In Whitefield’s Steps
The Forest of Dean is a good base from which to visit sites connected with George Whitefield in Gloucestershire. I took some photographs of the old Bell Inn, the inside and outside of St Mary de Crypt, RodboroughTabernacle (with Whitefield’s walking stick and chair), Whitfield’s Tump (spelt without the middle ‘e’) on Minchinhampton Common and Hanham Mount in Bristol.
Rodborough Chapel was fascinating. Near Stroud it is reached down a narrow steep lane. I only learnt of its continued existence from a book about Gloucestershire worthies. Providentially, just after we arrived, several of the members arrived by a Scout meeting and we were able to gain access. The Scout mistress had never heard of Whitefield and was unaware of the significance of him. Whitefield’s chair sits in the pulpit, so each Sunday the preacher sits on it. In a vestry it Whitefield’s walking stick with (I believe) Thomas Adams walking stick. Thomas Adams was the first minister of the church. During rioting against the Methodists in the early 1740s Thomas Adams was twice dumped into a nearby pond (probably puddles appearing after rain rather than a permanent pond). He was the first minister of the church and there are a couple of portraits of him. At the entrance there is a bust of Whitefield. This looks to be the same as the one in Gloucester Museum, except that it is unpainted. The other people we met there were very informative about various aspects of the history of the church. It joined the United Reformed Church in 1972 and now has a woman minister. This lady is also the minister of the Cornelius Winter Memorial Tabernacle at Painswick which is Baptist/URC. We had a walk around the Anglican Church in Painswick, where Whitefield preached in the early days, but there was no acknowledgement of that fact. It is now Anglo-Catholic.
Hanham Mount has changed a lot since I was last there 22 years ago (on our return from honeymoon!). The trees now obscure the view more, gorse has grown quite thick on the bank below the pulpit. The pulpit is now quite isolated by a footpath leading to a new housing development just behind the pulpit at the top of the mount. The plaque commemorating late seventeenth century Baptists who used to preach in the woods prior to 1689 nearby is disappearing behind the gorse. To read the plaque and photograph it I had to battle through a couple of gorse bushes.
I remember reading the visit of Stephen Rees and Alex MacDougall to St Mary de Crypt some months ago and their discussion with someone they met in there about the need to display some literature about Whitefield. When I was there in July I promised in the visitors’ book that I would let them have some sermons. So last week I delivered five copies each of Whitefield’s “The Method of Grace”, “The Wise and Foolish Virgins” and “The Gift of the Holy Spirit the Common Privilege of All Believers.” I will probably send them some other sermons over the coming months in the hope it might do the people there and visitors some good.
I also spent a little time in Gloucester Library Local reference Section. They have quite a few bits of Whitefield material. I was able to check up the accuracy of a few printed letters they have. Some were missing introductions in the Gillies or Tyerman editions. One of the open letters he wrote (A Letter to the Religious Societies of England) appears to be totally different from the one in the Works, though following the same line of argument. There is clearly much work to be done in checking all of this material against originals. Oh that it were possible to find all of Whitefield’s papers that Aaron Seymour lost in the nineteenth century!
Peter Brumby has made a good start by tracking down numerous unpublished sermons. I am hoping that with any profit I make from the CD of the Complete Works of Whitefield I shall be able to finance further research towards producing a definitive printed edition. This CD should be ready in a couple of weeks.
Dr Digby L. James
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