Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor, the first of the Twelve to arrive in England, hastened to Church headquarters in Preston to meet with the mission presidency. There they decided to separate; Elder Taylor returned to Liverpool with Joseph Fielding, and Elder Woodruff traveled south with Theodore Turley to the Staffordshire Potteries, so called because of the industry carried on there.
In the Potteries, Elder Woodruff successfully organized several branches in the small towns of the area and placed Elder Turley in charge of them. In March, Wilford was inspired to go further south to Herefordshire, accompanied by one of his converts, William Benbow. They contacted William’s brother and sister-in-law, John and Jane Benbow, and a group of six hundred people who had formed their own religious society called the United Brethren. Eventually the leader of the group, Thomas Kington, and all but one of the six hundred members accepted the restored gospel and were baptized. Hundreds of others in the vicinity also joined the Church.
Although the work prospered, success did not come without opposition. A local constable was sent to arrest Elder Woodruff for preaching without a license, but instead he was baptized following an inspiring sermon. On another occasion, two clerks sent to discover what Wilford was teaching were both baptized. The clergy in the area finally wrote to the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, requesting that he use his influence to ban the Mormons from Britain. Recognizing the laws of religious tolerance in the nation, the archbishop counseled the ministers to solve the problem themselves by becoming more dedicated pastors. Instead the clergy preached anti-Mormon sermons and agitated the local press to harass the Latter-day Saints.
Opposition grew as the Church prospered in the area. While preaching in the village of Hawcross, Wilford Woodruff was surrounded by a hostile mob. When some of the villagers requested baptism, Wilford told them that if they had faith enough to be baptized, he had sufficient faith to administer the ordinance, in spite of the threatened physical violence. The small group walked down to a pond and was soon surrounded by a mob armed with stones. Wilford Woodruff reported, “I walked into the water with my mind stayed on God and baptized five persons while they were pelting my body with stones, one of which hit me on the head and came very near knocking me down.” 10
On another occasion the minister in the village of Dymock led a mob of over fifty men in stoning the house where the Saints were holding a prayer meeting. Although such experiences were relatively rare in Britain, they reminded Elder Woodruff that there was strong opposition to the restored gospel.
Through the efforts of Wilford Woodruff and others, some eighteen hundred people were converted in the three-county area of Hereford, Worcester, and Gloucester. Visiting the market town of Ledbury, Elder Woodruff was invited by the Baptist minister to preach to his congregation. Afterward the minister and several of the congregation requested baptism. On another occasion, while he was baptizing, some ministers rode up in a wagon, gratefully accepted baptism, and went on their way rejoicing. Reflecting on this extraordinary period of his life, Wilford Woodruff wrote, “The whole history of this Herefordshire mission shows the importance of listening to the still small voice of the spirit of God, and the revelations of the Holy Ghost. The people were praying for light and truth, and the Lord sent me to them.” 11
11. In Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 118.
A synopsis of Wilford Woodruff’s travels and labors in 1840. 9
|Established preaching||53 places|
|which included||1,500 Saints|
|28 elders||110 priests|
|24 teachers||10 deacons|
|which included|| 57 preachers
2 clerks of the Church of England
|Assisted in the baptism||86 others|
|Assisted in confirmation||50 others|
|Ordained|| 18 elders
|Administered unto||120 sick persons|
|Assisted in procuring||1,000 pounds sterling for printing Millennial Star, three thousand copies of Latter-day Saints hymns, and five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon|
|Assisted in emigrating||200 Saints to America|
|Mobs came against me||4|