Gregory family

Benjamin Gregory I (1772-1849; e.m. 1799) was the progenitor of a. distinguished family that produced several generations of WM ministers. Born near Belper he married Hannah Towler, the daughter of the Rev Edward Towler (1765-1822; e.m 1794) and served mainly in Lincolnshire and the North Riding of Yorkshire. He had two sons who entered the ministry. His older son's recollections remain one of the best descriptions of a minister's itinerancy and the effects of the regular moves on a large family. He retired to Belper in 1829, his 'ague-shattered frame … unfairly worn down' by the rigours of circuit ministry and died in June 1849.

1) His older son, Dr. Benjamin Gregory II (1820-1900; e.m. 1840) was born at

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Stokesley on 29 November 1820. Converted as a schoolboy at Woodhouse Grove, he became a teacher there 1835-41. His first circuit appointment was at Great Queen Street, London, where he showed his outstanding gifts as a preacher. At Oxford 1857-60 he raised the profile of Methodism in the university city. He became a member of the Legal Hundred in 1867. As Connexional Editor from 1876 to 1893 he widened the theological and ecclesiastical scope of the <span class="font-italic">WM Magazine</span> and played a leading part in the 1882 revision of the 'Book of Offices', being keen to eliminate anything 'unscriptural' or 'sacerdotalist' from the services derived from the Book of Common Prayer. He became a leading opponent of 'Higher Criticism', defending the orthodox view of the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible.

In 1873 he declined appointment to the chair of theology at Headingley College, but was elected President of the Conference in 1879. He was an able historian and ecclesiologist. His Sidelights on the Conflicts in Methodism, 1827-1852 (1898), based on the Conference notes of Joseph Fowler, is a key source for that troubled period. His Fernley Lecture The Holy Catholic Church (1873) is still the only systematic exposition of the doctrine of the Church by a British Methodist. In his Handbook of Scriptural Church Principles and Wesleyan Methodist Polity and History (1888) he gave detailed and careful expositions of the polity of Wesleyanism. A collection of his Sermons, Addresses and Pastoral Letters was published in 1881. He died on 24 August 1900 and his Autobiographical Recollections, edited by his eldest son, were published posthumously in 1903.

Three of Benjamin Gregory II's sons served in the Wesleyan ministry.

1) His oldest son was John Robinson Gregory (1845-1920; e.m. 1865) revised John Farrar's Biblical and Theological Dictionary for a later edition (1891) and wrote a manual of theology, The Theological Student, which went through eight editions between 1892 and 1910. He contributed memories of his father to Benjamin Gregory's Autobiographical Recollections and wrote A History of Methodism (1911), as well as refutations of the doctrine of apostolic succession.

One of John Robinson Gregory's sons, Dr. Benjamin C Gregory IV (1875-1950; e.m. 1898) was born at Torrington and spent much of his ministry in city missions. He pioneered the production and use of religious films for evangelistic purposes. He was editor of the Methodist Times from 1918 to 1937 and was much involved in the Free Church Council, the British Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. He died on 20 July 1950. Another, George Osborn Gregory (1881-1972; e.m. 1906) was born at Bristol on 11 December 1881 and trained for the ministry at Richmond College. He had a notable ministry at the Albert Hall, Nottingham 1930-1944 and was involved in the Christian Commando Campaigns. Besides other writings, he provided a children's feature for many years in the Methodist Times and the Methodist Recorder. The communion hymn HP 625 ('Spread the table of the Lord') was written during his ministry at Colwyn Bay, 1925-1930. He retired in 1953 and died at Nacton, Suffolk on 9 December 1972.

2) Benjamin Alfred Gregory III (1849-1876; e.m. 1874), born in 1849 or 1850, began the family tradition of high academic achievement. He gained first class honours at Oxford was the first Oxford graduate since the Wesleys to enter the Methodist ministry. He was classics tutor at Manchester Grammar School, where he preached in mission halls and in the streets and taught a class of boys in a village Sunday School. He caught an infectious disease while conducting a mission at Padstow and died on 14 December 1876. His father wrote a memoir of him under the title Consecrated Culture.

3) Dr. Arthur Edwin Gregory (1853-1912), born at Southampton on 30 November 1853, 'inherited …[his father's] refinement of spirit and literary aptitude'. He early attracted the attention of T.B. Stephenson, became Vice-Principal of the National Children's Home in 1898. Under his leadership as Principal 1900-1912, the NCH expanded the scope of its work. His interest in hymnology led to his serving on the committee which edited the new WM hymn book of 1904 and he gave the Fernley Lecture of that year on The Hymn Book of the Modern Church. He edited the Preacher's Magazine and handbooks for Bible students and founded the Union for Biblical and Homiletic Study. He died at Harpenden on 21 June 1912. His son Benjamin A. Gregory V (1884-1975; e.m. 1911) became Chairman of the Bournemouth District.

Benjamin Gregory I's younger son was Theophilus S. Gregory I (1825-1885; e.m. 1850). He had three sons, two of whom entered the ministry.

The eldest was Theophilus S Gregory II (1861-1902 e.m. 1885). He in turn had two sons of whom the older, Arthur S Gregory 1895-1989 e.m. 1922) , entered the ministry. He was educated at Kingswood School and Trinity College, Oxford and was Assisant Tutor at Handsworth College before going into circuit. An author and musician, he helped to found the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship and the Methodist Church Music Society. He was the only minister to serve on the editorial committees of both the 1933 and 1983 hymn book committees. His younger brother Theophilus Cyril Gregory (1901-1988) was Director of Music at Rydal School, organist and composer he helped his brother found MCMS and like his cousin Theophilus Stephen Gregory III (below) he became a Roman Catholic in 1935.

The third son, Stephen H. Gregory (1869-1950; e.m. 1892), was educated at Woodhouse GroveWoodhouse Grove School and Kingswood Schools. He became a local preacher at 18 and trained for the ministry at Didsbury College. In 1892 he went out to India, where he served on the North-West frontier and then in Banares. During the famine of 1898 he founded an orphanage to provide a refuge for children who had been left parentless and homeless. He was Chairman of the Lucknow and Banares District 1906-1915, before returning to serve in English circuits. His hymn tune 'Wendell' appeared in MHB 873 as a setting for a hymn by Oliver Wendell Holmes. He died on 28 September 1950.

He in turn was the father of Theophilus Stephen Gregory III ( ? - 1975; e.m. 1921), born in Banares. He graduated at New College, Oxford and won the MC in World War I. He was a charismatic figure, much loved and long remembered, as a circuit minister. His contribution at the Methodist Church Congress in 1929 on 'The Hallowing of Romance' revealed his love of literature. Always a high churchman, he was prominent in the Swanwick Schools of Fellowship. He had drawn up the constitution of the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship in 1935 when, in the course of writing his book The Unfinished Universe, he converted to Rome, feeling that Methodism was insufficiently God-centred and, strangely, that Roman Catholicism made possible a more open and adventurous attitude to the scheme of things. He became editor of the Dublin Review and Religious Controller of the BBC Third Programme. He took his devotion to Charles Wesley with him and wrote an exposition of his hymns, According to Your Faith, as the Methodist Lent Book of 1966. He died at Badby, Daventry on 15 August 1975.


'My father [Benjamin Gregory I] was a popular composer of acrostics, elegies, wedding-hymns, and hymns for anniversaries, several of which were published, but many more preserved as souvenirs in the families by whom he had been entertained, and whom he had regaled in turn with things new and old from his unfailing stores of narrative and recitation.'

Benjamin Gregory, Autobiographical Recollections (1903) p.50

George Bowden on Benjamin Gregory II: 'One of the most lively elements of a very stirring [1852] Conference was Benjamin Gregory's occasional appearance in the aisle. The call to attention which stopped letter-writing and everything else was "Here's Gregory." At once necks were stretched, and eyes were fixed on the spare figure which made its way towards the platform, not to make a speech, but to ask a question. His questioning was a fine art. The pertinence and force of his inquiry were shown by the way in which the heads of our leaders drew together for consultation, the short pause in Conference proceedings, the eager buzz of conversation. One who knew, and who knew how to use his knowledge, was in evidence among us. Again and again his few words touched the principle, the history, the kernel, or the crux of the matter in hand. They could not be passed over.'

Quoted in ibid, p.415

'There is a most flattering portraiture of me in the second volume of the [Wesleyan] Takings, which has just come out [1851]'

'Benjamin Gregory: Tall, thin, - prominent features - long hair… The air and appearance of a scholar, mingling with society, and enjoying enlightened conversation, as well as the seclusion and profounder thought of the study. A fine intellect; great originality; a good classical scholar. Remote from everything stiff, stilted and systematic. Order, without its appearance; ease without carelessness or negligence. Large liberal views. Both the logician and the genius perceptible. Mild, gentle, deep-toned feeling; blended with spirit and point. A chaste, clear, clean,manly style. Neirher rapid nor slow in delivery; an excellent power for the character of thought in which he indulges and in which he deals. While he respects rule, and obeys law, he does not forget his independence. Would be an awkward subject to buy… Stands apart from all commonplace… Can give spirit to a whole sentence by a single expression - a feeling to an entire assembly by a single thought.'

Quoted in ibid, p.394

  • S.W. Christophers, The Poets of Methodism (1875), pp.492-8
  • Benjamin Gregory, Consecrated Culture; memorials of Benjamin Alfred Gregory (1885)
  • Methodist Recorder, 30 Aug. 1900; 28 December 1972
  • Benjamin Gregory, Autobiographical Recollections (1903)
  • James H. Rigg, Wesleyan Methodist Reminiscences Sixty Years Ago (1904) pp.91-95
  • David Carter, 'The Context and Content of Mid-Victorian Wesleyan Ecclesiology', in WHS Proceedings, 52 pp.219-35
  • David M. Chapman, In search of the catholic spirit (Peterborough, 2004) pp.69-71
  • Martin Wellings, From 'The Soul of Dominic Wildthorne' to the Wesleyan Guild of Divine Service: Some Methodist Responses to Anglo-Catholicism in Victorian and Edwardian England (2011), pp.13-17
  • Norman Wallwork; The Gospel Church Secure: the official history of the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship (2013), pp.17-37
  • Felicity Cain, "Mazes of Time. Sixteen Gregorys: the Story of a Methodist Family" (Oldham, 2020)