Bradburn, Samuel
1751-1816; e.m. 1774

Click to enlarge

Friend and confidant of John Wesley, whose influence within Methodism continued into the uncertain years after 1791. He was born in Gibraltar on 5 October 1751 (O.S.), the son of a gardener-turned-soldier. For a time he reacted against his strict Anglican background by indulging in drink and gambling. Converted in 1769, he became a local preacher in 1773 and an itinerant the following year. Known as 'the Demosthenes of Methodism', he was noted for his oratory and wit and was an eloquent preacher, writer and protagonist for Methodism against establishment intolerance. A champion of the poor, he was the founder of the Manchester Strangers' Friend Society (1792). Although suspected of political radicalism and of initial sympathy with Alexander Kilham, he opposed lay democracy within the Church and supported Kilham's expulsion. His Are Methodists Dissenters? (1792) put forward the view (which he claimed to be held by Wesley himself) that Methodism was neither Anglican nor dissenting, but presbyterian in character. In 1792 his wearing of a gown to conduct the opening service of Portland Chapel, Bristol, was strongly condemned by the New Room trustees, who were staunch 'Church Methodists'. He attended the Lichfield meeting in 1794, which unsuccessfully advocated an episcopal hierarchy for Methodism. His proposal for 'travelling bishops' the following year was also rejected by Conference. His second wife, Sophia Cooke of Gloucester, had encouraged Robert Raikes to start his Sunday School there. He was President of the Conference in 1799. He was criticized for his eccentric and unduly witty style; and in 1802 was censured and suspended for a year because of over-indulgence in wine at a time of illness and personal stress. He died in Southwark on 26 July 1816 and was buried at Wesley's Chapel.


'Never was a man, in Methodism, better known among the preachers, and less understood among the people…

'In later life, he was rather corpulent, and wore a powdered wig; was easy, gentlemanly, and agreeable in his manners, and impressed a mere stranger with the notion of a person allied to the nobility of the land… Though not always amiable, he was a man of kind and friendly dispositions; buit was tempted … by the exuberance of his genius and his cheerful temper, to speak loosely and extravagantly, and was hurried into exprssions in prose, like Dryden in song, which not only impaired his peace, but degraded his genius and threw a remote imputation on his ministerial character. With all his imperfections, he was a steady and determined friend…'

Wesleyan Takings (1840), pp. 179-81

'He had a pleasant and commanding person, an easy carriage, a voice exquisitely musical, a clear and comprehensive intellect, a ready and retentive memory, and a quick invention; while his style was pure and elegant, and the tone and manner of his preaching, as a rule, very warm and affectionate. But he had also that which none of these alone, nor the whole combined, could furnish -- the sympathies and powers of a great natural orator. He supplied to a considerable extent the deficiencies of his early education; and what remained was covered by the mantle of his genius. The secret of his great popularity, both within and beyond the borders of his own Church, is fully explained, if to these, its legitimate elements, bre added a certain strange and savage humour, which seasoned his discourses to the taste of the vulgar, rather than commended them to the admiration of the intelligent and pious. Yet great injustice would be done to his reputation, were the idea conveyed that, in his best days, his sermons were flavoured very strongly with the cheap and coarse condiments commonly retailed by the demagogue and the buffoon... [W]hen Bradburn was most himself, he handled with dignity and effect that formidable weapon [sarcasm]... His career was brilliant and useful.'

T.P. Bunting, The Life of Jabez Bunting, DD(1887) pp.61-62

  • Methodist Magazine, 1816, p.709
  • E.W. Bradburn, Memoirs of the late Rev. Samuel Bradburn (1816)
  • T.W. Blanshard, The Life of Samuel Bradburn, the Methodist Demosthenes (1870)
  • Benjamin Gregory, From Cobbler's Bench to President's Chair, Samuel Bradburn (1895)
  • Wesley and his Successors (1895) pp.51-52
  • Oxford DNB