JOHN MANSELL 1794-1860

John Mansell was baptised at St Lawrence, Southampton, 8 December 1794 the son of Richard and Elizabeth Mansell. His father was buried 30 June 1802. He married Martha (also known as Mary) Axtell, daughter of William Axtell of Moorgreen, papermaker and Wesleyan Methodist, 26 December 1818, at South Stoneham. They had eight children: John (1820), William (1822), Richard (1824, died 1826), Charlotte (1827), Eliza (1831), Ann (1833), James (1835), Sarah (1838), and finally Martha (1842) Sadly, Martha died at the age of four, 22 October 1846 after being scalded by a cup of tea. (Hampshire Advertiser 24 October 1846: coroner’s inquest)
John appears on the Southampton Wesleyan Circuit plan March-June 1847 as number 23 of 32 preachers. He took 11 services during that period, some in Southampton itself, but as far afield as Longdown and Bramshaw in the New Forest.
The St Mary’s Easter Vestry Meeting in April 1849 was a crowded affair, with 300 parishioners crowding the old church. Prominent nonconformists, such as Henry Pond and Timothy Falvey, were present and challenging the churchwardens in the matter of church rates. Mr Falvey said “I do not believe it to be in accordance with the spirit of the law that Nonconformists, who support their own places of worship, should be compelled to pay for the support of a Church from which they dissent (applause)” (Hampshire Independent 14 April 1849). Mr Purchase had been elected churchwarden twice, and was due for re-election. His predecessor had left Nonconformists alone with their consciences, but Mr Purchase had been pressing for payment, and now those men were exercising their right to vote in his election, or at least have a say in the matter. Among them was John Mansell, who said “There is one reason why I will not support Mr Purchase, and that is that I object to anything like strong drink. I object now, and have done so before, to the appointment to a public office of any man who makes the drink which destroys our fellow-creatures (laughter, cheers and some interruption) I am opposed, not only to the rates, but to the Church Establishment altogether (much applause, and a voice, ‘I suppose you’d pull down all the churches.’) No, it is not the buildings, but the system connected to the State, to which I object.” The Independent favoured the Nonconformists (Timothy Falvey was its editor) , and did not report the content of the interruptions: the Tory Hampshire Advertiser was happy to give the full flavour of the meeting. There had been “cries of ‘Give Jack half-a-pint,’ and ‘Fetch Jack a pot of sixpenny’” at Mr Mansell’s speech (Hampshire Advertiser 14 April 1849). When he also asked Mr Degee, up for re-election as Guardian of the Poor and proposed by Henry Pond, if he was a brewer, the response was “That’s right Jack, go against the tap-tub!” and Mr Degee answered “You are no Pope: I will not answer you.” The directory shows that he was indeed a brewer.
At a far less crowded meeting in December 1849, reacting to the imminent arrival of a General Board of Health Inspector following the cholera epidemic, and the possibility of the establishment of a local Board of Health, Mr Mansell seemed to be agreeing with the objectors to the inquiry, or at least suggesting that Southampton could get its own house in order. He said he “thought he knew enough of his neighbours as to warrant a belief that they would, in this case, as in others, firmly guard their pockets. The men who wanted this act in operation, say what they liked, were the men who had spent their money lavishly for years, and one of them in the Council, now that power had been wrested from him, was almost mad. If they acted as men, that power would be restored at any rate as long as he and his friends were living. Property was becoming available in the town, so that, if not in their own time, it might happen in the days of their children, that the Board would call upon them for very little money at all (cheers) That was worth remembering.” (Hampshire Independent 29 December 1849) Mr Degee “had not seen many towns cleaner than Southampton. He had come down here from London, wrapped up in flannel, and this he had to throw off, having enjoyed good health.” To which Mr Mansell responded “You have, perhaps, drank more water, and less of the strong liquors you used to deal in?” “Pray don’t question me too closely about that!” “Well, all I can say is, that people live long enough here if they take reasonable means and live as men should live.” William Ranger’s report to the General Board of Health on the sanitary condition of Southampton was published in 1850, and the local Board of Health formed that year.
We next hear John speak in January 1851, at a Wesleyan Reform meeting to hear Rev. Samuel Dunn, “one of the expelled ministers.” (Hampshire Independent 25 January 1851.) He had been voted to the chair, and the Independent described him as “a respectable tradesman of Southampton, who has been a member of the Wesleyan body for about 30 years and a local preacher for 21 years.” Taking the chair, he stated that “he had been a Wesleyan Reformer for 20 years. Whilst the ministers in the connection too often ranged themselves with the opponents of progress, he believed that nine out of ten of their people were thorough Nonconformists (cheers)”.
Also present were local preachers George Walters Bleckley, a bookseller, and Richard Wake, blacksmith. The Superintendent minister Rev John Crofts visited Mr Wake after the meeting and suspended him as Class Leader. Further actions followed: although their names were still on the Plan, they had not been given any preaching appointments, even though this meant cancelling some afternoon services. The next Quarterly Meeting took place 26 March, and Mr Crofts served notice that the three men would face a complaint or charge against them for the part they played in the Long Rooms meeting. The men were found “guilty of the enormous crime of daring to think for themselves” (Independent 29 March 1851) On 20 April, they started holding separate Wesleyan Reform services at 20 Hanover Buildings. George Medley, from Romsey, preached at one of the early services as “unexpelled”, but it wasn’t long before he too left the Wesleyan Connexion.
At the beginning of April, Wesleyan members were given their quarterly ticket of membership, with the words “Mark them which cause divisions and offences – and avoid them. Romans xvi.17” Several members, including Richard Wake junr, and his friends George Plowman and George Biles, refused to accept the tickets because of the passage of scripture, and were told they were no longer members or Sunday School teachers. The loss of members to the Southampton Circuit seems to have been relatively small at this stage, but over the next few years, numbers dropped from about 590 to about 500 overall. We are told that others refused their tickets, too, but we don’t know their names, except perhaps members of a family named Prince who brought their little girl to the Long Rooms Meeting for Mr Dunn to baptise.
By March 1852, the Reformers were organising themselves into Circuits and Districts. At a Portsmouth District meeting held in Salisbury, 15 March, Mr Wake reported that Southampton had started with 21 members, and now had 38, and an average congregation of 60. They had five local preachers, three leaders, four classes, 7 Sunday School teachers and 42 pupils. Compared with Salisbury, with 300 members and 8 preaching places, or the Isle of Wight, with 210 members, this was modest, but unlike some circuits, Southampton was sending representatives to meetings, Mr Bleckley had become the District Secretary, and Mr Mansell was on the District Committee.
The business meeting was followed by a public meeting, addressed by several of the brethren, including Mr Wake of Shirley, Mr Stevenson of Portsmouth (who gave “an able and humorous speech of nearly an hour’s duration,”) and Mr Mansell. “In an energetic speech [he showed] the evils of Wesleyan Conferencism, in impeding the progress of almost every good case. But for the influence of the Wesleyan Conference, we should have had a separation of Church and State before this time. Civil and religious liberty had been crippled; the Temperance cause had been retarded; and the rights of the people trampled upon. The Methodist people were paying men to be their masters instead of their servants. He was determined to do so no longer.” (Hampshire Independent 20 March 1852)
In 1854, the Wesleyan Reformers took over an old school building on the west side of Lower Canal Walk, in one of the poorest areas of Southampton. It had just been vacated by the Ragged School, which had just moved to purpose-built premises in St George’s Place, Houndwell. The school had been built in 1829 as a Church Infant School for the parishes of All Saints and Holy Rood, which had closed Christmas 1849.
After repairs and fitting out, the opening services took place on Sunday, 28 May 1854. The preacher was Mr T Pybus, of Bakewell, Derbyshire. They had held their third anniversary services at Hanover Buildings Sunday 16 April. John Mansell registered Lower Canal Walk for worship 22 June 1855.
Membership in May 1854 was about 40. They had no paid minister, but the local preachers were conducting burials for their flock in the Old Cemetery. The Cemetery Committee were puzzled by the payment of fees to Mr Bleckley, a bookseller and stationer, and not a Reverend, but were told that he “always presented the amount of his fees to the Infirmary.” (Hampshire Independent 24 June 1854.) A week later, Mr Bleckley wrote to say that his church regarded the use of the prefix “Reverend” as a “relic of bye-gone ages … without Scripture authority or precedent.” (Independent 1 July 1854.) He did not believe in a paid ministry, and held that the 3s fee for his services was an imposition on the bereaved, so he either returned the money to the family, or, if they would not accept it, gave it to the Infirmary, or some other charity. Mr Mansell, who also performed burials for their members, did the same. The “unconsecrated” Cemetery register records 12 people buried by either Mr Bleckley or Mr Mansell between 1853 and 1859. Of the nine buried by John Mansell, six were less than 3 years old. They were the children of people like him, living in neighbouring streets to his home in Clifford Street: Bevois Street, South Front, Chapel Road. William Henry Cole, a seaman’s son, was 13 when he died in 1854, and William Mitchell Stephens, a seaman, was 33 at his death in 1855.
In 1856, the chapel was “occupied at day of the cure of souls” by the Reformers, and “at night for the cure of bodies,” by C H Oswin MD, who ran a dispensary and delivered lectures to his patients. Unfortunately, Dr Oswin fell behind on his rent to the tune of £8 6s, and Mr Mansell took him to court.
In 1857, about half of the Wesleyan Reformed congregations merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Association to form the United Methodist Free Church. John Mansell seems to have joined the Bible Christians, another branch of Methodism for whom ministers were servants not masters, about this time: he was a trustee for Hedge End Bible Christian Chapel 5 March 1857, and the Bible Christians had use of the Chapel from 1857.
In September 1857, following the death of his wife, Richard Wake snr emigrated to the United States.
In February 1858, George Bleckley sailed with his family on the Parsee to Australia.
The small Wesleyan Reformed cause in Southampton had faded away.
The chapel was advertised for sale in the Hampshire Independent 26 March 1859. It was in use by Plymouth Brethren in 1865, and as Julius Hyams’ tailoring workshop, 1894-1928.
William Cole’s brother James died at the same age, 13, in 1859, and the family asked Mr Mansell, now a Bible Christian, to bury him, too.
John Mansell died 4 July 1860.


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