" after Wesley's Chapel in London.
This church, later faced
with a predominantly Jewish and Roman Catholic population living in a
vast slum, closed its
doors in 1909.
Once the cradle of overseas missions, Leeds Methodism still has much to
offer the world.
Although all traces of the Old Boggard have long since disappeared,
there is historically still a lot
to discover in the Leeds area. And the Methodist Church is still there
... in the city center, the
poor areas, multiracial housing estates, the suburbs and the villages --
a living witness to the
timelessness of the Gospel.
# # #
*Singleton is news editor of the weekly Methodist Recorder newspaper in
London. He can be
contacted by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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