Goodrich, William ( 1793-1871)
Lowly Heroes and Heroines of Primitive Methodism - An obscure occupant of the Editorial Chair
Transcription of Sketch in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Chas. H. Boden
In an important town near the centre of England the ambitious Richard the Third spent his last night of life on earth. From that town he rode forth in martial pride and fury to the disastrous battle of Bosworth Field, whence his lifeless body was brought back – thrown ignominiously across the back of a horse, and there he was laid on the bank of the River Soar, to spend the long night of death in an unacknowledged grave.
In that town on the bank of the same river once dwelt a man unknown to fame, yet whose memory deserves to be perpetuated in imperishable annals; that man was William Goodrich, familiarly styled “Father” Goodrich. He was not one of the founders, but an early adherent of Primitive Methodism. The Connexion was only in its eighth year when John Benton, accompanied by a detachment from Loughborough, supported by bands from Syston and Thurmaston, sang along the streets of Leicester, and halted at the market-cross, where many hundreds assembled. The crowd was boisterous and astonished, but civil. The preacher’s text was, “Let me die the death of the righteous,” and his words of fire burned their way to the hearts of many who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. One man climbed to the top of the old pump on the spot where now stands the memorial clock-tower. There the God of Zacchaeus found him and brought him down. At the same time was present a young man, tall, dark, and of commanding appearance, clerk in a solicitor’s office, who, yielding to the force of divine truth, presented himself a living sacrifice to God, and became a witness of strange things, and an auxiliary in strange work.
The subject of our sketch consecrated all the all the powers of his intellect, and life itself, to the extension of his Church and the furtherance of its interests. No duty was too arduous or of too frequent recurrence for the enlistment of his energies. He commenced early to occupy a prominent place in the young denomination, being appointed editor of the first Connexional magazine – a very different periodical from the Aldersgate, consisting, as it did, of some twenty-two pages slightly smaller than our present halfpenny Child’s Friend. I possess a copy dated June, 1819, being No. 6, so that he must have been appointed to that position in the latter part of 1818, the year of his conversion, in order to produce the first number. The following is a copy of the title page:-
Num.6 FOR JUNE, 1819, (Vol. I.)
CONDUCTED BY THE
After giving a table of contents it proceeds to direct that the price is threepence, to be sold for ready money only. There is also an advertisement on the cover, stating that certificates for local preachers’ licenses may be obtained from Brother Goodrich at a cost of threepence each.
This was the phoenix from which sprang our Large Magazine which we deem second to no denominational serial in the land.
He took a prominent part in the missionary work of the embryo Connexion, which was neither popular with the powers that be nor easy to its propagandists. They who trod on the serpent’s tail were sure to find him turn again; still, in spite of the heat of his fiery breath, they proceeded, and the work of evangelisation went on. Although “persecuted they were not forsaken, though often cast down they were not destroyed.”
When the Rev. Daniel Isaacs, then resident in Leicester, indulged in very, adverse criticism of our movements, another Leicester divine – Robert Hall, of equal powers and superior eloquence – defended us with convincing logic. In biting terms the “polemic divine” spoke of our “irregularities,” which he thought great enough to warrant our being put down. What Robert Hall had to say to this charge of irregularity is worth recalling: “And suppose I do admit that it was irregular, what follows? Was not our Lord’s rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees, and driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple very irregular? Was not almost all that He did in His public ministry very irregular? Was not the course of the Apostles, and of Stephen, and of many of the evangelists, very irregular? Were not the proceedings of Calvin, Luther, and their fellow-workers in the Reformation very irregular? – a complete and shocking innovation upon all the quiescent doings of the Papists? And were not the whole lives of Whitefield and Wesley very irregular lives, as you view such things? Yet how infinitely is the world indebted to all these! No, sir, there must be something widely different from mere irregularity before I condemn.”
Our friend Goodrich was intimately connected with our denominational establishment in Leicester, was a trustee of its first chapel; and the first to preach there, his rostrum being the foundation stone. In the historic town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where first I heard his name, his visits were red-letter days, and at Loughborough, though occurring but quarterly, his appearances were like angels’ visits. A friend who heard him at the latter place more than forty-six years ago, has a vivid recollection of the two sermons to which he listened. The one was from Josh. vii. 20-1, in which he dwelt on the sin and detection of covetousness, illustrated by its baneful influence on society; the other was Ezek. xlvii. I-5, from which he discoursed on the Christian religion and its history, illustrated by the figure of a river, ever-progressive, irresistible and all-prevailing. He was a preacher of no mean order, yet from his lips I heard no word of adverse criticism relative to other preachers, but have often heard words of encouragement and commendation.
One of the evils of the itinerancy is that the memory of many worthy characters becomes somewhat obscured as the result of constant changes. I only knew him intimately near the close of his earthly career. Being stationed at Leicester, I found him in his latter days:
“He had travelled up the hill of life,
And passed its rugged brow,”
and was calmly and gently engaged in its descent when we met.
When I spent an hour in his company, as I was wont to do, he would lose sight of intervening years, and would speak of early achievements as though events of yesterday.
It was intensely interesting to hear his enthusiastic recital of denominational successes; as, for instance, of the great camp meeting at Frog lsland. The preaching was short and pointed, finding its way to the hearts of the people. This was followed by a prayer meeting at five or six different centres on the ground. At the blowing of a horn the congregation re-assembled, and preaching was resumed, continuing at intervals during the day. It was estimated that the number present consisted of several thousands. Here the smouldering fire of the old man’s nature flashed up as he exclaimed, “It was worth living for; it was a pentecostal time.”
He would tell how a gentleman at Thurmaston offered them the largest tree on his estate towards the erection of the chapel, but being eccentric, he stipulated that they should drag it from Thurmaston to Leicester. So a team of enthusiastic bipeds were assembled at the spot, and being appropriately harnessed, started to pull for the glory of God, and the advancement of His cause. Amid much exultation they reached their destination; the tree was duly sold, and the proceeds found their way to the coffers of the building fund. The same chapel by this and a variety of other expedients, received its top-stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace unto it!”
I scarcely think that the structure would have met with the unqualified approval of Ruskin, for the lines of beauty and all the architectural qualities of which Ruskin was a worshipper, were conspicuous by their absence. He might rather have endorsed the opinion of the old lady who declared, “In the daytime it was like a field with walls built round it; and at night like a cavern with a distant glimmering candle here and there.” But to its devotees it was a paragon of perfection, for it was “the house of God and the gate of heaven.”
Here most of the fathers preached the imperishable truth; here penitents by scores sought and found mercy; here the ladder was let down from heaven, and the angels descended, touching preachers’ lips and listeners’ hearts with the live coal from off the altar. It was the birthplace of thousands. Truly it may be said, “This man and that man was born there.” As matters progressed, the need was felt for the erection of a gallery; but how to raise funds for its accomplishment was a problem. Silver and gold they had none, and none would lend unto them. Nevertheless, there is one who has said, “I will supply all your needs.”
In those days superstition lingered, not only in obscure country villages, but in towns of considerable importance. An incident occurred which showed how even this superstition could be utilised, either by human or a higher power, to further the interests of Zion. One dark night a gentleman, resident on the London Road, accosted Mr. Goodrich, telling him that their house was haunted – they were troubled by nocturnal noises – and he went on to state, that if he and his friends could put a stop to the disturbance, or, in other words, lay the ghost, by prayer or any other means they could devise, he would advance them; the money required, to be repaid by instalments, free of interest. We give the rest of the story in W. G.’s own words: “The time for this exorcism was duly fixed, and shortly before midnight we sat in the room where the noises were usually heard. As the moments slipped away the fears of some present grew on them. One suggested prayer, in which we for some time engaged; then resuming our seats, we awaited ghostly developments. The noises began. They were not sullen moans and smothered groans and cries of tortured ghosts but there certainly was a very unearthly noise. One man was slightly mercurial about the feet: others were inclined to betake themselves to a kneeling posture, but I suggested that we should explore the exterior of the place, they permitting me to take the lead. With lighted lantern in hand, I and my following left the house, and passed round to the place whence the sounds proceeded, when lo! instead of a ghastly apparition, or a newly-sheeted ghost, we discovered a long-nosed, short-legged, grunting quadruped rubbing his scruffy skin against a post at the gable. So, much to the relief of some of my companions, and of the household, the ghost was interviewed and duly laid. Then, with a re-iteration of the aforenamed promise, we bade them good-night, feeling truly that the God of Jacob was our refuge.” And I could not but partake of the venerable man’s enthusiasm, as the words fell from his lips.
Just now my mind reverts to an instance of his fidelity to his people, and the cause he had championed. It occurred during my station in Leicester. In the square where we usually held a weekly open-air meeting, a popular clergyman issued a bill announcing that he would preach at our usual time and place, but having discovered that the had broken In upon our custom and prescriptive rlght, he called on our chapel-keeper and apologised, pleading ignorance and promised it should not occur again. I brought the matter before my congregation and advised them to attend. But in spite of his promise the self-same thing occurred again the following week. I then wrote to the clergyman, reminding him of his promise and saying I would do as I had done before, yield the place to him rather than the ungodly, exulting over our dissensions, should exclaim triumphantly, “See how these Christians love one another.” I further remarked that in future any communication for my people must pass through my hands, as he would think it scarcely proper were I to transact business with him through the medium of his sexton. He read my letter publicly in the square, thus exciting the ire of a burly butcher near whose shop we usually took our stand, and of an equally rotund publican whose sign swung near. The butcher decided that as I would not let the parson preach he would not let me preach. The publican endorsing the sentiment, a party of young bloods were primed with drink. As I awaited the arrival of my congregation, a number seemed to be hanging about to see what would turn up. On a few of our friends gathering, amongst whom was W.G., these closed round us with threatening looks, headed by the butcher and publican. The following colloquy then took place; as I announced the first hymn the knight of the cleaver said in very unparliamentary language, “You are not going to preach here to-night. You would not let the vicar preach, and I shan’t let you.” I responded, having rebuked profane swearing, “Perhaps not; perhaps so.” He then replied, “You might as well preach to ‘dugs’ as to me or these men, for they won’t hear you.” I then said, “You may classify yourself with ‘dugs,’ but these are men. They have heads on their shoulders, and they have immortal souls to save, and I shall appeal to them,” on which they gave a nod of approval. Our friend G., with others, being afraid for me, attempted to dissuade me from preaching. But to their dissuasives I replied, “What would Hugh Bourne’s ghost think if I showed the white feather, and what would it say on my entering the other world? No; I shall preach or die here tonight.” As I uttered these words, the fire of youth flashed from his eyes, and in a voice whose tones echoed through the square, he exclaimed, “Glory be to God, I will stand by you to the death!” I then put an end to further disputations by stating that I had a license to preach anywhere, from one of Her Majesty’s commissioners of the peace, and after mentioning what was the penalty to which disturbers of public worship were liable, I said, “Now interrupt me who dare!” The butcher and publican then slunk off to their homes, not forgetting to swear as they retired. Thus the storm was allayed, and we proceeded without interruption. We next sang across to the public-house, where we formed a semi-circle, and gave the publican to understand it was quite possible we might exercise our power at the next Brewster Sessions in order to prevent such attempts at persecution. The matter was ended by the knight of the barrel thereupon sending his better-half with an apology and a promise that the occurrence should not be repeated. Much to her relief the apology was accepted.
