The Reverend Ebenezer Aldred (1745-1822)

An Obituary and some notes on Ebenezer Aldred, Unitarian Minister of Great Hucklow.

Contributed by Malcolm Barton © Copyright 2007
Revised November 2007.

The history of the Shirley Aldred & Company includes an invaluable short history of the Aldred family dating back to the seventeenth century.

The earliest mentioned is a Jeremiah Aldred, a Dissenting Minister who preached a sermon at Manchester in commemoration of the victory at Prestonpans over James the Old Pretender's supporters on the first anniversary of the victory in November 1716. He died in 1729 at Monton near Eccles.

His son, the Rev John Aldred M.A. a graduate of Glasgow University became minister of Westgate Chapel in Wakefield, married Mary Naylor daughter of a Wakefield merchant and died in 1760 at the age of 60 and was buried in the old chapel yard at Westgate End.

But best known of these Dissenting ministers was his son Ebenezer because he took the unusual step of preaching of the coming of the end of the world from the middle of the River Thames in February 1812.

Ebenezer was about fifteen when his father died. He became a mercer in Wakefield and is described as woollen draper and mercer in the Trade Directory of 1781 and as a mercer, draper and button manufacturer in the Trade Directory of 1784. He is recorded as paying his pew rent at Westgate Chapel in 1768 the earliest date recorded until 1794. He became a trustee of Westgate Chapel in July 1774 and he was still a trustee in 1812 when he was living at Great Hucklow.

In October 1781 Ebenezer purchased some land adjoining Westgate Common on which by 1783 he built the first textile mill in the vicinity of Wakefield powered by a steam engine - probably a Savery type engine raising water to run a waterwheel. “Aldred engine” is referred to. The mill was insured in 1786 and when it was mortgaged in May 1787 it was described as “lately erected … for the purpose of Scribbling and Carding wool and Frizing of cloth”. The mortgage was taken over in 1793, and perhaps increased by James Milnes of Thornes House near Wakefield, a cloth merchant prince, sometime M.P. and also a member of the now Unitarian Westgate Chapel congregation. In April 1796 Milnes insured probably this mill, described as a scribbling mill going by water for a total of £600. James Milnes advanced Ebenezer £1,000 at 5%. The mill failed in the same year and a commission was opened against him in November when it was said he was liable to be sent to gaol. When the mill was sold early in 1795 the ‘newly built’ premises included a house occupied by the Aldred family, “the Stock-house, Warehouse, Engine-house, Fire engine, Outhouses, Garden.on the east side of Westgate Common commanding the entire and continual Stream of Water of Westgate Common Beck … the whole purposely constructed and in all Respects well calculated for carrying on the Business of Scribbling, Carding & Spinning Wool”. The mill continued in operation under new owners into the nineteenth century and in 1834 John Clarkson also a Unitarian, was employing 27 males and 8 females.

Fortunately Ebenezer was assisted financially by his married elder sister Sarah (1742-1832) and went to live with her family in Sheffield.[1] The reason for his failure may be owing to a number of factors:- difficult trading conditions during the Napoleonic War, insufficient capital, or as tradition suggests money spent on the turf!

Ebenezer had married in 1776 Mary Moult, daughter of the nonconformist Minister of Rotherham Chapel. (The family tree on her mother's side can be traced back to Richard Sherlle who married a Miss Linnacre in 1568). There were four children John (born in 1781), another son and two daughters Bridget, who married John Williams, and Mary.

The Reverend Joseph Hunter records, “When I first knew him, which was about 1796 , he was living in Sheffield with a brother-in-law, without employment. He got some commission to America from the Sheffield merchants, but this did not succeed. At last, when more, perhaps than fifty years of age, he became a minister, and had care of a chapel in the Peak of Derbyshire. There he lived in a kind of solitude, became dreamy and wild; laid hold on prophecies; saw Napoleon in the Book of Revelation”.

Thomas Ward who met him in August 1812 described him as “a tall venerable man with grey hairs floating over his shoulders (who) several months ago, sailed in a boat on the Thames, clothed in a white garment, denouncing woe to the Metropolis. He has also published a book of prophetic conjectures, which are so extravagant as, combined with his eccentric conduct, to induce a supposition that he is beside himself”. The prophecies were published under the title of “The Little Book”. (London 1811).

I found that there was a copy in the British Library and arranged to see it.

In the front of Ebenezer Aldred's ‘Little Book’ a printed obituary has been enclosed taken from page 769 of the Mortality Depository Volume XVII for December 1822.

