Born on 6 April 1798 at Woodmancott, in Hampshire, Robert Langford has been described as one of the heroes of early Primitive Methodism. He was converted by an evangelical Anglican clergyman, before Primitive Methodism reached this area.
From a child he felt a strong call to preach, and used to visit the surrounding villages after work, preaching in the open air ‘under some wide-spreading tree’ to anyone who would listen to him. He was clearly a popular preacher, and ‘such was his delight in telling the story of the cross, that it was a real pleasure to hear him’. He had quite a following who thought nothing of walking several miles to hear him preach. On his way home, Robert’s soul was ‘often so filled with the love of God that he could not refrain from singing aloud’, and the woods often ‘echoed to his voice, in the stillness of the night’. He was a great blessing to the people of those villages, especially the young, many of whom gave their hearts to Christ.
In 1829 the first Primitive Methodist missionaries to Berkshire and Hampshire, John Ride and Thomas Russell, visited Woodmancott and Robert and those he had gathered around him, were quick to join them, and he was soon called to itinerant ministry.
It was in 1833 that he was called to be an itinerant preacher. In the early days of his ministry he suffered much persecution and hardship, often going ‘with his life in his hand’. Fortunately he was able to brave the storms because he had ‘a very robust constitution and lion-like mind’. It was a life of self sacrifice to which he was utterly committed.
In 1835, no doubt out of his deep compassion for people, he became a pioneer of the friendly society movement. This was as a minister in his first circuit, Shefford, in Berkshire, which included the village of Compton, eight miles north of Newbury. The founding of the Compton Pilgrims Benefit Society, in the cottage of the tailor where the Primitive Methodist society met, was one of Robert’s lasting legacies.
As a preacher he was ‘very acceptable’. ‘By his homely and forcible manner of setting forth the truth to the many hundreds that listened to him in the open air very many were gathered into the fold of Christ’.
As a person he was very highly esteemed, known for his compassion and empathy. Many thought of him as ‘a father as well as a minister’.
Sadly, in 1852, after 20 years of punishing toil his health began to break down, and for the next 22 years he suffered greatly from a nervous disease that ‘baffled’ the doctors, who were unable to treat him. Some regarded him as a ‘martyr’, because his illness was undoubtedly caused by the privations he had suffered in ministry.
During the second half of his ministry he ‘lived in comparative obscurity’. A sad end for a very courageous man who had given so much. His health forced him to superannuate (retire) in 1853, but he still appears on the stations, as the list of circuits in which he served shows. In practice, those listed are where his son in law, also a Primitive Methodist minster was stationed. They reflect where Robert was living, but he was not i
In 1842 he married Anna Case. They had first met in 1840, when he moved to the Radstock circuit, in Somerset. Anna was a widow, with one surviving daughter (another daughter had died in 1837), living in Shepton Mallett which was a mission of the Frome circuit. Her first husband, a yeoman, died in 1834, after which her house became the home of the Primitive Methodist ministers. After their marriage she became a class leader, and was clearly a very capable woman. Sadly, after 10 years she too became ill, suffering from heart trouble.
Robert valued her as a wife, ‘I found every quality in her that man could expect’, and as a counsellor, I ‘seldom went wrong when I followed her directions’. But sadly, after her death in 1858, he wrote ‘Our life together was almost one continued stream of affliction, the waves of which have beat heavily on us both’.
Anna’s daughter Emma Richmond Case, was 15 at the time of their marriage and lived with them until her own marriage in 1853, to John Butcher, a Primitive Methodist minister. After Anna’s death, Robert continued to live with Emma and John, travelling with them as they moved to different circuits.
Robert Langford died on 8 January 1875, of chronic bronchitis.
1838 Market Lavington
Emma Richmond Butcher, ‘Obituary of Rev Robert Langford’, Primitive Methodist Magazine, 1875, pp746-47
Robert Langford, ‘Obituary of Anna Langford’, Primitive Methodist Magazine, 1858, p 260
John Butcher, ‘Obituary of Robert Langford’, Primitive Methodist Minutes, 1875, p11
William Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Minsters and their Circuits, 1990
Malcolm Bee, ‘A Friendly Society Case Study: The Compton Pilgrims Benefit Society’, in A Review of the History of Southern England, Southern History Society, vol 11 (1989), pp69-89