Farr, James of Brierley Court (1845-1923)
Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by “Mistonley” in the series “Some of our Stalwarts”
PRIMITIVE METHODISM owes much to the battles that have been so faithfully fought in our rural districts. It would be of interest to know how much of the power, zeal, and spiritual devotion of our great town and city churches is traceable to early days spent by their members in some countryside sanctuary, where Sunday after Sunday a mere handful of people met together; where true unselfishness was exercised “to keep things going”; where many had to suffer because of their steadfastness to their Christian principles.
Of such a sanctuary it has often been said that but for such and such a family the door could not have been kept open. Its members were a great standby to the feeble cause, and by fearlessness they inspired confidence in others. Such families we may reasonably claim as coming under the heading of “stalwarts.”
In Kendall’s “History of the Primitive Methodist Church,” the following reference is made to the Cwm Circuit:—“It is not a town or village, or even a hamlet, but only a small estate in the parish of Clodock in Herefordshire.” That is quite a commonplace paragraph; it apparently embodies very little. But let it be known that Mrs. Phillips, the owner of that estate, hospitably entertained Robert Davies and James Roles, who were itinerating in the district, and that through the agency of the mere handful of people in this little place a new circuit came into existence, which took its name from the estate where an open door was found. The son of the generous owner; was the Rev. Henry Phillips, who in 1878 became President of Conference.
The record reads almost like romance; yet there it stands as history. One is reminded of Hugh Bourne’s life; how that great statesman of the group of Primitive Methodist founders was himself the offspring of the farm and became a leader of men. In these our days when all political parties are apparently agreed on the policy of “back to the land,” it appears quite possible that the greatness of our future as a denomination may lie in our country churches.
When this simple start was made at Cwm the Connexion was not out of its teens, and it proved to be an effort of great importance to the denomination. As early as 1829 it had drawn into its influence William Farr, a young man seventeen years of age, who, with his sisters, was led to a decision through Robert Davies’s preaching. On account of the social standing of the family this may be said to have been a great accession of power. He became leader of the singing, an acceptable local preacher and class leader, notwithstanding that his ancestors for generations had belonged to the Established Church. By his marriage with a daughter of John Gwillim, of Sunny Bank, his hold on Methodism was strengthened. His father-in-law had given a chapel to the Wesleyan Methodists, who shortly through lack of support gave it up. The building was next offered to our Connexion, who not only accepted the gift, but carried on a work characterised by true Primitive Methodist enthusiasm. His wife’s grandfather was the popular Vicar of Clodock, whose church was crowded at morning service, and who, in the afternoon when the Methodists held services upon the village green, was one of their most attentive and sympathetic hearers.
In the course of years many children came to the home of William Farr. Some died early in life; those who attained manhood or womanhood joined the church of their parents. The son, James, aroused the interest of a travelling preacher, William Jones, whose eloquence, as Joseph Ritson says, “flashed and coruscated in brilliant periods.” Through his preaching James Farr was led to Christ, although the minister was not aware of this at the time. The fact remains, notwithstanding. His tender pleading with him as they walked across the fields after a Sunday evening service brought about the change. This was in 1863, and in that year the initials “J.F.” were put on the plan, and the following year he came on “full plan,” from which period dated a life of strenuousness for Christ and his Church, and of much labour in consolidating the work of the Connexion in the district, in which he was greatly encouraged by his mother.
We are all prepared to admit that it was Wesley’s labours in consolidation that made the church he founded so enduring. Some men have shone very luminously in the greater connexional deliberations, some in the less known work of the district. James Farr is a denominational statesman. He has helped in the growth of the church. His own Circuit grew, and in course of years was divided, one part retaining the name of Cwm Station, while the other became known as Kingstone Station. This readjustment left him on Kingstone Circuit. In the work of the original circuit and its daughters he laboured faithfully for eighteen years, for a considerable period being Circuit Steward.
In 1881 our “stalwart” took up residence at Brobury Court, which was on the Leominster and Weobley Circuit, and attended the Staunton-on-Wye Church. He was a man of good constitution in the prime of life, of local influence, an employer of labour, and all these advantages were whole-heartedly thrown into the work of the Church. He early deplored the condition of the children. It grieved him to see them about the roads on Sundays, no one seeming to care for them. In all that large parish not one Sunday School was in existence. He was told that attempts had been made but only to fail. “Never mind,” said the Alderman, “try again; then we can never be accused of being indifferent of the welfare of the children.’ His announcement that a school would be started was by no means startling; in form it was simply stated that the children, and grown-ups also, would be welcomed to a Bible reading every Sunday, and that for those who could not read the Bible suitable books would be provided—nothing more. There were soon twenty children on the register, and the number increased till nearly one hundred had entered. In one year the average attendance had crept to eighty-one. This means more than figures convey. Some had to travel on foot along roads the condition of which in certain seasons of the year would be very difficult to describe. There were the all fatiguing seasons of hay-seasons of hay-making, harvesting, and hop-picking, all of which influence the country churches immensely. But the Alderman was at his post and always left the impression upon the school that an ample reward had been obtained by meeting together. These scholars have since gone to various parts of the globe. Think of it! But for this effort these souls might have gone without Christ. To-day, if unable to be present, the old pupils, through a wonderful system, send messages by letter to the annual reunion of the scholars. Some return to preach “specials,” which are occasions of great joy.
So the work went on until about thirteen years ago Mr. Farr took up residence at Brierley Court, on the Leominster Circuit. His departure from Staunton-on-Wye was very keenly felt. His great activity and loyalty had proved his true worth; his sympathy and generosity had won the love of all. It was fortunate that so able a successor in the work at Staunton-on-Wye was found in the Circuit Steward, James Price.
