Holmes, Jonathan (John) (1824-1904)
Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger by Albert Walliker
I called on him not long ago to select a few facts for this sketch, and found him in bed, where, for the last six years, owing to serious illness and growing physical infirmities, he has been forced to spend a very great deal of his time. “I must deal gently with him to-day,” I thought, so did not tax him in the least; and the result is, I am able to send only a tithe of the information I had hoped to forward.
Mr. J. Holmes is one of our Connexional landmarks, so to speak, for he has seen, “heard,” and conversed with Hugh Bourne. One incident, especially, he delights to tell of his relations with “Hugh.” Mr. Bourne had been preaching at Sutton in Lincolnshire, and Mr. Holmes was bidding him good bye, after walking some distance with him on his return journey, when Bourne laid his hand upon the shoulder of Mr. Holmes and said, “Be a good lad and live near to God.” “I have never forgotten it,” said our friend.
For 55 years Mr. Holmes has been a member of our church. He would readily admit that you could find a better man, but that he was second to any in his loyalty to Primitive Methodism he would never concede, nor would any of those who know him best. Verily life to Mr. Holmes is Christ and Primitive Methodism.
John Holmes was born in the little village of Guyhirn, Cambridgeshire, on April 13th, 1824. His father was a farmer, and early the services of our friend were needed in the work of the farm. He worked for his father until he left home at the age of 22. “I left home,” he says, “in order to shun old companions and the evil associations of the village public-house.” In other words he had become a teetotaler, and felt, that for him to remain and resist temptation to drink would be impossible. The reason he signed the pledge is an interesting one. He was returning home “late one night from the public-house as best he could (for he had tarried too long at the cup and had drunk too deeply of its contents to walk well), thinking seriously on his conduct as he made his way down an old lane,” “when suddenly” he says, “I was struck stiff and could not move hand or foot until I had promised the Lord never to take drink again.” From that night until now he has kept his vow, and the cause of total abstinence never had a truer son. For 55 years he has been a total abstainer, and for over 50 years a non-smoker. Drink and tobacco he hates with a perfect hatred.
When he left Guyhirn, he went to live at Sutton in Lincolnshire, finding work there as an ordinary farm labourer. It was during the early part of his residence in Sutton that the great change, so aptly described as conversion, took place in his life. It was Sunday evening, and having given up the public-house as a place of meeting, he had “nowhere to go,” and he decided to go to the Primitive Methodist Chapel. The Rev. John Bunn was the preacher on that occasion, and under the exposition of the Word, the young man Holmes was convicted of sin and of his need of Divine forgiveness, with the result that, in the after meeting, at the invitation of the preacher, he went up to the “penitent form.” Mr. Bunn had asked whether there were any in that meeting “who wanted salvation,” and in response, Mr. Holmes rose to his feet and went: out to the front. “Well, and what do you want young man? ” said the preacher. “I want salvation,” said our friend. “You can soon have that” was the characteristic reply, and so the young man found to his unspeakable joy. When he “got through,” he says, “ I testified there and then to the fact.” He began to preach as soon as he was converted, and few have been more devoted to the work of preaching than he, and there can be no doubt that the church of his choice is greatly indebted to the labours of this man.
In 1852, Mr. Holmes removed from Sutton to Redhill, Surrey, where he undertook the management of a farm, and while here he was the means under God of introducing Primitive Methodism into the town. After entering into his duties as farm bailiff, he learned on enquiry, that neither at Redhill nor at Reigate (a village about two miles distant) were there any “of the Primitive or Wesleyan persuasion.” He therefore decided to apply to the Croydon Mission for help to mission Redhill. He asked that Croydon should find a place to preach in and send a regular supply of preachers. The application was refused, the reply being to the effect that he must open out himself. He returned from Croydon Quarterly Meeting “somewhat disappointed but not discouraged.” In a few days he rented a cottage which he opened for public worship, and on Sunday afternoon, November 7th, 1852, the first public service was held, conducted by our friend, who took for his text Acts. Xiii., 26., “To you is the word of this salvation sent.” Thirteen persons were present at this first service. In the evening both rooms were filled and five joined our brother and his wife in society. The news of these first Sunday services spread rapidly throughout the district, and many enquiries were made as to the sect to whom Mr. and Mrs. Holmes belonged. The Rev. M. Puddycomb (Wesleyan), who was that time stationed at Dorking, called on Mr. Holmes, and enquired of him to what branch of the Methodist family he and his friends belonged. The reply he received was “We are Primitive Methodists.” Mr. Puddycomb promised our friend that if he and his fellow-members would join the Wesleyan Church, they should be well looked after, but this, of course, was out of the question. The new “society and the congregation” increased so rapidly that larger accommodation had to be provided, and a school was taken, but only for Sunday, services; the Sunday school and the class meeting were still held in the cottage. Further additions to the membership necessitated, it was thought, the stationing of a missionary at Redhill. Application was in due time made to the Missionary Committee for a “young man,” and the committee sent in response the Rev. John Hunt.
