Smith, Edwin Wells (1859-1947) of Sheffield
Transcription of article in the series “Some of our Stalwarts” by Kenneth Woodfleet
EMERSON says that “when some men enter a room they raise the atmosphere of it.” Edwin Wells Smith is one of these men. He carries about the wondrous charm of a gracious personality. It is easy to feel at home in his presence. He combines affability, and unfailing courtesy, with strength of character in an unusual degree.
He comes of a sturdy Nonconformist stock. He is a Primitive Methodist of the third generation. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a notable man in his day. Esau Wells, of Rawcliffe Bridge, Swinefleet Circuit, was widely known and greatly esteemed. Had the subject of this sketch been allowed the privilege which that genial humorist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, pleads should be accorded to every child, namely, of being allowed to choose his own parents, he could not have chosen more wisely than Providence chose for him. Among the early stalwarts of that famous old church, Petre Street, Sheffield, were the father and mother of Edwin Wells Smith. Perhaps it would have been difficult in those days to find a church which was more typical of the best elements of Primitive Methodism than Petre Street. Its glow and fervour, its daring and heroic spirit of aggression, its power to attract the man-in-the-street, and its genius for developing character were all exemplified. It could boast that it made men and grew saints. Then Mr. and Mrs. Smith removed across the city and became associated with John Street, another Church whose record is on high. Here Mrs. Smith found a congenial and most successful sphere of service as teacher and leader of the Young Women’s Class. Her sanity of judgment, the saintliness of character inspired all with whom she was brought into contact, and not the least of the many forces that helped to make John Street a power in the city, and the Connexion, was the quiet but effective service of this godly woman.
Her son has come into a rich inheritance of high qualities from both father and mother. Tennyson might have had some such case in his mind when he wrote :-—
“Happy he with such a mother.”
Edwin soon came under the charm of the Cross, and very quickly was busy with various offices connected with the Sunday School, Band of Hope and Institute, and he has never tired. He has a genius for the sacrifice of service. He has never asked anything else from the Church but the privilege to serve. The glamour of office never attracts him. He has never sought the honours of high position, though sometimes they have come his way. He. finds his pleasure in doing the work and his satisfaction in the fact that he is toiling. Perhaps his most outstanding characteristic is a quiet effectiveness. Anything he undertakes to do is done. He never shirks his duty. Without ostentation he meets every demand on his service with a smile and never seeks the easy post.
When “Abbeydale” was built he was one of its first officials. For eighteen years he has filled the office of society steward in that important church, and we should be surprised to learn that, notwithstanding the exacting nature of his duties as a chemist, he has ever been late or failed to perform any single duty pertaining to the post. He is also a class leader, and more than once we have shared the profit of the wise counsels and have counted it no mean privilege to do so. Through all the activities of the Church his influence permeates like a gracious aroma. He is supremely tactful, and is specially helpful in critical situations and in cases needing delicate handling.
Having the wider outlook which comes from culture, he possesses, also, the denominational passion. To him Primitive Methodism is, first and foremost, an instrument for bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He never loses the larger view in the smaller, his perspective is right. He can always be relied on to give a balanced judgment.
The circuit has honoured Mr. Smith in electing him as delegate to the District Meeting ; his District, by sending him to the Conference; and Sheffield Primitive Methodism by making him the Lay Secretary of its Council. He is a good speaker, quiet but informing, and always well worth listening to. His modesty has kept him in the background. Many with fewer and smaller gifts have figured in the foremost places in the denomination. Then, our brother is a real friend of the ministry, always ready with a kindly word of encouragement, with a quick and intelligent appreciation of the best. Few men have spoken more encouraging words and fewer still have spoken less in the way of detraction.
He is, withal, a liberal supporter of the Church and its institutions. A convert to the system of proportionate giving, he has consistently followed it up, and finds his greatest joy in helping every good cause. He is never happier than when exercising the gift of hospitality, in which he is splendidly assisted by his wife. Mrs. Smith is the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Capewell, who rendered yeoman service for many years to Sheffield Primitive Methodism, and especially to Bethel. She is a woman of capable gifts and great organising ability. She has for many years been actively associated with the mothers’ meetings at Abbeydale, and has rendered magnificent service as the secretary of the Sheffield Women’s Missionary Auxiliary. Abbeydale has been singularly fortunate not only in the men who have directed its affairs, but also in the women who have worked in its interests with an untiring devotion, and amongst these “holy women” Mrs. Smith takes an honoured place.
Edwin Wells Smith is a supreme example of the supremacy of Christian character. What he is stands for more than what he does. His days have been comparatively smooth and uneventful, yet there has run through them all that which makes life of supreme value to the world —a fine consistency. He is a student of men as well as of books. Nature amongst her other gifts, has bestowed upon him the saving sense of humour. He can hit off a situation in a sententious phrase, or a witty sentence, better than most men.
Above all he lives in the breezy uplands of an exuberant Christian optimism. His faith burns with the clear light of a quenchless star; and he has ever on his lips a word of cheer and help for his comrades. He is always on the side of the angels. Believing that “God’s in His heaven, and all’s right with the world,” he toils on with his eye on the big tomorrow, when all wrong things shall be righted and out of the heart of all things evil God shall bring beauty, and joy, and peace.
Edwin was born in the summer of 1859 at Sheffield, Yorkshire, to parents William Bramley Smith, a steelworks foreman (1881), and Martha Wells.
Census returns identify the following occupations for Edwin.
- 1881 chemist’s assistant
- 1891 chemist & druggist (registered)
- 1901 shopkeeper – chemist & druggist
- 1911 chemist dealer
- 1921 chemist (retired)
He married Jane Elizabeth Capewell (1861-1941) in the spring of 1890 at Sheffield, Yorkshire.
Edwin died on 21 November 1947 at Bridlington, Yorkshire.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1914/471
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers