My husband and I recently traveled with a group from Hyde Park Ward on a long bus journey to the Gadfield Elm Chapel in Worchester. This is a Mormon Church historical site of the first chapel ever owned in England.
In 1840, Elder Wilford Woodruff and others proceeded “south” as directed by inspiration to visit the Malvern Hills area. They were introduced to John Benbow by his brother William Benbow who had joined the Church three weeks earlier in the Birmingham area. John Benbow was a leader in the “United Brethren,” a group some 600 strong who had broken from the Methodist Church and were seeking for a restoration of the truth as they found it described in the Bible. They had built a small one- room church for preaching and meeting, and Wilford Woodruff was invited to preach there. All but one of the United Brethren joined the LDS Church, and the building was donated to the Church in 1840; the building was used for two more years until most of the congregation had immigrated to the United States, and the building was sold to help in the immigration costs in 1842.
Over 65,000 saints joined the Church in England in those early years and immigrated to America. In 1850, there were more “Mormons” living in England that were in the U.S.A.
In about 2000 some local members purchased the old broken-down building, and had it restored to its original state as best as they could, and in 2004 it was donated to the Church and dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley as a Historical Site.
Inside the visitor's centre adjoining the chapel
This was a most interesting and rewarding visit, especially given the rich history and sacrifices and stories of faith coming out this small area. Wilford Woodruff [who later became the fourth president of the Church] baptized over 1800 from this little valley of green fields and hedgerows, trees and grass all about. A most pleasant and beautiful area. There was a pleasant, sweet spirit of peace and solitude there.
Wilford Woodruff must have been both a great speaker and a man worthy to be filled with the Spirit. He certainly fulfilled the purposes of the Lord and blessed and changed the lives of thousands.
Wilford Woodruff preached at the John Benbow farm about 7-10 miles away and other locations every night of the week, often attracting 1000 people to be in attendance. The local Anglican Church only attracted about 15 people for services, and the vicar became alarmed and sent a constable to arrest Mr. Woodruff. The constable came to one of the meetings and was attempting to make his arrest when Wilford Woodruff explained that he had a license to preach and asked the constable to take a seat. After the meeting he said he would address the complaint more thoroughly. The constable took a seat right next to Wilford Woodruff near the pulpit. After the sermon several petitioned Elder Woodruff to be baptized and among them was the constable, who later told the vicar that it was the first truthful sermon he had ever heard in his lifetime. The vicar then sent two other spies to other meetings and both were converted and baptized. The vicar then petitioned the Bishop of Canterbury and Parliment to ban Mormons from England, but he was denied. Such are the stories from the journals of the early missionaries.
Of note, my husband’s genealogy line has a couple of people joining the church in the early 1840’s in Banbury just 30 or so miles away from Gadfield Elm to the north east. They immigrated to the USA and had a son born in 1843 in New York and were in Winter Quarters in 1846 or so. This connection makes the experience to Gadfield Elm more real and meaningful to Elder Hawley. Most probably they were there and heard the same missionaries during these same times.
I was so happy to make this journey to learn more about these early members of the Church.