History of the General Baptists of Cauldwell & Burton on Trent
A. D. 1776
Among other places, to which the friends at Melbourn carried the gospel, was Cauldwell, a pleasant, though small village, on the confines of Staffordshire, four miles from Burton upon Trent, and twelve from Litchfield (sic). Joseph Norton, an inhabitant of this place, was induced to hear the general baptist ministers, at Packington. His mind was affected with the great truths which he heard: and he was convinced of his lost state by nature. After some time he obtained peace in believing; was baptized, and joined the church at Melbourn. It appears, that, when he set out in the ways of religion, though he was a married man, and had several young children, yet he dwelt with his father, who was a person of some property, and was in a great measure dependant (sic) on him. This gentleman had imbibed strong prejudices against the Melbourn preachers; and frequently called them "false prophets, and a paltry set of hirelings who ran before they were sent." He, therefore, violently opposed his son's connection with persons whom he both despised and hated: and threatened, if he did not forsake them, to turn him and his infant family out of doors. But his threats made this sincere christian cleave to his Saviour, and pursue the one thing needful, with greater ardour. He persevered in a constant attendance on the means of grace at Melbourn and Packington; though the former was twelve, and the latter nine miles from the place of his residence.
As his knowledge of the gospel, and his enjoyment of its blessings increased, his desire that his neighbours, and especially his relatives, should partake of the same mercies, proportionably augmented. He laboured strenuously to engage his acquaintances to accompany him to Melbourn and Packington: and, sometimes, with such success, that he has taken twenty companions, at once, to hear the gospel; many of whom found it the power of God to the salvation of their souls. But, it required more address to remove the prejudices of his father; yet the filial piety of the son caused him to feel peculiarly anxious for the eternal happiness of his parent. He, therefore, determined, in dependance (sic) on the divine blessing, to make the attempt. Knowing the unhappy prepossessions of his father against the Melbourn preachers, he thought it more prudent to procure a stranger to commence the operations; and engaged Mr. Abraham Austin, of Sutton Colefield (sic), to preach at Cauldwell, when a door of entrance should he opened. Mr. Norton, then, having concerted his plan with one of his friends, informed his father that Mr. Austin proposed visiting him, on such a day, and might perhaps he prevailed on to preach, if a proper place could be found; but that, fearing his father might not he prepared to receive him, or might be afraid of the reflections of his neighbours, he had applied to another person in the village, who was very willing that the service should be held at his house. This address had the desired effect. It roused the pride of the old man, who, as he occupied his own estate, affected to act with great spirit, and was piqued that any of his neighbours should be thought more independent than himself. He immediately replied, "Mr. Austin shall not seek any other accommodations, but shall preach in my house." Notice was accordingly given: Mr. Austin came, and preached to a numerous and attentive congregation. His host was well pleased with the service, and frequently observed afterwards, that it was a good discourse.
Mr. Norton was encouraged by his father's approbation of this sermon: and assured him that the ministers at Melbourn, of whom he entertained so bad an opinion, preached exactly the same doctrines as Mr. Austin. At length, the old gentleman expressed a willingness to hear them; and authorized his son to invite them to Cauldwell. Messrs. Smith and Perkins eagerly accepted the invitation: and, without waiting for much solicitation, repeated their visits. In a short time, Mr. Norton had the heart-felt satisfaction of seeing his venerable parent lay aside his prejudices, and submit to the truth. He was baptized, and joined the church at Melbourn. Several of his neighbours following his example, public worship was established in the village, and a room licensed for that purpose. At first the service was only once a fortnight, on the Thursday evening; but the prospect continuing to improve, preaching was commenced regularly every Lord's-day. Notwithstanding considerable opposition, the cause gained ground, and the hearers increased; till the room which they had hired became too small to accommodate them. A meeting-house, therefore, became necessary: and Mr. Norton, sen. who was now zealous to support the faith which he so lately wished to destroy, generously gave them a piece of land for a meeting-house and burying-ground. The friends exerted themselves liberally on the occasion; and a commodious meeting-house was erected, at an expense of one hundred and eighty pounds, which was opened in 1778.
The success of the gospel at Cauldwell alarmed its enemies. A spirit of persecution arose against the baptists; the chief weight of which fell on Mr. Joseph Norton, who was considered as the chief ringleader of the sect. He was stigmatized as "a pestilent fellow, a mover of sedition, and a disturber of the tranquillity of a peaceful village." Not content with these harmless effusions of spite, which the good man would have smiled at and forgiven, they endeavoured to injure him in his temporal concerns. He was a shoe-maker: and, in order to deprive him of the means of procuring an honest subsistence, they encouraged another of the same trade to settle in the village. Mr. Norton, however, continued to pursue the great objects in which he had engaged with undiminished ardor: but, while he was earnestly labouring to spread the knowledge of the gospel, he was peculiarly diligent, obliging, punctual and honest in his worldly business. The blessing of Him, in whose hands are the hearts of all men, succeeded his endeavours: and, in a short time, his opponent was obliged to retreat with loss and disgrace. Several of his christian friends endured similar persecution; but all was over-ruled by a gracious Providence, even to their temporal advantage. They found, by blessed experience, that "godliness is profitable for all things; having the promise of this life, and of that which is to come."
A. D. 1780
About two years after the opening of the new meeting-house, Job Burditt, a native of Cauldwell, a young man of promising abilities, was called to the work of the ministry. His labours were so highly approved by his neighbours, that he became, in a great measure, the regular preacher in that branch of the church. The cause increased under his ministrations: and, in 1785, forty of the inhabitants of Cauldwell and its neighbourhood stood as members of the society at Melbourn.