It reads as follows:-

1822 October 25 at Sheffield, where he had resided for the last two years of his life the Rev. Ebenezer Aldred at the advanced age of 77. His remains were interred in the burial ground belonging to the Unitarian Chapel at that place on November 1. The following extract from the funeral sermon has been kindly furnished by Dr Phillips by whom it was delivered. The text of the discourse was taken from Acts Chapter ix v. 24.

“He was a good man.”

I have been led to the choice of this subject in the consequence of the death of the Reverend E. Aldred, who for many years was the minister of the united congregation of Protestant Dissenters assembling for public worship at Great Hucklow, Bradwell, Middleton and Ashford in Derbyshire. He was the son of the Reverend John Aldred, formerly pastor to the Presbyterian Chapel in Wakefield, and was himself intended for the pulpit. The early part of his education was conducted with a view to this object, but he entered on commercial life. In this he proved unsuccessful, and he determined to retire from the world and devote himself to that profession for which he was originally designed, and was settled as a minister of this gospel in the place before mentioned. His public services were for many years highly acceptable and useful, but growing infirmities and increasing age compelled him to resign his Office, and he removed to Sheffield, where after a confinement to his bed for some years the scene of his pilgrimage and his life was closed.

The character of Mr Aldred for benevolence, will long be remembered by the poor of Hucklow and its neighbourhood, where he gave the vaccine inoculation to many hundreds of families with the greatest success[2], and was in the habit of performing many other acts of kindness, rather beyond than below his scanty means and income. He administered consolation and assistance to the sick wherever they were needed and desired, and this without regard to any religious opinions or party whatsoever. He was in his religious sentiments a decided Unitarian Christian; and if he entertained certain notions upon the sacred prophecies which are imaginary and erroneous, let it be remembered that almost all who have presumed to apply these prophecies to the states and revolutions in Europe, have failed in their conjectures, and that the book of prophecy still remains in many respects, sealed up from investigation and developement (sic)

The errors of a disordered imagination, or a fond attachment to peculiar opinions, are not errors of the heart, and cannot destroy the excellence of character. The memory of the benevolent and just is blessed.

Let us rather to attain the reputation of the good than the great. Goodness, indeed is true greatness, whether in the humble and private walks of life, or in the broad and broken path of activity and usefulness. A Cornelius “who feared god with all his house”; A Dorcas “who was full of good works” and alms deeds which she did; a Saviour “who went about doing good throw all the splendour of ambition in the shade”.

Mr Aldred possessed great integrity of mind and was strictly conscientious in acting up to that which he considered as his duty. The pure and simple doctrines of the gospel were firmly embraced by him. These he was zealously desirous to disseminate, and these were his solace and support during a long and truly painful illness. Consoled and animated by these, he looked forward to his approaching dissolution with composure, and with well grounded hope of immortality.

One of Mr Aldred's ancestors was of the number of ministers ejected by the Act of Uniformity, 1662, and afterwards was minister of Morley Chapel, near Leeds, where his remains was interred. Several of the family were ministers of note among the Protestant Dissenters. His father, as noticed above, was pastor of a very large and respectable congregation at Wakefield, and the subject of the brief memoir was himself a warm ad decided advocate of the right of private judgment and of the liberty of worshipping God according to the dictates of an enlightened conscience.


The ‘Little Book’ had a sub-title ‘See the tenth Chapter of Revelation or a close and brief elucidation of the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Chapters of Revelation by Eben-Ezer’

And a text :- “Hitherto the Lord has helped us”. 1 Samuel vii 12.

Ebenezer interpreted these six chapters of Revelation as a single prophecy as a disaster to come.[4] So concerned was he that he posted at Tideswell the Manuscript to the Prime Minister Mr Addington on March 24 1803.[5]

Ebenezer in his introduction did not claim that his elucidation was written in ‘elegant diction or grammatical accuracy’ but it was his attempt to tell the truth.

Ebenezer drew on the book of Daniel as well as Revelation. He wrote, “The present kingdoms of Europe are unquestionably represented by the feet and toes of the great image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his prophetical dream.” “The form of government which now subsists must be dissolved”. (Daniel ii 44).

References to the progress of the Napoleonic War are based for instance on the animals mentioned in the biblical text. The bear was Russia greedy and gluttonous. This appears to be a reference of £6 million in gold sent to Russia in 1807. The leopard was Germany on the basis that the German Principalities appeared as many spots, although in another place he considers it might be Britain as it appears in the coat of Arms. The ‘rough goat was the king of Graecia’.

Much of the interest in this Little Book is when he uses contemporary events to strengthen his arguments; at one point the National Debt, all £811,898,083, 12s 3¾ of it, is recorded! The grievous and inquisitorial impost of a 10% tax on all property is mentioned together with Sir David Dundas the raiser of taxes, ‘who shall be destroyed’ (Daniel) or as Ebenezer interprets it be, “deprived of his situation”!

