The Clifford Family at Oxford

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. John T. Stead in a series “Our Homes and Families”

THE homes of England are the bulwarks of England. It is a grand sight to see whole families engaged in work “for Christ and His Church.” In some cases we find the services of the family distributed among various sections of the Christian Church, but in these articles we are brought in contact with homes where all the members are helping in some way the work of God and our own Church.

It is more than twenty years since I became acquainted with Oxford Primitive Methodism. Nineteen years ago I came and spent three years as its superintendent minister, and four years ago I returned to it as a supernumerary. Many changes have taken place in the interval, but it is a joy to see some true and loyal souls still in the work.

Mr. James Clifford was born on September 3rd, 1853, at Charlbury, a pretty little market town of historic renown, situated some dozen miles north-west of Oxford. His father, Mr. David Clifford, was for many years a Wesleyan local preacher and Sunday school worker, wielding a fine influence which still abides, though he has been dead thirty-five years. The large family of fourteen, of which James was the youngest child, all became members in Methodism, several being of our own Church and the others Wesleyans. There were six sons, who all became lay preachers of outstanding merit, four still surviving. The best known brother is the Oxford City Missionary, Mr. Henry Clifford, who went from the tailor’s shop to that work twenty-five years ago. The City Mission being unsectarian, he had to resign his position on the plan as local preacher, but occupies the position as an auxiliary. 

Mr. James Clifford came to Oxford when thirteen years of age, and was one of the first scholars of the William Street Sunday School. He became a tailor’s apprentice, and in that trade has remained all his life. His eldest brother, the late David Price Clifford, was then a worker in our William Street Mission, and James was converted while yet in his “teens” coming on the “plan” at the age of seventeen years. The success of the Mission led to the building of our Church in Pembroke Street. The work of preaching has been Mr. Clifford’s life passion. He has served in the Sunday school, and has done excellent work there, but he prefers the pulpit, and especially in the country chapels all round Oxford. He is thoughtful, thoroughly evangelical and earnest, so it is no wonder that through his instrumentality numbers have been won to the Saviour. He has a clear, musical voice, and speaks with distinctness. It is seldom he takes less than ten or eleven Sundays a quarter even now. He was a delegate to the District Meeting held at Cirencester, and we hope ere long to see him appointed delegate to our Annual Conference. He has been treasurer for two of our village chapels, and Sunday school superintendent for five years in Oxford.

Mrs. Clifford is a native of Oxford, and was born in May, 1856, her father being a dyer named John Bough, who lived in St. Clements, near the Magdalen Bridge, which is at the foot of the famous High Street. She, too, like her husband, was converted in the William Street Mission, and there entered into Christian service. She was a great worker in the Band of Hope, and, having a beautiful voice, often sang solos there. Though not a public speaker, her influence for good in her home, and quietly in a wider circle, is in no way less than that of her husband. Her children have good cause indeed to call her “blessed.”

The eldest son, John William, now superintendent minister of our Hull Second Circuit, was born in January, 1879. He became a pupil teacher in the elementary school which he had attended as a boy. That was the East Oxford British School, founded by the daughters of the Rev. James Crompton, one of our ministers. This school afterwards became a board school. Winning a first class in the Queen’s Scholarship Examination, held in December, 1897, he entered the Oxford Day Training College in the following October, also matriculating at the University as a member of the non-collegiate body. So, living at home, he took the lectures for the course chosen. After three years of happy work, he had successfully gained his teacher’s certificate, and took the B.A. degree June 27th, 1901, and the M.A. in 1905. He commenced preaching when fourteen years of age, and for two years accompanied his father and Mr. Henry Smart to their appointments. Then he came on the plan “on trial,” becoming a full local preacher when seventeen years of age. During his college career, he did a large amount of preaching in the circuit, and as Christian Endeavour secretary was very active, making the Pembroke Street Society famous in the city. He was accepted for the ministry at the Conference of 1902, held in the church where he now ministers. He was stationed to the Newcastle First Circuit under the Rev. A.T. Guttery, and served for five years. In the last year of his probation, a revival broke out at Derby Street — one of the two churches of which he had charge—and in the winter of 1905-6, some sixty converts were brought in. He removed to Durham with Rev. E. Phillipson and remained seven years, the last four as superintendent. Here he experienced times of great power and much blessing. He was president of the Durham Free Church Council for two years. He is now ministering on the Hull Second Station. In all his circuits he has kept in touch with the young men.

The second son, David James, is two years younger, and in his own estimation the least of the brothers in his father’s household, but coupled with his humility and quiet demeanour, there is a genuine and loyal heart. There is no doubt that but for an affection of the throat he would have been in our ministry to-day. He began his business life by learning his father’s trade, and worked with him until he grew to manhood. He then qualified himself as a tailor’s cutter, and has remained in that department ever since. He is a local preacher. In 1905 he left home, and spent three years in Warwick, where he did a lot of preaching and other work for the Church. From there he removed to Durham. Here it was his joy to connect himself to the church and circuit of which his elder brother was minister. During the three years he was in Durham he was assistant secretary, and then secretary of the Free Church Council, and a frequent speaker at temperance, Christian Endeavour and other meetings. From Durham, David went to Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he and his wife became members of the Central Church. He has been chosen to give trade lectures on four successive occasions.

Ellen— “Nellie” as she is generally called—gave herself to the Lord one night at Pembroke Street when her father was the preacher. She was the right hand help of the mother until she went to Durham to live with her eldest brother. She has seconded his ministry in Durham and Hull very ably and sincerely, for ten years, and won hosts of friends. She was very successful in Durham as secretary of the British Women’s Temperance Association branch there, winning a “Star of Honour” badge. In Hull she has qualified as a nurse of the St. John Ambulance Association, and is doing excellent voluntary service. Christian Endeavour, Band of Hope, Sunday school, and every other good work, find in her a hearty supporter.

Frederick, the third son, who gave himself to the Lord at a service at Pembroke Street at which the writer officiated, very early offered himself for service as a Mission Van Evangelist, and for several years was employed in the Brinkworth and Swindon District. His quarterly reports sent to the District Missionary Committee were highly satisfactory, and he gave every promise of making a successful Primitive Methodist minister, He laboured in a number of circuits round Oxford. He acquitted himself very efficiently in the Chipping Norton Circuit for part of a year, in which the circuit was left without a minister. All this work was preliminary and preparatory to his entering our ministry, but it was evident that the van work had impaired his health, for when he sat for his examination he was medically rejected, and so he went abroad. He entered the Methodist Episcopal Ministry in 1911, and is in charge of a church in Michigan, U.S.A. He has passed his probation period satisfactorily, and has been ordained. He is married and has one little son.

Eveline gave herself to the Master one night when. her brother “Willie” was home preaching, for it is a common experience for him to come home at most of the holiday seasons, and invariably there is a “Special” at Pembroke Street to mark the occasion. She is an active Endeavourer. She will not only give a paper, but speak extempore as well. She loves the Junior Endeavour Society at Oxford, of which she was one of the leaders.

Ralph, the youngest of the family, also gave himself to Jesus when his eldest brother was home preaching. He is a bright tall lad, and has been on full plan for more than a year. He was educated at the Wesleyan Higher Grade school, and then won a scholarship for the Oxford High School. He has since worked in the Bodleian Library, and the University Register Office. As he has only passed for sedentary duty in the army, he is now in service with the Y.M.C.A.

This is an ideal family and home, and all explicable by the godliness and wisdom of the parents. Because of their piety and their sacrifices to give their children the best advantages, they have their reward to-day.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1917/462

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