We left Cardiff this morning and headed back into England.
Our first stop was at the Gadfield Elm Chapel, which is perhaps the oldest Mormon chapel — the Kirtland Temple doesn’t count — still standing. It was built in 1836 by and for the United Brethren, a group of dissenting Protestants in Herefordshire, but Wilford Woodruff converted almost all of them — perhaps, indeed, all but one out of at least six or seven hundred — in 1840, so it became a Mormon chapel by default. It had fallen into disrepair in the decades after the immigration of almost all of the local nineteenth-century Mormon converts, but a private group of English Latter-day Saints seized the opportunity to buy and restore the old building when it came on the market in the mid-1990s, and they later gave it to the Church. It’s very well maintained, and surprisingly capacious.
(I’m really, really, really enthusiastic about this type of preservation, by the way. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation.)
We then drove into the Malvern Hills — apparently J. R. R. Tolkien’s inspiration for “the Misty Mountains” in The Hobbit — and climbed the quite steep path up for a panoramic view of the area. Wilford Woodruff had done this too, many years ago, and left a detailed account of his thoughts and prayers while atop the peak. (He watched a storm of thunder and lightning below him.)
Sir Edward Elgar, a composer who deserves to be known for more than just his Pomp and Circumstance march, came from this area, and C. S. Lewis attended Malvern College (a prep school) before he matriculated at the University of Oxford. (He hated Malvern College.)
We next went to Ledbury, where the early missionaries had considerable success. Debbie and I stayed in Ledbury years ago, in the famous Feathers Inn, which dates back to the mid-sixteenth century. Ledbury may have been the home of William Langland, the possible author of the fourteenth-century dream/vision Piers Plowman. It was certainly the childhood home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the birthplace of the eventual poet laureate of England John Masefield. So, after yesterday’s bout of Dylan Thomas, I shared Masefield’s “Sea Fever” with the group. And later, when we passed within a reasonable distance of Ludlow, I gave them a couple of pieces from A. E. Housman.
From Ledbury, we drove to what is commonly called the “John Benbow Farm,” but which should more properly be called the “Hill Farm,” near Castle Frome — which is pronounced “Froom.” This is where Wilford Woodruff baptized most of his converts in the farm’s pond, during one of the most amazing episodes of missionary success in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We visited the nearby Anglican church, from which the rector tried to interfere with Elder Woodruff’s preaching. First, the rector sent the constable, but the constable soon learned that Elder Woodruff had a license to preach and that the Benbow Farm was licensed for religious services. So he stayed to listen, and was baptized. The rector then sent two others to see if they could stop the goings-on, but they too were baptized. The little Norman church was a nice one, though, and a little historical brochure was for sale at the back about John Benbow and the Mormons. It was pretty well done, entirely fair and sympathetic, and most of us bought copies of it.
Then we drove several hours (in unusually heavy traffic) up to Chorley, where we’re spending the night not far from the Preston Temple, which is actually in Chorley.
Posted from Chorley, England