Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by James Keightley
The Connexional year ending with the Conference of 1889 will be remembered as the year of unprecedented mortality among our ministers. Among the many who fell few were held in greater esteem than the subject of this brief sketch. As was the case with most of those who died in that year, our brother was the product of village Methodism. To thoughtful men the question arises, will our villages continue to swell the ranks of the ministry? It is true that in many of these villages which have furnished our most successful ministers the cause is at a very low ebb, and it seems probable that years must elapse before they can furnish others for this work.
The village of Norton, near Doncaster, has the honour of having given our departed friend to the Christian ministry. Of his parents we do not know much, beyond the fact that his mother was strong-minded, plodding, and diligent, watching over his early life with all motherly tenderness and love.
In early life Mr. Saul was deeply concerned for his spiritual welfare. He thought of the Wesleyan class-meeting as being most likely to furnish him with needful instruction and help; and he placed himself in the way of certain members, hoping to receive an invitation to accompany them. In this he was disappointed. They did not see his condition, and the desired invitation was not given. Primitive Methodism in Norton was at that time scarcely more than a name, the society consisting of only six members. By the aged shepherd of this little flock he was invited, and attended the class-meeting. Being asked by the leader if he would like to become a disciple of Christ, he answered gladly, ‘I would,’ and from that hour his life was consecrated to the service of his Redeemer and Lord. Brighter days came for the little church, the cords were lengthened, the stakes strengthened, and converts were many. The society soon had a membership of sixty. The building of a chapel became imperative. The uncle of the young disciple was the contractor, and he was engaged in the work of erection. Thus a bias in favour of chapel building was created, which remained with him all his life.
Educational facilities in villages fifty years ago were of a very meagre sort; but such as did exist our friend utilised to the fullest extent. The culture of his spiritual life was also carefully prosecuted. His devotion to God was manifest to the church authorities, and he was soon employed in the vocation of local preacher in the Doncaster branch of the Scotter Circuit. He was diligent in this work and successful. After the space of two years he was selected for the larger sphere, and entered upon the work of a regular travelling preacher, His gifts were first exercised in the Whitby Circuit, and thus began a connection with the northern district of our denomination which has been fruitful in many conversions, in various kinds of Christian service, and in the formation of many friendships which have only been temporarily suspended by his removal to the better inheritance.
The Whitby Circuit of that day was very much larger than that which now bears the name. Vast tracts of moorland, mountain, and dale had to be traversed. The physical toil was very heavy, and study had to be prosecuted under great difficulty. The preachers were men for the time, and young Saul was found worthy to be associated with the tireless toilers of that period. He subsequently laboured at Durham (twice), Wolsingham, North Shields, Penrith, Sunderland, Brough, Alderney, Guernsey, Stokesley, Shotley Bridge, Stockton-on-Tees, Carlisle (twice), Westgate, Maryport, Newcastle-on-Tyne Second, and Doncaster.
He had more than the ordinary measure of trials. Twice he was a widower. Shortly after the loss of his first wife, under cloud and difficulty, he retired from the work of the ministry, and thus lost the full record of service he should have had. He was soon back again in his much-loved work, struggled through a second probation, and gained an honourable position among his brethren.
The first years of his second probation witnessed the commencement of some literary work, and the formation of a connection with the secular press, which continued to the end of his life, and through which he was able to create in many quarters, where prejudice existed, a favourable opinion of the Connexion. This he did also by his Christian and manly bearing, wherever he was brought into contact with other churches and the community generally.
His best friends and greatest admirers would not speak of him as a brilliant man; but by earnest plodding he secured for himself a respectable position among the more intelligent and cultured of his brethren. The papers he prepared, his published occasional discourses, and his little work on the class-meeting, are evidences of his ability and industry. He was able, to an extent beyond many of his brethren, to lay hold of current events and press them into his service in the pulpit, and thus give freshness and variety to his ministrations.
The Christian ministry to some men is merely a sphere in which a respectable life may be lived without excessive effort. It presents to them no fields of noble and heroic enterprise, it gives no facilities for the development of manly Christian character, and no great scope for the practical service of man for the Master’s sake. Mr. Saul was not of this class, he took high ground. He was a minister in no perfunctory sense. His whole heart was in his work. His work was not done when he had taken his appointments on the plan. He succoured the poor, both by taxing his own resources, and by exerting his influence to secure the help of others. He brought songs into the night of poverty, widowhood, and despair, and many who were helped by him love to mention his name. His efforts for the reduction of chapel debts were most persistent and successful, and his work bears fruit in the comparatively easy circumstances of trust estates in some circuits wherein he laboured. To his worth as a friend and helper many witnesses bear testimony. One of our officials in the north writes as follows:—
‘Will you permit me to say that all I have on earth, and all I hope for in heaven, is due, under God, to Mr. Saul’s unfailing goodness of heart and patient solicitude for my soul? I was on the verge of infidelity, but his care saved me.’
