Tristram, James (1809-1900)
Another Veteran Local preacher
Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger by W.J.T. (probably William John Tristram)
The question of priority among our local preachers is certainly one of interest and one which we think the subject of this sketch will help to settle. We are inclined to think that he holds the palm. If that is not so, however, we shall be glad to be made acquainted with his senior.
James Tristram was born in the picturesque town of Ludlow on November 27th, 1809, being thus now in his 90th year. He comes of a long-lived race; his father living to be either 95 or 96. There is some doubt as to which is the correct number. He was noted for his great walking powers. James had for his day an exceptionally good education, attending the National school until he was thirteen years of age. Glove-making was then the trade of the town, so to it young Tristram was put, working from 6 a.m. up to 8 or 9 p.m. for the sum of 1s. 6d. per week. He did not remain at it long, becoming a mason and general builder, at which trade he remained until working days had to give way to comparative rest.
We learn from him that Primitive Methodism was introduced into Ludlow by the Darlington people. The missioners held their first services in Old-street, in which street the chapel now stands. One after another of the cottagers opened their houses for the services until one home became recognised as the meeting-house. This home was that of a married sister of James Tristram. Here the first Primitive Methodist church in the town was formed. As a lad Tristram took a great delight in the services, being especially attracted by the lively singing.
One of the first members, a Mrs. Russell, took a great interest in him and would have the preachers notice and speak encouragingly to him. This deepened his interest in the services and resulted in his conversion. He would be now about fifteen years of age and at once joined the church. Of necessity he knew all the preachers intimately who came to the town, and cherishes his remembrance of them with delight to this day. They made deep impressions upon his youthful mind for good. He tells us that in those early days of our Connexion, the preachers did not stay longer than six months in a place. Those of his earliest remembrance are William Towler, Joseph Preston, Thomas Morgan, Richard Jukes, William Sanders, with others. Reminiscences of those days are refreshing to us.
Thomas Morgan, he says, at the commencement of his ministry, was, in his outward appearance, one of the roughest men to be seen. In his preaching, also, he could not tell a tale in a straightforward manner. However, his whole soul was in the work, and the progress he made was most rapid. , He was a man of wonderful faith and power.
He tells us about being at a camp-meeting on a small common at Connop, in the Presteign circuit, attended by Towler and Jukes. The attendance at the morning service was fairly good, but the power was marvellous. The praying company going out from the waggon at the appointed time experienced such a wave of holy power that souls were bowed down to the ground under it. In fact, so rich was the power that the leaders of the meeting thought at advisable for part to go to dinner and part to remain until their return so that the meeting should not be broken up. Jukes, standing up in the waggon, shouted, ‘You who can’t stand fire must run.’
The lovefeast was held in a large barn. Again the Holy Ghost made Himself manifest unto the people, so much so, that some fell to the ground as though they had been shot. One man, in bitter distress, hit the ground so vigorously with his fist that Tristram thought he would surely kill himself. Towler kept close to him, helping him in the fight, until the man shouted, ‘The devil’s gone, the devil’s gone!’
On another occasion, Towler was conducting a camp-meeting at Clunbury Common, then in the Ludlow circuit, now in the Leintwardine circuit.
The meetings were held on the side of common. Some roughs, for the purpose of interrupting the worshippers, got to the top of the hill and commenced to roll stones down upon the people. Whilst at prayer a big stone was seen to be coming with great force straight for a woman upon her knees. Towler, seeing it, shouted, ‘don’t stir friends, none of you will be hurt.’ At that moment the dreaded stone caught against something and leaped right over the woman, harming no one. The lovefeast was held in a large farmhouse kitchen, and was crowded. The Divine influence laid hold of a man sitting near the fireplace, and he cried, jumping on to his feet, ‘Pray for me, Pray for me.’ ‘I want my sins forgiven.’ All over the kitchen the people started to cry for mercy.
For many years Leominster was in the Ludlow Circuit, and after Mr. Tristram commenced to preach he walked to and from Leominster twice a quarter for many years. But we are anticipating.
Leominster lies rather low; just about the town and after heavy rains it is quite inundated with water. Our subject tells us that he remembers William Sanders being planned at Leominster on one occasion, but prevented from reaching the town, as the water was all out.
Drawing as near to the town as he could, he broke forth:
‘Leorninster may be dimly seen,
But the water lies between.
Lord, Thou dost the reason know
Why I would to Leominster go.
I am going there to preach,
And the place I fain would reach.’
Mr. Tristram cannot remember any more, and we are not able to call it up for you.
The preachers made their home at his mother’s house, and he had the privilege of sharing his bed with them. He received a note authorising him to speak and take appointments from Joseph Preston when about 17 years old.
His first appointment was at Seifton, or Golden Plackit, as it was commonly called, about six miles from Ludlow. It was harvest time, but there had been a great deal of rain. So much so that the hay was not gathered in. The journey lay for some distance through fields. When he arrived he says that he was as wet as though he had been dragged through a river.
