Waters, Henry James (1847-1938) of Norwich

Transcription of article in the series “Some of our Stalwarts” by Onlooker

We have good authority for praising famous men. When fame is based on worth to do so becomes more than a formality; it is then a work of righteousness. Sometimes from a modesty that does not intend to be false, but which comes very near to being so, we have hesitated to praise overmuch those who are worthy until they have passed to the great beyond. How good and pleasant it would be if peevish criticism and jealous rancour were so successfully repressed! It is a good thing when we can reverence our leaders, and a better thing when without fulsome flattery we can let them know something of our reverence.

For there are those in our Church who are honoured in their generation, and who are the glory of their times. And we do well to make the most of them. In a portrait gallery of such stalwarts Henry James Waters should occupy an honourable place. To him it has been given to play a quietly dominant part in the formation of two circuits; one in pastoral Norfolk, the other in the city of Norwich. In both spheres he has rendered conspicuous service. Of strong convictions, possessed of good intelligence, a man of rare generosity and unshamed integrity, he has been a great worker for our Cause.

To trace the connection of Mr. Waters with Primitive Methodism we must go back to the time when the Acle Station was still a part of the Great Yarmouth Circuit. Our friend has dim recollections of the cottage in which the first Primitive Methodist services were held at Freethorpe, a cottage his maternal grandfather allowed a people then much spoken against to occupy. Then his uncle, William Waters, built a chapel for the society. When, a short time afterwards, the land upon which this building stood was wanted by the squire another chapel and a school were built by the same enterprising soul. This second temple afterwards became Connexional property. In this school Henry James Waters received his elementary education, for, when the authorities of the “National School” determined that those who did not attend the Church Sunday School should not have the privilege of mastering the rudiments of knowledge under their roof, then these village Primitive Methodists opened a day-school themselves. It was, no doubt, a small attempt; but things not generally taught in elementary schools were burned into the brain and heart and conscience of those attending its sessions. At the present day Freethorpe has a Primitive Methodist church with seating capacity sufficient to accommodate the whole population of the village. It is needed, too. It has its School, Institute, and burial ground; while the whole Freethorpe Estate is owned by a Primitive Methodist.

In the days when the policy of separation from the Yarmouth Circuit was being agitated Mr. Waters, now a leader of the people, was one of the pioneers of independence. His judgment carried the day against the native conservatism of his contemporaries. Acle Circuit has amply justified its existence.

While resident in the country and holding business interests only in Norwich, Mr. Waters became interested in the new development at Thorpe, a suburb of that city. It is easy now to envy those who shared the burden and heat of the day in connection with this venture. Those early days were, however, days of sacrifice, when brave hearts were sorely tried by half-hearted support and even opposition. That Scott Memorial Church is to-day one of the most heartening successes of Primitive

Methodism, is largely due to Mr. Waters. He has been treasurer of the trust from the beginning. Under God his wise leadership resulting from level-headed planning, has brought the cause through some tight places—brought it, indeed, from Genesis to Romans. “All these things are against me,” has been changed to “All things work together for good.” In his home at “Ambleside” he is near to the sanctuary he loves. His devotion to all its interests is best known to those who best know “Scott Memorial.’’

And Mr. Waters with all his intensity is not one-idead. All that concerns his Church has a place in his heart. On the intellectual side of things he has always been an agitator for education. His own mental culture has been pursued at a great cost. After the elementary school there followed a period of toiling through the summer months in order to provide the fees for further tuition at Yarmouth during the winter. Then his youth was full of care, for his father’s early death necessitated close attention to business as a brick-maker. Still, the educative process went on. The lad was a local preacher at sixteen years of age. Even then he was thoughtful and discriminative in his utterances. In those early days Adam Clarke served him as guide, philosopher, and friend. Now, the volumes of the Century Bible attract him more. George Macdonald exercised a tremendous influence on his thinking in early manhood. To him, the many volumes of Dr. Joseph Parker have been a source of much delight. But perhaps he revels most in missionary biography. It is not surprising that before the days of local preachers’ training councils he, in co-operation with Enoch S. Youngs, then the steward of Acle Circuit, should deliberately set out to be the helper of his fellows on the plan in their studies.

Of the work of Mr. Waters as a preacher more must be said later. Here, we would write  that he is more than a preacher, In the Scott Memorial Christian  Endeavour Society he has expounded during the past eighteen months the Gospel according to Mark, and has made the Central Figure of the book a great and fascinating reality to the young people. The week-night preaching service he never misses. His part in prayer is an enrichment to that service. On Sunday afternoons he is engaged in beneficent ministries, visiting the sick and looking after those absent from public worship. His influence upon men is marked. They respond to his interest with a respect that is almost reverence. As “chancellor” his own minister says he beats Lloyd George, and what more can be said to prove financial genius? Also —and there is much in the fact—although he is a popular local preacher, and popular in his own Church, he is a good worshipper and hearer.

There is always danger in a Church professing democracy as part of its creed of personal popularity coming to be valued more than the common interests of the community. Many a Church is wrecked on this very rock—outstanding gifts becoming a cause of egotism and a menace to harmony. Of such a development there is no peril in the case of Mr. Waters. His Church has a tradition to maintain and he is one of the men who have made the tradition. Loyalty to leadership proved by faithful following has solved some great problems at Thorpe, and promises to be equal to all the demands of the future. If only this same virtue were seen in all our churches it would be well with us.

The story of the ancestry of Mr. Waters would be to a very large extent the history of Primitive Methodism in Freethorpe and the neighbouring villages. There were three families who bore the name of Waters in this little village. They all did much for the establishment of Primitive Methodism and gave to it character, prestige and quality making for permanence. His father, Henry Waters, was a strong, gentle, good man; a thoughtful, intelligent preacher, much respected and greatly loved, whose death at the early age of forty-nine years was a great loss to our cause. His record of sermons preached reveals a wonderful range of subjects. His son remembers accompanying him to his appointments. All the way out he would be quiet—seemingly lost in thought. On the way home he would be quite ready to talk. His journeys to one village alone during his all too brief ministry involved seven hundred miles of walking. The fragrance of his memory is a precious heritage. Mrs. Waters also comes of good Methodist stock, and has been a helper of her husband in every good work. His constant absence from home entailed by public work has been cheerfully borne, and this self-sacrifice has been a great contribution to a beneficent career.

’Tis but a little while since this good stalwart celebrated his jubilee as a local preacher. This celebration was a notable occasion. Glad and glowing testimony was borne to the sterling Christian character and worth of the man; testimony that was weighty with its shining and gladdening truth. To have travelled twenty-six thousand miles, and to have preached from three to four thousand times is a record that would prove many a man to be obsolete and ready for the museum. Not so Mr. Waters! Contemplative and genial, with a blend of the methodical and active temperaments, he impresses those who know him as having vast reserves of the wisdom that is more than knowledge plus the vitality to give them effect. He is of those of whom Keble so nobly writes:—

“There are in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of th’everlasting chime;
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls a holier strain repeat.”

Preaching to this preacher, has been a vocation and a passion; and at once a burden and a joy. His call to the work followed his father’s death in 1862. He had called Jesus Lord long before this. The inward voice told him that he ought to carry on his father’s toils. No word of this was spoken to others, but when, in the next year, the call of the Church came to him, he felt that it was of God and obeyed. At first his reception was kind because he was his father’s son. Afterwards men flocked to hear him for his own sake and for the sake of the living message he brought. On one occasion the wish was expressed to him that he might prove a better man than his father, although it was speedily qualified by the opinion that there was “no sign of it at present.” But the fame of Henry James Waters as a preacher is a tradition in the Norwich District that will not easily die out. Preaching with him has been no holiday task, but a serious business. The reward has come in many ways: in the knowledge of help given and lives redeemed. The purest joys of his life have been found, his happiest hours have been spent, in telling the good news of Jesus and His salvation.

Of the scaffolding of his life an interesting story could be told. From the obscurity of the village his has been an onward and upward way. As a youth he worked hard in the brickyard with his father. On the loss of this dear parent the home claims could not be shirked. From school he came to share with his widowed mother the burden of business. His sympathy with all that made for progress was soon in evidence, In many cases those who detested his opinions learned to respect him as a Christian gentleman and were willing to ignore his politics. But bigotry was not always disarmed, and he has known what it is to suffer for faith and opinion’s sake. In all this he has neither feared nor whined.

After years of strenuous toil and persecution have come years of recognition. As Guardian of the poor; as member of the County Council from its formation (six years as Councillor and then as Alderman); as member of the County Education Committee this man has rendered valuable service. He was nominated for the magistracy more than twenty years ago, before the property qualification was abolished. Someone told him that this difficulty could be avoided easily. He refused to resort to any subterfuge for the sake of position and this honour was delayed. As an approved politician he has been urged to candidature for Parliamentary honours, and safe seats have been offered him, but he has not seen the way clear to acquiesce. What the future may bring who shall say?

At his jubilee celebration Mr. Waters said that at one time he had thought the Primitive Methodist Church was the only church. Enlarging experience has brought broader views of religious questions. Since then he has done much to break down the barriers between the denominations. He has done good work on the Free Church Council. Still he loves his own church best, and to her he gives his best energies. The Norwich Free Church Council has endeavoured in vain to gain him for its president. The claims of Scott Memorial are first!

At “Ambleside,” on the Thorpe Road, Mr. and Mrs. Waters live in comparative quietness, happy, notwithstanding the shadows there have been in the ministries of helpfulness. The rush of youthful aspirations and energies are past, but life is crowded with memories of battles fought and faith sees victories yet to win. May the days of their care and toil, of joy in thought and delight of heart be very many.


Henry was born in the summer of 1846 at Freethorpe, Norfolk, to parents Henry, a brick burner (1851), and Maria. He was baptised on 1 November 1846 at Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Census returns identify the following occupations for Henry.

  • 1861 pupil teacher at British school
  • 1871 brick and tile manufacturer
  • 1881 farmer of 420 acres employing 7 man and 8 boys
  • 1891 farmer
  • 1901 auctioneer, valuer, estate agent & farmer
  • 1911 auctioneer, valuer and estate agent
  • 1921 auctioneer & valuer

He married Amelia Jeary (1849-1924) late 1871 in the Smallburgh Registration District, Norfolk. Census returns identify five children.

  • Ethel (1873-1906) – married George William Cannell, a farmer & seedman (1901), in 1896
  • Frank (1877-1947) – an auctioneer & valuer (1911); chartered surveyor and auctioneer (1939)
  • Ralph (1879-1957) – a farmer (1911)
  • Mabel (1882-1969) – married Gilbert Kent Lacey, an engineer, in 1908; emigrated to Canada in 1908; divorced in 1913; married William Reginald Maw, an accountant (1939), in 1923
  • Wilfrid (1885-1976) – a veterinary surgeon (1911)

Henry died on 25 January 1938 at Norwich, Norfolk.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1914/44

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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