Coad, Ursula (nee Sturtridge) 1819-1900
Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger in the series ‘Local Preachers Worth Knowing’ by J.W.C. (probably Rev James W. Coad)
One of the best known of the Rev. Mark Guy Pearse’s lectures is entitled ‘Some Old Folk at Home,’ people of his native county, Cornwall, who, by their good deeds, quaint sayings, and homely manners, have caused them to be remembered and talked about years after most of them have gone ‘to their long home’ and the grass and daisies have covered their graves. In collecting the material of which the lecture is made, Mr. Pearse wisely obeyed the scriptural injunction which says, ‘Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate,’ for it was from their humble fields and gardens he gleaned his choicest fruit and flowers.
As Primitive Methodists we have had, and, thank God, still possess, some ‘Old Folk at Home,’ whose lives are worth remembering. Of those who have not yet fallen asleep, but remain as links with a past generation, we have a very good specimen in Mrs. Coad, of the St. Austell circuit, Cornwall, of which county she is a native and life-long resident, and in many of whose towns and villages she was well-known as an earnest and effective speaker and winner of souls years before Mr. Pearse and the writer of these lines laid aside their marbles and top-spinning.
Mrs. Coad, whose maiden name was Ursula Sturtridge, was born at a small and straggling village known by the somewhat quaint name of Stray, in the parish of Lanlivery, December 9th, 1819. Her father carried on the business of a carpenter, and with his wife and family regularly attended church in the morning and the Wesleyan chapel at night. The children were set a good example and taught ‘the fear of the Lord.’ Each evening before going to sleep, ‘I used.’ says Mrs. Coad, ‘to repeat my favourite little hymn beginning—
‘Now from the altar of my heart
Let incense flames arise,
Assist me, Lord, to offer up
My evening sacrifice.’
‘I well remember and often call to mind,’ she continues, ‘how, as a girl about eight or nine years old, I would go into a wheat-field close by and, hidden by the standing corn, I sang sweet hymns and prayed in words which God alone could hear. At the cottage prayer-meeting too, I used to hear the Primitive Methodists preach, and before parting they would join hands and sing
‘Here’s my heart, and here’s my hand,
To meet you in the Promised Land,
Where parting is no more.’
I used to look up into their faces and wish that they would take hold of my little hands too, for I was as happy as they.’ On returning home, her elder brothers, Richard and John, would notice the marks made on her pinafore through kneeling on the sanded floor of the cottage where the meetings were held. They would tease her about this by saying that she looked as though she had knelt down upon two of old Daddy Tibbet’s tobacco quids. The reference was to an old man who had spent most of his life-time at sea. He was a good praying Christian, came regularly to the meetings, but, like most ‘old salts,’ he had long since formed the habit of using a quid of tobacco, and did not always pay sufficient attention to see that its last resting-place was in the dust-bin or out on the road.
Early in her teens Mrs. Coad was converted to God through a sermon preached by a Primitive Methodist minister named J. Richards. The text was – ‘The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away.’ The ‘call’ to work in the Master’s cause came very soon. After she had engaged in prayer one evening, before the meeting closed and while she was still kneeling, the late Rev. W. Driffield came and placing a hand upon her shoulder said – ‘Live to the Lord, and read your Bible, my young sister, for there is a work for you to do.’ Her name was placed on the circuit plan, and she preached her trial sermon from ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,’ in the presence of the Rev. T. Ford, who exhorted her to cleave unto the Saviour and then she would become a useful young woman in the work of saving souls. A chapel was erected in what in Cornwall is called the ‘Church town,’ and was opened for public worship before it had either windows or doors. One of the preachers at the opening was the subject of this sketch, who spoke from the words of Christ – ‘And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.’ The building was crowded at the time, and among those who listened to the girl-preacher, through the windowless openings from the outside, was the vicar of the parish, who had baptised, and assisted at the Confirmation of the youthful preacher.
Speaking of the early Methodist chapels, she says, ‘People did not trouble about steeples and stained-glass windows. Most of our little ‘Bethels’ and ‘Ebenezers’ had floors of common sand and lime. The walls were white-washed, the seats were plain and without backs, the pulpit had just room enough for one person to stand in, for lights we had tallow candles. In the pulpit, close to the Bible and hymn book, would be a pair of snuffers for the preacher to snuff the candles when they required it. And sometimes the preacher, poor fellow, would be a bit nervous, and in attempting to snuff the wicks, he would snuff the candles right out, much to the amusement of those who came, more, I fear, to watch than to pray.
