Alton, William (1854-1896)

Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Henry J. Pickett

It is with profound sorrow we record the death of this devoted minister, which took place at his residence, 17, Holker Street, Keighley, on Saturday, Sept. 5th, 1896, after a brief, but terribly severe illness of twelve days. He had just returned from a brief holiday at Morecambe, apparently recruited in health and full of hope for his future work. The Sunday following his holiday, August 16th, he conducted a love-feast in Alice Street Chapel, Keighley, at the close of which twelve souls were found seeking salvation. The following week he complained of pain, but no inducement would lead him to forego his work.

The following Sunday, August 23rd, he preached three times, walking through a drenching rain to his appointment at Oakworth, Keighley Second circuit. That evening he preached with unusual fervour and power, and in the prayer-meeting following, four young people surrendered to Christ. But his earthly work was well-nigh done, for though the night following he was again at his work, he was compelled the next day to keep his bed; the terrible disease of typhoid had laid hold of a frame never robust and strong, and, spite of the best medical advice and kindly nursing, it was impossible to resist and even mitigate the severity of the attacks, and after terrible suffering, he passed to his reward.

Mr. Alton was born at Duffield, near Derby, April 29th, 1854. When he was about ten years of age, his parents removed to Derby, and young William became a scholar in our Kedleston Street Sunday School. His conversion and gift to the church is the fruit of Sunday School work. During revival services held in connection with that school when he was fifteen years of age, he was one of many led at that time into the kingdom. He soon began to give indications of considerable usefulness, accompanying his future father-in-law (Mr. A. Walker), and others to their appointments. Such was the earnestness and promise of the young convert, that the Derby Second circuit unanimously recommended him for the ministry, and on October 15th, 1875, he commenced his work as a supply at High Wycombe. He was subsequently pledged by the London Sixth (Croydon) station and travelled successively at Northampton, Maidenhead, Lincoln, Chesterfield, Leicester Second, Burnley Second, Hull First, and Keighley First, having just completed his first year as superintendent of the Alice Street circuit.

The Primitive Methodist ministry has had men of more brilliant and popular gifts, but it can scarcely have numbered in its ranks a more loyal and devoted son, or one who gave more freely all he had to give. Along the line of his own gifts he was a most untiring and conscientious worker. His work consumed him, he freely gave to it what indeed he could not spare, but what he gladly sacrificed, time, money, strength, aye, even sickness, often travelling to his work when, if he had considered himself, he should have been in the hands of a nurse. And the fruit of his patient, plodding industry remains in every station where he travelled, scores being won for Christ by his earnest preaching, and others led to consecrated service by his infectious industry. Of a most generous disposition, the writer has known him give away his last sixpence in his work as a pastor among the poor; of a bright and happy temperament, with strong social instincts, he was a universal favourite with those who knew him best. Letters from his colleagues testify to the high regard in which he was held by those having the best opportunity of knowing his inner life. He was incapable of meanness or treachery. He lived an unsuspicious, open, happy life, believing in others and trusting them, and inspiring confidence by the unvarying uprightness and scrupulous conscientiousness marking all he did.

In his domestic relationship Mr. Alton was especially favoured. He loved his home intensely, and strove to make it the brightest and most attractive place he could. In his devoted wife (daughter of Mr. A. Walker, Evangelist, Derby) he found a true companion and helper; and his three children, entered on the class books from their birth, constituted a home in which it was always an inspiration and a joy to gather, If life is judged by work and not by years, though he has gone in the vigour of his manhood, at the early age of 42 – he lived long and well. Life like his cannot be finished. In those who enter into his labours, he, being dead, will yet speak and work,

The interment took place on Tuesday, September 8th, in the Uttoxeter Road cemetery, Derby.

A brief service having been conducted by the Revs. J.F. Parrish and A. McKechnie at the residence of the deceased, the body, enclosed in a coffin of pitch pine, was removed to the hearse and conveyed to the Midland Railway station amid tokens of profound sorrow from friends gathered from every part of the circuit. Messrs. Ward and Driver accompanied the family as representatives of the circuit. Derby was reached about mid-day, where, in addition to members of the family, the Revs. H.J. Pickett (representing Hull First circuit), T. Richards, F. Jeffs (Willenhall), R. Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. Wain, and many old friends awaited the arrival of the sad procession. The service was conducted in the Kedleston Street Chapel by the Rev. T. Richards, assisted by the Rev. F. Jeffs. The Rev. H.J. Pickett gave an address on the character and work of the deceased. The cortége then proceeded to the cemetery, where a brief service was conducted by the Rev. H.J. Pickett.

The Rev. H. J. Pickett conducted a memorial service in the Alice Street Chapel, Keighley, on Sunday evening, September 13th, the chapel being crowded in every part.

“God calls our loved ones, but we lose not wholly
What He hath given;
They live on earth in thought and deed as truly
As in heaven.”


William was born on 29 April 1854 at Duffield, Derbyshire, to parents William, a frame-work knitter, and Grace.

The 1871 census return describes William as a frame-work knitter making silk elastic bandages.

He married Sarah Louisa Litchfield Walker (1857-1905) in the summer of 1880 at Keddleston Street Bourne Chapel, Derby. Census returns identify three children.

  • Florence Walker (1881-1946) – a board school teacher (1901); married Harold Williamson, a joiner, in 1907
  • William Bertram (1887-1971) – a clerk (1901); emigrated to Canada; served in Canadian forces in WW1; a tinsmith (1919)
  • Ettie Louisa (1894-1978) – married Herbert Fowers in 1920; married Josiah Stevenson in 1941

William died on 5 September 1896 at Keighley, Yorkshire.


  • 1876 London VI
  • 1878 Northampton
  • 1879 Maidenhead
  • 1881 Lincoln I
  • 1884 Chesterfield
  • 1887 Leicester II
  • 1889 Burnley II
  • 1892 Hull I
  • 1895 Keighley I


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1897/307

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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