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Rev James Gregory

Memorial of the Rev. James Gregory.

Upon the breezy hill-side some five miles to the north of Bolton-le-Moors that great Lancashire workshop stood an old-fashioned dwelling-house, dignified by the name of Longworth Hall. This was the old homestead of the family whose youngest member is the subject of this memoir.

James Gregory, the father, a large and skilful farmer, was originally trained for the Christian Ministry, but his convictions having undergone a change in the direction of Unitarianism. Gregory, the youngest, was born at Longworth, at the close of 1803. During their sojourn at Longworth the family attended the Unitarian Chapel, at Walmsley, and in the quiet upland burial place that surrounds its four plain weather-beaten walls, rest the remains of father and mother (Mary), several of the daughters, and children’s children, to the third generation.

Notwithstanding their father’s strongly marked Unitarianism, it is noteworthy that not only did none of the children, as they came to years of maturity, sympathise with the religious views of their father, but that, as one by one they left their home, and entered the world, they all attached themselves to Congregational Churches, and maintained through long lives a faith most distinctively and earnestly Christian. Of the three brothers, two were respectively Deacons of the Churches at Lancaster and at Belgrave, Darwen.

When the youngest brother, the subject of this sketch, was still a boy, the family removed to the neighbourhood of Chorley, and while there he attended the Grammar School at Rivington, where he received a good, and what at that time would be considered, a liberal education.

In 1823, the family, then consisting of three sisters and two brothers, removed to a farm at Stodday, near Lancaster. and became associated with the Congregational Church in that town, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Samuel, afterwards Dr. Bell. Mr. Gregory threw himself heartily into the work of the Sunday School, and did good service for several years as Superintendent. After much mental conflict and deep searchings of heart, he was induced to devote himself to the work of the ministry. Recommended by the Church at Lancaster, he studied for a short time at Blackburn, under Dr. Payne and Dr. Lindsay Alexander. When the College was removed to Exeter, under the presidency of the former, he removed to that city, then enjoying the teaching of one who afterwards became his neighbour and highly valued friend, the Rev. Jonathan Glyde. As a student his fresh, earnest presentation of divine truth, associated with a voice favourable for effect, made him somewhat popular, so that the Sabbaths were few in which his services were not called for.

At the close of his College term he undertook for six months the care of the little Church at Sidbury, Devon. But Mr. Gregory was specially fitted for the north, and there he was destined to find his life-work. Returning thither with the intention of fulfilling an engagement to supply the pulpit at Ulverstone for three months, he was turned aside to visit Thornton, by an unexpected, and at the time, an unwelcome arrangement made for him by friend. After hearing him preach for two Sundays, the people at Kipping gave him a most cordial invitation to become their Pastor. This he accepted, and entered upon his duties on the first Sunday in May, 1834. unusual brightness of the summer, the Rev. J, Ely, and the Rev. R. Winter Hamilton, of Leeds, the Rev. W. Jones, of Bolton-le- Moors, and the Rev. James Hague, of Darwen, conducting.

Kipping has figured honourably in the annals of Nonconformity. It was one of the places that first struck the flag of religious liberty. Kipping, the name of the Chapel, is the name of an estate on which it was originally built. Between 1702 and 1871, the Church at Kipping had nine Pastors, making the average for each Pastorate nearly nineteen years.

There was an individuality about the place and people of Kipping. This was most strongly marked at the time of Mr, Gregory’s settlement. Dwelling in the seclusion of a village, at that time much cut off from the centres of population, they nursed their piety and their prejudices, In these early days there was a wide-spread religious feeling, deep-rooted in the hearts of the people. There was scarcely a house where religion was not ostensibly upheld, and the Sabbath observed with Puritanic strictness. The sanctuary was filled with apparently devout worshippers, and its services formed the staple element in the enjoyments of the people.