The church at Redhill continued to prosper, and several villages round about were successfully missioned, and societies established therein.
With a preacher on the ground, and a flourishing cause, it was thought that the time had come to build. An effort was therefore made to get land, and, after several unsuccessful attempts, a piece was secured by purchase and a chapel was built upon it in 1855. The stones were laid on April the 9th, and as Mr. Holt, one of the members in society, was the builder, the work was pushed on with all speed, so that the chapel was opened in the following May. The Rev. James Bywater (Note: This was probably John Bywater whilst he was Secretary of the General Mission Commitee) preached the opening sermons. But when Mr. G. Holding, the owner of the school room in which the “members and congregation” of the Redhill society worshipped, knew the ground had been purchased with a “view to build” he gave Mr. Holmes notice to quit the school. Then he opened his school for preachers, in the hope it seems, of securing the greater portion of the congregation which had previously worshiped there; but in this he did not succeed. Then came notice to leave the cottage, where, as we have seen, Sunday school and class meetings were held. What was to be done? Was the society to take to the fields? No. Mr. Robinson, a member of the infant church, threw open his large house, and until the chapel was built, all the services were held there.
Mission work was begun in the following year at Outward and Horley. At Horley the villagers congregated on Sunday evenings to watch the excursion trains return from Brighton. Here Mr. Holmes and his friends took their stand, and often preached, he says, to 500 people. In the autumn of 1858 Mr. and Mrs. Finch of Horley sought an interview with Mr. Holmes respecting a place to preach in, and on condition that our friend would promise to provide a regular supply of preachers, they offered him, free of charge the use of their large and commodious kitchen (which would seat 150 persons) to preach in. Ultimately a chapel was built there.
In 1861, Mr. Holmes removed from Redhill and went to reside at Croydon. Space forbids me to speak of his work at Croydon, and I can only in a few words refer to his life and work in Buxton. For more than 20 years our friend has been intimately associated with the Buxton Circuit as a member and a local preacher, and no one has served more faithfully the interests of Christ and Primitive Methodism in our midst. Regular in his attendance upon the means of grace, deeply and actively interested in the business affairs of the Circuit, reliable as a preacher, both in the taking, and in the ability with which he discharged the duties of the office, he was missed when failing health necessitated his withdrawal from the more active service of our station.
Mr. Holmes has been favoured above many as regards his domestic relations. He has a wife whose life has been a devotion to his happiness, and a family of five sons, three of whom are members of our church, and none of whom has ever given his parents one moment’s anxiety in respect to his moral conduct, in fact the home life of our brother must have been one of happiness, peace, and true affection on all sides.
As a friend, Mr. Holmes is “faithful and true”; as a citizen, intelligent and patriotic, in character manly, self-reliant, honourable, generous, courageous, hopeful and pure. His most cherished book is the Bible, which he calls “ My Oxford,” his favourite theological author, the late Dr. Dale, of whom he speaks in highest terms when ever opportunity occurs, his chief heroes are, in politics, John Bright and W.E. Gladstone, in temperance J.B. Gough and Sir W. Lawson. As may be inferred from the above, our friend has taken a leading part in the causes of Noncomformity, politics, and total abstinence, and has done so without fear of persecution and sometimes at considerable financial sacrifice. But then, Mr. Holmes is not among those of whom Russell Lowell has said,
“ They are slaves who dare not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truths they needs must think
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.”
Nothing would give him greater joy than to be able to work, as in earlier days, for holy causes, and in particular, for the Church and Circuit he has loved so truly and served so well. But those earlier days have gone, and with them the strength so generously given. Our friend’s ministries to-day are those of prayer, of suffering, and of waiting. Most valuable ministries indeed! No one knows, save God, how much we owe, as individuals and Circuits to such suffering, supplicating, submissive lives. Mr. Holmes has reached the eventide or life. The sun of his “day” will soon have set, and we trust that when it “goes down” it will be in great glory, not to disappear for ever but to rise again where the light will be clearer and the day of service will never wane.
John was baptised Jonathan Holmes on 25 April 1824. His parents were John and Susannah.
John worked as a tailor.
John married Caroline Skelton (abt1831-1915) in late 1852 at Lutton, Lincolnshire. Census returns identify five children.
- Marriot Preston (1853-1938) – an accountant (1891)
- Albert Isaiah (1855-1924) – a boot and shoemaker
- Charles Henry (1857-1913) – a tailor
- Arthur Edmund (abt1861-1935) – a clothing manufacturer (1911)
- Frederick Algernon (abt1871-1947) – a merchant tailor (1911)
John died on 29 February 1924 at Buxton, Derbyshire.
Christian Messenger 1903/267
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers