Thomas Parr and Family: From 19th Century Primitive Methodism to the present

Chapter 1: Beginnings

05 Wheaton Aston Primitive Methodist chapel

Travelling along the A5 in Staffordshire you’ll see signs for Lapley and Wheaton Aston.  In the graveyard of Lapley’s lovely parish church, All Saints, you’ll find this memorial stone.

Thomas Parr was a Primitive Methodist minister.  He was born, (I think) on 2nd November 1816 and christened at the Wesleyan chapel at Wolstanton on 1st December.  Why am I not sure?  Because, all the census returns for him suggest he was born two years later.

Thomas Parr, the potter

Thomas Parr was the son of another Thomas Parr who married Mary Reeves in Wolstanton on 10th June 1810.  They had  at least four sons and three daughters.  Thomas Parr was a “potter” so his father, if living around Burslem, would have been a contemporary of Josiah Wedgewood and Josiah Spode, but we have no evidence to date of any connection with either of these people nor of any connection with the Quakers or other Non-Conformist movements until 1810.

Of this elder Thomas Parr’s relations, one, probably his brother, founded the “Parr Pottery” around 1825.  Based on my research so far, at least two of Thomas’ children are of note for the purposes of this history; Thomas Parr Junior, who is buried at Lapley and of whom more later, and the youngest child, Aaron, born in 1826 and baptised at Newchapel, Tunstall.  Aaron was the father of a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Smith T Parr and in 1901 we find him in Selby Yorkshire following his calling.  Another son, William Henry Parr was also a Methodist minister and we find him in 1881 at Budleigh Salterton in Devon.  Aaron and his wife, Betsy, are buried in Tunstall cemetery along with a number of their children.

Primitive Methodist preachers

And so to Thomas Parr Junior, my great-great grandfather.  According to the picture he is 44 years old.  He died in 1866, so just four (or six years) after the picture was made.   He was married twice; to Mary Turner in Newtown, Powys around 1842.  Their daughter, Mary Ann, (a family name I think) was born on 3rd September 1844 in Newtown.  By then Mary Turner was probably dead and Thomas was minister at Wrockwardinewood, near present day Telford.

In 1846 on 16th January at Lapley parish church, Thomas married Matilda Bayley (note the spelling).

We’ll review their children and descendants all the way to my own father, Arnold Parr, in a little while.

But the first reference I have found to Thomas Parr comes from a copy of a newspaper, The Black Country Bugle, of fairly recent publication, though I have no date for it.  The headline “Illuminated Tribute to a Greets Green Methodist” refers to the life of  Thomas Lissimore of Greets Green born in 1816 and goes on… “When sixteen years of age he was led by curiosity to attend an open-air service held at Greets Green by a Primitive Methodist mission band, of the Darlaston Circuit. One of the preachers spoke from the text, “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup”.   It continues… “He was nominated by the late Thomas Parr as a local preacher in the year 1838,” 

Indeed according to the listing of Primitive Methodist Ministers, though not an entirely accurate source[1], Thomas Parr was fulfilling his first ministry at Darlaston in 1838.  It was the start of eighteen different locations over a twenty seven year ministry.  From the birthdates and birthplaces of the children; of the single daughter Agnes, a most caring daughter from the evidence we have, and the four sons (the only survivors of Matilda’s twelve pregnancies) we can chart the ministry of Thomas Parr and from the census returns the loneliness of a Primitive Methodist minister’s wife whose husband oftentimes must be elsewhere and whose death rendered her a widow at the age of 44.

Two of the sons, Theophilus, born at Bishop’s Castle, Powys in 1849 and James Tolefree, born at Oswestry, Shropshire in 1855 became prominent Primitive Methodist ministers.  Theophilus’ ministry carried him afar in England but further still to Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  His story is worth relating at a later time.  But more so that of James T Parr who in 1917 was President of the Conference making his address during a Zeppelin raid.  It’s tempting to say more.  But this narrative deals only with the immediate line of descent from Thomas Parr Senior to more or less the present day, emphasising the legacy of Primitive Methodism.

Two other sons, Thomas Philip and Frederick Bayley were Primitive Methodist preachers.  My great-grandfather, Frederick Bayley, we’ll come to later.  But first, more of their mother.

Wheaton Aston

Matilda Bayley came from a Wheaton Aston family of farmers, farm-workers, tradesmen and avowed Non-Conformists.  It may be that Tolefree was Matilda’s mother’s maiden name.  But certainly there was a notable preacher in the district in the early 1800’s who carried the surname Tolefree and that in what was then a rough and tumble part of Staffordshire.  A chapel, Zion Chapel, was built.  It dates from 1815.  But Non-Conformist activities go back to 1745.  The Primitive Methodist Chapel was built much later.  It has been converted to a house nowadays, though maybe that was its original purpose.

Close by is Providence Cottage.  It was built some years before 1900 by Matilda’s father.  Matilda moved there with her daughter, Agnes Emma (a name we’ll come across again in connection with the Parr family) probably on the marriage of Agnes to Abraham Weate, a local farmer from a local family.  Emma was born at Bloxwich in 1859 or 1860 and died at Wheaton Aston in 1943.  Her mother died in 1902, see the memorial stone.

This is the first of four chapters. You can download the whole document by clicking on the icon below.

[1] W Leary in his Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers, page 158, contains incorrect information for James Tolefree Parr. His father was not Theo Parr and nor was he born at Kirkby-in Ashfield.  The year of Thomas Parr’s birth is probably incorrect also.  Some of the references to the Primitive Methodist Magazine issues are possibly incorrect and I think are incomplete.


Comments about this page

  • Sorry for such a long delay, I’ve moved house twice!  

    Can John Turner contact me please regarding his paper on Thomas Parr.  My email address is  

    By Ian M Parr (25/09/2017)
  • There is a gravestone in the churchyard of the Methodist Church, Back Lane, Newtown, Montgomeryshire with the inscription:-

    Sacred to the memory of Arthur Turner late of this town who exchanged mortality for life on the 27th day of August 1838 in the 66th year of his age. Also Ann relict of the above died April 4th 1857 aged 80 years also to the memory of Mary wife of the Reverend Thomas Parr, Primitive Methodist Minister and daughter of Arthur and Ann Turner she died in great peace on the 18th day of February 1845 in the 25th year of her age.

    Arthur Turner was my gt gt gt grandfather. About six years ago I wrote an article for the Montgomeryshire Genealogical Society entitled ” Who was the Reverend Thomas Parr”. having done some research at the Rylands Library in Manchester which hold Methodist records. 

    By John Turner (20/02/2015)
  • The Joseph Parr Mary Ann Holloway married is the son of Ralph Parr. He (Ralph) is almost certainly a brother of Thomas Parr mentioned in my article on my PM ancestors. Their father was also called Thomas Parr and he married Mary Reeves around 1810, in Wolstanton. Thomas Parr senior is quite likely to be a brother of Richard Parr who was one of the founders of the Parr Pottery that was in business in various forms from around 1825 to around 1880. The Nixon connection is clearer, though more research needs to be done. I know Mary Ann Holloway was the daughter of Sarah Holloway, nee Nixon and Benjamin Holloway. Sarah Nixon senior was living with the Holloway family through the 1840s and 50s. She is described as a “widow” and according to the 1851 Census is still working at the age of 71. I think she died in the first quarter of 1856 so about 75 years. A good stretch in those days in The Potteries! If I’m correct in my assumptions then Sarah Nixon senior’s husband was a brother of James Nixon one of the founding fathers of Primitive Methodism. In 1841 both the family of James Nixon and Sarah Holloway were living in Wellington Place, Tunstall. Thus there would have been a close connection between the families. I don’t know the christian name of Sarah Nixon senior’s husband, but I think a little more work might turn it up. The problem comes from all those Nixon families because one final caveat: In 1841 there were 184 people with the surname Nixon in Wolstanton.

    By Ian M Parr (14/02/2013)
  • Found your articles by chance doing family history research. A distant relative of mine, Benjamin Holloway (1805-1858), was married to Sarah Nixon (b1809). Several of their children were christened on 29 June 1837 in the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Tunstall. A later child, Mary Ann (b1843), married a Joseph Parr in Tunstall in 1871. His father was Ralph Parr. Could Sarah be related to James Nixon the preacher – perhaps a sister? Or Mary Ann’s husband related to your family?

    By Marilyn Peciuch (26/01/2013)

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