The church at Melbourn continued, through the whole of this period, to flourish, under the joint pastoral care of Messrs. Francis Smith and Thomas Perkins; who generally laboured alternately at Melbourn and Packington, the two principal stations. But preaching was regularly maintained at a number of other places, which increased as the cause spread; and required the assistance of other labourers. Several young men, of respectable abilities, were raised up in their own church whose services were both acceptable and useful. Among these were, Thomas Mee, of Packington, who was called to the ministry in 1777, and was frequently employed among them for eighteen years; John Smedley, who commenced preaching in 1782, and continued his labours, in various parts of the church, till he settled at Retford, in 1794; and Job Burditt, of whom we shall have to speak on another occasion.
Being thus plentifully supplied with ministers, the cause regularly extended itself. The congregation at Melbourn increased, till it was found convenient, in 1782, to raise the walls of the meeting-house, and erect galleries. This alteration cost ninety pounds, which they liberally raised by subscription among themselves. The number of members nearly doubled during this period; amounting, in 1785, to three hundred and five.
A. D. 1786 - 1800
The general baptists at Cauldwell were so well satisfied with the labours of Mr. Job Burditt, that, withdrawing from Melbourn, they formed themselves into a separate church; and called him to be their regular preacher. This took place, Dec. 25th. 1785. For a short time, the cause prospered. Mr. Burditt was diligent, zealous, and successful. But, going to preach at a distant place, he contracted a severe cold which settled on his lungs. This brought on a rapid consumption, of which he died, April 27th. 1786.
This mysterious providence deeply affected his surviving friends. They assembled in the house of God, but their instructor was absent. Every heart was too full of its own sorrow to he able to offer any consolation to others. At length, to their surprize and comfort, Charles Norton, the son of Mr. Joseph Norton, who had been instrumental in introducing the gospel into Cauldwell, stood up, and read to his mourning brethren the encouraging words of our Saviour, John xiv. 1, "Let not your hearts be troubled," &c. On this text, he built some animating exhortations, which suited the circumstances of his hearers, and afforded them great support. His address was so seasonable and so well approved, that they immediately turned their thoughts to him as the successor of their lamented minister. He had been made a partaker of divine grace in the seventeenth year of his age, and was now about twenty-five. The church had encouraged him to exercise his gifts, in a private manner, before Mr. Burditt's decease; and this unexpected instance of his aptness for the great work, induced them unanimously to call him to the work of the ministry. He was sent, for a few months, to receive the necessary instructions from Mr. S. Deacon, of Barton; and, after his return, resumed his labours. His services being acceptable to his brethren, and blest to the conversion of sinners, he was invited to the pastoral office, and ordained, Sept. 16th. 1788.
His constitution was not strong; and he was frequently afflicted with violent pains in his head. The fatigues and travels, occasioned by his ministerial engagements, increased, his complaints. Being obliged to take a journey, in a deep snow, when he had scarcely recovered from a severe attack of his disorder, he lost his sight on the road. He could, at first, discern the light of a window; but, in less than a year, he was in in total darkness.
Though thus shut out from one great source of improvement, he continued his ministerial labours with credit to himself and profit to his hearers. He had studied his Bible diligently before his misfortune: and, possessing a good memory, and being personally acquainted with the sorrows and joys, the doubts and duties of vital christianity, his discourses were experimental and edifying. These repeated trials, however, prevented the extension of this society: and, during this period, the number of members continued almost unaltered: being stated, in 1786, at forty-six; and, 1800, amounting only to forty-three. At the Association in that year, they complain that "religion was very low in some, and their minister indisposed." This indisposition increased, till Aug. 6th 1800, when he emerged from darkness into everlasting day: leaving a widow and six small children to mourn his departure. His funeral sermon was preached by Mr. S. Deacon, from Heb. vi. 12.
The interest at Cauldwell, languished for many years after the death of Mr. C. Norton; the supplies of preaching being uncertain, and, in some instances, unedifying. After various disappointments, they invited Mr. J. Pollard, of Swithland; who, fixing his residence at Burton-upon-Trent, became their regular minister. The cause seemed to revive under his care; but secular difficulties soon obliged him to leave them. He was succeeded by Mr. Jarvis; but though his labours were made useful, he also was under the necessity of removing. In 1811, they were destitute of a minister, and complain that religion was on the decline. Not long afterwards, they obtained the assistance of Mr. Gamble, of Leicester, and the drooping interest experienced a considerable revival: twenty-six persons being added to the church by baptism, in 1813. In 1816, the number of members had increased to eighty-two: and though some of their places of preaching were thinly attended; yet "others were crowded with serious hearers; many of whom they hoped would soon come forward to follow the Lamb." But, in 1817, troubles arose; their minister left them; and their members sunk to sixty-six. Several unsuccessful attempts had been made by the friends at Cauldwell, to introduce their ministers into the neighbouring town of Burton-upon-Trent; but, in 1814, they licensed a room there for preaching, which, at, first, was supplied chiefly by Mr. Moss, who had joined them from the particular baptists. But he soon afterwards dropt all connection with them; and their hopes became less sanguine. They still, however, persevere in the attempt: and there is some prospect of ultimate success.
Quoted from: Note: I am not a lawyer, but this book having been published in 1818, I understand it to be well out of its 50 years' copyright. Should I be badly informed, please contact me and I will remove this page immediately. Meanwhile, Baptist records being notoriously difficult to source, I hope that it will be as helpful to others as it has been to me.
Note: I am not a lawyer, but this book having been published in 1818, I understand it to be well out of its 50 years' copyright. Should I be badly informed, please contact me and I will remove this page immediately. Meanwhile, Baptist records being notoriously difficult to source, I hope that it will be as helpful to others as it has been to me.