5. On John Benton’s Track

Transcription of article by H.Bickerstaffe Kendall, B.A. in the series One Hundred Years Ago

READERS of this page will find Charlotte Bronte’s “Shirley” of use in providing the appropriate historic setting for these centenary jottings. The chronology of “Shirley” is clearly indicated, and it gives an authentic picture of the year 1812. The action of the story is confined within six months, and begins on a night in the middle of February, when the new shears and frames that were being brought in waggons to Hollow’s Mill were smashed by a gang of Luddites on Stilbro’ Moor; its central incident is the armed attack on the same mill which took place late at night on Whit Monday, which in 1812 fell on May 18th. Such wild doings as these were common enough at the time in the northern counties, and, we may be sure, were the talk of the countryside.

Now it is something to know what men and women were everywhere talking of and discussing during those months when John Benton was prosecuting his independent mission among the Staffordshire villages on the Derbyshire border. One of these villages was Alstonefield, the home of Ann Millward, whose name ought to become familiar to Primitive Methodists. A memoir of this excellent woman appeared in the “Magazine” for 1860, which incidentally confirms what we gather elsewhere as to John Benton’s movements. In the memoir we are told that “Mr. John Benton, one of our first missionaries, visited the neighbourhood [of Alstonefield] in 1812.” Ann Millward heard him preach and “the word was marrow and fatness to her soul.” After preaching, John Benton proposed to the congregation to form a society, when ten persons gave in their names for membership, of whom Ann Millward was one. Thus far the memoir. Now, Hugh Bourne writes in his Journal, under the date October 13th, 1813: “Came to Boylestone and saw John Benton . . . . . .  He gave me directions for going into his circuit, and spoke of the state of the people.” So Hugh Bourne took over Benton’s “Circuit” and, as was his wont, visited the societies in order to “stablish and strengthen” them.

In visiting Alstonefield, the memoir further tells, Hugh Bourne met with Ann Millward, and they had some profitable talk together on a subject congenial to Hugh Bourne—travail of soul. He appointed Ann leader of the class at Warslow, and laid it upon her to preach. Here Reuben Barron, the writer, makes some statements to which question marks should be attached. For example, he states that Ann Millward’s initials appeared on the plan as “the second female preacher in the Connexion”; also, “I am informed that she was the first preacher whose surname appeared in full on the Connexion’s plan, when Jehovah again, in the presence of the elders of the Church [in Tunstall], signed her credentials by  the conversion of a Mr. Steel.” We find the initials “‘A.M.’’ on the Tunstall plan May-July, 1819. She is No. 82, and has seven double appointments and four single ones. The person referred to cannot be James Steel, the Circuit Steward. Was it his son, Thomas, born 1801, or was it another person of the same name?

Ann Millward deserves to be ranked with Hannah Taylor as a self-sustained missionary. Her biographer does not know whether to call her “a local or a travelling preacher, or a missionary,”; for, in the winter season, when as dairy-maid she could be spared from her father’s home, she would go for two or three months at a time preaching daily at places already opened, and successfully opening many others in the counties of Stafford and Derby. Ann Millward died Oct. 14th, 1859, in the 78th year of her age.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1912/349

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