Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger by Rev. Albert A. Birchenough
By a strange coincidence, Mary Bosanquet, the devoted wife of the Rev. John Fletcher, of Madeley, Salop, was born on the same day of the same month as her husband. Having been born in 1739 – the eventful year in which Methodism was cradled – she was ten years younger than Mr. Fletcher. Her father was one of London’s wealthy merchants, and he was Lord of the Manor of Leytonstone, in the County of Essex. He resided at Forest House, a fine, old country mansion, three-storied in height and surrounded with its own picturesque grounds.
Telford speaks of Mrs. Fletcher as “one of the saints of Methodism.” At the early age of eight, and through the agency of a Methodist domestic servant, Mary Bosanquet was enabled to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour. At thirteen years of age she became “personally acquainted with Mrs. Lefevre, one of the early Methodist writers and the distinguished authoress of “Letters on Religious Subjects.” This spiritual classic was a great favourite with the earliest generation of Methodists, and was specially recommended by John Wesley, who had written the preface thereto. Miss Bosanquet was a frequent visitor at the house of Mrs. Lefeyre, where she made the acquaintance of the leading London Methodists. She also formed a friendship with those two saintly ministering women of Methodism – Sarah Ryan and Sarah Crossby. At their humble dwelling in Moorfields she had spiritual fellowship with the Methodists of the Foundery.
Although her parents were members of the Church of England, yet they loved fashionable gaiety, and followed a life of worldly pleasure. They thought their daughter to be “righteous over much,” because she attired herself in a plain garb and positively refused to attend balls, theatres, and other amusements of a questionable character. Her consistency of conduct with her religious profession, estranged her from the members of her family and resulted in parental persecution.
When Miss Bosanquet attained her majority she inherited a small fortune. For the sake of peace this godly heroine sacrificed the comforts of her suburban home and hired two unfurnished rooms in Hoxton Square. Her mother’s parting gift consisted of two beds for the use of herself and female attendant. In her father’s stately coach she was driven to her new home, where she arrived at eight o’clock on a winter’s night. This refined and educated young lady, belonging to one of the leading city families, was exiled from home, friends, and worldly prospects. Voluntarily, and for Christ’s sake, she cast in her lot with the persecuted and humble followers of John Wesley. Miss Bosanquet gives the following graphic description of her first night in these two cheerless apartments:— “She borrowed a table, and the window-seat served her as a chair. Her supper consisted of bread, rank salt butter, and water.” She further says: “She could truly say, ‘I eat my meat with gladness and singleness of heart.’ The bedstead was not as yet put up, and therefore she laid upon the ?oor;“ and the window having no shutters, and it being a bright moonlight night, the sweet solemnity thereof well agreed with the tranquillity of my spirit.” Miss Bosanquet “hired a sober girl,” who, “though good, was dull and ignorant.” Neither the young mistress nor her maid-servant knew much of the world’s doings in general and of domestic matters in particular.
Owing to ill-health Mrs. Sarah Ryan was compelled to relinquish the care of the Methodist Meeting House in Bristol, where she had been Wesley’s housekeeper, and she returned to her relatives in London. By night and day, Miss Bosanquet lovingly nursed this humble suffering saint and faithful follower of Methodism. After her restoration to health, these two devoted women “having one heart, one mind, and one purse, agreed that one habitation also would be most profitable.” After a short residence at Hoxton they removed to Leytonstone, and lived together in a house belonging to Miss Bosanquet. They were the honoured pioneers of Methodism in this London suburb. When Miss Bosanquet told her father of her intention of holding Methodist meetings in her own house, he raised no objection, but hinted at the probable annoyance that would be caused by the rough element of the neighbourhood. He said: “If a mob should pull your house about your ears I cannot hinder them.” These two sisters of the people “began their spiritual campaign by holding weekly meetings for their neighbours, at which they read a chapter of Scripture and occasionally expounded thereon. They were successful in forming a society class consisting of twenty-five members. John Wesley included the newly-formed Leytonstone Society in his London Circuit and instructed his itinerants to conduct regular preaching services at stated intervals. The fears of Mr. Bosanquet respecting persecution were realised; for sometimes “on Sunday when the nights were dark a mob would collect at the gate, and throw dirt at the people as they went out; after which they used to come into the yard, and, putting their faces to a window, which was without shutters, would roar and howl like wild beasts.”
Miss Bosanquet did not merely content herself with saving her own soul and cultivating her own spiritual life. She was influenced by the sacrifice and devotion of the saintly “Sarahs” of Methodism; and she devoted her time, energies, and wealth to establishing, maintaining and supervising a benevolent institution, which fore-shadowed the leading philanthropies of the succeeding century. Her beneficent mission included the housing of destitute children, and her home at Leytonstone became an orphanage as well as a Methodist preaching-house. She began her orphanage by adopting Sally Lawrence, a child of four years of age, whom she received from the side of her mother’s coffin. In course of time Miss Lawrence became a successful Methodist preacheress, and remained with her patroness until her death at Madeley in the year 1800. Five other orphans were subsequently adopted, and Miss Ann Tripp, who had been converted through the agency of Wesley, was engaged as their governess. Some poor but serious women were also included in the household; and each one had her respective duties to perform. No fewer than thirty-five children and thirty-four adult persons passed through Miss Bosanquet’s Orphanage and Refuge Home at Leytonstone. As is the general custom in philanthropic and other public institutions, the inmates at Leytonstone, including Miss Bosanquet, were all attired in garments of the same pattern and colour, made of “a dark purple cotton.” They all dined together at the same hall table, which was fifteen feet long, and at which they were gathered morning and evening for devotional exercises.
