Methodist ministers at War: Wesleyan chaplains of World War I


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Dr Gareth Lloyd writes:

On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany starting the countries involvement in what became known as the Great War.

Chaplain writing letter

Army chaplain writing a letter home for a casualty. Wikimedia Commons image.

Every aspect of British life was affected by the sudden descent into global conflict. The response of the Wesleyan Church, the largest of the several Methodist denominations, was sharply divided. In the days after the outbreak of hostilities, there was profound shock and dismay – the official Church newspaper referred to the crisis as “the horrible nightmare of a restless sleeper”.

Some ministers and laymen became conscientious objectors, but the majority opinion regarded the war as a just cause and Methodists volunteered in their thousands for military service. By the summer of 1917 more than 200,000 Wesleyans and tens of thousands more from other Methodist denominations were serving in the armed forces.

Owen Spencer Watkins

Methodist Chaplain Reverend Owen Spencer Watkins. From Methodist Magazine, March 1915, page 160.

The Wesleyan ministry was quick to answer the call to duty. Approximately 330 ministers served as army and navy chaplains for the duration of the conflict. Most were volunteers from the civilian circuit ministry, who were appointed honorary chaplains to the forces to distinguish them from the small number of regular serving chaplains. Other ministers and candidates for ordination waived exemption from conscription to serve in the ranks as ordinary soldiers and sailors.


Meeting of the synod of Australian Imperial Forces held on 7 August 1918 at Wesley’s Chapel, London. From Minutes of Two Methodist Synods: Methodist Church of Australasia, 1918, page 4 (reference MAW Pa 1918).

While classified as non-combatants, chaplains shared the dangers and privations of the battlefield. They lived under daily shellfire and accompanied the infantry as they launched or defended against attacks. Often employed in dressing stations and field ambulances, the chaplains provided comfort to the seriously wounded and dying as well as their comrades in the trenches. Many chaplains were decorated for bravery, typically for trying to help others. Reverend Spencer-Watkins, for example, whose photograph and service record is featured in this blog, was mentioned in despatches five times. By the war’s end in 1918, thirty Methodist ministers had been killed and many more wounded.

“When I reached my billet, I sat down and, putting my aching head between my hands – bedaubed with trench mud, iodine and human blood – I wept.”
“Stories from the Front by United Methodist Chaplains” (London: 1917), p.21

“Mine’s a pretty bad job at times, but I’m damned glad I haven’t yours. The best of luck to you”
The commanding officer of a front-line unit to a Wesleyan chaplain, quoted in “Reflections on the battlefield: from infantryman to chaplain, 1914-1919” Robert. J. Rider, ed. Robinson and Hair (Liverpool University Press: 2001)

Chaplain preaching

Army chaplain preaching from the cockpit of a plane. National Library of Scotland image licensed for reuse CC-BY.

To commemorate the centenary of the end of the Great War, the Methodist Church in Britain and the John Rylands Library have collaborated to digitise a volume containing the service records of Wesleyan chaplains who served between 1914 and 1919.   Details typically include the individual’s pre-war and post-war ministry, commissioning and promotions, unit attachments, decorations, wounds, dates and location of frontline service and additional comments. Some of the names have no record attached and it appears that the details recorded in the volume are exclusively for attachments to the army, including the Royal Flying Corp, the predecessor of the Royal Air Force. Similarly, the document only appears to cover service in a theatre of war or supporting UK base establishment as opposed to a peacetime garrison.

This unique document provides a vivid and moving insight into the faith, courage and self-sacrifice displayed by Methodist chaplains who ministered to and served alongside the soldiers, sailors and airmen of World War I.

Service Record of O S Watkins

Service record of Reverend Owen Spencer Watkins. Ref. MA 1999/1, p. 309 of the volume of service records.

The Methodist Armed Forces Board services records are available online via Luna at The above images and digitised chaplaincy records are reproduced with the permission of the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes and the John Rylands Library. They are made freely available to the public for non-commercial usage under the terms of a creative commons licence held by The University of Manchester Creative Commons Licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).


A Travelling Life: Dorothy Richardson’s Eighteenth-Century Manuscript Travel Journals


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Dan Eltringham, John Rylands Research Institute Visiting Research Fellow, writes:

In February and March of this year, I spent an extremely enjoyable two months reading through the manuscript travel journals of the eighteenth-century picturesque tourist and antiquarian Dorothy Richardson, held at the John Rylands Research Institute. As an early career researcher just out of the PhD, I loved the chance to spend so much time inside Richardson’s head, and to see through her acutely observational mind’s eye. There is a freshness to the characters she encounters and the landscapes she describes that brought famous landmarks such as Fountains Abbey newly to life for me, as I traced her journeys using Google Maps.

That quality of precise observation is in evidence from early in her life. When Richardson began keeping her journal she was 13 years old. Even then formidably observant, she noted in the grounds of Wentworth House, South Yorkshire, ‘a Bull & Cow […] no larger than a mastiff Dog, & had a Bunch of Hair upon their Backs like a Camel.’ As an adult, no travelling companion can keep up with her curiosity and stamina, which only seemed to grow in the later journals. On several occasions on her 1801 tour of the East Riding she is frustrated by lax or timid companions who don’t want to walk a few extra miles to inspect a lighthouse, are always trying to get back in time for a card party, or refuse to get up before dawn to watch the sun rise over the North Sea.

Richardson’s handsomely bound and marbled, conveniently portable notebooks are penned in the elaborate but – after a few hours of getting one’s eye in – perfectly legible educated hand of the day. Going through these pages, with text crammed right up to the margins (paper was a relatively scarce commodity even for the well-off) has been, among other things, a rare opportunity to read a woman’s account of eighteenth-century landscape, history, economy and culture, from the 1760s up until the turn of the nineteenth century. By the time of her final tour in 1801, Richardson was an extremely experienced traveller by the standards of the day. She had traversed virtually the whole of her native Yorkshire, much of Lancashire, the Derbyshire Peak and Nottinghamshire, not to mention forays south to Oxford and Bath. Aged 53, she would live another 18 years, until 1819.

Dorothy Richardson travel journal.jpg

Sample page from Dorothy Richardson’s travel journal.

That Richardson was able to travel so much was underwritten by her family’s wealth and local importance in the West Riding, which, aside from disposable income, also gave her a network of contacts on which to call across the near north. Her grandfather, Dr Richard Richardson (1663-1741), was a famous botanist and antiquary, whose biography Richardson published in her only excursion into print. Her interests, then, found their roots in the scholarly ambience of her family home. While her texts were never intended for sale, they were nonetheless prepared for a circulatory reading audience by following the protocols of print.

But it’s the details and the moments that make these journals so characterful. Richardson twice pays a visit to Mother Shipton’s Well (in 1771 and again in 1801), a famed petrifying cave in Knaresborough that turns all it touches to stone. On her second visit she has great fun watching ‘Birds nests with eggs in them &c’ being dipped in the well, which are then transferred to ‘a small hut where the petrifications are kept for sale.’ One of the oldest tourist attractions in Britain, in 1801 it sounds a good deal more commercialised than when she first passed through in 1771. Being able to trace such changes is one of the intriguing virtues of reading Richardson’s account straight through, across four decades in which the landscape was transformed by enclosure, early industry and tourism – of which she is a part.

Petrifying Spring

Colour etching by Francois Alvarez after Thomas Smith of Derby, ‘A View of the Petrifying Spring, Commonly called the Dropping Well, at Knaresborough, in Yorkshire’, 1746.

These journals contain such a huge amount of information and observation: so much is packed in it makes one’s head spin after a couple of hours. But a lot of the expected upheavals of this uncommonly turbulent time are missing. Where is mention of the American Revolution of 1776, or the French, in 1789? Part of the answer to this is that the travel journals are restricted to recording local facts as she finds them, and do not often concern themselves with global or even national political events.

Indeed, Richardson is so concerned with local histories, names and landscape that we might be tempted to see her as uniformed and provincial. But that is far from true: she kept her newspaper cuttings elsewhere, in a series of scrapbook volumes. In the century of Linnaeus, different kinds of knowledge are kept in different places, and Richardson’s orderly division of local from international reflects that. At the same time, her historical scholarship draws on the vogue for antiquarian knowledge in the eighteenth century. Increasingly, though, she comes to garner her information not from the dusty tomes of past scholarly endeavour, but from the mouths of the people.

This tendency to talk with the common people she had all along employed as guides, drivers and cooks comes through most clearly in her final 1801 tour to the North Yorkshire coast, perhaps not coincidentally when she is for the most part unaccompanied by family. There, she chats amiably with fisherwives and their husbands, who guide her along treacherous littoral stretches. Just as she was in the Peak District caverns of Castleton back in 1771, she is still seeking underground thrills and their attached human stories and legends. In this case, trekking around the beaches of Flamborough Head, she is looking for ‘Robin Syths Hole’: either, she says, the refuge of someone shipwrecked during a tempest, or ‘the secret residence of a noted Smuggler or Pirate of that name’.

This sense of adventure and mystery, and of interest in the world and how it works at ground-level, never leaves Richardson. She was a woman traveller in an age of famous male domestic tourists, and a serious antiquarian when nearly all who pursued local knowledge were gentlemen of leisure. These facts alone make her interesting. But her lively tone, her unremitting observational capacity, and the depth of her learning, make her travel manuscripts the most fun you can have touring the country without leaving your seat. Time for an edited selection that can be carried about in the pocket!



Call for Papers: ‘After the Digital Revolution’ Workshop


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Print to Digital Image (3)

How can we improve the preservation and access to born-digital records in literary and publishers’ archives?

“there lie in his hoards many records that few now can read, even of the lore-masters, for their scripts and tongues have become dark to later men.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

While we still have letters, manuscripts and other physical documents from the past centuries, we are in danger of losing digital documents created in the last decade. Literary scholars rely on the traces left by writers – from correspondence to drafts – which now take the form of born-digital records. Publishing historians also need access to the records left by publishing companies. Emails and other digital forms of communication have largely replaced letters and memos, and yet, safeguarding digital archives remains an enduring challenge for archivists. Electronic records risk becoming unreadable due to rapidly changing formats and technologies. Even when digital archives are actively preserved, they are often closed to researchers due to data protection and other issues. To paraphrase Tolkien, the scripts and tongues of our digital age risk becoming dark to later men.

As late as 2010, a report from the American library community OCLC declared: “Management of born-digital archival materials is still in its infancy.”

What progress has been made to preserve digital archives? How can we improve access to born-digital collections? How can archivists and scholars collaborate to create a better future for digital collections?

This workshop at the John Rylands Library (14-15 September 2017) is the first of two “After the Digital Revolution” events funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award awarded to Dr Lise Jaillant. It will bring together 30 participants, including 15 early-career researchers to discuss and find solutions to the issue of preservation and access to born-digital archives.

Contributions are invited from archivists, literary scholars, historians, policy makers and anyone with an interest in digital archives. Each participant will be asked to prepare a 10-minute contribution addressing the specific theme of each workshop. Contributions can take the form of a short paper on current project(s) or a lightning talk to share a specific tool/ method in relation to the workshop theme. In addition, early-career researchers (within ten years of their PhD) will be asked to prepare a poster summarizing their contribution to the workshop.

Workshop Highlights:

  • Internationally-recognised experts, including David McKnight (Director of Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Skype talk by Matthew Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland)
  • Networking opportunities, including reception in the sumptuous John Rylands Library

This workshop will lead to the publication of an edited collection that will leave a lasting legacy and contribute to a better future for born-digital collections and their users.

If you would like to participate, please send a CV and 300-word description of your planned contribution to: l.jaillant [at] by 17 July 2017.

A limited number of travel grants will be available. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for a travel grant.

Conservation of a Renaissance masterpiece: Prolianus’s Astronomia


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One of our most beautiful Renaissance manuscripts is a copy of Christianus Prolianus’s scientific treatise, Astronomia, produced in Naples in 1478. Many of its pages are decorated with exquisite white-vine borders, featuring putti, birds and butterflies. It has appeared in this blog before, when it was fully digitised in 2012.

Latin MS 53, f.1r (detail)

Christianus Prolianus’s Astronomia, Latin MS 53, folio 1r (detail).

We are planning to include it in an exhibition at the John Rylands Library on ‘Colour’ next year. However, a routine condition report revealed significant problems, with many areas of flaking pigment or gold leaf. To prepare the manuscript for display, our Collection Care team therefore recently undertook a project to consolidate these areas. This technique involves applying tiny drops of isinglass solution beneath the loose fragments, using a very fine artist’s brush.

Isinglass comes from the swim bladder of the sturgeon fish. Dried isinglass is dissolved in warm water to create a 2% solution, which acts as a very mild adhesive, without affecting the visual properties of the manuscript.


Latin MS 53 003 (2)

Steve Mooney treats Latin MS 53, Prolianus’s Astronomia.

Conservator Steve Mooney carried out the painstaking work with the aid of a microscope. He perfected this technique on the famous Rylands Haggadah in 2011, before it travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In advance of the exhibition, you can whet your appetite with the online version, available on Luna.

Latin MS 53 001 (2)

Coat of arms Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon, son of Ferdinand II of Naples, fol. 1r.

Celebrating Li Yuan-chia at the Henry Moore Institute Library


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Henry Moore Institute

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

Dr Janette Martin writes:

On a very rainy Monday in May I spent a fascinating morning at the Henry Moore Institute (HMI) in Leeds, installing a library display on Li Yuan-chia, a leading twentieth-century artist.  For those who have not been, the HMI Research Library and Archives is one of Leeds’s hidden gems. Located on the bustling Headrow, next to Leeds City Art Gallery and above the HMI’s galleries, its collections tell the story of British Sculpture from the Victorian period until the present day.

As avid followers of this blog might recall, Li Yuan-chia (1929–94), was one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century. He was a great innovator whose repertoire ranged from ink painting, sculpture, performances and participatory works to concrete poetry, film and photography.  Li also established the LYC Museum and Art Gallery, an experimental venture in participatory art and an exhibition space at Banks, Cumbria, near Hadrian’s Wall. The University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections hold the archives of Li Yuan-chia.

Diana Yeh

Dr Diana Yeh.

Prior to starting work at the University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections, I worked briefly as the HMI archivist and I was struck by the overlaps between artistic collections held at both institutions. Last year I did a similar HMI library display on Jeff Nuttall. The Li Yuan-chia display arose from a conversation with the HMI librarian, Ann Sproat, and Dr Diana Yeh, a trustee of the LYC Foundation. Diana has written extensively about Li and her academic research focuses on diaspora and identity among Chinese migrant artists, so I was delighted when she agreed to co-curate this display with me.

A library display at the HMI is appropriate as Li Yuan-chia experimented with sculpture and installations (notably toy art) and he also supported the careers of emerging sculptors such as Andy Goldsworthy, by offering exhibition space at the LYC Museum.  The HMI library collection includes artists’ books or catalogues published by LYC Museum.  These have been recently augmented by a donation of duplicate material from the University of Manchester Library collections, by kind permission of the LYC Foundation Trustees. It is this collection which forms the basis of the current exhibition.

LYC books at HMI

Installing artist books at the Henry Moore Institute, May 2017.

Li Yuan-chia’s artistic trajectory crossed many national boundaries, from rural China, via Taiwan, to Milan, Bologna and London before settling down to life in rural Cumbria. Here he renovated a dilapidated farmhouse at Banks near Hadrian’s Wall. In 1972, this building opened to the public as the innovative LYC Museum and Art Gallery, at its peak reputedly attracting around 300,000 visitors per year. Over three hundred artists exhibited there.

Items on display are drawn from the Henry Moore Institute Research Library collection and comprise loose components from the exhibition catalogue of Li Yuan-chia’s first show at the Lisson Gallery, London Cosmic Point (1967), which have been mounted and framed in sets of four and a range of LYC Museum and Art Gallery artists’ books and catalogues. The display can be viewed until the end of July 2017.  Anyone can visit the Henry Moore Institute and its library is open 7 days a week (Monday to Friday 10am – 5.30pm, extended to 8pm on Wednesday; Sundays 1pm – 5pm).

For further information on the Li Yuan-Chia archive held at the University of Manchester Library please contact For more information on Li Yuan-chia’s artistic legacy see

LYC Display

The finished display of LYC works at the Henry Moore Institute Library, May 2017.

Discovering old treasures: Wesley College Bristol library


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Work has begun on cataloguing the library of Wesley College Bristol which contains more than 3,500 early printed books and periodicals, thanks to funding from the Methodist Church in Britain.

An image of the front pastedown of a book from the collection, with 'William Knight His Books 1764' noted above a Didsbury College Library bookplate which has been stamped 'cancelled'.

Some of the books in this collection are rich in provenance information.

Cataloguers Anna Hughes and Joe Devlin are working through the wide ranging collection which includes texts on biblical scholarship, classical texts, philosophy and literature and works on travel and history. An outstanding feature of this collection is the number of rare volumes, from the early sixteenth century onwards, which show evidence of provenance through annotations, notes of dedications and armorial bookplates. Amongst these is John Goodwin’s Eirenomachia (1671), which is heavily annotated in John Wesley’s hand.

Wesley College, Bristol, was a training college for Methodist ministers and its library provided texts for all candidates for ministry, who came from very different educational backgrounds. This is shown in the diversity of subjects covered in the library, such as geography and travel.

A single page pamphlet depicting Oliver Cromwell and his council in league with the Devil as tehy consider the execution of Charles I.

One unusual item in the collection is this single page housed in ‘The indictment, arraignment…of twenty-nine regicides…’ (London, 1724), depicting Oliver Cromwell and his council in league with the Devil.

Wesley College Bristol was the successor of the Methodist training college in Didsbury, the ‘Northern Branch’ of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, which closed in 1944. Didsbury College library was transferred to Bristol at this date, and was later enhanced by the addition of collections from Wesley Collge Headingley, Leeds (when it closed in 1966) and some volumes from Hartley College Victoria, Manchester (which closed in 1972). Before coming to John Rylands, this collection was held at Oxfrod Brookes University.

The libraries of both Hartley College Victoria and Richmond College, Surrey (the ‘Southern Branch’) are also held at John Rylands Library, so the return of the Wesley College Bristol books to Manchester marks a reunion and a homecoming for many of these volumes.

The Wesley College Bristol Collection is part of the Methodist Archives and Research Centre which has been housed at John Rylands since 1972 in agreement with the Methodist Church in Britain.

Delia Derbyshire Archive on film


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Dr Janette Martin writes:

The compositions of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), a pioneer of British electronic music, continue to inspire and delight audiences today.

As regular readers of this blog will know, 2017 marks what would have been Delia’s eightieth birthday year. To commemorate this milestone lots of activities are taking place across the country.  As part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project, the Delia Derbyshire Day charity commissioned a film exploring the contents of the Delia Derbyshire Archive, which is held by the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library. The film explains how the collection is available for anyone to use and gives a tantalising glimpse into its contents.  If you would like to register as a reader or find out more about this archive please contact

Breaking the Sound Barrier: Delia Derbyshire’s legacy to women in experimental music.

Delia fans are invited to a free sound performance at the John Rylands Library on Thursday 18 May 2017.  An event which is part of the Manchester After Hours festival, which is taking place across the city.

The evening features unpredictable, evocative and extraordinary performances by two female artists whose sound and method echo that of Delia Derbyshire’s pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Listen as Vicky Clarke creates one of her trademark ‘sound sculptures’ using electronic, digital and analogue techniques, and watch Naomi Kashiwagi craft unexpected melodies using a wind-up gramophone in ‘The Gramophonica Mode’, her creative response to Delia Derbyshire’s archive.

Two performances will be held during the evening, starting at 7pm and 8.30pm. We highly recommend arriving on time for the performances as space is limited in the building. Free entry. No need to book.

Digitisation of a letterbook of John Nelson Darby


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I am pleased to announce a new addition to the digitised material for the Christian Brethren Archive, a letterbook of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).

Darby was one of the founder members of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren. When the latter split in 1848, he went on to become the first leader of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’. He was a noted biblical scholar whose doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren.

Darby produced popular synopses of the Bible and voluminous polemical writings on biblical subjects. As well as his distinctive eschatological views, he developed a dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This interpretation was adopted and developed further in the early twentieth century by C.S. Scofield, who produced a highly popular and influential series of reference and study Bibles. Through this medium, Darby became one of the most influential forces shaping the character and form of modern day American fundamentalist Christianity.

The letterbook contains handwritten transcriptions of 51 letters, 160 pages in total, which were written between 1862 and 1863 whilst Darby was on the first of several missionary journeys in Ontario, Canada. A great deal of the correspondence relates to discussion of Darby’s visit, and his activities during his time there, and it is our belief that much of this material will provide a source of new information on Darby’s time in North America.

A large proportion of the letters in the letterbook are written by Darby, but there are also letters by other individuals, sent from cities and towns in Canada including Toronto, Quebec, Hamilton, Guelph, and Montreal, and also from New York, Detroit, Massachusetts and Missouri in North America.

Inside the front cover are the following names, presumably the names of the owners of the letterbook at different dates:

  • John Pollock 1863
  • Algernon J. Pollock 1892
  • for J. Alfred Trench, Belfast
  • To Seton Pollock 1934
  • To William Bell – April 1957
  • G. Ross Holmes, Winder (about 1970-1998) Canada

This would suggest that the transcriptions were created and collated only a short period of time after the letters were written.

The handwriting is not that of Darby, however the transcriber has made a convincing attempt to imitate the signature of Darby on the letters attributed to him. There are also annotations, made at some later date by an owner of the book, recording their queries and comments.

The letterbook was donated to the Christian Brethren Archive by Thomas and Susan Holmes in 2017. The book had been part of a collection of Brethren books and other Reformation/Church of England books that belonged to George Ross Holmes, who was born in Bruce County, Ontario and died in Windsor, Ontario.

These letters are an excellent supplement to the John Nelson Darby papers, which include a series of Darby’s notebooks, scrapbooks, annotated bibles, notes on lectures and sermons by Brethren activists, and correspondence. The collection contains considerable information on the early history of the Brethren movement.

The digitised letterbook can be viewed here: John Nelson Darby Letterbook