Richard Wake was born 18 December 1795 in the village of Exton in the Meon Valley, the son of William and Sarah Wake. His father died in 1802. He was apprenticed to the local blacksmith, William Taylor, and then followed his trade in Headbourne Worthy. He was living at Headbourne Worthy when he married Ann Jacobs 6 July 1818 at Old Alresford church, and their first three children were born there: Sarah (1818), William (1820) and George (1823). They were all baptised in the parish church.
Richard Wake became a local (lay) preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist Church on his 30th birthday, 18 December 1825. Somewhen about this time he had moved to Kings Somborne to work at the smithy there. In 1823 there was Wesleyan Methodist Society at “Worthy,” with 14 members, and one at Kings Somborne, with eight members. In 1826, there were 10 members at Worthy, and 14 at Kings Somborne. Neither society had a chapel, meeting in registered private houses. “A tenement now in the occupation of Richd Wake, situated in the village and parish of Kings Somborne” was registered by William Edwards Wesleyan Minister 2 May 1827. The foundation stone for a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel at Kings Somborne was laid 7 July 1828.
Richard’s commitment was now to Methodism. His son, also Richard, who was born in Kings Somborne 18 November 1831, remembered his father “as a preacher … much above the average of the local ministry of that day or even of later years,” even though he “had enjoyed few school advantages.” The younger Richard Wake diary of “auto-biographical items and gleanings from diaries of earlier years” survives and is a rich source of information about his father’s life.
In 1834, there was a secession from the Wesleyan Methodists over the leadership of a new Theological Institution for ministerial training, leading to the formation of the Wesleyan Methodist Association. Several Wesleyan Chapels in the Winchester Area became the property of the seceders, including Kings Somborne. “My father was the only one in K. who remained true to the old body… Our house was opened for preaching – services being held I believe in the afternoons only of the Sabbath. My earliest memories are of these preaching services, and the local preachers who conducted them.” The membership records show 5 members at Kings Somborne in 1835 (there had been 15 in 1834.) Kings Somborne was still on the Southampton preaching plan, May-October 1835. Richard Wake senior was number 13 on the plan, taking services on all but two Sundays. He preached twice at Winchester, and twice at Romsey, but most of his appointments were local: Kings Somborne itself, Timsbury, Wellow. “By the time I was six years old the preaching was discontinued.”
Richard and Ann’s youngest son, Charles, was born 19 February 1837 and baptised by the Wesleyan minister 25 June. On Sundays, Richard would be “out from home – preaching or else leading class at Timsbury, 5 miles distant – the nearest point at which Wesleyan services were held.” The rest of the family went to morning and afternoon services and Sunday School at the parish church, but in the evenings would either attend the local Independent Chapel or the old Wesleyan Chapel, now used by the Wesleyan Association.
In November 1840, Richard Wake moved to Poole, Dorset, to take work at Howell’s Foundry at Creekmoor. For a few months the family lived at Longfleet before moving the two miles to Creekmoor, where they appear on the 1841 census. “Christmas Day of 1841 is memorable in that it was the only Christmas Day our whole family ever spent together. My sister Sarah, the eldest of the family came from Southampton (or London) and William from Fawley … where he was serving his apprenticeship.”
In March 1842 “Father having determined to go into business for himself,” the family moved to Shirley, then a village on the outskirts of Southampton. On his wife’s 51st birthday, Friday 11 March, Richard started the fire in his new forge. William helped with the smithy, and George worked at Chaplin and sons grocers in Southampton. The smithy was in Vincent Place (later Grove) which ran between Church Street and Vincent Road, a short walk away from the new Shirley Wesleyan Chapel. The Chapel was opened on Good Friday 1843, and the Wakes attended services and Sunday School there. Richard junior attended “a school kept by Mr. Richard Woods, an eccentric local preacher and ex-soldier” until he was twelve, when he went to work as an errand boy., before being apprenticed to Mr Yelf’s boot and show business in 1844. Mr Yelf was his Sunday School teacher. On 14 March 1844, George died of consumption, at the age of 20.
“During the summer of 1845 we moved into a new home Father had built.” This was “Hammersmith Cottage, next door to the smithy in Vincent Place.
The 1847 circuit plan shows Richard senior (no 12) taking appointments in some of his old preaching places: Romsey, Timsbury, Wellow – but also travelling down the Waterside to Longdown, Hardley and Fawley. He was also a class leader at Shirley and Nursling, and Society steward at Nursling. All the family were very involved in the chapels: William appears on the 1847 plan “on trial” as a local preacher, preaching more locally than his father, especially at Nursling, where he was also Sunday School superintendent. Richard junior taught in the Shirley Sunday School: he was beginning to notice the rumblings of discontent in Wesleyan Methodism, commenting on the expulsion of Revs Everett, Dunn and Griffith from the Wesleyan Conference in August 1849.
William married Mary Ann Yeatman in March 1850, leaving for New York later that month.
Things came to a head in Southampton when Rev. Samuel Dunn, who had been expelled from the Wesleyan Conference in 1849 for supporting moves for reform, spoke at a meeting in the Long Rooms 22 January 1851. Both Richard Wakes were present. Three Southampton local preachers were named in the press: in the chair was John Mansell, a builder, “a respectable tradesman of Southampton, who has been a member of the Wesleyan body for about 30 years and a local [lay] preacher for 21 years” (Hampshire Independent 25 January 1851.), George Walters Bleckley, a bookseller, and Richard Wake, blacksmith. “My Father seconded a resolution of sympathy,” proposed by Mr Bleckley. The Superintendent minister Rev John Crofts visited Mr Wake after the meeting and suspended him as Class Leader. Further actions followed: although their names were still on the Plan, they had not been given any preaching appointments, even though this meant cancelling some afternoon services. The next Quarterly Meeting took place 26 March, and Mr Crofts served notice that the three men would face a complaint or charge against them for the part they played in the Long Rooms meeting. The men were found “guilty of the enormous crime of daring to think for themselves” (Independent 29 March 1851) On 20 April, they started holding separate Wesleyan Reform services at 20 Hanover Buildings.
At the beginning of April, Wesleyan members were given their quarterly ticket of membership, with the words “Mark them which cause divisions and offences – and avoid them. Romans xvi.17” Several members, including Richard Wake junior, and his friends George Plowman and George Biles, refused to accept the tickets because of the passage of scripture, and were told they were no longer members or Sunday School teachers. The loss of members to the Southampton Circuit seems to have been relatively small at this stage, but over the next few years, numbers dropped from about 590 to about 500 overall.
A Wesleyan Reform District meeting was reported in the Hampshire Independent, 5 April 1851 as being held in the Primitive Methodist Chapel in St Mary Street. Mr Wake addressed the public tea and meeting that followed, held in the Victoria Rooms: “Many of those who had known him for the last 25 years might ask, when they heard of his expulsion, what evil hath he done? He would tell them. When the Rev Samuel Dunn visited Southampton recently, he dared to second a motion expressive of sympathy with the expelled ministers and brethren. That was his sole crime. No other charge whatever was brought against him (hear, hear). And for that high and might offence he had merited Methodistic death – had been expelled from the local preachers’ plan, after occupying a place on it for five-and twenty years, and walking hundreds and thousands of miles to preach the gospel to his fellow creatures, often walking 27 miles on a Sabbath day, and preaching two or three times in the day (hear, hear). He had often been weary in the work, but had never wearied of it. No charge had ever been advanced against his moral character – (and he said this not boastingly, but with a grateful heart to that Almighty Being who has supported and sustained him) – nothing against his abilities for the work – nothing against him on account of any error of doctrine; but the sad error he had committed was that of daring to sympathise with those who were called on to suffer for conscience sake (hear, hear).”
At a Portsmouth District meeting held in Salisbury, 15 March, Mr Wake reported that Southampton had started with 21 members, and now had 38, and an average congregation of 60. They had five local preachers, three leaders, four classes, 7 Sunday School teachers and 42 pupils. Compared with Salisbury, with 300 members and 8 preaching places, or the Isle of Wight, with 210 members, this was modest, but unlike some circuits, Southampton was sending representatives to meetings, Mr Bleckley had become the District Secretary, and Mr Mansell was on the District Committee. He spoke at the public meeting “commenting on the duty of Christian pastors to collect the scattered sheep of Christ, and gather them into the fold – instead of expelling and dispersing them – he concluded by remarking that the reform cause was working gloriously, harmoniously and successfully, and sat down amidst great cheering.” (Hampshire Independent 20 March 1952)
In 1854, the Wesleyan Reformers took over an old school building on the west side of Lower Canal Walk, in one of the poorest areas of Southampton. It had just been vacated by the Ragged School, which had just moved to purpose-built premises in St George’s Place, Houndwell. The school had been built in 1829 as a Church Infant School for the parishes of All Saints and Holy Rood, which had closed Christmas 1849.
After repairs and fitting out, the opening services took place on Sunday, 28 May 1854. The preacher was Mr T Pybus, of Bakewell, Derbyshire. They had held their third anniversary services at Hanover Buildings Sunday 16 April. John Mansell registered Lower Canal Walk for worship 22 June 1855. Membership in May 1854 was about 40. They had no paid minister, but Mr Bleckley and Mr Mansell (but not Mr Wake) were conducting burials for their flock in the Old Cemetery.
Richard Wake junior followed his brother William to the United States in October 1854, followed by his younger brother Charles in 1855. Sarah and her husband Henry Beare had emigrated in 1853.
Richard’s wife, Ann, died on the 25 June 1857 at Hammersmith Cottage. She was 66 years old. On 24 September, J R Weston auctioned the “genuine household furniture of Mr R Wake, who is leaving England.” Hammersmith Cottage and the smithy had already been sold, in August, to Stephen Hampton. He appears on the 1860 US census in the township of Easthampton, Long Island, New York State. His occupation is “M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Minister.” His daughter Sarah was living not far away, in Hempstead, Long Island. His sons Richard and Charles were further west, in Illinois. He had bought the farm there with Charles, but had moved back to New York because of his health. He died 19 October 1874, and is buried in Greenfield Cemetery, Nassau County, New York. His daughter Sarah and her husband Henry Beare are buried in the same cemetery.
In 1857, about half of the Wesleyan Reformed congregations merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Association to form the United Methodist Free Church. John Mansell seems to have joined the Bible Christians, another branch of Methodism for whom ministers were servants not masters, about this time: he was a trustee for Hedge End Bible Christian Chapel 5 March 1857, and the Bible Christians had use of the Chapel from 1857.
Of the three named leaders of the Reformed Wesleyan society in Southampton, Richard Wake is the least vocal. He had remained loyal to Wesleyan Methodism in 1834, even when the rest of his local society seceded. He had dedicated himself to the country chapels of the Southampton and Winchester area. Perhaps his son Richard was more convinced of the justice of the Reformed Wesleyan cause: when he speaks, it is of the injustice of his expulsion from the organisation he had dedicated himself to for a quarter of a century “walking hundreds and thousands of miles to preach the gospel to his fellow creatures,” leading classes and managing chapels. Mr Bleckley and Mr Mansell might talk of ministerial tyranny, but Mr Wake only talks “the duty of Christian pastors to collect the scattered sheep of Christ, and gather them into the fold – instead of expelling and dispersing them.”

Further reading:
“The Reverend Richard Wake (1831-1915): Somborne’s pioneering American colonist,” by Gordon T. Pearson. (Gordon Pearson, 2019)


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