Dr Benjamin Godwin
Benjamin was born on 10 October in Bath in 1785 to George and Elizabeth Godwin. George was a Baptist Minister and aged 70 when Benjamin was born. His father had been married before and Benjamin had two adult siblings.
His family were poor but he was sent to a dame school until his education and upkeep was undertaken by the charity that ran the Bluecoat school in Bath This school was free and included the supply of uniforms. When Godwin finished school, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Benjamin did not like his profession and aged fifteen he ran away with a fried on a ship bound for the Mediterranean. During the voyage, Benjamin found his faith one more and claimed that he gained a close relationship with his god.
Benjamin jumped ship in Palermo but was able to find work as a cabin boy bound for London. However, in Menorca and on Benjamin’s sixteenth birthday, the whole crew of his ship was press-ganged to crew HMS Le Généreuxon. So, it was that Benjamin became a Royal Navy sailor for the final year of the hostilities (the first part of the Napoleonic Wars) that ended in 1802.
When he was dismissed from the Navy, he tried being a builder with his brother-in-law and also returned to cobbling, although he believed he had little skill in this particular trade and even less as a builder.
He attended his parents Baptist’s Church and through the church he met Elizabeth Hall, but she refused to marry him until he could support her. His initial attempts to woo her by his sermons failed, however soon both she and others were impressed and he was offered a part-time position as an evangelist at Aylburton in Gloucestershire.
Betsy was satisfied and they were married on 14 August 1806 and they were given the use of a cottage in Aylburton. Here they set up a home and established a system of church meetings. Despite Benjamin and Betsy’s efforts, they were reduced to eating potatoes and drinking water and their evangelical mission came under active opposition. They had to contend with merciless persecution including eggs being thrown. Hearing that he had been mischievously drafted into the militia, Godwin left Aylburton in 1807.
Benjamin was sure now that he wanted to be a minister and he was given a probationary year looking after a Cornish congregation at Chacewater. Here he was mentored by the nearby minister at Redruth. Betsy had to remain in Bath as the money was poor, but Benjamin was helping at the local school and completing his own education. It was Benjamin who decided to leave when the year was completed to join his wife; and to become a minister.
Benjamin became minister at Dartmouth where he could not only preach but also learn and teach. His ordination as a minister for Dartmouth was in 1812. In Dartmouth, the Benjamin’s daughter, Mary, died of whooping cough, but they also had a son on 23 December 1814 who they named John Venimore Godwin.
Next Benjamin moved to Great Missenden. He worked well with his Anglican counterpart raising money for missionary work.
Benjamin was invited to take a position at Horton Academy in Bradford in 1822 as a teacher of the classics. The academy was for the training of Baptist Ministers and at the time run by William Steadman who would not accept Benjamin’s refusal to take the post. Eventually William Steadman was successful, and Benjamin enthusiastically took on the role introducing maths, physics and geography to the curriculum
The Baptist Church in Bradford had grown slowly and by the time Benjamin arrived was establishing itself along with other Non-conformist churches. Also, like other denominations, the Baptists had rented a room a cock pit (which stood at the foot of Manchester Road). The Baptists claimed that as far as this rather unholy place was concerned, they had, ”dispossessed Satan of a portion of his dominions and instead raised the standard of the cross”.
The church had been so poor that the congregations had to bring their own stools to sit on during services as there was no money for pews. The first minister William Crabtree who died in 1811, had to carry on being a shalloon maker as the church could not pay him a living wage. Crabtree was succeeded by William Steadman. The job description was for the new minister to also be “a philanthropist who could look beyond the borders of their own communities and make their influence for good, felt outside pulpits and private studies”. Steadman was the right man for the job as he worked easily with other denominations and together, they helped to bring about the creation of the Mechanic’s Institute in 1832. Benjamin was also involved in this quest. However, some of Bradford’s influential townspeople objected to the provision of the Institute “lest the common people should be educated beyond their station in life”.
Steadman worked tirelessly to bring on the Baptist cause and through his efforts a Sunday School was added to the first Baptist chapel in Westgate and it was he who introduced the practice of carrying out baptisms at the chapel and not as before in the mill goit, on Thornton Road which had become polluted.
In 1824 a new Sion Chapel was built in Bradford and Godwin became its minister on 31 October 1824 when he had the honour of hearing Robert Hall giving a sermon. Godwin was pleased with the autonomy that this new position allowed him.
In 1830 Godwin took on a challenge that he and his wife felt was the next step in their mission; which was to oppose slavery. They became friends with the leading abolitionist James Stephen, who gave a series of well-attended talks at the newly built Bradford Exchange buildings in Kirkgate. These were more than just a series of four plain lectures. Godwin had not only prepared transparencies, he had also hired an artist to prepare large paintings that could illustrate the results of slavery. Godwin also arranged for the artist, Thomas Richmond to prepare a second series of panels that illustrated the benefits of an egalitarian and multi-racial world that would result from the abolition of slavery.
Benjamin’s abolitionist talks attracted wider attention and Zachary Macaulay who edited the Anti-Slavery Reporter invited him to arrange a series of talks. Benjamin did deliver four illustrated lectures in York and Scarborough. The texts were summarised in the local papers. In 1836, they were also published as a booklet in London[ and in Boston, Massachusetts.
Benjamin’s four lectures had become a book that was rapidly out of print in London. Copies were sent to peers and members of parliament and speakers and agents for anti-slavery looked on Benjamin’s book as a standard work. Reader’s included the international activists George Thompson and John Scoble. Scoble was the secretary of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
Benjamin arranged for a grand petition to be prepared in Yorkshire to persuade the British Anti-Slavery movement to be more active. John Hustler assisted Benjamin with the cost of travel so he could lobby the next meeting of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in London.
Although this was not successful, it did set the stage for Zachary Macauley who led the organisation to forward the campaign.
Benjamin was well aware of the support William Wilberforce’s campaign had achieved and so he actively supported Henry Brougham by trying to get that same support to transfer to Henry Brougham who was standing for parliament with an abolitionists agenda.
By 1833, following the introduction of the Reform Bill, Parliament was more democratic and the abolitionists wanted to ensure that their elected Members of Parliament voted to outlaw slavery. Petitions were again organised across Bradford and Godwin was one of the delegates sent to Exeter Hall in London to attend a meeting to organise the lobbying of parliament. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed and this made slavery illegal throughout the empire. On 24 April 1834 Godwin was awarded a testimonial dinner for his leadership during the anti-slavery campaign.
Benjamin was one of Bradford’s residents that supported the forming a of newspaper. The idea came out of an informal book club that Benjamin attended and Benjamin was one of several people who led this initiative. It was his view that the newspaper should have a general appeal and should not exclusively appeal to the Liberal cause.
The newspaper started in 1834 with the assistance of 90 shareholders. The newspaper was a success and Benjamin organised a local group to support parliamentary reform and another group against slavery. Benjamin became dissatisfied and he resigned his position in 1836 and although he was persuaded to stay in Bradford; he again became dissatisfied and again resigned
Benjamin was at a loose end and he became involved in a schism between the Baptist Missionary Society and the missionaries in charge of the mission to Serampore in India.
Benjamin and his wife moved to Liverpool where he was given £150 a year to be secretary to the committee set up to solve the problem. The latter organisers were known as the “Serampore Three”. The ten-year-long schism arose because the mission at Serampore had been set up with a degree of independence from the main society.
Benjamin’s role was to give talks around Britain, explaining the misunderstandings that were in circulation and to try to arrange a visit to the splintered missionaries in India. Benjamin acted outside his remit and he organised a difficult two-day meeting in November 1836 which agreed a merger between the two splintered groups. With no schism Benjamin had no job.
During the 1840 World Anti-Slavery convention, he prepared a paper on the ethics of slavery. The convention unanimously accepted his paper which condemned not only slavery but the religious leaders and communities who had failed to condemn the practise. The convention resolved to write to every religious leader to share this view. The convention called on every religious communities to eject any supporters of slavery from their midst.
Benjamin was meeting and mixing with the international anti-slavery activists. He was invited to meet French abolitionists in Paris the following year.
Godwin resigned his Oxford position in 1845 due to his failing health and the following year, he and his wife returned to Bradford. They lived in a house that his son had organised in Villiers Street, Horton.
Godwin continued to work for the Baptist Missionary Society as well as lecturing at Horton College again in 1850. One of his latter successes was to become President of Bradford’s Ragged School which opened with seven pupils in 1854. Another late honour was to be president of a newly formed Bradford female Anti-Slavery Society with his wife as secretary in 1856 and a committee of 24 women.
He later moved to Rawdon to be near his son, John. He died on the 20 February 1871.
John Venimore Godwin (John V.)
John V. was born on 23 December 1814 to Benjamin and Elizabeth Venimore. His place of birth is recorded as St Petrox, Devonshire. As his father was a Baptist Minister , the family moved around but eventually settled in Bradford in 1822.
In 1847, John V married Rachel Catherine Acworth who was also the daughter of a Baptist minister.
Rachel Catherine Acworth
On 18 January 1851, the partnership between Robert Milligan, Henry Forbes, Nathaniel Briggs and John V Godwin trading as Milligan, Forbes & Co, was dissolved by mutual consent. John V began his own firm of stuff merchants that operated out of Peel Place, Bradford.
The census for 1851 records John V. as a Stuff merchant, living with his wife Rachel and their two daughters. They now have two servants and their next-door neighbour in Ashfield Place is Swithin Anderton.
In 1853 his only son, John Arthur was born.
Like many of the up and coming Bradford merchants, he took the opportunity to escape the squalor of the Bradford Streets and moved to Crow trees, Rawdon where he continued his career as a merchant but also farmed 13 acres.
John V. was mayor of Bradford from 1865 to 1866. It was written that he had a special talent for finding and acquiring property for the purpose of much needed road widening. He remained an alderman until 1868. He was on the Buildings and Improvement Committee where there was much debate as to whether back to back housing should be allowed.
