In an earlier post I wrote about my 4th great grandparents, shoemaker William Holdsworth and his wife Lydia Evans, who became members of Little Alie Street Baptist chapel in Whitechapel in the 1790s. I noted then that the Little Alie Street congregation was formed by a group who had broken away from the nearby Little Prescot Street chapel. Alison Botterill recently contacted me and kindly offered to share her research into the Little Prescot Street congregation, and in particular its connection with her own Burford family ancestors. The following is a guest post by Alison and her sister Fiona:
Stephen Williams, a little-known, but significant member of the Strict Baptist church at Little Prescot Street, Goodman’s Fields, Whitechapel, was a prosperous glover, linen draper and textile printer with businesses in Stratford, Essex and in the City of London. It is assumed that he was born in Wiltshire but the precise place or date of his birth are unknown. His Freedom of the City of London papers of 1741 give his father’s name as Enoch Williams of Charlton Horethorne, yeoman (deceased). In 1746 Stephen married Catherine Mason in Godstone, Surrey, but none of their four children, all baptised at St Mary Woolnoth Church in the City of London, survived him.
In 1738 he ‘gave account of his dealings with God’ and following his baptism he was accepted into full membership of the church at Little Prescot Street. The subscription records for LPS show that between 1757 and his death in 1797, he contributed 10 guineas annually, which constituted over half of each year’s total contributions. In 1756, he accepted the call to become a Deacon of the church and his name appears regularly in the minute books as one of those required to oversee and discipline unruly members, including a relative, Thomas Burford ‘of the Bank’ (a clerk at the Bank of England) whose amatory adventures were reported in the Times newspaper.
Stephen Williams was influential in the appointment of two of the ministers at LPS, the first being Samuel Burford (c. 1726-1768), then minister at Lyme Regis and a relative of Williams’ brother-in-law and business partner, John Burford. The minute books show that James Fall had been proposed to take the deceased Samuel Wilson’s place, but in an election held in 1753, votes against his appointment narrowly outnumbered those in favour by four. The minutes show that Stephen Williams voted against Mr Fall’s appointment and it is quite possible that Williams had Samuel Burford in mind for the post, Williams’ sister Hannah having married into the Burford family. However, despite doubts shown by some members of the congregation, which were to lead to James Fall setting up his own church at Little Alie Street, the minutes state that on 27thApril 1755 The Church unanimously chose him (Burford) and thought proper to give him a call.
Goodman’s Fields, from Rocque’s map of 1746, with Little Prescot Street clearly marked (between Prescot Street and Rosemary Lane)
After Samuel Burford’s untimely death at the age of 42, leaving a wife and eleven children, a provincial minister Abraham Booth was appointed following the recommendations of Stephen Williams and two other deacons who had travelled to Nottinghamshire to assess his suitability for the role of leader of such a wealthy and educated congregation. Booth was to build upon the work of Samuel Burford under whose leadership the church had enjoyed considerable prosperity. Burford was buried at Bunhill Fields and on his headstone was recorded :
His virtues need no stone to show
full well his friends his merits know;
While living was by all beloved
by all regretted when removed
The extended Burford family continued to support the church at Little Prescot Street well into the 19thcentury and helped spread the Baptist doctrine to other parts of the country. In 1782 Edward Burford sought permission to leave the congregation, along with Peter and Ann Anstie, to establish a church at Preston where they had already begun to introduce new and high quality textile printing processes at the Mosney Print Works in Walton-le-Dale. In 1798 LPS gave leave to Thomas Burford and seven others to form a new church at Mare Street, in Hackney.
Stephen Williams’ religious devotion was not simply limited to his support of the church at Goodman’s Fields. Among the charitable interests he supported, with both his time and his money, were The Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge Among the Poor, The Baptist College in Rhode Island, Dr Wheelock’s Indian Charity School and The Orphans’ Working School in City Road. In 1783 became joint treasurer of the London Baptist Education Society and in 1793 he was named as one of the Deputies for the Civil Affairs of Dissenters. Such philanthropy was made possible through his successful businesses which included the substantial calico-printing works at Stratford, Essex, in what is now known as Burford Road, and a wholesale linen-drapery No.27 Poultry, in the City of London, where he lived for much of his long life. Plans for Williams’ renovation of the property, drawn up by architect George Dance in 1760, can be seen at the London Metropolitan Archives.
The death of Stephen Williams, aged 86, was reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine’s Obituaries of Remarkable People in June 1797. Notwithstanding his investment of £10,000 in the Government’s Loyalty Loan shortly before his death, his remaining wealth was considerable. His will (PROB 11/1294) details many family bequests totalling approximately £30,000 with freeholds and leases in the City of London and Stratford, with the calico printing works bequeathed to his Williams and Burford nephews. The strength of his religious convictions is borne out by other bequests, including £2000 to The Particular Baptist Fund in London, £100 to Rev. Abraham Booth, £100 to the Deacons of the Congregation of Protestant Dissenters for use among the poorer members of the church, £200 to the Widows’ Fund for the relief of the widows of poor dissenting ministers, £100 to the Congregational or Independent Fund in London and £200 to the Orphan Charity School, City Road, Islington.
He was buried at Bunhill Fields on 17thJune 1797, at a cost of £5. 5s. 6d, in the vault which already held the remains of his wife and children, who had predeceased him by several years.
© Alison Botterill & Fiona Duxbury