Another noticeable feature in the place was the large and systematised number of prayer meetings. During the greater part of Mr. Gregory’s ministry, the service was morning and afternoon, so that the evening was set apart for the prayer meetings. The whole of the congregation, or at least that part of it that had any respect for religion, was divided into sections, each section in a given district went from house to house in rotation, so that each family had its own “meeting” “Our meeting foulk” and “whear’s t’meeting to-neeit ?” were common expressions. These primitive gatherings, how they cling to one’s recol- What devout lection! What hearty hymn singing! pleadings with God! The house was generally filled. The capabilities of those one roomed cottages were singularly elastic; and what with men, women, and children – for there was always a goodly proportion of the latter- they were sometimes put to the utmost strain. Chairs were set in the middle of the floor, and sometimes a long form was introduced, in addition to the “long settle” which stood commonly at right angles to the fireside. All the sitting room which the long table could afford was utilised, and still there were many who could not be accommodated with seats, and who had to stand during the whole time, There was a small space near the fire left for the conductor of the meeting, and on the mantelpiece above burned two or three candles, Taking down one of the candles the good man of the house would say-“Naa, Joonas, will yo leeadt t’meeting?” – handing him the candle and the hymn book; and Jonas would step forward into the cleared space open the book, stumbling naturally on the hymn – “What various hindrances we meet”- or “Not all the blood of beasts,” and proceed to “line” it out, two lines at a time, with a sort of quavering intonation, but which gave to every word a solemn emphasis. After the singing of the hymn, sung feelingly to some old-fashioned tune, Jonas would kneel down, and addressing the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as most Merciful Friend -laying such stress upon the word Friend – would pour out his soul in what was at once the simplest and loftiest petition, homely and pathetic, devout and reverential-such pleading with God, as could not fail to strike an answering chord in every spiritual worshipper. Rising from his knees, he would call upon another of the men present – generally one of the elders – to give out a hymn and pray, handing to him the candle and book; and so the meeting would be continued for about an hour. When the meeting was closed a few of the old men would remain behind; the tobacco and long pipes would be brought out; the smoke of the burnt-offering would fill the house; and the talk would turn upon some matter of local interest; or, more frequently, upon some moot point of Christian doctrine – the scope of Christ’s redemption, the manner of God’s election, or the salvability of the heathen. Ten or twelve of these meetings would be scattered through the village and neighbourhood on Sunday evenings; and, though there might have been some evils connected with them, they did, without doubt, largely promote an earnest and religious spirit, and were especially helpful to young beginners in the Christian life. They had the advantage, too, of fostering a spirit of enquiry, and evoking a free, unfettered expression of opinion on all matters affecting the church and congregation.

During a pastorate of nearly forty years many changes must have occurred, both pleasant and painful. Particularly would this be the case in a large manufacturing village, where the fluctuations of trade are strongly felt. A period of depression had the effect of driving young men to seek their livelihood elsewhere.

Their appreciation of his pulpit teachings, and their ardent longing after the house of God, was often expressed in simple and quaint words. One who was long confined to her house and bed through weakness would say to her pastor :(The house plat is but a barren field, and lying here is hard work, but while you’r leading your flock to green pastures, can’t you give a poor feeble sheep a mouthful o’ hay ? When I cannot go wi’ my pitcher to’t well, I’m thankful to hold my can under any spout where I can catch a few drops.”) To such hungry, thirsty souls he delighted to carry the word of life and pour out his soul in earnest prayer on their behalf.

Thus passed many pleasant years of social intercourse and ministerial work, loving and being beloved by all who knew him. On the whole, Mr. Gregory’s pastorate at Kipping was a happy one, as happy as a man’s could be with a nature so peculiarly strung. It was a nature liable to deep depression, and much as he strove against morbidness it settled frequently upon him. By temperament and the constitution of his spiritual nature, he was, as he said, “a child of night.” He was wrestling constantly with “powers and principalities of darkness.” Intellectually and spiritually he chafed, and that bitterly, under the sense of baffled endeavour. He was constantly oppressed by the thought of the unattained and unattainable. He saw heights that were above him, he thirsted o climb them, and the thirst inwardly consumed him.

In the early years of his ministry Mr. Gregory had to grapple with a very formidable evil, in the  tendency to Antinomianism which prevailed-a disposition to lay disproportionate stress upon the sovereignty of God, re- pressing efforts for the recovery of the lost and the salvation of the world.
Mr. Gregory’s training and prepossessions eminently qualified him for handling this vexed question with precision and courage. He so far succeeded, as not only to purge the old controversy of much of its bitterness, but to make men weary of its unprofitableness and interminableness.
To say that the Puritan element largely prevailed in Mr. Gregory’s theology and pulpit teachings, is to say what is credible to all who had only a passing acquaintance with him.

