We attended sacrament meeting this morning in the chapel on the Preston Temple grounds and then headed off by motor coach to Bowness-on-Windermere, the largest town in the Lake District. After taking an hour-long boat cruise out on Lake Windermere, we drove down to Milnthorpe, the home town of John Taylor, successor to Brigham Young and third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
John Taylor is, of course, an extraordinarily important part of early English Church history, among other things for having served in 1840-1841 as part of the apostolic mission undertaken by the Twelve.
We visited the Anglican church of St. Peter, in Heversham (just north of Milnthorpe), where President Taylor was christened. Then we drove southward, through Milnthorpe, to the tiny town of Hale, where James and Agnes Taylor (John’s parents) inherited a small farm (marked by a plaque placed there by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and a pub, which still stands, more or less, as The King’s Arms.
We then continued back down to the Ribble Valley, inland from Preston, where we first passed through the town of Ribchester, where Heber C. Kimball preached during his 1837 mission to England. We drove past the Catholic school Stonyhurst College, where Gerard Manley Hopkins once taught, and where J. R. R. Tolkien, whose son taught classics there, wrote part of The Lord of the Rings during a lengthy visit. Another prominent Stonyhurst student was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who apparently modeled “Baskerville Hall” on Stonyhurst Hall and who named Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty, after a fellow student whom he seems to have disliked.
Conan Doyle’s first significant work, A Study in Scarlet, may also, I suspect, have been influenced by the school he attended, or, at least, by the area in which it sits, because this area is ground zero for early Mormonism in England — and the Mormons are the villains of the story, who must be overcome by his new detective, a man named “Sherlock Holmes.”
We drove through the town of Clitheroe, where Elder Kimball also preached, and then through Chatburn, where he had enormous success, to Downham, which still ranks as one of the great missionary miracles in the history of Mormonism. Elder Kimball felt, at the end of his work in Chatburn and Downham, that he had been walking on holy ground. And Joseph Smith confirmed precisely that: “The Prophet Joseph told [Heber] in after years,” wrote Orson F. Whitney in his Life of Heber C. Kimball, “that the reason he felt as he did in the streets of Chatburn was because the place was indeed ‘holy ground,’ that some of the ancient prophets had traveled in that region and dedicated the land, and that he, Heber, had reaped the benefit of their blessing.”
Many of us who’ve visited Chatburn and Downham have felt the spirit, as well. (Probably more so in Downham, because it remains very simple and bucolic — protected by Lord and Lady Clitheroe, the Assheton family, who own all of the land — while Chatburn has grown and modernized considerably in the nearly two centuries since Elder Kimball first preached there.) And the fact that Downham and the general Ribble Valley area are so very beautiful doesn’t hurt.
Debbie and I were in Downham and Chatburn a year ago yesterday, and we felt the same way then — as witnessed in this blog entry written at the time. And we’re not alone: In the eighteenth century, roughly a hundred years before the Mormons arrived, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, found the area exceptionally inspiring. And, even earlier, in 1652, George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, had a remarkable experience upon a large hill nearby:
“As we travelled,” he recorded in his Autobiography, “we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.”
Elder Heber C. Kimball certainly saw, and participated in, the fulfillment of that apparent vision, which stands at the foundation of Quakerism.
Finally, to round off a very good day, we went to The Calf’s Head, a pub and free house in Worston, for dinner. It was, very possibly, the best meal we’ve had during the trip. Exceptionally good. I’m making a note of it for the next visit.
Posted from Chorley, England.