Though retaining a lively interest jn the scene of his former labours, our friend’s devotion to his new Circuit has been constant and enthusiastic, and his counsels in business and Quarterly Meetings have been of inestimable value. It is refreshing to hear such men as William Jones, James Griffin, and James Watkin recount reminiscences of hours spent in his home. They will delight a crowded audience with beautiful human pictures of the Christian man whose thoughts and quiet meditations have been for the good of others and the strengthening of the Connexion. William Jones, in particular, will almost melt an audience with glimpses of early days with James Farr as a young man under the trees on his parents’ farm struggling to work out his resolve to serve God and the Church.
It is no small thing when a man in the position of Alderman Farr studiously encourages those who have been, or are, about to go out in the work for Christ, and happily this is his great delight. The sight of children in the sanctuary revives his spirits; his word of cheer to those in the vineyard is a power indeed.
Having been born so far back as March 6th, 1845, and having led an energetic life, it is not to be expected that the same duties can be entered upon as formerly. In addition to Circuit toils, he has repeatedly been delegate to District Meeting, and, as already implied, has done much work on District Committees. Four times he has been delegate to Conference: Liverpool, Norwich, Scarborough, and Bradford. He has on every occasion added weight and effectiveness to the assembly.
James Farr has been honoured by his brethren. At District Meeting he is invariably either the Chairman or Layman’s Representative at the public meeting. In 1899 he was the appointed speaker at the annual missionary gathering, held in the City Temple. He filled the position with distinction.
For the rest, our brother is a Justice of the Peace for the County: on the nomination of a Conservative Lord Lieutenant. He has been an Alderman of the Herefordshire County Council ever since the inception of County Councils twenty-four years ago. This position has entailed work on many important committees. In his capacity as a member of the Small Holdings Committee, he had, with others, to receive Mr. Runciman, when touring to inspect small holdings. A photographer, with a keen eye to business, followed the group of distinguished people and eventually prevailed upon them to pose at the door of the house of a small holder. The Minister for Agriculture was in the centre, on one side the Alderman and Capt. Clive, M.P., and on the other side various members of the Committee. What an unexpected “scoop”! The photographer rushed back to develop his treasure when, to his dismay, he found a blank. He had forgotten to pull out the shutter!
The present Government appointed Alderman Farr a Land Tax Commissioner. He is a life Governor of Jarvis’s Charity, which administers a large income in education and alimony. Through his proposal the Governors now distribute one hundred tons of coal to poor people. At the age of twenty-two he became a Poor Law Guardian, also a Way Warden. He has held those positions for many years
for the Unions of Abbey Dore, Hereford, and Weobley to the satisfaction of the ratepayers and in the real interests of the poor.
As to national questions, Mr. Farr is a staunch Liberal, and occupies the chairmanship of the North Herefordshire Liberal Association. He was approached with a view to Parliamentary candidature, but to the regret of his party felt obliged to decline the honour. During one campaign a determined effort was made to howl down the Liberal candidate at a great meeting in Leominster Corn Exchange. Of this meeting Alderman Farr was chairman. On his right were the Earl of Aberdeen and the candidate, on his left the Earl of Chesterfield. The rowdyism was rampant. The Alderman’s first words were an appeal to his fellow countrymen. He got a fair hearing, but the other speakers were very badly interrupted.
Our good friend has been twice married; first to a daughter of Mr. Robert Gwillim, of Llanthony Court, Mon., and second to a daughter of Mr. William Farr, of Sycamore, Dorstone. In both unions he has had great help in his work. He has had his sorrows, and a little while ago sustained a heavy loss by the sudden death of his eldest son. His second son is a useful member on our Sandbach Circuit, taking an active part in Church and School work in the Wheelock Society. The third son is a farmer of some standing in the locality. All his daughters are accomplished ladies. One has for years headed a list of missionary collectors, besides conducting a Bible Class at “The Court” for the young people belonging to the employees on the farm, as well as those living in the village.
The Alderman and his family are regular attenders at our Leominster Church. It is a familiar sight to see them driving in on Lord’s Day. Their support to our cause, financial and otherwise, is very substantial As chairman at special gatherings the father is in constant request over a wide area. As a preacher for anniversaries he has travelled much in the South Wales and West Midland Districts. As host and hostess the Alderman and Mrs. Farr are ideal, and in this capacity are frequently called upon. Their cheery optimism is healthy; their love for Primitive Methodism is immense.
James was born on 6 March 1845 at Clodock, Herefordshire, to parents William Farr, a farmer of 170 acres (1851), and Mary Gwillim.
Census returns identify the following occupations for James.
- 1861 pupil
- 1871 farmer of 385 acres
- 1881 farmer of 420 acres employing 6 men and 2 boys
- 1891 farmer
- 1901 farmer
- 1911 farmer
He married Mary Gwillim (1841-1891) in the spring of 1866 in the Abergavenny Registration District, Monmouthshire. Census returns identify nine children.
- Eliza (1867-1940) – domestic housekeeping on farm (1911)
- Albert William (b1868) – a farmer (1901)
- Alfred James (1869-1920) – a railway station master (1911)
- Robert Wallace (1871-1944) – a farmer (1911)
- Clara Mary (1873-1948)
- Edith Lizzie (1875-1897)
- Annie Lilwall (1876-1950) – married Henry Lawson Houston, a foreman fitter (ship repairs) (1911), in 1907
- Alice (1878-1958) – a governess (1911)
- Elsie Kate (1881-1887)
He married Margaret (1853-1941) in the spring of 1894 in the Hereford Registration District, Herefordshire. Census returns identify one child.
- Florence Catherine (1895-1977)
James died on 8 March 1923 at Leominster, Herefordshire.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1913/280
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers