[From Manchester City News Notes & Queries Manchester 1879]

Mormons in Manchester

A question was raised about the date Mormons arrived in Manchester. This drew a few responses

[p175/6]

The Mormons in Manchester for some time used the lecture theatre in the old Manchester Mechanics Institute in Cooper Street, which was let to them by the Board of Directors. I then on the board, opposed the resolution moved for the purpose but unsuccessfully. We had previously let the theatre to other religious bodies for temporary purposes, and it was, not unreasonably, contended that as we knew nothing of theological distinctions as a principle of management, we had no right to refuse to Mormons what we had allowed to other sects. As to the respectability of the people, I have a strong impression that there was not one family which would by general consent be called respectable connected with them. The people were mostly poor and bent upon emigration to improve their position.

THOMAS BRITTAIN.

 

The Mormon prophet, leader, and founder of that peculiar creed, Mr. Joseph Smith-better known to our American cousins as " Joe Smith"-began the prophet business in this country in the city of Manchester some time in the month of February, 1841. As at that time I came into contact with Smith on several occasions in some business matters, a short personal account of the now notorious "prophet" may interest your readers. Coming to this country via New York and Liverpool, he made Manchester his headquarters, and sought, with considerable success, to make converts to his polygamous religion. Many of his pamphlets, which he had had printed in America, I made up and bound for him here, the said literature being no do ubt to the Mormon mind extremely edifying. The premises occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Smith and family while here were then No. 37, Oxford-street, in Esdaile's Buildings, now a tobacconist's shop, next door to Duncan and Foster, bakers. The landlord accepted him as tenant for the unexpired portion of my tenancy, and to continue at about 30 per annum. He remained there either twelve months or two years, I forget which, and visited during that time almost all the towns in the neighbourhood of Manchester. In appearance the Prophet was a man about five feet ten inches high, somewhat stout, and with a good appearance. He appeared to be fairly educated, but not in possession of any trade or handicraft. He seemed to be well off as far as this world's goods went, and to the best of my recollection did not leave his debts as a legacy to the unconverted. I believe the meeting-house for the "Saints" and "Anxious Enquirers" was the lower portion of a house in a street immediately behind St. Michael's Church, in Angel Meadow. We all know Smith's tragical fate, but the few details I am able to give are not perhaps so well known and may be interesting not only to readers here but also in Salt Lake City, State of Utah, U.S.

JAMES WROE. Oxford-street, Manchester.

[This letter provoked two which pointed out Wroe's confusion - J Smith never came to the UK - the Mormon leader was probably Orson Pratt ]

[pp197/8]

The Mormons must have been in Manchester before 1841. I believe the first preaching place occupied by them was in a cellar in Oldham Road, where I heard them when quite a lad, and at at the close of one of the meetings, put some questions to the Latter-day Saint who was, so it was understood, a missionary from Nauvoo. Their first converts were made from amongst the Primitive Methodists, several of whom emigrated to the settlement of the saints. They were for a long time very successful in obtaining converts in and around Manchester, Carpenter's Hall at times being crowded with delegates attending the conferences. At one of these conferences, at which I believe P. P. Pratt was present, an attempt was made to work a miracle. Much preparation and much greater anticipation preceded the attempt. A little lame girl was commanded very solemnly to rise up and walk. The effort resulted in the poor girl falling on the platform ! The failure, of course, was attributed to the want of faith in the girl ! They were not, however, all poor ignorant people who joined the saints. I was acquainted with a most respectable family named Brotherton, connected I believe with the Wesleyan Methodist Association, that emigrated to the promised land; and, so it is understood, soon had their eyes opened by the humbugs who professed to be saints. I remember a recreant Mormon elder named Hyde delivering two lectures in the Corn Exchange. As he was a stranger in Manchester I was requested to take the chair. I did so upon the condition that discussion should be allowed. The lectures were clever exposures of the theology of the saints. The lecturer had evidently supposed that the people of Manchester were concerned anent what the saints believed. The very few people who attended the lectures must have inconveniently convinced the lecturer that what the Mormons believed was their concern, but was regarded as the idle wind by the dwellers in Manchester. At the close of the lectures two portraits painted at the Salt Lake, one of Brigham Young and the other I believe of Taylor or Orson Pratt, were exhibited. When Hyde found that lectures on Mormonism would draw money out of his pocket but little or none out of the pockets of the public, he resolved to sell the portraits. I offered them several times in my auction room in Newall's Buildings, but, as might have been anticipated, without finding a purchaser. Thinking that the saints themselves might be interested in the paintings, I wrote to the Mormon depot in Liverpool in the hope that some wealthy saint might be tempted to become the owner of the heads of the Latter-day Saint business. A few days afterwards I was astonished by the appearance of six or seven well-dressed men, who produced my note and requested to look at the portraits. They were all Mormon elders, one or two of them having been at the Salt Lake. The portraits were acknowledged to be faithful likenesses, and the price, after a little bargaining, I believe 4 10s., was agreed to. After making out and receipting a bill I thought it only civil to ask them if " the cause" was succeeding to the extent of their desires, intimating at the same time that I had been present at one of the first meetings of the saints in Manchester. I was informed that the people were gathering in large numbers preparatory to departing to the promised land, and that all the faithful amongst the worn-out sects would speedily take their departure for Utah. One of the elders then entered into a long statement in proof of the verity of the Mormon revelations, which I at length interrupted by asking if the address had any personal reference, and if specially. intended for my benefit. To my astonishment I was told that it had been revealed to them that I was a chosen vessel, and that I should not only join the only true church, the church of the Latter-day Saints, but become an apostle and a "revelator "-whatever that might mean. All the brothers echoed the statement asserting that each had received an independent revelation that I should become a Mormon elder ! I interrupted the pious chorus by asking permission to relate an anecdote. I had, I said, a friend in London who prided himself upon being aspecially wide-awake Cockney. One day walking with him through the Strand he was accosted by one of the land-sharks who haunt seaports, with an intimation that he had just landed from his ship in the East India Dock, and that he had brought ashore some cigars and handkerchiefs. My friend, as soon as he could command himself, being literally struck all-of-a-heap with astonishment at being taken, as he said, for a country yokel, gasped out, " Who the d-l do you take me for?" At the conclusion of the anecdote the Mormons, without so much as saying " good-bye," took their departure, convinced probably that the revelation concerning myself had been made by a lying spirit. It is certainly true, however, that I have become an elder-in years, but having preserved a grain or two of sanity have been enabled to eschew the Mormon humbug.

JOSEPH JOHNSON.

Isle of Man.

 


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© F.Coakley , 2004