Matthews, Richard

Serjeant-at-Law, born in Histon near Cambridge. He was the only son of a gentleman farmer who was credited with having first brought a Wesleyan preacher to the village. He became a local preacher, class leader and circuit steward and the society met in the family home. In 1819 he signed the application for the licence for the first chapel. He entered the Middle Temple in 1823 and was called to the bar in 1828, becoming serjeant in 1852.

By 1825 he had moved to London. He was deeply committed to overseas missions and was a member of the Missionary Committee from 1828 to 1850, making a submission to the Parliamentary Committee concerned with the marital status of freed slaves in 1836, taking part in the search for a new Mission House in 1838-39, and attempting unsuccessfully to mediate in the dispute in 1839 with Joseph Sturge over Isaac Whitehouse, a missionary accused of mistreating slaves. He was a member of the ??? over the same period and of the Education Committee 1842-1850. He advised the Conference over the 1832 Model Deed, acted for it when the validity of the Deed was challenged in court in 1840, and again in 1842 over the Gedney case (in which the Privy Council finally declared the validity of Wesleyan baptisms), and advised on the implementation in Wesleyan Methodism of the provisions of the 1836 Marriage Act.

He frequently advised the Committee of Privileges and received votes of thanks from the Conference in 1839, 1840 and 1842. In 1852 however he publicly disputed with the Conference over the legality of the 1849 expulsions. He was secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, 1825-27 and thereafter a committee member until it was disbanded in 1839. At government request he was the architect of the law enacted in 1838 to give legal status to the marriages of emancipated slaves and provide for future marriages. In 1847 he published, anonymously, A Companion to the Wesleyan Methodist Hymn Book, a collection of tunes and psalm-chants which ran into several editions. His second wife, Lucy Maria Heald, was the daughter of George, the elder brother of James Heald. He died on 24 February 1854, leaving a widow, two sons and four daughters. The present chapel in Histon, Cambs, is named in his memory.

  • Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, 1854 p. 671; 1870 p.1053
  • George Smith, History of Wesleyan Methodism (1858-1861), vol. 3
  • Brian Beck, 'Richard Matthews: a layman overlooked', in Epworth Review, 35:3, July 2008 pp.52-63