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Mary Toms Warder (1795 - 1850) and the Bible Christians

The Start of Methodist Movement on the Isle of Wght

This account written by Mary's husband William Warder in his old age.

Mary Toms was the daughter of Charles Toms, was born on 24th November 1795 at Tentagall (Tintagel) a village in the West of Cornwall near the sea, where he rented a small farm and also had to do with a slate quarry. Her mother Mary Toms was much older than her father. They had only two children - Mary and Charles.

Mary the elder was greatly indulged having her own way in almost everything. At the age of 16 she was one of the dressey girls, and through indulgent parents she was self-willed, stubborn and positive whatever she wished she was determined if possible to obtain.

From a love of dress and finery she persuaded her father to apprentice her to a stay and dress maker, at this time when she went to church, it was to show her own dress, see the dress of others and any new fashion,and this she allowed to occupy her now so much, while in church as to be able to imitate it almost immediately.

When a little girl she would go with a Huckster, a dealer in butter, poultry eggs or anything he could purchase in Tentagell, to take to Plymouth and make a profit, with this man she would cross Cornwall, and stay with her Aunt (who kept a Hotel in Plymouth) at times for several weeks together, and returning home by the same conveyance.

At the age of about 16 she was strong, vigorous and active, and as she used to say feared and cared for nothing, would even reap with her father's reapers in the harvest fields.

About this time she went again to stay with her Aunt in Plymouth and while there chanced to hear a Methodist Preacher( I have heard her repeat part of the sermon) while hearing him light flashed into her mind, she saw and felt her state of sinfulness, went home cut off frills and flounces and other ornaments and even her own curled hair, and threw them into the fire, resolving to seek and serve the Lord. She soon felt the witness in her heart that her sins were forgiven and was filled with that peace which passeth understanding. She went home quite an altered character but met with a poor reception and suffered much persecution from her parents. I believe her father went so far as to beat, and put her out of doors, but this did not last long, they soon became reconciled to her ways. She then left the Established Church and for years went regularly two or three miles, even in the roughest weather and darkest nights and almost always alone, to worship with the Methodists with whom she was now a member and enjoyed true peace yet would a root of bitterness be at times springing up that bitterness and pride which Calvin and his followers state will not be destroyed till death.

This preaching shows the preacher's experience to be shallow, that he has not been delivered from evil..... Your dear mother's preaching or doctrine was the great yet simple truths of the gospel, repenetence , forsaking everything you know or think to be evil, faith in Christ, as able and willing freely to pardon all who come to him through faith, by which condemnation is removed from the mind...the power of God accompanied her,and produced the great good done wherever she spake.

She was with the Methodists till about 22 years of age, till the people called the Brionites or as they term themselves) Bible Christians came near where she lived, to hold meetings. About this time James Thorn or Mr Brian came to or near Tentagall to preach, your dear mother went to hear him and felt as if fire was falling all over her. She fell onto the floor and lay there in a swoon, some time lost in wonder and praise "Bless the lord. Glory to God" "Praise the Lord" and carried on in this manner. Site felt the will of God meant she could leave the Methodists and unite herself to the Bible Christians. She attended the Bible Christians "love feasts" as the Wesleyans say but in the Scripture it is termed feast of Charity. Love feasts are usually held after regular evening service or worship and generally the unconverted are requested to withdraw. Each member then relates how they became Bible Chistians.

Me. She went about her area preaching forceably --- with little cash or other resources. Eventually she wished to have a mission or circuit. She wished to go into some village or hamlet where there were no Methodists---thus carrying a missionary spirit. John Calwin's followers were very against her teachings. She knew her bible off by heart and could recite it in the dark in a house or pulpit. Others were also against her, but she could silence them all with her preaching.

Problems Which Confronted Her

Many who had heard her preach far from home and had invited her to conic to their houses to preach, and when she reached the place the wife would be opposed to it and she could scarcely get a resting place for the night and little or no refreshment. And women have pressed her to come to their houses and preach,and when she had gone the husband has been opposed and in some cases I have heard her say, she has been very WET the people not having the kindness to dry her clothes and she has been obliged to put on the same wet clothes in the morning and leave without a morsel to eat, and sometimes has had only a turnip a day to live on.

She was once invited to preach in a large Farm-house kitchen and she was by some means benighted [late at night] and had several miles to walk (and to walk 20 miles a day was very common with her at this time) and she was in a lonely road, in the dark, and there came a living creature in appearance about the size of a very large dog with fiery eyes glaring up) at her as she walked ,this thing whatever it was, walked closed by her side for about two miles and this in the dark; and it mattered not which side of the road she walked it would keep close to her, but at that time her heart was full of love to God and there was no room for fear. She spoke to it, but there was no sound from the animal, and it left her before she reached her destination. She knew not whether it was there to protect her or whether Satan had power to cause this appearance to frighten her from her duty-- but rather thought the latter.

When she arrived the kitchen was full of people and a most wonderful meeting followed. She liked to visit the sick. She once visited a woman thought to be dying. As she appeared in the sight of he woman at the top of the stairs,the woman exclaimed "Here comes my Physician". They prayed together and he woman was restored and lived for years later, and many others in answer to prayers. Although she had apparently never heard of the I.W. the Lord told her to go there. She applied to the conference for leave to go, but they appointed her to the Scilly Isles.

She encountered many difficulties. She did a fortnight on each Island. If anyone could convey her, she felt it her duty to go whatever the weather, thus risking her life for the sake of others.

While on the Islands she heard of a I.W. man, a captain of a pilot vessel. Her friends invited him to tea at he house where she was. "Twas like fire in her bones" to get to I.W. He was a pious man, a Methodist of the same John Caws of Seaview, with him she conversed about the Island, the state of the people etc. He having heard her preach, pressed her strongly to come, stating at the same time the wickedness of the poeple there. However, the Conference appointed her to a circuit then called Luxcullian in Cornwall. She had been to that circuit some years before. She now converted many more souls. Everything she had, books, clothes, and everything except what she had on at the time, box and all were burned, Her diary she felt a great miss, and never kept one again.

She resolved that if no liberty was given her by Mr O'Brien or the next conference she would come to the Island, even if she begged her way. But, they gave her leave but no money, stating that their missionary monies was exhausted. Thus the Bible Christians have little claim to the cause she was the means of raising for them, but having liberty she begged and friends knowing what she felt contributed towards her passage . This was but eight shillings, as she was not a cabin passenger she sat on the deck all night. To Samuel Thorn she was ever grateful, he instrusted her with about three pounds worth of books, to sell, and if she wanted it for food or lodging etc she might use the money, but I do not remember hearing her say, she did use any of it for herself, soon after she reached the Island she found many friends and she had many homes with both lodging and food without money or price.

Elizabeth Battison accompanied her for about 20 miles to see her safe on board the sailing vessel in which she would be conveyed to I.W. Elizabeth returning from Plymouth alone the same day and arriving there extremely fatigued at one or two o'clock in the morning.

The following letter describes Mary Toms safe arrival in I.W. and what she had to encounter here for the first week or ten days. Extract from Mary's letter to Mr O'Brien;- West Cowes I.W. August 8th 1823. "Beloved and worthy Father in Gospel "I give you an account of my safe arrival at I.W. We left Plymouth Sound about 5 o'clock p.m. Wednesday July 30th and arrived at Cowes about ten the following night. We had a Pleasant sail before the wind. We were 22 passengers and I had plenty to do to reprove sin. For some time they did not know what I was, some said I was a Quaker, some young gentlemen by way of ridicule said to each other "What religion are you". I said there is but one way to heaven and that is to follow Christ".

By and by meeting with a heavy sea the vessel began to roll, on this some began to enquire for the preaching woman to pray that they might not be drowned; but glory to God, he bought us safe over, and I was very happy all the way.

On landing, my faith was tried, there had been some good great works with the wicked. that week, and the place was full so that no lodging could I get though I went all over the town. I thought, well my trails are begun, last night to sit on the deck all night, and now to walk the street with swearers and drunkards; I prayed as I went, and soon found all was well; if it was most for God's glory I would do it willingly. I stood by the door of a cook's shop, the woman came out and after some questions, said she thought she could get a bed for a shilling. Being brought to the house I found a civil old lady, and agreed with her for a week. On Friday I went out and published for preaching on the Parade. I felt it a heavy cross, and prayed that I might not abe ashamed, and could say...
My blood, my life I here present,
If for God's cause they may be spent.

Oh, could you see the sins committed here. I have been led to wonder, God hath not sent his judgements as on Sodom. On Sunday morn. I went to East Cowes (here there is no Methodist Society) and though it was wind and rain I borrowed a chair and say "Come ye sinners poor and wretched etc" and it was not long before some scores assembled coming from every part of the Town. some laughing, some talking, but I spoke on, and had not proceeded far when the tears began to flow from my eyes and many others. After I concluded, I published for preaching the next night, if they would find me a house, in case it rained. One woman came with the tears running down, and said "My house is small, but you shall have it if you will". Three or four houses were offerd me at once. Going towards my lodgings a woman came after me requesting me to take dinner with her . The Lord is opening the way. I believe we shall see a glorious work . I hope you will daily pray for me . On Monday I went again, and found no house large enough to contain the people, so I again spoke out of doors. Scores of eyes were drowned with tears. I was now invited to come again to different houses to take refreshment. I hope to see more preachers here soon. How plentious the harvest; may the Lord race more labourers, such as need not be ashamed. I remain Your Unworthy."

Mary Toms

Me; However Mary seems only to have related the good parts of her beginnings at Cowes. In Rev J. Woolcock's book about the Bible Christians we learn that one young man had come to an early meeting with a rope, having vowed that he would at the end of the service put this rope around the preacher with a noose, and then drag her into the flowing tide. Fortunately the Spirit of God prevailed and he did not carry out his threat, but became one of Mary's truest friends. There was much animosity towards these open air preachers. At East Cowes she soon established regular preaching, having a home there with a person named Hunt, a carpenter whose wife was attached to her with a very strong affection. From Cowes she was invited to Newport, whither she went, and preached in the Street, and a person named Abraham, a Draper whose wife was pious, having at one time been a member of "The Friends" gave her his house as a home. Here two of the Wesley and local preachers soon joined in society with her, whose names were John Wickerden and James Salter, I believe these were good men. More preachers joined and this enabled her to go to other places, whither she had been invited , while these would supply her appointment at Cowes and Newport. While in Newport she was met with by a man named Edward Wavel a master shoemaker. He spoke very sharply to her, and reproached her as acting very wrong for preaching in any place (even if pressed to do so) where the Wesleyans held worship, and said she ought to go to Brading (then supposed to be one of the worst places in the Island). If, he said she would go there and preach, and raise a Christian Society he would give her a guinea. She came to Brading and preached, but Wavel never performed his promise. (Me) Gatcombe and Gunville soon formed Societies) and at Gatcombe she lived with Moses Morris and wife on a Farm in the neighbourhood. He united a Christian Society with her and Warder supplied the circuit stewards for their first quarterly meeting which was held in his house in Brading ,April 12th 1824. She formed a society at Rookley, found a home and some raised a chapel which was the first built on the island for Bible Christians. This was followed by Godshill , Merston, Wootton Bridge and Littletown [Wootton] She formed a society at Rookly, found a home, soon raised a chapel which was the first built on the Island for the Bible Christians. This was followed by Godshill Society and then churches at Merston, Wootton Bridge and Littletown.

At Wroxall and Nettlecombe a person named Drudge occupying Ventnor Farm, invited her to Ventnor.

She preached there and a Mr and Mrs Groves who kept the only hotel in Ventnor, Griffin the Miller and Caws who kept the Crab and Lobster were very kind to her. Ventnor then consisted of the Farm, the Crab and Lobster Old Inn, Groves's Hotel, the Mill and the Miller's home and I believe four poor peoples' cottages. Here in Wroxall they have long since had a Chapel and societies.

(Me) She went to Sandown where she was received and kindly treated by a Preventive man and his wife, of the name of Friend in whose house she held public worshop. Chapel and Society established here for many years.

(Warder) Brading. Sometime in the early part of October 1823, one of my men named King, whose father lived at Sandown went on a Sabbath to see him. Mr 0' Brien's wife who had come to the Island to see how Mary Toms succeeded, was at Sandown and held a public worship, I believe in the house of Friend. King heard her speak and the following day, stated to me that she had heard a woman preach who talked of experimental religion, something similar to what he had heard from me, and said he was sure I should have been pleased to have heard her.

My heart was at this time hard and unfeeling. I had known religion, and my peace was made with God, about nine years before, but I had gone back and run into sin. I was associating with the Unitarians, whose monthly publications, I had taken until they amounted to six volumes and had cost me 30/-. Some things I liked others not! I buried them in my garden, there to rot. (Me) He then devotes a whole side of paper to his state of real doubt.

Whilst in this state of alternate peace and misery, I heard that she would preach in the Wesleyan Chapel, St Helens. Here I heard her preach from "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound" but cannot say that I had at this time any peculiar feelings, more than a conviction, that the woman enjoyed the Love of God.

The following sabbath morning after James King had heard one woman speak and I had another, I went to Sandown, and before the time for worship, conversed with Mary Tom's assistant, Eliza Jew, the third woman who had come to help her in the ministry...I heard her preach in the forenoon and invited her to preach in Brading in the afternoon. She came and stood on a chair out of doors, and spoke the single truths of the Gospel with much love and humility.....George Stay a backslider who had been in this for 12 to 14 years heard her whilst he was in the public house with the drunkards of Brading !!"!!

He said it was the voice of the blessed SAVIOUR, and tried to leave the room, but they tried to hold him fast for a time, until they thought his desire to go had ceased; and he, getting farther from the door towards the window, the under sash of which was up, quickly swung himself out of the window and moved towards her steadily, the distance of 60 to 70 yards. When she had done speaking lie was close to her and shaking me by the hand said "The consequence be what it would, he would again seek the Lord". He soon found the peace that he had lost and has been a local preacher from that time to this. He told the people around him they were on the road to hell, but the people of Brading were so dark and ignorant, they thought him crazy and actually carried him in a cart to the Asylum, as though in a state of derangement, and kept him there for a week or more.

The next evening I went to St Helens and heard Mary Toms speak from "Jacob wrestling all night in prayer". The following Saturday evening I went to Sandown to enquire if there was to be preaching the next morning and here at the house of Friend the boatman, I first spoke to Mary Toms. They knelt down and prayed together. The next day as soon as she awoke, the Lord fixed me in her imagination that I was to be her husband. She wept much and prayed against this and was designed to live like Ann Cuttler , a single life and if he ( The Lord) did not remove this from her mind she could not preach.

(Warder had himself to live a single life following the teaching of St Paul)

The following Monday evening I went again to St Helens, and with others was invited into the house of James Daw, Eliza Jew and several other prayng people were there holding a prayer meeting. Whilst Mary Toms was prayng Warder saw the light again. He now attended Bible Christian meetings.

Dear Mary Toms travelled about the Island preaching and praying until she was I may say, worn out, and at times fainted by the way, and must soon have returned home to her father's house, had I not felt it right to offer her my home. The Lord had shown her 12 hours after we had first spoke, that my home WAS to be her home.

When she first came to rest with me her throat was sore with much speaking, that the food her swallowed gave her pain and at times she lost her voice, but although in this state those who were the Rulers in the Bible Christian Church at this time "had no pity, but when the I.W. came to their Printing Office in Cornwall with her name on it as a local preacher, struck it out, which was a grief to W. Bailey who travelled in the Island with her and believed as we both did, that our subsequent union was the will of God. But what a change has taken place since we first met as a society in Brading. NOW we have little or no persecution. Then, before our door in the morning, after our society meeting, half a bucket of stones have been taken up, which had been thrown the proceding evening at our door and window shutters. He then goes on to talk about religion at great length.!!

But the Bible Christians are not now, nor have they been for years in that holy humble union with God they were in when Mary Toms first came to the Island. At that time they were poor and their dress was plain, cheap and clean in accordance with their rules, but when some of them became in better circumstances they left their plain cheap dress and instead of STUFFS took to Silks, Satins and Velvets and fashionable black instead of the plain cut Grey coats etc. With this conformity to the world leanness enters into the soul and the higher revelations of heavenly mysteries granted no more etc etc.!

We were united in marriage , Mary Toms to myself 5th January 1824.

This account is taken from the handwritten record by William Warder. Where the religious comments have become rather tedious I have cut them out for modern day readers. Mrs J Burbery lent me these original sources which were amongst her family papers, she having connections with the Warder family. M.E. Pewsey.

The First preaching place in Brading was called Warder's chapel rented at 50/- a year and opened on October 13th and 15th 1837. The present one, the Connexional with the school underneath was built in 1867. It will seat about 200 persons and the debt is small. At present, about 1897, the Society is not strong but the friends are interested and true. Mr and Mrs Jacobs. Mr and Mrs Osborne are the chief workers and take the responsibility. George Stay -- a man of great faith and prayer. Also, William Henley a person of high principle and holy living. When the clergyman and this good man's employer's wife wanted Henley to take away his children from the Bible Christian Sunday School and send them to the Church School, and when the threat was held over him that if he did not he would lose his situation, he quietly said "No I would sooner sell matches than sacrifice my religious liberty, and what is more I will take William out of the church choir and keep clear of the church altogether". Son William became an intelligent local preacher living in Cowes.The squire himself whose wife had made the threat, said that he would not discharge so good and faithful servant as lie for any such reason. "What have I to do with my gardner's religious opinions". Soon his wages were raised. When lie became disabled he was pensioned off and received support until his death.He had become blind and was one of the early converts to the Bible Christians on the I.W. He gave Grand Service as a local preacher and came originally from Brixton.

"There have been some splended spirits in the Society at Brading."

Quoted from The History of the Bible Christians in Isle of Wight ( second edition ) by Rev. J. Woolcock. D.D. 1897.

Sources: Contributed by the Methodist Church, Station Road, Wootton.
It would appear the original author was Mrs Pewsey

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:39

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