Few men acquired a more thorough mastery of Puritan literature and theology. He gloried in the lives and teachings of those religious heroes and saints. their solidity-he disliked cavils at their narrowness- He loved them for he forgave them their austerities.

Yet cordially as Mr. Gregory embraced the Puritan theology, a strengthening recoil from its sterner aspects, an increasing dislike to hold by its bare unmodified issues were plainly manifest in the late years of his life.

Mr. Gregory never enjoyed robust health, he suffered much from bilious headaches, and consequent langour, and even as a young man many were the seasons when “heart was sick and all the wheels of being slow.” During the opening of the Chapel which was rebuilt in the year 1844, he was laid up from an attack of typhoid fever.

In 1862 came another alarming breakdown; at the close of the year his health was so much impaired that his people kindly made arrangements for his wintering at Southport. This he did, with manifest advantage, but returning to his work too soon, his nervous energy proved so far exhausted that six months of entire rest was prescribed. Most generously, and with the greatest kindness, did a few friends provide for his necessities-at Tenby, under the kind hospitality of one of his deacons-and then at Harrogate and Scarboro’ helpful friends again ministered to his wants, so that after an absence of nine months, he was able to return to his labours at Kipping with comparative health and strength.

With the earnest work of the Wesleyans he had warm sympathy, and with several of their ministers, located at different times in the village, he had close and strong friendship. In every good work in Thornton he took a large and prominent part, and gave time and labour ungrudgingly. As the founder of the Mechanics’ Institute, and as the promoter of not a few educational and social improvements, he proved himself a true benefactor to the village. He was ready on all occasions to encourage the young men in their praiseworthy efforts to consolidate and strengthen the Institute, and none rejoiced more than he when these efforts, aided by generous donors, resulted in the present substantial and commodious structure. It is right to say that the young men never omitted suitable opportunities of expressing their gratitude to their old friend. Only two or three weeks before Mr. Gregory’s last illness, at the request of the members of the Institute, he sat to an artist for a painting of himself, to be hung in the Institute, as first President, along with that of the last President the deeply-lamented Joshua Craven, junior.

While these pages were going to press the following appeared in the “Bradford Observer,” of Tuesday, October 19th 1875 :-


A meeting of a very interesting character was held at the Thornton Mechanics Institute, on Saturday evening. Nearly a year ago a desire was manifested on the part of many members and friends of the institute to show some recognition of the valuable services of the Rev. James Gregory, as one of the founders of the institute forty years ago, and its constant and unfailing supporter since that time, and it was resolved that his portrait should be presented to the Institute. As will be remembered, at the close of last year, Thornton and its neighbourhood suffered an irreparable loss in the death of Mr. Joshua Craven at the age of twenty-five), who was then president of the institute, chairman of the School Board, and an active promoter of all good work in the district. A determination was at once formed to procure a portrait of Mr. Craven also.

The commission was given to Mr. Albert Sachs, of Bradford, and by him carried out with great pains and care; and the portraits, enlarged from photographs and painted in oil, were unveiled on Saturday evening.

James Gregory’s memorial booklet showing the Woodbury type portrait tipped into the booklet. To the right is the painted portrait which was later given to the Bradford Art Gallery by the Thornton Mechanics Institute. Albert Sachs was one of Bradford’s most successful photographers, he died in 1886 and was buried at Kipping Chapel cemetery.

Mr. Gregory in the meantime having died of a good old age, the proceedings were the more touching and impressive.-The meeting was presided over by Mr. John Wilkinson (president), who alluded in feeling terms to the loss which the Institute and the district had suffered in the death of Mr. Gregory and Mr Craven – Mr Wm Pickles gave an account of the movement which resulted in the precuring of the portraits, the cost of which was defrayed by the unsolicited subscriptions of the members and many of their humbler friends in the neighbourhood ……

. Mr. Smith testified to the purity of Mr. Craven’s character, the gentleness of his spirit, his loving affection for those nearest him, and his steadfastness and faithfulness as a friend. The aim of his life was to do good and to make others happy. They knew with what earnestness he laboured, and those who might differ from him in opinion were the first to acknowledge the honesty of his motives and the sincerity of his convictions. In the last letter which he wrote he left a touching record of the purpose of his lite, which they all knew from experience was no sentimental dream. Ho said “I have striven in some measure to promote the true happiness of those of my fellow-men who, though walking in lowlier grades of life, are still my brethren, sons and daughters of the same loving Father.” Of this grand resolve, every good work in Thornton had seen not only the substantial promise, but the abundant fruits. The influence of such men was not lost. Of both Mr. Gregory and Mr Craven it might be said that in many respects they were still members of that institute, whose walls their portraits so fitly adorned. Their opinions would often be quoted, and the fulfilment of their hopes and prophecies would form the motive power that would rouse to generous enthusiasm and noble action many and earnest man.

At one time, nearly all the employers of labour in the village attended Kipping, and the various Christian and philanthropic societies largely profited by their generous benefactions. When Mr. Gregory took the pastorate, from £20 to £30 per annum was divided between the London Missionary Society, Airedale College, and the West Riding Home Missionary Society. He lived to see liberal contributions, steadily increasing to these societies and kindred associations, so that Kipping fully kept pace with other In the service churches in works of Christian beneficence. of the West Riding Home Missionary Society he freely expended time and energy, and lost no opportunity of advocating its claims. For many years he was its district secretary. To the College he was deeply attached, having free intercourse with the students, and manifesting, on all occasions, a genuine concern in their welfare and prosperity. From not a few have been received gratifying expressions of gratitude and esteem. At the close of the year 1868 it was thought desirable, in view of Mr. Gregory’s failing strength, and the growing requirements of the church and congregation at Kipping, that he should have the services of an assistant. Foreseeing, however, that under any circumstances his own labours could not be greatly prolonged, Mr. Gregory requested that a co-pastor should be chosen, suited to succeed him. Generous pecuniary arrangements were made to carry out this plan. After the lapse of a few months a call was given to the Rev. Frederick Hall, then a student in Airedale College, but as he had not completed his college term, the co-pastorship did not commence until June 1870. It terminated in the June of the following year. On the expiration of his pastorate, Mr. Gregory lingered in Thornton about three months, and then removed to Bradford, where part of his family had already preceded him. The records of his diary bear witness to the anguish of his spirit at leaving the scene of his thirty- Neven years’ ministry, and parting with a people whom he had dearly loved, and whose highest good he had spent his strength in endeavouring to promote. His life in Bradford, continued for nearly four years, was singularly peaceful and happy. It was the calm eventide of the hard, well-spent day. Preaching, always a perfect passion with him, was no less so when it was no longer incumbent upon him. Ready, at the shortest notice, to help his brethren, to fill their place or supply their lack of service, he was almost every Sunday called upon to occupy the pulpit of either his own or other denominations, and took a special interest in Sabbath work at the Tradesman’s Home. His association with the various ministers of the town Was always pleasant and exhilarating. Keeping up a vivid interest in all current phases of thought, and engaging with almost youthful zest in the discussions that arose at the different meetings, he was refreshed and stimulated not little by those occasional heavings of the still waters of hi life. His fondness for a good theological “tussle” seemed never to abate. But the happiest hours that Mr. Gregory spent were in his study. His painstaking student habits never deserted him. He was a great reader, though not a devourer of books.  Accordingly, he was in the habit of committing largely to paper the results of his reading. Believing that what was worth reading was worth remembering, he took copious extracts and notes, and penned careful and characteristic piles literally piles of manuscript books criticisms, attest the width and variety of his reading. He was a man of great industry, and he admired it in others.

He passed through those portals on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 18th day of May, 1875. It was a calm and apparently painless passage.

His body was conveyed to its last resting place the Saturday following, May 22nd. The funeral service was conducted in Salem Chapel, with whose church Mr. Gregory had been some time connected, and was attended by the many ministers and friends who loved and honoured him for his
long life-work, as well as by the deacons of the Church at Kipping, and a large number of his old congregation. The service was opened with reading and prayer, by the Rev. J. G. Miall, the Rev. D. Jones, of Booth, gave an address, and the body was then conveyed to Undercliffe Cemetery After a few appropriate and appreciative remarks, uttered by the Rev. Dr. Fraser, the remains were committed to the grave ” in the sure and certain hope of a glorious In the morning of the Sunday week following, Mr. Gregory’s successor, the Rev. F. Hall, preached at Kipping, a funeral sermon to a crowded congregation, and in the evening of the same day, the Rev. J. G. Miall also dwelt on the life-lessons of him who had so long and faith-resurrection.” fully proclaimed God’s message within those walls.

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