At the first house he came to, he asked if they could tell him the cottage where the Primitives held their services. The question stunned the folk; they knew no such people as Primitives. ‘Could they tell him, then, where the Ranters met?’ At once he got the information he desired. Looking, however, through the doorway of the house where he made his inquiries, he saw a good big fire and asked the woman to let him stand and dry himself before it, offering her all the money in his pocket. She had more wisdom than the lad, so made him strip before the fire and put on some of her husband’s clothes, his own being put to dry. On account of the rain the people could not get to service. In the evening he was planned three miles further, at Sutton Hill. Here the cottage was full of people, and a gracious sense of the Divine Presence was felt. He thinks his first text was John iii. 16. The rain had taken such effect upon him that he could hardly stand whilst preaching, being compelled to sit during the other parts of the service. To his consternation he had to remain in the village all night. His parents were quite alarmed, fearing perhaps that he was drowned. It was a great relief to them to see him safe home next day.
He made such rapid progress that in a short time his circuit engaged him as a hired local preacher, stationing him at Much Wenlock.
This period of his early life is full of stirring incidents, and was a time of much labour for the Lord. One incident he relates is, that being planned at Brookhampton one Christmas Eve, and noticing a number of other local preachers in the service, he proposed that they held a Watch Night service. This was agreed to. A good work had been going on there for some time, people falling down under the Word. One man of the neighbourhood was, however, very sceptical about the falling down incidents, and said that he would go and see for himself, and that if he saw anyone fall down whilst he was there, he would ‘fetch them up.’ He attended the Christmas Eve meeting. Several brethren had spoken, then Tristram got up to speak. Whilst speaking a remarkable power came down upon the company, laying hold of the sceptic with others, so much so that, jumping to his feet, he cried: ‘Pray for me, Pray for me.’ A severe conflict with the powers of darkness ensued, filling the man with such distress that he is said to have literally ‘roared’ out his plea for mercy. When mercy came and he was released, his joy was unbounded; he shouted: ‘I feel as if I were in heaven; Lord bless the Ranters.’
Not far from the same place was Holdgate Hall, occupied at this time by a family named Cox. Miss Cox, with two of her cousins, daughters of a farmer of the vicinity, attended some of the meetings, much against her parents’ will. One night, when Tristram was preaching, she was so laid hold of by the Spirit that she commenced to weep bitterly. Her cousins could not understand it, and angrily asked her, ‘Ann. Ann. whatever is the matter?’ For six weeks she was under conviction of sin. Attending another service during this period, her father came down to the cottage with a stick in his hand, calling out as he got to the door, ‘Ann, come home.’ She left the meeting. A local preacher present, afraid lest her father, in his rage, should ill-treat her, followed them. Mr. Cox, observing the man following, asked what it meant. Upon the brother pleading with the father to be kind to his daughter, he was knocked to the ground. Then as he knelt upon the ground in prayer, Mr. Cox was so angry that he said: ‘I will shoot Tristram.’ The night of Miss Cox’s conversion Tristram was preaching some four miles away. Upon retiring to rest he became suddenly assured that Miss Cox was converted He could not sleep for joy. Going as early as possible to Brookhampton next day, and meeting the local preacher before mentioned, he greeted him with the salute, ‘Miss Cox is converted?’ ‘Yes,’ replied his friend, ‘she was converted last night.’ Prior to her conversion she was proud and haughty. Afterwards she was just as humble and beloved by all.
At Much Wenlock, where our subject lived during the time he acted as hired local preacher, many blessed times were realised. One Sunday evening a woman, going home from the service, began ridiculing some of her neighbours for falling down upon the ground during the service, saying she wouldn’t fall down. The very next Sunday night, being present, the Divine Spirit took hold of her, and down she dropped. Up she jumped. Down again. Up once more. Down again, yielding herself this time to the strivings of the Spirit, and crying aloud for salvation. This was a confirmation, if any were needed, to the public, that there was something real associated with these strange demonstrations of power.
Whilst at Much Wenlock Mr. Tristram missioned Little Wenlock, Madeley, Iron Bridge, and many other places around. At the age of twenty-seven he married Miss Jane Russell, daughter of the leading Primitive Methodist in Ludlow at that time. The first P.M. chapel in Ludlow was erected in 1835, towards which Jane Russell contributed the first pound, and James Tristram the second pound. These were days of much labour for the Lord’s servants, local preachers taking as many as twelve and thirteen full Sundays every quarter. Tristram had his full share in the work, and was greatly honoured by seeing many converted. His son, the Rev. John Tristram, says that he has sat up with his mother many a time waiting for his father to return home from camp meetings, he coming home not once but often as the day was breaking. Then, to bed tor two or three hours, then up to the daily work.
In the early forties he became acquainted with Miss Jane Child, afterwards the honoured and beloved wife of James Knott, a man whose name is held in the highest respect for his works’ sake throughout this Hereford County. Miss Child resided at Bury House, Wigmore, but often went to visit a sister in the neighbourhood of Ludlow, attending our Ludlow chapel whenever possible. Her parents, however, objected. They said: ‘They would not permit her to join such a set of hypocrites as the Methodists.’ Becoming aware of this, our subject invited her to go and see him at his house any time, and to write to him. Through the conversations so brought about she was led to trust in Christ for salvation. A regular correspondence between the two was kept up, and most beautiful were the letters which she wrote to him, whom she ever regarded as her spiritual father.
In a letter written Dec. 8th, 1843, she says: ‘With delight I take up my pen to communicate to my dear friend, and shall I say father in Christ Jesus, the goodness of the Lord to me since we parted. Blessed Jesus! I find Him still precious to my soul, but oh, what poor returns I make for such unmerited love, to me the vilest of the vile. When I take a survey of my past life, I am lost in wonder at His long-suffering patience to such a daring rebel. I have enjoyed sweet seasons of prayer, and His word is sweeter to me than the honey or the honeycomb. I feel that I enjoy the light of His countenance all the day long. Thank God, I feel very covetous, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. I want more of the living water in my soul. Jesus has invited me to go and drink, and so I will, that my soul may be refreshed. . . .’
Throughout his long life, Mr. Tristram has been deeply interested in the development of the Connexion. Though working hard and faithfully in his own circuit, he has always had a connexional outlook, being ready to do all in his power to serve its every interest. Many times has he represented his circuit in District Meetings. And prior to becoming a Deed Poll member of the Conference, represented his District once in that Assembly.
His thorough devotion to the Church he loves is seen in the fact that his four sons are all preachers, two of them among the travelling preachers and two among the great army of lay preachers. Of his thirty-six grandchildren very many are members, whilst one is in the ministry. No doubt others of them will be as the years go by. He has great-grandchildren to the number of nearly a dozen.
We have hinted at the fact that he was a Deed Poll member of the Conference. The Derby Conference of 1886 appointed him to that responsible position. He attended to its duties as regularly as health would permit. And when nearly four years ago he was compelled to resign that position, on account of increasing infirmities, he did so with great reluctance. The Burnley Conference of 1896 receiving his resignation, duly placed on record its high appreciation of his character and services, and forwarded to him a letter which he so highly values that it stands upon the wall of his room in a neat gilt frame. The letter is as follows:
Primitive Methodist Connexion. – Burnley Conference 1896.
Burnley, June 12th, 1896..
To Mr. J. Tristram.
Dear Brother.- I am desired by the Conference to forward you the following minute.— That the Conference deeply regrets that increasing years and infirmities necessitate Bro. James Tristram’s resignation as a permanent member of the Conference, and that a letter be sent to him expressing our high appreciation of his personal character and of the long and valuable services which he has rendered to the Connexion, and prays that the presence of God may be realised by him in his declining years.
In behalf and by order of the Conference.
I am, my dear brother, yours very truly,
The last time he preached was about two years ago in Sandpits chapel, Ludlow. He preached with such unction and grace that the friends said they had never heard him do so well. Thus commencing to preach when between 16 and 17 years of age, and preaching up to two years ago, we see that he has been a preacher for upwards of 71 or 72 years. He is also a class leader and trustee of Old Street chapel.
Physical infirmities are creeping over him more and more, yet he attends all the services that he possibly can, and is deeply concerned for a revival of piety and grace and Holy Ghost power in the church with which he has been throughout life connected. His outlook for the Connexion is bright and hopeful. No better news can be carried to him than that sinners are being converted. It is one of the joys of life to have a letter from him. They are Apostolic benedictions. May he continue with us a little while longer to stimulate us by prayers and faith and love to greater diligence and earnestness in the cause of our Great Redeemer and Saviour.
The photograph, which is as correct as one could possibly be, and which thus gives us every satisfaction, is by T. Jones, Son and Harper, Broad Street, Ludlow.
James was baptised on 30 November 1809 at Ludlow, Shropshire. His parents were John, a labourer, and Elizabeth.
James married Jane Russell (1815-1889) on 15 May 1837 at Ludlow, Shropshire. Census returns identify seven children.
- John (1838-1911) – a PM Minister
- Sarah (1840-1849)
- James (1842-1928) – a PM Minister
- William (1845-1924) – a mason/bricklayer
- Elizabeth (1848-1874) – married Richard Woosnam Howells in 1873
- Thomas (1851-1924) – a bricklayer
- Mary (1853-1921) – married William Thomas Dovey, a railway platelayer (1901), in 1884
James died on 5 January 1900, and was buried on 9 January 1900 at Ludlow, Shropshire.
Christian Messenger 1899/137
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/946
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers