Harriet Gibson, 'Ranter Parson'

a family story

By David Kershaw

About 1843, a young shoemaker called Samuel Gibson, who was living in Wellow, Nottinghamshire, went along one Sunday to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel in the vicinity and there heard Harriet Atkins preach.  She was a young woman of about 20 years and he went home and told his mother that he had heard a ‘Ranter Parson’ preach and was going to marry her.  She, Harriet, was probably a maid at a large Hall or Manor House in the district, though we really do not know. [2]

This story of how Harriet met her husband Samuel has been handed down in the family.

A strong influence

My great-great-grandmother, Harriet Gibson, was one of the so-called Ranter Parsons in the Primitive Methodist Church and I have a poster advertising her taking Harvest Festival Services at Clay Cross Mission in 1888.  I also have several copies of the Primitive Methodist Church Plans of around that time, showing who the preachers were and where they were preaching.  And finally I have some letters sent to her daughters which might have come direct from the Pauline epistles, for her style was very much modelled on them even if the content was rather different.  "Keep clear of the ungodly" was the essential message of one of them, as Harriot wanted to be able to meet up with her daughters again in heaven.[1]

The influence of this lady, who also ran both a shop and a dame's school in Chesterfield  (though her own grammar sometimes left something to be desired) was a very strong one on her daughters and their children also.  One of her great-great grandsons entered the Methodist Ministry (he used to sit next to me at the primary school though I did not then know we were related).  I am a local preacher as was my father, initially, before me, though he did not continue as a preacher when he found the army chaplains blessing the guns during the war.

Brought up a Wesleyan

As a girl, Harriet went with her family to the Wesleyan Methodist in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Her father William Ewerdine Atkins (1798-1862), a cordwainer or shoemaker, was a Wesleyan local preacher, and his name appears in a class book for the church, in 1824, when Harriet was about two years old.  He had married Ruth Starkey in 1821, but as her mother died when she was young, Harriet helped to bring up her two brothers, Jabez and John. Her brother John Starkey Atkins (1835-90) also became a Wesleyan local preacher. 

A call to preach

So why did she become a Primitive Methodist? Harriet clearly had a call to preach, a call she was not able to exercise in the Wesleyan church, which had passed a resolution banning women preachers in 1803.  However, the ‘Prims’ recognised that young women were very effective at mission, particularly preaching in the open air when they could draw huge crowds.  Samuel Gibson among them.

Samuel may have been one of Harriet’s converts, because after they were married in 1844 he also became a Primitive Methodist local preacher. They were probably both involved in the temperance movement which was a growing issue in the mid 19th century, as Samuel described himself as a ‘Shoemaker, Tea Tenter and Primitive Methodist Local Preacher’. [3]  

A Godly, sincere woman

Their grand daughter Dorothy Goodge writes: Grandmother Gibson was a Methodist local preacher for 50 years and she would have to walk many miles to the little village chapels around Chesterfield.  Sometimes she would be taken in a pony-driven trap. 

Sad to relate Grandfather Gibson became very angry on account of the treatment given to Grandmother as she grew older by some Ministers and after her death he attended Chesterfield Parish Church where his daughter Harriet Ruth was confirmed in order to go with him.  Grandmother must have been a Godly sincere woman and a preacher of no mean ability as we have one or two written requests from little chapels around Chesterfield asking her to conduct a ten day mission because they were at a low ebb.

Letter from Harriet to her daughter, Elizabeth, from Brampton, Derbyshire (no date) [4]

My Dear Lizzie

I hope that you Are Getting on very nicely my dear child  I hope you Pray to God to keep you and Bless you what ever you do  Do not neglect to ask the Saviour to Guide you  His Eye is upon you in the Morning Before you rise  Be sure to Pray to Him Before you leave your Room to keep you All the day  I want you to Be a christian and indeed a young soulder for Christ God Bless you and make you such I shall want to meet you in heaven when you die Go to class and Be very careful who you Go with talk to Nobody who is Not Christian

from your dear

Mother  Harriet

   Gibson

Chesterfield Circuit Primitive Methodist Preachers’ Plans, 1876-88

Mrs H Gibson features on them all and is living in Brampton.  The numbers are her ranking in seniority. Clearly she has been a preacher for a long time, for it is a long list (about 60).

July, Aug, Sept 1876                 16                   

April, May, Jun 1876                 16                   

July, Aug, Sept 1884                 10                   

July, Aug, Sept 1885                 10

April, May, Jun 1886                 10

Jan, Feb, March 1888                10

Poster advertising Harvest Thanksgiving Services at Clay Cross Gospel Mission, 1888

Clay Cross GOSPEL MISSION

HARVEST THANKSGIVING SERVICES

ON SUNDAY , SEPT. 23rd, 1888

TWO SERMONS

WILL BE PREACHED BY

M RS GIBSON OF BRAMPTON

Times of Service - Afternoon, 2.30,  Evening, 6 o’clock

Collections will be made near the close of each Service on behalf of Mission Funds

ON TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 25TH A PUBLIC TEA

Will be provided, Tea on the tables at Five o’clock

Tickets for Tea, ninepence each, may be had of the Friends at the door.

AFTER TEA THERE WILL BE A SALE OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

The Friends will be thankful to receive gifts of Flowers, Vegetables or

Donations of any kind from the Christian Public

W BASSETT , PRINTER, CLAY CROSS


[1] Harriet’s daughter Annie Wallis Gibson, married William Taylor in 1875. Their daughter married William Kershaw, and was my grandmother.

[2] From ‘A short history of the Gibson Family’, by Dorothy Goodge, youngest daughter of Harriott Ruth Goodge (Née Gibson). There is also a letter from Samuel to Harriet re their marriage.

[3] 1861 census.

[4] In 1871 Elizabeth (age 13) was living away from home, as a servant with a family in Chesterfield. This letter was probably written when she first went into service, sometime before 1871.

This page was added by Jill Barber on 25/06/2012.
Comments about this page

My Gt Gt Grandmother, Annie Tolson nee Gibson, was also a preacher for the Primitive Methodist movement, as were her mother and father, Joseph and Sarah Gibson.

She was born in Rothwell, Leeds, but preached all over the country as well as America in 1882. Do you have any information about her and do you think there is a connection?

I have a copy of her autobiography, published 1867,"Annie the drunkard's daughter" which is full of information about her life, starting when she started preaching at the age of 7!

By Sandra Heppenstall
On 26/02/2014

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