Bishopstone (Wiltshire) and the Berkshire Downs

"Yonder country is ours"

Bishopstone Primitive Methodist chapel, on the edge of the Berkshire Downs
David Young

As the post about the 1886 Bishopstone Primitive Methodist chapel points out, there are two villages called Bishopstone in Wiltshire. This one lies between Idstone and Hinton Parva.

It was from Bishopstone, in February 1830, that John Ride and Thomas Russell set out together to walk over the downs, Russell to Lambourn and Ride to Ashbury. Ride must have made the detour deliberately for the sake of spending more time with Russell, as Ashbury lies in a different direction from Lambourn. It was on that walk that they had their seminal time of intercession for Berkshire, as the Berkshire mission was just beginning. The story is told movingly by Joseph Ritson in The Romance of Primitive Methodism (1911, page 130) and by Thomas Russell in The Writings of Thomas Russell (reprinted 2005, page 20). As Ritson has it:

It was in the following February that he and his superintendent had the memorable meeting in the neighbourhood of Ashdown, where the famous battle was fought. Theirs, however, was a spiritual conflict. Russell walked ten miles to this meeting for consultation and prayer. The Conference was drawing to a close, and they were about to part, when it was proposed that they should turn aside into the coppice “for another round of prayer.” Entering the coppice, they threw themselves on their knees amid the snow and pleaded with God to give them Berkshire. The round of prayer lasted for hours, and at last Russell sprang to his feet, exclaiming, as he pointed across the country, the prospect of which was bounded by the Hampshire hills: “Yonder country is ours, yonder country is ours, and we will have it.” …at the end of three years there were nearly thirteen hundred members in that circuit.

However, the various accounts of the time of prayer in the copse seem confused, or conflated, and I wonder whether any reader can clarify or correct the account.

From Bishopstone to Lambourn over the downs is about 8 miles. After about 2 miles you reach the highest point, at which you see Ashdown House, and the bridleway turns left and begins to descend towards Ashdown Park. There, there is a fairly large clump of trees with panoramic views from that highest point on the downs. About four miles from Bishopstone, i.e. half-way to Lambourn where Russell was headed, Ashdown Park itself has a sort of earthwork on its southern corner opposite another cluster of trees called Botley Copse. Now:
1) Ritson says: … they were about to part when it was decided they should turn aside into the coppice … at last Russell sprang to his feet, exclaiming, as he pointed across the country, the prospect of which was bounded by the Hampshire hills: “Yonder country is ours.” I do not at present believe this can be right. If they prayed somewhere near the earthwork at Ashdown Park corner, maybe in Botley Copse, they could not have looked across the country, as it is at the bottom of the downs. If, on the other hand, they prayed in the higher copse at grid reference 258810, they would have looked out across Berkshire in the directions of Lambourn (north) and Hungerford (south), with Inkpen beyond and then Hampshire and the Bourne Valley. However, I happened across a local farmer, who lives on the downs above Bishopstone, and he was sure that Hampshire cannot be glimpsed, even from the highest point (the copse at the top), even on a crystal clear day.
2) Russell says: … he [John Ride] accompanied me four miles over the downs to Ashdown Park corner. I said, “Let us turn in here” … when at length I rose up and said, “Brother Ride, yonder country is ours…” The paths to Lambourn (Russell) and Ashbury (Ride) do indeed separate at that four-mile point. This must’ve been where they finally prayed and parted.
3) An anonymous editor (or perhaps Russell himself, using the third person) has added, at the foot of The Life and Labours of Elizabeth Russell (1838, reprinted 2005, page 196), “after spending some hours on Bishopstone down, and in Ashdown Park … and then walking about in the bitter anguish of their souls, and then kneeling and praying again, until just as they had a long course of praying in Ashdown park, they rose from their knees, and each fully believed the way was open.”

Trying to unravel all this, I reckon they had several times of prayer, not one long uninterrupted one, including (a) one at the highest point, perhaps sheltered by the copse which stands there now and was probably there then, at which Russell pointed eagerly across the country they were interceding for, probably uttering the famous words, “Yonder country is ours, and we will have it”; and (b) a final time just before parting for Ashbury and Lambourn, below the downs at Ashdown park corner, perhaps in the other copse named Botley Copse. Sadly I haven’t got a copy of the 1832 account from The Primitive Methodist Magazine but I shall make a point of consulting it when next at Englesea Brook. Meanwhile, has anyone any additional thoughts?

Editor’s note: the other page telling the story of Bishopstone can be found here.

Comments about this page

  • There is a map and route on the website for you to follow Russell and Ride from Bishopstone over Russley Down and to Botley Copse, where you may also stop and pray for God’s work. You then say goodbye to Russell as he takes the track to Lambourn, and you continue with Ride towards Ashbury till it’s time for you to turn left back to your car.

    By David Young (24/11/2017)

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