He sometimes ran great personal risks in the interests of others.
The Rev. J. Hallam writes:—‘I have long known him, and, as a colleague of his in the Stockton Circuit, I am able to appreciate and endorse the good things said about him in the leading article of to-day’s paper. At a time when few would come to our house because of deadly fever, when I was unconscious of my state and lay in the jaws of death, and afterwards when my sister was taken, and I was left and needed some help and guidance, I shall never forget how he whom you have lost was good to me and mine. He had a kind heart, and was a good man.’
He was a friend of our young people, he loved to be with them, giving them counsel, and helping them to attain true goodness. His last work for the Master was work for the young. Laid aside from the work of preaching, he was glad to take a class of boys in the Sunday School. And here he hoped to have found a sphere of labour for years to come.
After many years of earnest work far away from his birthplace, he was invited in 1885 to labour in Doncaster. This invitation was very gratifying to him, and when accepting it he referred to the fact of having preached, forty years before, in the chapel of which he was to have special charge. Those who had known him long, saw in him signs of the coming end. The work he undertook required the energy of a robust physical manhood. He possessed this no longer, and in less than two years from his appointment to the superintendency of Doncaster Second Circuit, his work was practically at an end. But his responsibility did not cease, and probably the anxiety of these days of physical feebleness aggravated his condition, and hastened his decease. Superannuation followed at the Liverpool Conference, and a good term of retirement was hoped for him, but this was not to be. Paralysis followed speedily. The once strong man became as helpless as an infant, and despite all that loving hearts could wish, and all that loving hands could do, he sank into the sleep from which none ever wake to mourn, the last sleep of the just. During these closing days he was frequently unconscious, and unable to recognise his intimate friends. But his eye brightened and his face became radiant at the mention of the name of Jesus.
Since his decease, the widow and family have received many tributes of admiration for the character and worth of their departed one. Some of them from Connexional Committees, some from ministers with whom he laboured, many from friends in our own and other denominations, and also from those who, though sundered from him in matters of faith, had only loving words of admiration for his life. To give these letters would require more space than can be afforded for this sketch.
On the morning of March 28th, 1889, he entered into rest. On the following Saturday devout men carried him to his burial. A very numerously-attended service was held in the Duke Street Chapel, the Revs. W. Cutts, J.T. Shepherd, and J. Burkitt assisting thereat. The address was given by the Rev. J. Keightley, who also officiated at the grave in Doncaster cemetery, the closing prayer being offered by the Rev. J. Hawkins, of Easingwold.
A fortnight later a memorial service was held at Duke Street, and a special sermon preached by the writer to a very large congregation, the text being Acts xi. 24. May the God of all grace console the bereaved widow and family, and may the removal of this pillar, ‘strong with truth and beautiful with love,’ stimulate the church to greater endeavours and more brilliant success.
William was born on 1 October 1827 at Norton, near Doncaster, to parents Michael and Margaret Saul. Michael was a stone mason and, later, bricklayer.
He first married, in late 1853, Mary Wadsworth of Doncaster. She died on 19 January 1855 in Doncaster, leaving a daughter
- Ann Elizabeth b 3rd Q, 1854 Was living with her father in 1871 and 1881. Nothing further is known at present.
He then married, on 12 July 1857 at Brough under Stainmore, Esther Thornborrow of Thorney Gale, Stainmore. She died on 8 July 1864 in Shotley Bridge, County Durham. William and Esther had four children
- Norman Paul b 1859 on Alderney. A merchant marine apprentice, and then a land agent’s shorthand clerk, he died during the 2nd quarter of 1884 in Gateshead
- Eva Elizabeth b 1860, on Guernsey. She died in Doncaster, 1 November 1892
- Ada Margaret b 1861, Durham and died 1864, Shotley Bridge, County Durham
- Sarah Maria – born 1st quarter and died 2nd quarter of 1864 in Stokesley
His third marriage was in the 3rd quarter of 1869, to Margaret Brandth in the Whitby Registration District. She outlived William, dying on 25 September 1893
William died on 28 March 1889 at his home in St. Mary’s Road, Doncaster
- 1848 Whitby
- 1849 Durham
- 1850 Wolsingham
- 1851 North Shields
- 1853 Penrith
- 1854 Sunderland
- 1856 Brough
- 1858 (not shown)
- 1859 Guernsey
- 1860 Durham
- 1862 Stokesley
- 1864 Shotley Bridge
- 1866 Stockton
- 1868 Carlisle
- 1871 Westgate
- 1872 Maryport
- 1876 Carlisle
- 1882 Newcastle-upon-Tyne II
- 1885 Doncaster II
- 1888 Doncaster II (superannuated)
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1891/50
PM Minutes 1889/23
The Primitive Methodist 1889/230
W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers