Preston, Lancashire: Birthplace of British Mormonism


Avenham Park, in Preston, along the River Ribble
(click to enlarge)


We spent the first part of the day today in Preston, which my wife and I have visited at least three times before — the most recent occasion, documented briefly in this blog entry from 2012, having been almost precisely a year ago.  (Here is a nice photo essay on Preston and associated areas by BYU’s Craig Ostler.)


The Preston “Obelisk”


We first drove around a bit, passing (among other things) by the house in which the discouraged young Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, told by a letter from his father to forget himself and get to work, knelt down and committed himself to completing his mission.  He later described this as his “moment of decision,” and testified that everything good in his life had flowed from that moment.  We then walked in the city center, including a visit to the “obelisk” in the town square where John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) once preached, and where, in 1837, Heber C. Kimball first proclaimed the restoration of the Gospel.


We strolled over to the boarding house — now, sadly, boarded up for the past fifteen years — at the corner of Fox and St. Wilfrid Streets, in which Isaac Russell, Orson Hyde, Joseph Fielding, Heber C. Kimball, John Goodson, and Willard Richards first lodged.  It was in this building that they had their remarkable encounter with demonic spirits, of which our guide during this tour, Peter Fagg, has given an excellent account here.


I’m horrified, by the way, at the thought that such historically significant buildings as this — old, and now basically abandoned — will eventually be demolished if they aren’t deliberately preserved by Latter-day Saints.  I understand, of course, that we can’t — and shouldn’t — save everything.  But I’m delighted that some private members of the Church chose to save the Gadfield Elm chapel, and I hope that some of these other landmarks in England will be saved, as well.  Once they’re gone, it will be too late.  That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about, and wish even greater success for, the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation.  (If you share my concerns and my enthusiasm in this regard, please consider joining up with the Foundation.)


The Japanese Garden within Avenham Park contains four different markers commemorating the significance of this area for early English Mormonism.


Eventually, we worked our way over to Avenham Park, which beautifully borders the River Ribble.  This is where the earliest Mormon baptisms in England were performed, through which came such memorable names as George D. Watt, Miles Romney, and William Clayton.


The River Ribble, running through Preston


Finally, though, we had to leave Preston.  Our British LDS guide, Peter Fagg, returned to his home in Chorley, and two of our group separated off in order to head up to Scotland tomorrow.  The rest of us boarded our coach and headed southwards toward Heathrow Airport near London, from which most will be flying back to North America tomorrow.  Determined to allow them no peace, however, I read to them from Francis Thompson’s famous poem “The Hound of Heaven.”  (Thompson was born in Preston.)  Earlier in the day, I had shared Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty” and “God’s Grandeur” with them — Father Hopkins having taught at Stonyhurst College back in the nineteenth century.


Posted from Slough, Berkshire, England



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