Time glided away, and now the end was nearing. The snares of Midian were escaped; the Red Sea passed; the desert traversed; the mountain climbed; he looked beyond the swelling river, surveyed the glories of Canaan and died.
Just prior to this, Brothers Boworth and Heafford, the latter of whom has gone to his reward, obeyed a summons to visit him. Whilst sitting at the tea-table, he, buoyant as ever, exclaimed, “Oh, I should like one more day at it! I would preach at Loughborough in the morning, at Barrow in the afternoon, and Sileby at night, but that may not be.” After a lengthened pause, he resumed, “I feel my end approaching. Friends from heaven came last night, and amongst them my wife and mother. I was wide awake, and saw and heard them as plainly as I see and hear you. My mother said, ‘William, we are waiting for you;’ then they faded from my vision.” A short time subsequently a wave of glory enfolded the struggler, and he was gone.
Being stationed far distant at the time of his decease, I am personally ignorant of his later experiences, so cannot speak of his last hours; but infallible truth, which declares, “Ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,” also says, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.”
There were also as coadjutors of his, a number of others now sleeping in honoured graves, each of whom by refracted glory would be accounted worthy to join in the acclamations of the Church Triumphant. These have left an imperishable name in the ecclesiastical records of that ancient town, whence they went by angelic convoy to irradiate the canopy of the upper skies. There were Thomas Laurence (the elder), Francis Warner, Michael Billings, Thomas Mason, Samuel Rodgers, William Mason, John Barfoot, William Barker, James Roscoe, and a numerous company of others, with godly women not a few. Most of these have clasped hands with William Goodrich before the Throne, but some are still waiting for the rising tide to float them across the bar into the peaceful harbour of celestial rest. Many of them facts which mark the history of those persistent toilers for their Master are recorded, but much of their heroism is hidden in they arcana imperii of the King of kings which will be unlocked and revealed at the end of time. Approaching the river, seeing the shining shadows gilding amongst the trees of life on the celestial plains, faith exclaims:
“Departed friends! we come, we come;
Wait our arrival, wait ;
Each hour we’re drifting nearer home,
Nearer the golden gate.
Eternal thanks, some mom or noon,
There our frail bark shall stay,
And friends long lost we soon, oh, soon
Shall meet again in eveless day.”
William was born abt1793 at Leicester, Leicestershire. His father, William, a hosier, whose obituary was published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine 1827, was born in 1746. He became a local preacher in 1779. He spent several years of his later life in the workhouse. William’s mother died in 1794, and two siblings also died in infancy.
William attended the first ‘conference’, held at Nottingham in August 1819. For a short period of time he was a travelling preacher, and remained a local preacher thereafter.
Census returns identify the following occupations for William.
- 1841 clerk
- 1851 book-keeper
- 1861 accountant
- 1871 accountant
He married Sophia Barrows (b abt1793) on 1 January 1814 at St. Margaret, Leicester, Leicestershire. Birth and census returns identify nine children.
- Henry (1816-1816)
- Henry (1817-1873) – an accountant
- Cornelius (1823-1864) – a cotton reel turner (1861)
- James (abt1824-1873) – a wood turner
- Mary Sophia (1826-1887) – married John Barrow, a frame work knitter, in 1856
- Margaret (1827-1857)
- Sarah Ann (1831-1885) – married Edwin Charles, an agricultural labourer, in 1854
- Eliza (1832-1850)
- Selina Louisa (1838-1908) – married John James Metcalf, a labourer, in 1855
William died on 27 November 1871 at Leicester, Leicestershire.
- 1819 Loughborough
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1872/744; 1901/44
H B Kendall, Origin and History of the PM Church, vol 1, p328
J Petty, The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, 1880, p75
W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers