Ministers of the United Reformed Church in Thornbury

The writing of Edgar Pitcher provides a rich source of information about the various ministers of the Church, which was initially called the Independent or Presbyterian Chapel.  It became known as the Congregational Church in the nineteenth century and its name changed again to the United Reformed Church in 1972.  This is summarised below with copies of photos taken from the Church.  We also include some information drawn from reading the minutes of the Meetings of the Church which are held in the safe there and to which we were very kindly allowed access.  Click on the thumbnails below to see a larger image of each Minister.

William Jones – was Pastor for 14 years up to 1810.  The Land Tax records of 1809 and 1810 indicate that he lived at the house now known as 48 High Street.   There is a memorial to him inside the Church:

‘To the memory of Revd William Jones who was a pious Christian and sincere Friend and the faithful Pastor of this Church for 14 years.  He departed this life April 17th 1810 aged 51 years.’

Benjamin Howell – we note that Benjamin was listed as the minister who carried out the baptisms between 1815 and 1824.  He also lived at 48 High Street following the above William Jones, so there must be some connection with the house and the Church.

Thomas Palmer was the minister who seems to have led the move to the new building.  Edgar Pitcher says that it was Palmer who in 1825 received an estimate from a local builder for the erecting of the chapel on its present site at a cost of £727.  There were 20 trustees for the property but they don’t seem to have managed to keep the builder to his estimate, as the accounts show that the outlay came to over £1,000.  The members of the chapel only raised £94 and attempts to enlist the help of other congregations added a further £100.  This meant that the a loan of £600 had to be obtained and the battle against debt began.  By 1827 the trustees seemed to be losing the struggle, as Edgar Pitcher tells us that the amount payable had risen to over £900.

Thomas was born in Staines in 1794.  He was at Glastonbury Independent Church before coming to Thornbury in 1825.  The United Reformed Church in Thornbury has a receipt for a saddle and bridle Thomas bought from a local saddler Daniel Pitcher.  This may have been part of his preparations to leave town as he left the area rather abruptly in July 1827, leaving the legacy of a beautiful building and a problem for his successor.  It seems that Mr Palmer’s departure was unorthodox.  A record of a meeting on September 6th 1827 gives some interesting details;

“it was then stated by Messrs Motten and Lane that Mr Palmer their late pastor left Thornbury on July 24th at an unknown hour of the night (‘about 3 o’clock in the night’ crossed out) and he has not since appeared and the friends now wish to know what is to be done.”

Later the document mentions that “It appears that Mr Palmer left the town with a balance of £15 upon the Chapel Case in his hands.”  The records of the Congregational Library indicate that he turned up at Milborne Port Church, on the Somerset/Dorset border, from 1835-1838.  The 1841 census shows Thomas was a schoolmaster living in North Street,  Milborne Port with his wife, Sarah and their two sons, John aged 10 and Samuel aged 8.  By 1851 the family had moved to Cardiff where Thomas continued as a schoolmaster.  It is interesting to note that there was a Thomas Palmer, an Independent Minister of the town of Cardiff, mentioned in a list of dissenting minsters.  This shows that he continued his involvement his role as minister in spite of his problems in Thornbury.

Rev William Dove 1831-1843

William Dove – On June 24th 1831 leading members of the congregation, including Daniel Palser, James Jones, George Motley, Jesse Cossham, Hester Pritchard and Sarah Thomas Virgo wrote to invite William Dove to become their pastor.  They had heard him preach and appreciated his “pious zeal and persevering diligence and labour of love in the cause of Christ.”  Mr Dove replied on August 2nd and apologised for the delay in replying.  It seems he needed time for reflection and to consult his friends.  He said that it would be inconvenient for him to become pastor in Thornbury before the first Sabbath in October as otherwise he would have to pay the rent on two homes.  He seems to have been a very frugal man and William Dove’s letter went on to make it clear that “I say nothing about salary, it is a subject that has not caused me a moment’s anxiety.”  The arrangement he suggested was that once in post he would like to have a month’s holiday in August but he would provide a “substitute satisfactory to the deacons, except when begging for the chapel, when my expenses (provided they are moderate) together with the expense of supplies shall as is usual be paid out of the monies collected on behalf of the Chapel.”  The reference to “begging” is interesting and something William Dove took very seriously.  His daughter, sent Edgar Pitcher a copy of his “begging book”, which apparently shows that he visited Stroud, Bristol, Frampton, Chepstow, Newport, Cardiff and London amongst other places to raise funds and his expenses were certainly reasonable as is shown by one entry;  “Bread and cheese in Chepstow twice 1/-“.

William Dove remained in the pastorate in Thornbury until 1843.  On 19th August 1843 he wrote a resignation letter saying that he was going to take over a newly created combined pastorate of Tortworth and Falfield.  He appears to have been successful in this new endeavour as by 1851 the Census shows that he was still the minister and was living at Falfield, where he remained until his death in 1855.  We understand that his family continued to live in the house next to the chapel until the last of his daughters died in 1937 and many of the family are buried in the chapel graveyard

William appears to have greatly endeared himself to his congregation, possibly partly due to his success in reducing the enormous debt.  Edgar Pitcher certainly gives the Rev. Dove credit for reviving the finances of the Church.  The Minutes of the Meeting of the Church for March 25th 1834 say that the debts owed by the church amounted to £530 13s.  By 1835 he had reduced the amount owing to to £403 and eight years later, when he resigned to go to Falfield, there was only £180 owing.  Click here to read about William Dove and his family

Joseph Edkins – became Pastor from 1846 to 1847.  Although the Minutes of the Church Meetings at this time make reference to Mr Edkins as pastor there are no letters from or to him included in the Minute Book.  We do not know at this point when Joseph actually left the church in Thornbury but it is noticeable that there are records of baptisms in 1849 and these were preformed by William Dove, who may have been helping out in the absence of a regular pastor.  We have been unable to trace further details about the Joseph Edkins who acted as pastor for the church at this time . However the 1841 Census shows only one likely person called Joseph Edkins who was a Divinity student aged 17 in London in 1841.  We have found no likely person called Joseph Edkins in the 1851 Census.

There is a possible and very interesting reason for this.

The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland ” by S.W. Bushell contains the life story of Dr Joseph Edkins who was born at Nailsworth in Gloucestershire on December 19th 1823.  He was the son of a Congregational minister who was in charge of a private school where Joseph was also educated.  We understand from Wikipedia and other websites on the internet that he graduated from the University of London in 1843 and that he was ordained on 8th December 1847.  We believe that it is possible that this was the same Joseph Edkins who acted as pastor in Thornbury until the church could find a permanent replacement for William Dove.  We do not believe that the fact that he had not yet been ordained when he was acting as pastor in Thornbury is a problem.  Certainly a note in the Minutes book during 1853 says that “during the period that the church was without a pastor the position was supplied by various ministers and students from Bristol.”

Joseph Edkins does not appear in the Census of 1851 because he was sent by the London Missionary Society to China in 1848.  He arrived in Hong Kong on July 22nd 1848 and had made his way to Shanghai by September 2nd 1848.  In 1859 he married Jane Rowbotham Stobbs and after her death he married Johanna Schmidt in 1881.  He died in 1905.

Joseph Edkins’ life was spent not only evangelising but also in studying Chinese.  He translated the Bible and a wide range of scientific works into Chinese.  He also published a great many papers and books concerned with the language and dialects of the language and with the beliefs and culture of the country.

James Alsop – On March 27th 1849 leading members of the congregation wrote to James Alsop inviting him to become pastor in Thornbury.  During his short ministry of about two years, there was much purging of the Church Roll, 13 members were deprived of membership for absence from the Lord’s Supper.  To the credit of some of these, they were afterwards re-admitted to fellowship.  Evidently Mr Alsop did not get on very well at Thornbury and closed his ministry in 1851 by giving less than one week’s notice.  But although in his letter of resignation he had a tilt at his flock saying ‘that he was going amongst people more in harmony with his own views and feelings and that it was a well-known fact that Ministers remained with you but a short time‘,  he bore them no malice but contributed a generous sum towards the debt upon the Chapel.

The Bristol Mercury of Saturday May 17th 1851 announced that “Thornbury – on Sunday last the Rev J. Alsop preached his farewell sermon in the Independent Chapel of this town, having accepted an invitation to a larger sphere of labour in Hungerford Berkshire.”  We do not know whether Mr Alsop fared better in Hungerford but a “History of the Congregational churches in the Berks, South Oxon and South Bucks Association” says that “Mr Alsop’s ministry here was very short, as he resigned December 27th, 1852.”  Click here to read more about James Alsop

Revd. Thomas Gallsworthy

Thomas Gallsworthy – After a period without a pastor, apart from various ministers and students who supplied the vacancy on a temporary basis.  Thomas Gallsworthy of West Melton near Rotherham in Yorkshire who had “been invited to supply the pulpit for three Sabbaths” visited Thornbury for three weeks.  He seems to have earned the unanimous approval of the congregation as he was then invited to become the minister on a permanent basis in March 1853 at the stipend of £60 per annum.

Having studied at Airedale College, Thomas Gallsworthy was ordained on October 4th 1837 as the pastor of the Independent Church assembling in Rothwell Northamptonshire.  Thomas married only a couple of years before he came to Thornbury.  The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent of November 23rd 1850 announced the marriage of Rev Thomas Gallsworthy to Sarah only daughter of Samuel Johnson of Wath on Thames on 21st November at West Melton.

He remained in Thornbury until 1857 when the cause began to decline.  This created apparently a feeling of dissatisfaction among the Members, and led to his resignation.  The Members sent him what they termed ‘An address upon the decaying state of the cause of Christ among us’, in which they suggested the necessity of some effort being made by him etc.  The Hereford Times of 18th August 1855 reported that the house of the Rev Thomas Galsworthy was burglariously entered but a few items of trifling value only were taken.  By 1864 we know that he was living in Alfreton Nottinghamshire as his house was advertised for sale in the Nottinghamshire Guardian in August of that year.  He died there on 17th June 1888 having been the pastor of Alfreton Congregational Church for 13 years.

Rev John Morgan

John Morgan -In November 1858 leading members of the congregation wrote to John Morgan to invite him to become pastor.  John Morgan’s acceptance came with the proviso that he could not leave his parish in Chard before the end of that year so it was not until 1859 when he started in Thornbury.  The appointment came after a period when the Members were evidently in some doubt as to the ability of the Church to find money to pay a Minister’s stipend.  The attendance at his ordination service in August was said to be ‘very large and highly respectable’.  He was ‘an earnest pastor’ and membership grew steadily and a determined effort was made to get rid of the long-standing debt, an effort which proved successful for the Pastor announced in April 1860 that Chapel was free from debt.

John Morgan performed the first marriage ceremony in the Congregational Church on 5th April 1862.

Mr Morgan was evidently not satisfied with the methods adopted of raising funds for current expenses by means of Pew Rents, Subscriptions and Quarterly Collections and he suggested that weekly offerings should be dropped in boxes to be placed by the doors.  It was long time before the change became more productive and after a period of about six years, Mr Morgan resigned in on December 7th 1865.  Sadly in his resignation letter he expressed his “acute pain” that his “ministry in Thornbury was losing its hold on and its power over the minds and hearts of the people.”  The leading members of the congregation replied immediately asking him to “abide with us” but Mr Morgan’s mind was not to be altered.  Click here to read about John Morgan

John Spicer Binder – became Pastor in April 1866 and he lasted until January 1873 when he felt bound to resign because of continual ill-health and “urgent medical advice.”  Good progress was made during his ministry, the membership increased and finances improved to such an extent that the County Union Aid was dispensed with, and the wages of the Crossways Chapel caretaker were increased from 3/- to 3/6 a quarter, she being ‘dissatisfied with the former amount‘.

Rev John Spicer Binder

The 1861 Census shows us that John was an independent minister in Sherston Magna, Wiltshire aged 34 and born in Lambeth.  He was living with his wife, Mary, age 33 born in Ludlow and daughter, Mary Ann aged 13 born in Clerkenwell.  On October 6th 1869 Mary Ann Binder, the daughter of John and Mary Binder married Phillipp Wilhelm Reinuth of Austria.

The 1881 Census shows John was living in Penge, Surrey with his wife Mary then aged 53.  The probate record shows that Rev John Spicer Binder “late of Gratz in Austria, Congregational Minister, a widower who died 1st October 1887 at Portland-road in the County of Middlesex was granted at the Principal Registry to Mary Ann Reinmuth (wife of Phillipp Wilhelm Reinmuth) of 5 Brunngasse Gratz the Daughter and only Next of Kin.

Thomas Robert Donaldson – on May 14th 1873 there was a meeting to discuss the possibility of Thomas Donaldson becoming the pastor.  The meeting was unanimous that Mr Donaldson “was a truly good man” but some people had expressed their apprehension that “he might fail as a preacher to give satisfaction.”  Despite these apprehensions, the meeting decided to offer him £100 a year, which was the same salary as the previous minister.  He was offered a one year’s trial and his pastorship was confirmed at a meeting of 27th March 1874 and this was announced in newspapers on 2nd April 1874.  His ordination took place on 21st October 1874.  He remained as pastor until 1877.  According to Edgar Pitcher he was much loved by the younger members of the congregation and greatly missed by them when he left to go to Scotland.  During his brief tenure the church seems to have been much improved and new seating costing £148 were installed.  The Sunday School was growing fast and so in 1876 the chapel acquired a small piece of adjoining land to build a schoolroom with classrooms.  This cost a further £365 and a penny a week subscription scheme paid towards the cost.

Rev Thomas R. Donaldson

On 16th April 1876 Thomas Donaldson resigned from the church and expressed his intention to move to Wardlaw Memorial Mission Church in Glasgow.  The Surman Index Online website shows that he was pastor there only from 1877 to 1878.  From this website we have learned that Thomas was born in Edinburgh in 1839, the son of Thomas and Matilda Donaldson.  He was educated at Bristol Theological College and Glasgow University.  We believe that Thomas married Margaret Thorn in Glasgow in 1863.  At that time his occupation was a “japanner.”  The 1871 Census in Scotland shows that the couple lived in Clydeview Terrace in Bridgeton in Glasgow where Thomas had become a “missionary and student of arts.”

It is possible that Thomas moved back to Glasgow partly for family reasons.  A family tree on the Ancestry website shows that Thomas was the informant for the registration of the death of his father on the 28th February 1877.  From Glasgow Thomas and Margaret moved to Ross on Wye in Herefordshire in 1878 where they remained until 1883.  The 1881 Census shows they lived in Gloucester Road in Ross on Wye and that Thomas was aged 50 and married.

He was pastor at Oakhill in Somerset from 1885 to 1893.  The 1891 Census shows that he and his wife Margaret lived at Holly Lodge at Ashwick.  He then moved to Christ Church Chudleigh in Devon.  He died on 11th April 1901 at Mafeking Terrace in Paignton and probate was awarded to his widow, Margaret.


Rev Charles Gayler

Charles Gayler – In November 1876 Charles Gayler was invited to enter upon his ministry in Thornbury.  He wrote a letter of acceptance that same month, partly because of the kind reception he had had when meeting members of the church.  He seems to have started work there almost immediately.  He was much praised by Edgar Pitcher, who gave him a glowing reference as “a Vigorous and able preacher, a wise counsellor and a welcome fighter for Liberal principles upon the political platform.”  He was also credited with introducing the Sunday School excursions to Weston Super Mare.  Perhaps this is one reason why the membership was said to have steadily increased under his care.  The minutes of a church meeting in February 1879 may show something of the nature of the minister.  Charles Olds was concerned that the weekly offering could not meet the expenses.  The discussion that followed dealt with the options for solving this problem, including having more pews available to be rented. Mr Cossham wanted some of the new pews to be let and some to be kept of the poorer members of the congregation.  Mr Gayler put an end to this aspect of the discussion by firmly saying that he wanted “to make every person welcome & feel at home in the House of God.

Rev D D Evans

Charles Gayler was born in Chelmsford in Essex.  The 1851 Census shows that he was the son of an agricultural labourer, William Gayler and his wife Mary . The 1881 Census shows that Charles Gayler, then aged 32 and unmarried was lodging in Pullins Green in Thornbury.  In November 1887 there was a discussion at the church meeting about Mr Gayler leaving and the need to issue him with “a second invitation.”  Later that month the terms of this second invitation were spelled out.  The pastor could stay on with his stipend reduced to £100 and “all that comes in over, after all the ordinary expenses of the church have been paid” or he could stay on for six months at his original salary of £120.  Mr Gayler chose the latter option.  He terminated his employment on Sunday May 30th 1888 and left Thornbury to go to Clacton on Sea in 1888.  The 1891 Census confirms that he was lodging in Clacton.

