John Morse was a watch and clock maker, living in Southampton at the end of the eighteenth century, who had a vital role in the establishment of Methodism there. Indeed, most of what we know of his life dates from after his meeting with John Wesley in August 1787. Before then, all we know is that he was born in about 1751, and married Mary Paddick in Winchester, at St John’s Church, 24 August 1783.
What happened next is recorded in a manuscript held in the Methodist Archives at the John Rylands Library in Manchester: “The early history of Methodism in Hampshire,” by Rev John Sundius Stamp.
Mr Stamp says that he is “indebted for much of this information” to John Morse, who tells him that in 1787 he was lodging with [the Fay Family] next door to All Saints Church. Mrs Fay offered Methodist preachers lodgings on their way through the town to the Channel Islands, and allowed them to conduct services there. Mr Morse’s first experience of one of these services was when Dr Adam Clarke preached at 7am one Sunday morning, but he seems to have been more curious about the rest of the small congregation than about the message being proclaimed,
“during the service looking around on the few who were met together, [he] attracted the attention of the preacher who immediately paused for the purpose of reproving his inattention in these words – “you ought to look up at the preacher, and not turn your head about although an angel of light were to enter the room.”
A few months later, on the 9 August 1787, John Wesley himself arrived at the Fay’s. This time, Mrs Fay invited John, not to a service, but to tea “hoping by this means to overcome the prejudice he had long entertained in regard to Mr Wesley, the popular notion that the Methodist preachers were the false prophets, and that Mr Wesley was their Head Leader[?] was eagerly embraced by Morse, and for some time he hesitated to accept the invitation, lest he strengthen the hands of deceivers, and be himself thrown out of the way – At length he consented to go, but with the precaution that he would narrowly watch his motions and be on his guard. On entering the room in which the party were met Mr Wesley sprung from the chair to meet him, and taking him by both hands shook them earnestly saying “My dear Brother – how do you do” – a reception so cordial and affectionate as this from a man who he had hitherto dismissed as a false prophet quite overcame him – he burst into tears, all his objections against Mr Wesley immediately were dissipated – and deep remorse on his past conduct took possession of his heart. Under the sermon of that evening he was powerfully convinced of sin and he rested not until Methodist preaching was regularly established in the town.”
We should perhaps take his unfamiliarity with Methodism with a pinch of salt: his wife Mary had been brought up among the Methodists in Whitchurch “from whom in heart she was never estranged and removing to Southampton with her husband was deprived of the means of grace according to the usages of that Body, and until the visits of the Methodist preachers more frequently with her husband attended the Established Church than any other place of public worship.”
Nevertheless, he now became one of the founding members of a new Methodist society, meeting, as was usual “in class” in a private home, in this case that of Zechariah Thomas and Elizabeth his wife . Other members of the class were Richard Norris, Jane Batten and her fellow-servants Jane Sainsbury and James Fry, and Thomas Bromley. Then “Mr Morse took a house in East Street, and toward furnishing it borrowed ten guineas of his employer, and in his house the people assembled” The house, 7 East Street, was registered for worship, as Mrs Fay’s had been: the Morse’s were hosting more than just prayer meetings. “Before the termination of 1787 they were obliged to leave the room in East Street in consequence of the opposition manifested by those who lived in the neighbourhood. One woman was particularly outrageous, and threatened the most violent things against the safety of those who lived at the house. An auction room in Hanover Buildings was rented of Mr Hookey, a constable of the town, at the rate of £ 10 per annum, and in this place without molestation the Society enjoyed the means of grace.”
John Morse was the Society Steward: his account books survive in the Southampton City Archives from 1798: as the Society grew, there had been some grumbling that “the Money received was never accounted for,” which came to a head at one of the quarterly meetings to discuss circuit business, when Thomas Bromley “declared his disapprobation (to use his own language) of the “hugger mugger” way in which affairs were conducted especially the financial part of the concern. Mr Ashman who was the Assistant and of course present at the meeting got up and said “Hugger Mugger. Hugger Mugger. I never heard of such a word. What does it mean? If Mr Bromley complains that he knows nothing of the expenditure of the money, let him come in a proper and respectful manner, and Mr Morse’s books are open to him at any time to examine. But there is no Hugger Mugger work I can assure you.” After a suitable reproof which Mr A was well qualified to give, Mr B as the champion of the disaffected few sat down abashed and confounded. The envy manifested toward those who were thought trustworthy in the Southampton Society, was in a very early period of their existence displayed to a very unhallowed and reprehensible degree, as at different periods to threaten it with extinction. But censorious individuals like these were soon fatigued with restraints, and ere long the Society had to rejoice in a happy riddance.”
We have a description from 1790 of Mr Morse under a large tree in Redbridge supporting Rev Henry Saunders in open-air preaching.
In 1791, the society moved across the road in Hanover Buildings from Mr Hookey’s auction rooms to Richard Sim’s Scaffold Loft, due to complaints by a neighbour, and when they outgrew this space, and built a chapel in [Canal Walk, later known as Union Terrace] John Morse was one of the trustees.
In the November of 1800 Mr Stamp recorded that “John Morse who had honourably and most conscientiously discharged for several years the duties of the Southampton Society Steward voluntarily retired from the office by delivering up the book, with the sum of £4 -2s being cash in hand, to Mr George New and Mr Joseph Clark – who were appointed to succeed Mr Morse as Joint Society Stewards November 19th.”
In 1803, he joined the militia, although “with the exception of a few false alarms they had no opportunity of exhibiting their prowess in the field of battle and therefore no tale to tell their listening audience in time to come, how muskets were shouldered and “how fields we won” Some of the alarms were of a truly ludicrous and grotesque description, many called out of the unyielding embrace of “balmy sleep” amid the heating “to arms” the cry of “the French, the French”, the tears of wives and the screaming of children, appearing in the High Street amid their valiant companions in arms – armless – so great the surprise of some and the terrors of others. These were bloodless feats.”
John Morse does not appear in any extant directory, but the clocks he made in appear in the auction houses variously dated from “last quarter of the eighteenth century” to “1900.” Between 1793 and 1801 he was master to four apprentices, at least two with Methodist connections.
1793 Joseph Plawman
1797 William Stickland
1800 Henry Y Cheverton (later a Wesleyan Methodist Minister)
1801 John Rogers
He may have been working in West Cowes in 1809, and an advertisement in the Hampshire Chronicle, 24 May 1819, places him in Andover. He is selling “ a very eligible house and premises, situate in the High Street, Southampton, adjoining All Saints Church, on the north side, where an extensive business has been carried on for nearly fifteen years, of watch and clock making.”
He was back in Southampton in June, 1829, when he was listed as a member of Samuel White’s class at Southampton. He was 78 years old. He died on 26 March 1840, in Bedford Place, aged 89. His wife Mary had died only three months earlier, on 27 December 1839. They were both buried in her home town of Whitchurch.
John Morse’s will survives in Hampshire Record Office, dated 26 December 1839, the day before his wife’s death. He shares his estate among a few friends and neighbours, decides that two of them should have an extra twenty pounds, and signs it in a shaky hand, witnessed by Ann Shayer and Catherine Fry. Then, on 29 January, he makes a codicil: “It having been suggested to me that George Caines who some time since purchased my Horse at the sum of (blank) Pounds paid more than it was worth and being desirous that justice may be done I hereby direct my executors Messrs Joseph Clarke snr and George Laishley after my decease to take back the same Horse from the said George Caines at the price he paid for it.” Joseph Clarke and George Laishley were old friends, with Methodist connections: George was still a prominent member at Union Terrace, and Joseph had been one of the early Methodists, until he became a Quaker. John’s will has attached Joseph’s affirmation rather than his oath as an executor.