Miss Bosanquet received into her home, sickly, filthy, and ignorant children whom she healed, cleansed, and educated. They became good citizens and members of the Church of Christ. “Most of the children,” she says, “when admitted were naked, full of vermin, and some of them were afflicted with disagreeable distempers. The first thing was to clean and clothe them, and attend to their health, which usually was followed with much success.“ In describing their manner of daily life she says: “The eldest of the children arose between four and five; the younger not much later. At half-past six we had family prayer. At seven we breakfasted together on herb tea or milk porridge. The smaller children then went into the garden till eight. At eight the bell rang for school, which continued till twelve. Then after a few minutes spent in prayer, the children came down to us, when we either walked out with them; or, if the weather did not permit, we found them some employment in the house, endeavouring at the same time to give them both instruction and recreation. At one we dined; about two the bell rang again for school, and at five they returned again to us, and were employed as before till supper time. Then after family prayer, they were washed and put to bed at eight. Four or five of the bigger girls were each week kept out of the school by turn and employed in housework, cooking, etc., that they might be accustomed to every sort of business, and there was work enough in so large a family. Several of the children were very young, though I do not remember we had any under two years, except one of about a month old, which was laid, very neatly dressed, one night at our door; but it lived only a fortnight, being full of humours, probably derived from its parents. We had never more than ten grown persons in the family at one time, who were not invalids; nor do I remember above five or six altogether in health. The children, also, for the first few years suffered under various disorders; for we did not refuse either old or young on account of their being sick or helpless.”
The maintenance of such a numerous household was larger than Miss Bosanquet’s income, and she was compelled to draw upon her dowry of £10,500. After five years’ residence at Leytonstone. Miss Bosanquet removed to Cross Hall, a substantial mansion situate in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Shortly after her arrival, Mrs. Sarah Ryan, who had absolute charge of the domestic affairs of the household, died. Miss Bosanquet determined “to take the reins into her own hands, and supplying the place of friend Ryan. But the care of the kitchen,” she says, “buying stores, managing the needlework, and many other things belonging to housekeeping I was quite unaccustomed to. While I lived in my fathers house I saw very little of domestic affairs, because we lived rather high. Besides the manner of life in Yorkshire was entirely different from what I had been used to about London. Here wheat was to be bought to be made into flour, bread to be made; cows to be managed, and men-servants to be directed. And when I had provided as well as I could, some persons in my family would despisingly say my victuals were not worth eating, and that I knew not how to order anything.”
After thirteen years’ residence at Cross Hall, Miss Bosanquet, by her injudicious benevolence, by her untrustworthy advisers, and by the impositions of crafty mendicants, was reduced in circumstances, and found herself in a financial quagmire. She had spent the whole of her available capital of £10,500 with the exception of £4,500, which by her father’s will was settled on trustees. She saw “mountains of difficulty ” rising around her. In her extremity she received a communication from the Rev. John Fletcher stating that for twenty-five years he had regarded her with the deepest affection. This remarkable letter was the beginning of Fletcher’s courtship, which resulted some five months later in his marrying Miss Bosanquet. After gaining the consent of her uncle and brother to their proposed union, Fletcher helped his intended bride in settling her assets and debts; and the disposing of her Yorkshire estate. Before marriage Fletcher had the whole of her remaining fortune settled upon herself and family in case of her pre-decease. This devoted couple were married by license in Batley Church on November 12th, 1781, Ann Tripp being one of the witnesses who signed the register of marriage. Their wedding gave general satisfaction in Methodist circles. Wesley wrote: “Miss Bosanquet was the only person in England whom I judged to be worthy of Mr. Fletcher.” Samuel Bradburn, the “Methodist Demosthenes,” declared “there never was a holier or happier couple since Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Such a man and woman I never knew married before.”
During her brief married life, Mrs. Fletcher united with her husband in promoting the spiritual welfare of the mining population and the families of the barge-men resident in the neighbourhood of Madeley. She also travelled with him over a thousand miles on his preaching tours and errands of mercy. His diligent visitation of the sick laid the foundation of the spotted fever, which caused his untimely death. After preaching in much feebleness for the last time in Madeley Church he knelt by the side of the communion table, exclaiming: “I am going to throw myself under the wings of the cherubim, before the mercy-seat.” Mrs. Fletcher in the bitterness of her bereavement wrote: “Three years, nine months, and two days I have possessed my heavenly-minded husband, but now the sun of my earthly joy is set for ever.”
Mrs. Fletcher survived her husband for thirty years. His successors allowed her to remain undisturbed in the Madeley Vicarage, and also to select the resident curate, because she knew what would meet the spiritual demands of the parishioners. To the end of her natural life, Wesley’s itinerants always found a home of welcome at the Vicarage. Occasionally she preached to crowded congregations assembled in the Methodist Chapels of the neighbourhood. She formed several Methodist societies and classes, and thus conserved the fruits of her husband’s devoted labours. At nine o’clock and at midday on Sundays she conducted her own regular meetings in a spacious building within the Vicarage grounds. Afterwards she along with her vast congregations would attend the services at the Madeley Parish Church. Through her untiring efforts Christian believers were edified, and hundreds of souls were converted and added to the churches in the county of Salop.
Christian Messenger 1902/40