Like many Nonconformists, he was involved in such organisations as the Nonconformist Reform Union that strove for the reorganisation of Parliament and impose disestablishment so that there would be a divide between the church and the state. During the previous century, Catholics and Non-conformists had been prevented from holding public office and the Test Acts precluded a person from public office and studying in certain Universities, unless they took holy communication in an Anglican church. Although these acts were repealed in 1828 and 1829, there was Church of England still dominated the lives of everyone, even if they were not members of the Church. An example of this was the compulsory payment of the Church Rate to the Vestry. Prior to the appointment of Commissioners at the beginning of the nineteenth Century, the Vestry collected the church rate and then dispensed a form of council service, such as enforcing policies on the populace in respect of keeping the highways clean and free of obstacles including pig sties and their occupants, the prevention of the sub-letting of properties for the occupation of incomers. They also handed out bread to the poor provided they attended the church service on a Sunday. This was unacceptable when those poor were Non-conformists. The Commissioners who primarily comprised of the new industrialists, bankers and doctors, tried to implement a better system of maintenance, however, there was still a requirement to pay the Church Rate to the Vestry. Some of the Non-Conformists refused to pay the rate and goods were distrained in lieu of payment.
John V was a Commissioner and in 1846 was one of those that instigated the forming of Bradford Council.
In 1863 he was elected an alderman and in the same month he was appointed to the to the Building and Improvement Committee and the Watch Committee In the following November he was appointed the Chairman of the Street Improvement Committee. The Borough were engaging in substantial street improvements which required the purchase of property to enable streets to be widened and improved. John V brought his business acumen to this task and was remembered as an excellent negotiator. Before his retirement in 1868, John V had access to borrowing amounting to £300,000 which for the time was a substantial sum. In recognition of his endeavours the new street from Thornton Road to Darley street was named Godwin Street.
John V was appointed a Commissioner of the Peace for the borough and later to the West Riding.
John V had much sympathy for the Free Library movement and in 1868 he was appointed chairman of the sub-committee inquiring into the working of the Free Libraries Act in other towns. Following much painstaking investigation, he was able to advise the Council on the steps required for the town to comply with the provisions of the act.
Although retired, John V still took an active part in public life. He was a member of the Bradford School Board and was elected vice chairman to Mr M W Thompson’s chairmanship. During his tenancy, the board recommended the that four new schools be built.
In 1853, he was elected a member of the Council to the Chamber of Commerce and it is from his association with this institution that in 1876, together with Messrs. Charles Stead, A. Illingworth, and G M Waud, was requested to make a report on the conditions of production of worsted cloth in France.
Business people in Yorkshire were concerned by the competition created by the French woollen industry.
As a staunch supporter of the Liberal cause, he stood for election in March 1874. He failed in his quest but showed the strength of feeling for the Liberal cause by obtaining between 8000 and 9000 votes.
He died on 20 January 1898 leaving over £36,000.
Sir John Arthur Godwin ( Sir Arthur.)
Sir Arthur was born in 1853 and was the only son of John Venimore Godwin. He had three sisters; Catherine ( Catherine never married but ended her years living with her sister, Agnes) , Mary and Agnes ( Agnes married George Payne Warren in December 1916 in Axbridge, Somerset. She died on 27 November 1923 in Axbridge, Somerset, at the age of 69) . He followed his father into a career as a stuff merchant.
In 1887, Sir Arthur married Mary Elizabeth Geddes daughter of William Geddes a tea merchant originally from Liverpool but who had settled in West Derbyshire. They had one daughter, Venice Venimore Godwin who was born in 1889. As a family they spent some years living at the Clock House (Manningham Lane) and then moved to Emm Royd, Heaton.
In 1906, Sir Arthur was the first Lord Mayor of Bradford. He only served one term of office.
However, he remained involved in public life. During WW1, several hundred Bradford families offered to take in Belgium refugees. A party of around 250 refugees arrived in Bradford on the 15 October 1914 and were met by Sir Arthur and Lady Godwin and it was said “greeted with the upmost kindness and consideration”.
In July 1915, Lady Jellicoe, wife of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe officially opened the Khaki Club in Forster Square. Sir Arthur Godwin, who presided over the ceremony said, amid warm applause, that, “ Class distinctions had been swept away by the war, and the aristocrat has discovered that the working man was a decent sort of fellow, brave, loyal and patriotic while the working man had come to realise that the aristocrat was not a nincompoop, but one who was prepared to take his place, shoulder to shoulder with the rest, in the trenches”.
Sir Arthur died on the 29.April 1921 at Colvend, Grassington
When Dame Mary Elizabeth died in 1931, she left over £74,000.
Venice married Harold Mitchell 11.05.1916
On 3 August 1924, Venice gave birth to a Charles Venimore Mitchell. Charles joined the Royal Corps of Signals in 1943 and his military career continued after the war. He married in 1949 in Leeds. He died in 2002
Harold Mitchell died prematurely at 52 on 19.01.1931 at Bolton House.
Wool City – Mark Keighley
Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford – William Scruton
Research by Deborah Stirling