In March 1889 the congregation invited John Dearlove to become pastor at a salary of £110.  Mr Dearlove declined the offer.

David D. Evans was described by Edgar Pitcher as a warm hearted Welshman who was a minister in Thornbury from July 1889 until 1895, during which time the membership continued to grow. The 1891 Census shows that he was then 26 years old and born in Glamorganshire. At the time of the census he was lodging in Gloucester Road with the family of Walter William Pitcher. David’s resignation letter in October 1895 was brief and gave no reason for his departure. On receiving it a meeting of the church members voted to ask the minister to stay until he had secured another pastorate. It seems possible that he became the minister in Westbury in Wiltshire. We believe he appears in the census of 1901 with his wife Florence from Bristol. There was a marriage of a David D Evans to Florence Sturge in Bristol in the December quarter of 1891. By the Census of 1911 the couple appear to have returned to David’s homeland as he was a congregational minister in Llangeinor in Glamorganshire. They had been married 19 years and had no children.

Rev A. O. Moore

Arthur O. Moore – Pastor from 1897 to 1905.  On November 6th 1896 Arthur Moore wrote accepting the recent invitation for him to become pastor at the church at the stipend of £110.  At that time Arthur was living in Stalbridge in Dorset.  The Rev Moore and his family moved to Thornbury in 1897 and later came to live at 22 Gloucester Road and we have some information about him and his family there.  The minutes of a church meeting in November 1904 show that it was agreed that the sum of ten guineas should be given to him as a leaving present when he left in the new year. Rev Moore was to move to South Wigston chapel in Leicestershire.

Evan Griffith Davies – Pastor 1906 – 1908.  On 1st December 1905 the congregation wrote to Evan Griffith Davies of Abertillery inviting him to become pastor in Thornbury.  Later that month Evan replied accepting the church’s invitation.  His salary was to be £120 and he could have one month’s holiday a year and one free Sunday in every two months to be paid for by the church.  He had studied at the Brecon Theological College and that Thornbury was his first Ministry.

Rev Evan Griffith Davies

When he left Thornbury on November 22nd 1908 he became Pastor at Hanham Road Congregation Church, Kingswood.  The Western Daily Press reported on the meeting to say farewell to Rev Griffith Davies.  He was presented with a crocodile dressing case with silver plated fittings.

The 1911 Census shows that aged 32 he was lodging with a grocer James Harris and his wife Lucy Harris in South Road in Kingswood.  We understand from a family tree on Ancestry website that he was born on 10th March 1879 in Molygrove Pembrokeshire.  The 1881 Census shows that he was the son of a Master Mariner, John Davies and his wife Frances.  By 1901 he was a ministerial student in Llangnicke in Glamorganshire.  His resignation letter written from his lodging in Gloucester Road expresses his gratitude to his congregation in Thornbury and prays “that God will abundantly bless your efforts in the future.

There was a vacancy in the position of pastor for some time at this point.  It would be interesting to know why the post could not be filled.  We know that at least three pastors were invited. In June 1909 Mr Cheatle was unable to come to Thornbury, in December 1909 Rev J Nicholas was unable to accept for “family reasons” and the Rev. John Pogson of Whitworth in Rochdale later wrote in April 1910 also declining to be pastor.  The stipend offered was £130 per annum but we are unable to say whether this was a factor.  It seemed to be felt by the church meetings that one factor was the lack of a manse and a fund was started to buy a manse in 1909 but this did not happen until 1927.

Rev W Johnstone

William Johnstone – Pastor 1910 to 1916.  He was born on 10th August 1885 in Nottingham and was the eldest son of Rev William Johnstone of Halifax.  Thornbury Congregational Church was his first pastorate.  He was in Manchester University in 1903.  He started his training at Lancashire Independent College.  He became Pastor at Thornbury in 1910 after a meeting in July resolved to invite him to become pastor at a salary of £130 per annum and with four Sundays leave a year.  It seems likely that he was to stay initially at least at the home of Leonard Pitcher in Gloucester Road as at a meeting of July 1910 he agreed to “take the preachers on the same terms as Mrs Bennett, for one month.”

The minutes of the church meeting in September 1910 record the fact that the Principal of Lancashire College and the Rev Robert Nott of the Chairman and Secretary of the County Union were to attend William’s ordination at Thornbury.  William also suggested that the ministers from the other Non-Conformist Churches in Thornbury should be invited to the occasion.

In the 1911 Census William was shown as being aged 25 and born in Nottingham.  At that time he was boarding with Leonard Pitcher at 69 High Street.  We are grateful to Robin Pencavel of the United Reformed Church in Thornbury for further information about Rev Johnstone’s time in the army and his later career in the church.

Apparently on September 30th 1914 William Johnstone announced that “he had considered it his duty in view of the great National Crisis to offer himself as a member of the Bristol City Battalion of Lord Kitchener’s Army.”  He expected to be away from his duties for “a twelvemonth.”

He joined up as a private in Bristol’s Own and remained in the Army until the end of the War.  According to the Dursley Gazette in 1915 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.  He wrote to his church in Thornbury on 30th August 1916 resigning his pastorate, seemingly he expected to be away for a longer still.  On 27th July 1917 the Congregational Church in Thornbury “resolved to send congratulations to our late Pastor Captain W. Johnstone, upon the honour bestowed on him by being mentioned in the dispatches of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig.”

He came through the War without a wound.  In October 1920 he married Margaret Wilmot a daughter of Samuel Mullett Wilmot and his wife Ann.  The family lived in Alveston.  At the time of his wedding the report said that he had recently been appointed to the ministry of Romford Road Congregational Church in Forest Gate London.  His wedding reception was held at the Wilmot’s home, The Chalet in Alveston.

He later became Pastor of Charminster Road Church, Bournemouth and finally at Otley in West Yorkshire.  William died on 26th August 1949.


Rev Frank Tarrant

Frank Tarrant – became Pastor in 1918, according to Edgar Pitcher, an able man and a thoughtful preacher, came from London and after he remained for six years, he accepted the call to Windsor.  The 1911 Census shows that Frank then aged 36 had been married to Olive for six years and they had two children, Hugh and Olive.  At the time of the Census the family lived in Camberwell in London where Frank was a minister for the Congregational Church.  Frank was born in Buckinghamshire in 1874, the son of a blacksmith William Tarrant and his wife Susannah.  He married Olive Mabel Hobbs in the June quarter of 1905 in Whitchurch in Hampshire.  Please note that the FreeBMD website records Frank’s surname as “Tanant.”  After the Census of 1911 the couple appear to have had two more children, Robert and Frances before moving to Thornbury.

Frank was the first of several ministers of that church known to have lived at the Manse in Pullins Green.  Click here to read more

Pugh Perkins – one of several Ministers and students who conducted services during a period of three years after Frank Tarrant’s departure.  The Revd. Perkins came from London and for six months he proved a tower of strength and encouraged both young and old by his splendid zeal and ability in and out of the pulpit.


Rev Frank Harker

Frank Edward Harker – became Pastor in 1927 and served until 1940. Frank also lived at the Manse on Pullins Green.  Click here to read more about him

Since 1940 the following have been Ministers at the Church.

Rev Donald Ford 1941 – 1945

Rev George Nuttall 1945 – 1950

Rev Bert Deary 1950 – 1958

Ronald Bale – student of Western College acted as minister 1958 – 1961 before his ordination in Birmingham

Rev Ronald Ruffell 1962 – 1966

Rev Norman Voice 1967 – 1978

Rev Thomas Burghart 1980 – 1984

Rev Margaret Nuttall 1986 – 1990

Rev Sandra Pickard 1991 – 2002

Rev Roddy Macfarlane 2006 – 2007

Rev SPI Lewis 2007 – 2008 (Interim Minister) and 2008 – (as Minister)

Rev Norman Voice
Rev Tom Burghart
Rev Margaret Nuttall
Rev S Pickford