William Gadsby was born in 1773, at Attleborough, near Nuneaton. John, his father, was a poor road mender and already had seven children by his first wife and one by his second, Martha. More children followed until there were fourteen altogether. The children ran wild and William was given to mischief ‘and profane swearing.’
William had little education. As a young boy he attended a church school in Nuneaton, where he was taught to read, but not write. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to a ribbon weaver for 5 years.
Around the age of 18 he started to attend the Independent Chapel in Bedworth. At 21 he joined Cow Lane Baptist Church in Coventry, where he was baptised in 1793 by Rev. James Aston. James Aston encouraged William and he soon became active in the Baptist cause.
In 1795, William moved to Hinckley, where he took up an apprenticeship as a stocking weaver. In 1796 he married Elizabeth Marvin and settled in Hinckley for the next 10 years. Their children, Rachel, Sarah and Phoebe were born there.
William started to preach in Hinckley, in a dilapidated barn. He became a popular preacher and the congregation grew to between 80 and 100. It was decided to build a chapel. However, before this could happen, a small group of Baptists had begun meeting in Desford and Gadsby began preaching here, travelling between Hinckley and Desford on foot; three times on a Sunday.
William Gadsby's wooden pulpit
Gadsby's Pulpit pictured here in the Ebenzer Chapel, Hinckley (Chapel now demolished).
In 1800 a chapel was built for him in Desford, a plain building, with uncomfortable benches seating 129. There were 18 church members when the church first opened. The photograph shows the pulpit that was in Desford, but here pictured in Ebenezer Chapel, Hinckley, (now demolished). It is now in Hinckley Museum.
Gadsby was ordained at Desford Baptist Chapel on 30th July 1800. Many people travelled from Leicester and surrounding villages for the Ordination. In 1802, a new chapel was begun in Hinckley and Gadsby travelled around the country preaching and raising money for it. He was invited to preach in Manchester for a month and he saw this as an opportunity to raise money for the Hinckley Chapel. He returned home with £100 (more than £5000 today). He returned to Manchester in 1804 and pressure was put on him to move there permanently, but William did not want to leave his followers in Hinckley and Desford.
However, in 1805, William and his family moved to Manchester where he preached at St Georges Road Baptist Church for the next 38 years. His preaching increased the congregation and by 1829, was 800 -1000 people. He continued to travel and preach extensively and was instrumental in establishing 40 new places of worship. Together with his son, John, a printer, they launched The Gospel Standard magazine. Gadsby was interested and active in social reform. He supported the Anti- Corn Law movement. John printed many of the posters and handbills and served on the committee of the Manchester Anti‐Corn Law Association. William established a Sunday School, as both a religious and a social measure, providing education, charitable care and moral guidance for the children of Angel Meadow, an area of poverty and deprivation. He also composed hymns, some still in use today. Gadsby was said to be a kind, benevolent man, much affected by the poverty around him, but with a sense of humour retained from his youth. He became known as ‘The Apostle of the North’
He died in Manchester in 1844, aged 71, and 3000 people attended his burial in Rusholme Cemetery.
William Gadsby by B.A. Ramsbottom
William Gadsby (1773-1844) by Ian J Shaw