Braithwaite, William

Early PM Missionary

Known as ‘Billy’ Braithwaite, apostle of north-west Lincolnshire, William was a pioneer of the Scotter circuit. Little is known of his early life.


William and Thomas Saxton were sent out by the Nottingham circuit to Gainsborough in December 1818. Thomas Cooper, a boy of 14, heard them singing their way along the street to the market place, and ran to see the meaning of the unusual sound. He bears a striking testimony to the wonderful reformation effected by these ‘Ranter’ missionaries in some of the worst characters in the town. A society was formed which started to use a small chapel that John Wesley had caused to be built, but which had been used as a warehouse.

(Note: Thomas Cooper (1805-1892) is known as the Leicester Chartist.)

Braithwaite subsequently ‘opened’ places which were formed into the Scotter circuit. A copy of the Scotter plan for 1819 identifies 27 places regularly supplied with preaching. A Camp Meeting held on Hardwick Hill on 13 June 1819 attracted thousands of people. By the end of 1819 three chapels had been erected, Scotter, West Ferry and Kirton.


Braithwaite was known as a man of prayer. One day, at East Stockwith on the banks of the Trent, a farmer who was busy in his field, on hearing a voice loud in expostulation and entreaty, peeped through the hedge. Expecting to see two men having an argument he saw Braithwaite, on his knees, with hands clasped and eyes closed, praying: ’Thou must give me souls. I cannot preach without souls. Lord, give me souls, or I shall die!’ The farmer was awestruck as he returned to his ploughing. He later found out where William was to preach and went to listen.

On another occasion, at Appleby in June 1819, when William started to preach standing on the base step of the village cross, the steward of the estate came and ordered the preacher to desist. As William continued, the steward tried to pull him down. When that failed, the steward procured a crowbar from the smithy, and with two other men started to prise the stones from under William’s feet. Eventually, the preacher had to step down as the foundations gave way. William’s response was to proclaim:

‘People of Appleby, mark my words, if any one of these three men die a natural death, then God never sent me to preach here today. They think they have prevented the truth from being declared to you, but they have not, for God will raise up a cause in this place, and a prosperous one too.’

Both prophecies came true! A society was formed in the house of Robert Keightley, where it met for some 50 years before a chapel was built.

Braithwaite was the first preacher in Bishop Norton and among his hearers was Thomas Kendall, whose six sons all became Ministers. Thomas Kendall opened his own house for services at Ashby.


As Primitive Methodism became more organised, William became an itinerant minister and was ‘stationed’. However, William was one of the eccentrics of that time. Like Benton, Wedgwood and Oxtoby, he was essentially a freelance, and could only work in his own way, not necessarily as he was directed. Like Benton, he appears to have had some means of his own, and could afford to be independent. He disappears from PM records after 1831.


  • 1821 Nottingham
  • 1824 Fakenham
  • 1825 Barnsley (18 mths)
  • 1826 Hull (6 mths)
  • 1827 General Mission Committee
  • 1832 disappears


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1895/127

H B Kendall, Origin and History of the PM Church, vol 1, p.413ff

J Petty, The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, 1880, p81, p92

B A Barber, A Methodist Pageant, 1932, p65

Joseph Ritson, The Romance of Primitive Methodism , 1909

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

Thomas Cooper, Life of Thomas Cooper, 1876


Comments about this page

  • Known as “the apostle of north-west Lincolnshire” the testimonies of changed lives bear witness to the fruit of his preaching. An typical example is the obituary of Miss Elizabeth Harsley of Scotter converted in 1819 as one of ‘the first fruits of Primitive Methodism in the neighbourhood,’ and explained by ‘the arrow that entered into her soul and proved fatal to the life of sin, was shot from the bow of the Rev. W Braithwaite.’

    By David Leese (02/02/2017)

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