Great opposition and persecution had to be faced by the early Primitives, who bore the ‘burden and heat of the day.’ Such things as mud, and eggs gone bad, were often thrown amongst the people as they stood up to speak in the open air. Sparrows were frequently turned into the chapels, and, flying against the candles, would knock them over and put the lights out. Often, on trying to come out of the meeting, the members would find the doors screwed or tied, so that they could not be opened. Ropes also were laid along the roads outside the chapels, so as to throw the people down as they went to their homes. Women-preaching was more of a novelty, and not so popular then as it is now, and the roadway that led to the pulpit sixty or seventy years ago, was rough and much exposed, and for females especially, was extremely hard to travel. The wider sphere of woman was not so well understood by the world and the Church then as it is now. Mrs. Coad used to be often challenged as to her right to preach, being a woman; and when she went to a place named Polruan to conduct the re-opening services of a chapel, a ‘gentleman’ in the crowded audience actually handed up a note with this request, ‘Will the young lady speaker kindly take for a text to-day the words of St. Paul – ‘Let your women keep silence in the Churches.’ But Solomon had said, ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly,’ and a greater than he cautioned His disciples against casting pearls before swine, adding that a ‘tree is known by its fruits.’ Consequently, according to her custom, she took little notice of the snare, but earnestly pleaded with the people to become reconciled to God, with the result that the arm of the Lord was made bare, and the cry was started, ‘What must we do to be saved.’ Referring to the opposition often experienced, she says, ‘Many of our worst persecutors got caught in the Gospel net at last, and became valiant soldiers of the Cross.’
During the sixty-five years that she has been on the circuit plan, Mrs. Coad has walked thousands of miles in fulfilling her appointments. Many times she has travelled twenty, and in some cases as many as twenty-four miles a day, and taken three services. Circuits were much wider then than they are now, and the method of reaching the places was not so convenient. She has also been in frequent demand to visit the sick and dying, at whose bedsides she has witnessed some very bright, and some equally sad scenes. Her addresses and sermons are often illustrated in a most effective manner by some references to things learnt whilst visiting the afflicted. Her one aim has been to win souls and snatch brands from the burning; and among the number thus saved some are to-day filling honourable positions in the ranks of the regular ministry.
Some one has made the remark that prayer is the belfry-rope that Christians and repenting sinners pull when they want to ring the bell at the gate of heaven. Like Daniel, Elijah, and many others before and since, Mrs. Coad has learnt the secret of prevailing prayer. She remembers the time when she had a sick husband and a young family of children, with not a crust of bread in the house, but in answer to prayer the Lord sent a good woman late at night with help, and who remarked that she could not rest at home, ‘something’ kept saying to her, ‘Go and see Mrs. Coad, for she is in need of assistance.’ At another time a little boy of hers lay at death’s door, and the doctor and vicar’s wife said there was no hope, but falling upon her knees in the presence of them both, Mrs. Coad raised her appeal to the court of heaven, and, to the astonishment of the medical man, who said it looked like a resurrection from the dead, the lad recovered strength, and is to-day in the Primitive Methodist ministry. On another occasion, on hearing that one of her sons had been enticed away to enlist as a soldier with some companions, and finding that he was already on his way to Plymouth, she went to the cemetery where, side by side, lay a son and daughter. Between the two graves she knelt down, and said, ‘Lord, here is Frederick and here is Mary Ellen, but where is Benjamin? Thou knowest, Lord, and Thou canst bring him back again.’ The day after this her lost son – a fine, well-built young fellow – informed his companions that he should go no farther, as he felt that he ought to return home, and acting upon the good resolve, he showed that God had heard and answered his mother’s prayer.
The features represented in the two portraits we give will be easily recognised by a large number of Mrs. Coad’s old friends living in Cornwall, Devon, Worcester, Cheltenham, Bristol, London, and across the Severn in the Forest of Dean, and many parts of South Wales. They will think again of the days gone by when they heard her preach in their pulpits, and they will be pleased to know that although she is in sight of the 81st milestone in the journey of life, all her faculties – with the exception of her eyesight, which is failing – are apparently as fresh and vigorous as ever. She often talks about the places she has visited and the friends she has not seen for years.
Mrs. Coad thinks nothing of travelling by train from Cornwall to London, a distance of 280 miles. Some who heard her preach thirty or forty years ago say that her voice in singing, praying, and speaking, does not appear to have altered one bit, and that she preaches with the same old unction and power. The following letter will show that she is ‘not out yet.’
Queen’s Park, W., Jan. 12, 1899.