From Daniel he also deduced that 2,300 days were left before the sanctuary would be purged. The Jews would be restored; they alone were Unitarian.

From the book of Revelation he infers that ‘there comes a smoke out of the pit’, refers to ‘submarine navigation’. “Who can see all the consequences of this discovery ..?” “Fulton, an American has already added to his boat a machine by means of which he blew up a large boat, and if by future experiments the same effect could be produced on frigates or ships of the line. Where will sailors be found to man the ships of war, when it is a physical certainty that they may every moment be blown into the air by means of a Diving boat, against which no human foresight can guard them?”

There is even an intriguing interpretation that makes the letters that make up Louis in its German version of LUDOVICUS into the number of the Devil 666. L=50; u=5;D=500; O=0; 'V'=5; I=1; C=100; U=5; S=0; total 666!

The book of which 4000 were printed by C. Stowen of Paternoster Row presumably at Aldred's own expense was ready to be published on February 12 1811 the day Parliament opened.

However publication was held up to await the arrival of the ‘sixth king’, and delayed until February 19 1812.

The selling price was 3/- each or ten books for £1. The following day the book was exhibited from a boat ‘in the middle of the river’ (i.e. a prophet standing neither on land nor water).

'R.A' [6] has written in the Little Book :- “This extraordinary instance of fanaticism was ye work of the Reverend Ebenezer Aldred”. The MS at the end is his autograph, relating to his prophetic fear on the River Thames.

On the other hand Ebenezer's attitude to slavery was very much up to date:-

“O my fellow Britons take a repentive view of our crimes in the massacre of millions in the East Indies and the hellish traffic in human beings to transport as beasts of burden to fill the coffers of our over- grown merchants (both of which have been sanctioned by our legislators, therefore are become national crimes.) These!! These! Very great evils call for the judgment of a God of justice. These!

The numerous footnotes can also be revealing. He notes a sale of slaves to be sold in Kingston Jamaica, the good ship Liberty of Liverpool carrying slaves between the ages of fourteen and forty. “I was a witness when in America to the trial (and mutilation) of three human beings - for a small theft.”

“As I was inveighing bitterly against such a horrid punishment, one of them cut me short by the following answer, ‘You an Englishman and pretend to tell us of our cruelty, go to your West Indian islands and see the wretches impaled alive’”.

Elsewhere he takes William Pitt to task when the Government in 1805 purchased 5000 African negroes at £55 per head to serve as soldiers in the Leeward Islands. Pitt claimed that it was acceptable as they were already slaves in America. ‘Mr Pitt might quibble but it was a direct purchase’.

He also criticised and the owners of cotton mills and woollen factories who treated their employees harshly. The conclusion is that, despite his eccentricities, Ebenezer was ‘a Good Man’ is hard to fault.

Malcolm Barton. July 2007.
Additions: Information provided by John Goodchild of the
John Goodchild Collection, Drury Lane Wakefield.

[1] Sarah's married name is not yet known.
[2] The number of inoculations was 4,945. He refers to this in his book; “I practised Cowpox inoculation among cloud capt hills for some years.” It was “very successful” and he thought smallpox would be exterminated.
[Inoculation against smallpox was adopted in the early 1800s as a result of its discovery by Edward Jenner of Berkeley in Gloucestershire in 1796 - Ed]
[3] 'J.W.' who composed the obituary was the Reverend John E. Williams of Marisfield [Ed: Mansfield?] his son-in-law. Ebenezer had four children one of whom, Bridget, married John Williams, ‘Sometime minister at Norton and Halifax’.
[4] Ebenezer was by no means the only prophet forecasting doom in these revolutionary times. In 1783 George Rapp a German from Wurttemburg grew his beard long in the manner of medieval prophets, following the ideas of Michael Hahn a 16th Century prophet who claimed from Revelation that only 144,000 of the world's population would survive the first cataclysmic harrowing. The book of Revelation was quite clear about what must be done to prepare for the forthcoming apocalypse; those who wished to be saved must go into the wilderness and search for the Woman Clothed in the Sun. Rapp drew 20,000 followers to him. He resolved to found a utopian community in America for a thousand families and landed in Baltimore in 1803 with his son and two admirers, both doctors. Rapp's first settlement was called Harmony. (In 1774 Ann Lee from Manchester styling herself as the Woman Clothed in the Sun had founded a community in Upstate New York).
[5] Ebenezer lived at Great Hucklow. The Manse where he may have lived, is still there.
[6] If 'A' stands for Aldred I have yet to discover a Christian name starting with 'R'.

This account was compiled by Malcolm Barton in July 2007.

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