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The story of the Lancashire Congregational Union, 1806-1906 : prepared at the request of the Union online

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The vacancy was filled by the appointment of the Rev.
William Roaf, of Wigan, whose ministry' there dated from
1839. It is w^orth pointing out that these important
positions in the Union were almost invariablv filled bv men
who had given " full proof of their ministry " ; also that the
" long pastorate " w^as then the established order of things.
WTiatever disadvantage may have been associated \vith the
latter custom, it certainly helped so to identify a man with
a place that it is still difficult to think of the one without

L



146 LANCASHIRE CONGREGATIONAL UNION.

the Other. Raffles of Liverpool, Roby of Manchester,
Carnson of Preston, Sutcliffe of Ashton, Ely of Rochdale,
Roaf of Wigan, and Davies of Oldham are conjunctions of
names and places which seem to us almost inseparable.
A recent writer, himself a minister of this type, and so
possibly a little biassed in his judgment, after referring to
the honours which a lengthened pastorate in one place had
secured for not a few whom he had known, says : " The
men who go wandering about and shifting their places
every few years can never obtain such a memorial as this."
For better or for worse, however, the long pastorate is now
the exception rather than the rule. Unlike Mr. Carnson,
Mr. Roaf continued in his pastorate at Wigan whilst
attending tO' the duties of his new office, his resignation
of both taking place early in 1870.

In March of that year he died, at the age of sixty-seven
years, after a ministry of over forty years, thirty of which
had been spent in Wigan and in the service of Lancashire
Congregationalism. He was a quaint and most interesting
character, wielded a somewhat prolific pen, "was a zealous
Independent," " of a most kindly, sympathetic disposition and
generousi even to a fault," and during his Secretariat " there
was scarcely a station in the county which he did not visit
and assist by his kindly counsels." Reviewing his minis-
terial work in 1869, in his own racy st)'Le, he said: " I have
aimed at the instructive, the bracing, the deciding, rather
than at what Avas sensational and exciting. I prefer bread
to brnndy, and a lamp to a sky rocket. Like Whitefield, I
would be a spiritual physician, healing the wounds of sin,
rather than a spiritual milliner, decorating a dead soul. I
would be a star of the smallest magnitude and remotest
orbit, rather than a comet of the most eccentric course and
fierj' tail. Gladly would I lay down mv life to-night, if
I could see such a rising of all hearts to Christ as, like a
springtide filling all channels with life, should send revived
energy into all closers, all families, all devotional ser^'ices,
and all benevolent operations." It was this passionate
devotion to the supreme mission of the Christian ministry',
coupled with n great enthusiasm for the Congregationalism
which they had adopted as their own, pre-eminently
characteristic of the men of Mr. Roaf's day, that made them



MEN WHO HAVE SERVED. I 47

the power they were. The Rev. James Gwyther, who was
also the General Secretary of the Union, filled the position
rendered vacant by Mr. Roaf's death for a couple of years,
and subsequently the Rev. E. Armitage, M.A., for a brief
period, after which the office became merged in that of
the General Secretaryship.

Rev. Joseph vSmith.

Hitherto we have been occupied with " men who have
served " in the Secretarial position, but the Union has also
had the advantage of a most devoted band of Treasurers.
Here, again, a sentence must be devoted to the Itinerant
Society which preceded the Union, whose Secretary, as
previously intimated, was the Rev. William Roby, and whose
Treasurer for a brief time was the Rev. Joseph Smith. Mr.
Smith was the popular pastor of Mosley Street Chapel,
Manchester, where he settled in 1 798. Between him and Mr.
Roby were the closest bonds of friendship. It was this
fact which greatly contributed to remove the bitterness
which had existed betAveen the two Churches since the
secession of the Mosley Street congregation from Cannon
Street some ten years previously. Unfortunately, serious
illness necessitated Mr. Smith's resignation of the pastorate
in 1 80 1, though he continued to reside for some time in
Manchester, his successor at Mosley Street Chapel being
the Rev. Samuel Bradley, whose connection with the Union
has already been given.

Robert Spear (1806-7).

The first Treasurer of the Union was Mr. Robert Spear,
who was appointed at the meeting at which the Union was
formed. A remarkable man he was in everv' way, and it
would be difficult to exaggerate his influence and the
measure of indebtedness under which he has placed
Lancashire Congregationalism. Born at Hyde's Cross, in
Manchester, on November 27th, 1763, his parents being
members of the Cannon Street Church, of which his father
was a deacon, he received his education partly in the
Manchester Grammar School and partly in a private



148 LANCASHIRE CONGREGATIONAL UNION.

Academy near Liverpool. "At an early age" it is said
that " he was distinguished for that general amiableness of
spirit for which he was so conspicuous through life, and
for that genuine piety which sanctified all his intercourse
with his fellow men." A serious illness in his teens, " from
which he was mercifully restored in answer to earnest
prayer," appears to have been the turning point in his life,
and to have led to his decision to join the Church and
consecrate himself to Christian service. At first he thought
of the ministry, but " not meeting with sufficient encourage-
ment from his friends, he engaged in the cotton business,
which at that time was in its infancy." The Spears were
amongst those who withdrew from the Cannon Street
Church to Mosley Street, the erection of the chapel in
this place in 1788 being largely the result of their liberality.

Successful in business, Mr. Robert Spear gave most
" princely " sums to all kinds of religious objects, particu-
larly towards sending the Gospel to the heathen abroad
and providing it for the benighted people at home. In
Mr. Roby, pastor of the old Church which the Spears had
left, and aftenvards of the new one at Grosvenor Street,
Mr. Spear found one who in many ways entered into
his ideals, and the two men worked loyally and enthusias-
tically together. The Itinerant Society found in him a
warm friend and generous supporter, the Academy insti-
tuted to train men for the work of that Society was entirely
financed by him, " and nearly two-thirds of the expense
occasioned by building an Independent Chapel," which is
now represented by the flourishing congregation at Sale,
was met by him. Another interesting form of service to
which he gave himself is mentioned by the Rev. William
Jay in his Autobiography. " He looked out," says he,
" and employed in several parts of thickly peopled localities
pious men and women, whose houses were to be day
schools, to which any children might come at any time,
as they could be spared from their home or their labour,
while the owners were to be always present and ready to
teach them."

Mr. Spear sieems to have held the office of Treasurer
for about a year only, his- retirement from business and
removal to Mill Bank, where he bought a house on the




MR. WILLIAM AKMITAGE. J. P.

Treasurer of the I'nion (1858-1888).



Sei- |«ge l.VJ.




MR. WILLIAM SHAW, J.P.
Trcasvrrr of the I'nion (1888-1891).



See page 154^



MEN WHO HAVE SERVED. 1 49

Cheshire side of the Mersey, about twelve miles from Man-
chester, necessitating this. In his new home he established
a Sunday School and fitted up a place for public worship.
Reference has been made to the Rev. Thomas Smith
reading a paper on a revised constitution for the Union,
the joint work of himself and Mr. Roby, and his temporary
appointment to the Secretarjship of the Union. Mr.
Smith was supported at Mill Bank by Mr. Spear, and
doubtless in his efforts to perfect the machinery of the
Union one may see Mr. Spear's influence.

In 181 6 he removed to Edinburgh, '"partly for the
benefit of his health and partly for the advantages it
furnished for the education of his numerous family." His
days here were few; he died on August 31st, 181 7, in his
fifty-fifth year. " It was no unusual thing," says his
biographer, " for him to send considerable sums of money
in letters to individuals whom he knew to be in diffi-
culties, or for religious objects that needed support, as
the gifts of 'a friend,' many of which were unknown even
to his own family. Though his liberality was so extensive,
his humility was perhaps the most remarkable feature of
his Christian character; he spoke and acted as if he were
' the least of all saints.' " In the records of the Mosley
Street Church appear the words : " Died at Edinburgh,
Robert Spear, a deacon of this Church, a man in whom
were united more excellent qualities than are scarcely in
a character once in an age. To him, under God, it was
owing that this people now worship in this place of
worship."

Robert Kay (1808-18 17).

Mr. Kay was the representative of a sturdy Noncon-
formist family for considerably over a century- resident at
Bass Lane, Walmersley, near Bury. The Kays were
amongst the principal supporters of the Rev. Henrv'
Pendlebury, M.A., the ejected minister of Holcombe
Chapel, out of whose labours grew the Nonconformity of
that district. Mr. James Kay, of Bass Lane, the father of
Mr. Robert Kay, died on February i6th, 1802, at the age
of sev'ent}'-one years, being interred, along with Mary, his
wife, who died on September 3rd, 1809, aged seventy-two



150 LANCASHIRE CONGREGATIONAL UNION.

years, under the " singing pew " of the Park Congregational
Church, Ramsbottom, where a tablet appears to his
memory.

Mr. Robert Kay, his son, married Hannah, daughter of
Mr. James Phillips, of Birmingham, on September 22nd,
1803, soon after which time he appears to have removed
to Manchester, and was in business as a " fustian manufac-
turer." Both he and his wife became members of Mr.
Roby's Church. His residence was at Ardwick. Subse-
quently he removed to Ordsall Cottage, Ordsall Lane,
where at least one of his sons was born, and possibly it
was his removal to this place that led to his resignation of
the Union Treasurership in 181 7. About 1821 he left
Manchester for Bamford, his place of residence being
" Meadowcroft " ; but subsequently he removed to Brook-
shaw, near Bury, where he died suddenly on April 25th,
1834, aged sixty-five years. He was interred, according to
his own request, in Bamford Chapel, " in that pew where
he used to sit and listen to the Gospel." In the records of
that Church, which he and his sister, Mrs. Fenton, were
mainly instrumental in raising, appears the following inte-
resting passage : " Robert Kay, Esq., was brother to Mrs.
Fenton, of Bamford Hall, and, in conjunction with her,
was a principal instrument, under God, in causing the
erection of Bamford Chapel. In addition to his own charity,
he, residing then in Manchester, used his influence there
amongst the wealthy friends of Independency, who assisted
him in a very liberal manner. About 1821 he left Man-
chester and came to reside at Meadowcroft, and was
dismissed from Mr. Roby's Church to the Church at
Bamford. By his active piety and unwearied diligence in
the work of the Lord the place prospered, the school was
L-nlarged, and in 1828 a gallery was erected, and opened 0!i
Christmas Day by the first public Missionary meeting. A
handsome collection was made, and an interest excited that
has constantly increased. He went to reside at Bury, still
anxious to favour any pious and benevolent object. His
death was instantaneous, and no doubt his glory is such."
Mrs. Fenton was the wife of Mr. Joseph Fenton, of
Bamford Hall, and mother, of the first member of Parlia-
ment for Rochdale, Mr. John Fenton. Concerning her the



MEN WHO HAVE SERVED. 151

Church records say : " She was a principal cause of the
Independent Chapel at Baniford being erected, and, by her
zealous efforts in furnishing the poor with Bibles and
the means of instruction, conduced much to the spread of
religion and piety. Her work will long praise her, and
while her memory is blessed here her soul is blessed
above."

It will interest the reader to know that at least three of
Mr. Kay's sons rose to eminence. James Phillips Kay,
afterwards Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworlh, for some
time practised as a surgeon in Manchester; but, an marry-
ing the only child and heiress of Robert Shuttleworth, Esq.,
of Gawthorpe Hall, he assumed his wife's name, and his son
is the present Lord Shuttleworth. Joseph Kay became Sir
Joseph Kay, Q.C., and wrote an interesting work on The
Trade in Land. Edward Ebenezer Kay, afterwards Sir
E. E. Kay, became Lord Justice of Appeal.

Richard Roberts (i8i 7-1842).

The sister Church at Mosley Street furnished a successor
to Mr. Robert Kay in the person of Mr. Richard Roberts.
His connection with the Church w^as of long standing, and
he held the office of deacon for many years. The Rev.
James Griffin, in his Memories, tells about being present at
a meeting at Mosley Street Chapel, early in his ministry, at
which Mr. Roberts and Mr. Hadfield were the principal
speakers. The two speeches, he says, strikingly illustrated
the difference between the two men. Referring to Mr.
Hadfield, Mr. Griffin says: "A friend of his, a deacon of
that Church, Mr. Richard Roberts, a singularly deliberate
and sturdy man, had expressed some doubts as to a pro-
posal before the meeting. Mr. Hadfield followed him,
and, referring to the objections urged by Mr. Roberts, said:
'AH the difference, Mr. Chairman, between my friend
and myself is that he usually can see all the difficulties,
and I can never see any of them.' " Mr. Roberts resigned
the Treasurership in 1842, after having held the position
for nearly a quarter of a century, and about the same time
ceased to be connected with Moslev Street Church.



^52 lancashire congregational union.

Thomas Hunter (1844-1858).

Mr. Joseph Eccles, the Treasurer of the Blackburn
District, acted as General Treasurer for one year, when a
successor to Mr. Roberts was found in the person of Mr.
Thomas Hunter, whose residence was for some tiraie in
Upper Brook Street. Bom on November 9th, 1800, he
too belonged to the Mosley Street Church, being a member
there in 1839. Subsequently he attached himself to the
Chorlton Road Church, to which he left at his death the
sum of ;^5oo, the interest of which is used for the relief
of its necessitous members. Like Mr. Hadfield and
others, he was deeply interested in the Chapel Building
Society, and appears as a very generous contributor to its
funds. A very modest and retiring man, yet he had as
visitors to his house Dr. Halley, Dr. Vaughan, Dr.
Davidson, Dr. Raffles, and other equally distinguished
ministers. He retired from the Treasurership after serving
faithfully in that capacity for over fourteen years, and died
on October 19th, 1872. To the Union he bequeathed a
legacy of ;^5oo, and " in each of the last two years of his
life he set apart ;£i5o to be sent privately and anony-
mously to a number of Christian ministers, that they might
be enabled, without any charge upon their own limited
resources, to enjoy relaxation and renew their strength at
the seaside."

William Armitage (i 858-1 888).

In Mr. Armitage we come well within living memory,
and his genial presence, pleasant little asides, and humorous
interjections when presiding over the Annual business
rreeting and reading his financial statements will still be
recalled with interest by those who attended during his
period of office. The name of Armitage has been honour-
ably associated with Congregationalism in Manchester and
the surrounding district for considerably over a centur}'.
Mr. William Armitage was the son of Mr, Ziba Armitage,
whose brothers were Mr. Elijah Armitage and Sir Elkanah
Armitage. He was born in Manchester, on June 29th,
1815, and connected with Grosvenor Street Chapel from
his very earliest days. His interest in the old place never



MEN WHO HAVE SERVED. 153

waned, and even when he removed from Manchester to
Altrincham he continued to hold the office of deacon, and
came down every Communion Sunday to the service there.
His official connection with the Union began in 1851,
when he became Treasurer of the Manchester District,
his appointment to the General Treasurership being seven
years later. He acted as Treasurer for the Woodward
Trusts, the Chapel Building Society, and the Provident
Society, serving also in a similar capacity many other
public institutions, and to all this work he brought
that sagacious judgment, genial spirit, and consecrated
purpose for which he was pre-eminently noted, increas-
ing years and infirmity brought about his resignation
of the Union Treasurership in 1888, after having lield
the office for over thirty years, a considerably longer period
than that which stands to the credit of any other name in
the list.

He attended the Annual Meetings occasionally after-
wards, and it was very touching to see and hear him speak
at the presentation to his veteran colleague in County
Union service, the Rev. R. M. Davies, of Oldham, in
March, 1889. In handing to him a richly-embellished
album, with great feeling, he said : " I have been associated
with you for many years in the work of this Union, and
have always found you ready to do that which your hand
found to do. I never knew you refuse a thing because
you did not like it. The worst and toughest things you
have gone through with the greatest pleasure. I never
knew you refuse work or shirk anything that appertained
to the Congregational Union — the ' old ' County Union we
used to call it. We were both younger then than now.
I don't think anyone has a greater right than I to give you
this. I give it you with the greatest pleasure, on behalf
of your friends, and approve of every word that is written
in it. I hope you may live as long as you have served
this Society, and that we may have to do this all over
again."

Such a man, of course, found many openings for useful
service in public life. He was a Cheshire magistrate for
a large number of years, and the public positions which
he filled were verj- numerous. He died at his residence,



154 LANCASHIRE CONGREGATIONAL UNION.

Townfield House, Altrincham, on January nth, 1893, full
of years. " He made no pretensions to literary culture," says
one, " but to any practical question or everyday subject he
brought the quick insight and shrewd judgment that are
so often seen in this part of the country in men who have
sprung from the soil. The race of men who united their
keenness with a temperament of boyish gaiety and warm-
hearted simplicit)^ is fast dying out, and Lancashire will
not readily produce again so characteristic an example,
and withal so lovable a man, as William Armitage."

William Shaw (1888-1891).

Hitherto the two Manchester Churches, Grosvenor
Street and Mosley Street, had supplied almost alter-
nately a person for the office of Treasurer; but, on
the resignation of Mr. Armitage, Mr. William Shaw,
of Rochdale, was induced to accept the vacant position.
A native of Huddersfield, but migrating to Rochdale
in 1863, "to be a partner in the flannel manufacturing
business at Vale Mills," to the town of his adoption
he gave his service without stint. As a philanthropist,
a politician and an educationist he was ever to the
fore, whilst with the Congregationalism of Rochdale and
district his name was closely linked from the day of his
advent into the town. The Union had the benefit of his
wise counsel for many years as a member of the Executive
Committee and Treasurer of the Manchester District.
Unfortunately, the state of Mr. Shaw's health when he
accepted the General Treasurership was too indifferent to
permit of his retention of a position for which he was so
manifestly fitted, and he resigned in 1891. The resolution
accepting his resignation expressed the Assembly's " high
appreciation" of the "promptitude and efficiency" with
which he had " discharged his duties," and " of the
Christian courtesy " which had " characterised his inter-
course with those he had so faithfully and cheerfully
served, and its sincere hope that he might be yet spared
for many years to advance the cause of the Great Master."
The hope was not fulfilled, for Mr. Shaw died on January
24th, 1897, at the age of seventy-six }ears.



CHAPTER XI.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

THE previous chapter was restricted to men who served
the Union in its higher offices, and who have passed
over to the great majority. Their names are a very
sacred memory, their example is a most precious heritage,
and " their works do follow them." The succession, how-
ever, did not terminate with them, and to-day the Union is
singularly fortunate in its responsible leaders and officers.
In Mr. E. B. Dawson, LL.B., J. P., of Lancaster, the Union
has in every way an appropriate President for its Centenary
year. He was Secretary of the Preston District for many
years, succeeded his father as Treasurer for the same
District, and relinquished this position in 1891 to become
the General Treasurer of the Union, in succession
to Mr. Shaw, holding the office until 1899. As
Treasurer of the Provident Society, the members of that
important body know how faithfully he guards their
interests, and on the Incorporation of the Union he
received, along with the Rev. R. M. Davies, whose intimate
friend he was, the dignity of an Honorary Secretaryship.
He was the occupant of the Chair of the Union in 1877,
when the Assemblv devoted itself to the consideration of
the financial proposals previously mentioned, and his call
to the Presidential office during this Centenary year is
intended as a compliment both to himself and the family
which he worthily represents, and which has been honour-
ably associated with the Union from the hour of its
inception.

Mr. Henr)' Higson, J. P., of Blackburn and St. Annes,
was the choice of the Union in 1899 for the vacancy



156 LANCASHIRE CONGREGATIONAL UNION.

in the Treasurership created by Mr. Dawson's resignation.
He had for some years done valuable service as Treasurer
of the Blackburn District. Of all the men who have
occupied the position none have brought to it greater
business aptitude, genialit}-, tactfulness, and high purpose
than the present Treasurer.

After a considerable apprenticeship as Secretarj' to the
Manchester District, and subsequently as colleague to the
Rev. R. M. Davies in the General Secretaryship, the Rev.
Thomas Willis became sole Secretary in 1899. The growth
of the Union had been such that it was impossible to
depend longer upon voluntary effort in this respect ; and
in the same way it had come to be evident that the adequate
protection of its interests required the services of one set free
from the burden of a pastorate. At the invitation, there-
fore, of his brethren, Mr. Willis relinquished his charge of
the Grosvenor Street Church, Manchester, where he had
exercised a most useful ministry for over thirty years amidst
the difficult and depressing conditions which gather round
the mid-town Church, and assumed the responsible position
to which he had been called. Previous to this, in March,
1896, at the Annual Meeting in Bury, he was the recipient
of a cheque for JQ202 4s. 6d., in recognition of his
valuable services as joint Secretary of the Union during a
period of twenty-one years. In acknowledging the gift, he
stated that it was twenty-seven years since he first attended
the Union Meetings, and that the year after he was invited
to take an active part in its work. " Having for a few years
served in the lower house," he continued, " and officiated
as Secretary of the Manchester District, I was summoned
to the upper chamber and ranked as a General Secretary,
that event taking place in 1875, and from that time to this
I have occupied the honourable position, a fact which
excites in my heart and mind to-day varied and mingled
feelings." In his new position Mr. Willis is a creation of
the " New Times " upon which the Union has entered. As
years go, he is by no means young, but, like many of his
predecessors in the office, he has the optimistic faith,
business aptitude, tactfulness, and devotion which pre-
eminently fit him for his important position ; and his
brethren, whom he so loyally serves in this way, will join




MR. HENKV HIGSON, J.P.
Present Treasurer of the Union.




MR. E. B. DAWSON, LL.B.. J.P.
President vf the f'liion for the Centenary Year.


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