DEAR MR. COAD.- Your mother paid us a visit at Kilburn the first Sunday in the year. Having heard of her age and good work our hopes were greatly excited, and I am glad to say that young and old were delighted with her sermons, and were much blessed every way. Our people talk of her as a wonderful old lady, and are hoping to have another visit from her at Kilburn Lane in the near future.
Mrs. Coad’s attendance at the Lord’s house is never affected by the state of the weather. An extra cloak and a sensible umbrella are her unfailing remedies for cold winds and wet days. She likes the old-fashioned style of meetings and hymns. She still sings with her old fervour –
‘Oh what has Jesus done for me?
He came from the land of Canaan.’
‘Come, saints and sinners, hear me tell
The wonders of Immanuel.
He saved me from a burning hell,
And brought my soul with Him to dwell,
And gave me heavenly union.‘
Mrs. Coad was well described not long since at Aldgate Station by a poor half-intoxicated man, who, in anything but a whisper, said – ‘She’s one of the old sort, she is,’ then advancing and taking hold of her hand, in a low and subdued tone of voice he said, ‘Ah! I used to have a mother who was just like you, but she’s been dead many years now,’ and so saying he bent his head and gently pressed the hand he was holding to his lips.
Having been a total abstainer all her days and an ardent worker in the Temperance cause, Mrs. Coad knows how to deal gently with those who have erred through strong drink, and often has won them over to sobriety and to Christ by her motherly kindness. But others beside the person just referred to have been struck by Mrs. Coad’s likeness to some departed relative. While sitting in a crowded meeting at Exeter Hall a few months ago, a note was sent down from the platform and handed to the female who accompanied Mrs. Coad. It read thus, ‘The lady who is sitting by you reminds me so much of my dear old Quaker grandmother.’ The note was written in pencil, and the writer was Mr. Reader Harris, Q.C., who with his wife, at the close of the meeting, came and shook her warmly by the hand.
The following is a copy of a framed address which Mrs. Coad’s own circuit presented to her some years ago:-
‘Primitive Methodist Connexion, St. Austell Circuit.
‘To Mrs. Coad, Bodmin. Dear Sister in the Lord.
‘We desire to testify our thankfulness to the God of grace and salvation, who having in early life called you to the fellowship of His Son, has enabled you for the long period of upwards of fifty years to render earnest acceptable service to His church. We assure you of our sincere love and respect for you, and of our prayer that in the decline of life you may find His grace sufficient, and in due season enter into the joy of thy Lord. On behalf of the circuit, John Skinner, Thomas Parker, Station Stewards.’
It has been observed by some one that the essence of home is in persons, not places. When, therefore, you have the presence and fellowship of those who are nearest and dearest to you, it is easy to be at home anywhere. But when the loved ones are gone, the fairest surroundings will not fill the void made by their absence. The heart then yearns for that which strangers cannot give, and the heart a sigh of memory looks back to the home and scenes of early days. Mrs. Coad would be more than human if now and again she did not in mind revert to the past, and say in the language of Auld Lang Syne, ‘Shall old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind;’ for of all those who were members of the St. Austell circuit when she first became a convert and preacher, not one is left. With Wesley she can truly say:—
‘My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee.’
Mrs. Coad was blessed with a devout, God-fearing husband. He died four years ago at the ripe age of 82. He had no disease, but his sun went gradually down, and ‘The weary wheels of life stood still at last.’ His last words were ‘Nearing the gates; yes, nearing the gates.’ They had been married 55 years. From the commencement they agreed that their house should be a ‘home’ for the servants of Jesus Christ; and among many others the celebrated Billy Bray was a frequent homely and welcome guest.’
Ursula was born to parents Benjamin and Ursula. There is a baptism record dated 23 February 1817 for an Ursula Sturtridge. This conflicts with the birth date given in the sketch above.
Ursula married Robert Coad (abt 1814-1894) on 3 September 1839 at Lanlivery, Cornwall. Robert worked as a tailor (1841 & 1851), but by 1861 was working as a rural postman. Census returns identify six children.
- Ursula Ann (abt1844-1908) – married Edward Matthews, a policeman, in 1872
- Amy Maria (1844-1907) – married James Coad Warne, a clerk, in 1869; married John Henry Bone, a stonemason, in 1875
- Frederick Charles (1846-1863) – a house servant (1861)
- James William (1847-1918) – a PM Minister
- Benjamin Sturtridge (1849-1886) – a police constable (1881)
- Mary Ellen (1855-1863)
Ursula died in late 1900 at Bodmin, Cornwall.
Christian Messenger 1899/76
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers