Reed family, of Holwell Farm, Buckland Brewer

The Reed family was one of the oldest BC families in Devon. William Reed, farmer, and his wife Catherine, lived about five miles north of Shebbear, near Stibb Cross on the Bideford road. They were early adherents to William O'Bryan, opening their home to him and his preachers from c. 1816. From them descended three generations of BC leaders and a fourth generation Methodist leader (see Bryan Holwell Reed).

Their daughter Catherine Reed (1797-1874; e.m. 1819) was the first of the family to become an itinerant preacher, being among those stationed at the first BC Conference in 1819. In 1820 she was sent to Kent, where BC missionary work had been begun that February by James Thorne and William Lyle. She continued to be stationed in London and the south east until 1825, although she had married Thorne on September 15 1823 at Shoreditch Parish Church, London. They had six children, and Catherine outlived her husband by two years. When Thorne had to assume the Governorship of Shebbear College, she became matron, and exercised a stern discipline in the house. Leading the boys' Bible Class she would often have them kneeling in prayer on the stone floor for long periods. A portrait of her and her husband hung in the Shebbear College dining hall for many years.

William Reed   Click to enlarge
William Reed (1800-58; e.m. 1820) was converted c.1816. In his prime he was acknowledged as perhaps a greater preacher than any of his contemporaries, including, it was said, among the Wesleyans. His reputation as a man of prayer are confirmed by stories such as spending a night, and the whole of the next day, in prayer at a cottage in the Shebbear Circuit. Portraits suggest the bearing more often associated with aristocrats – or perhaps the assurance of faith. In his life-time he was acknowledged as 'a counsellor of his church', often being drawn in to important decisions as the infant Connexion developed. He was recognised as 'one of a trio of men who for many years exercised an unrivalled influence in the Denomination,' the others being James Thorne and William Courtice. Holding all the senior offices of the BC Connexion, Reed was Missionary Secretary in 1831 when the Connexion sent its first ministers overseas, to Canada, and was President of the Conference in 1832, 1837, 1845 and 1855. His wife came from the Cottle family, another of the early Shebbear families. He died in Barnstaple on July 8 1858.

William Bryan Reed   Click to enlarge
His son William Bryan Reed (1836-1936; e.m. 1860) was born at Holwell when his father was stationed in the Shebbear Circuit. He became one of the first pupils at Prospect School, Shebbear. Before entering the ministry he worked as a chemist in London. It was the death of his father that turned his thoughts to the ministry. When Edgehill College at Bideford opened, after his advocacy of girls' education over several years, it was natural that he should be appointed its first Governor, a post he occupied for 26 years from 1883 to 1909. The success of the College was due in no small measure to his long commitment to the task. In the five years he was Missionary Secretary (1893-98) his annual introduction to the Home Mission report revealed his width of outlook, evangelical spirit, mental grasp and literary style. He was Secretary of the Conference 1879-80 and President in 1881, and in United Methodism was elected one of the first Guardian Representatives in 1907.

In the next generation, his son John Ford Reed (1869-1962; e.m. 1887) was born in Forest Hill, London in October 1869, when his father was stationed in the Woolwich and Forest Hill Circuit. He spent eight years at Shebbear College. Early in 1887 he was sent as a Hired Local Preacher to the Hatherleigh Circuit to fill the vacancy created by the departure of William Ready for New Zealand, and later that year, still not yet eighteen, he was received as a preacher on trial. From 1891 to 1895 he was stationed in Plymouth, and in 1898 married a Miss Pawley of Plymouth. He had a very successful extended ministry in Jersey from 1902 to 1907. Within United Methodism he served as bursar of Shebbear College 1922-1936, a period which saw considerable extension of the property, and he was President of the Conference in 1931. He died at Croydon in 1962.

  • J. Thorne, Memoir of William Reed, Bible Christian Minister >(Shebbear, 1869)
  • G.J. Stevenson, Methodist Worthies (1884-1886), 6 pp.881-87
  • Frederick W. Bourne, The Centenary Life of James Thorne of Shebbear (1895)
  • W.J. Michell, Brief Biographical Sketches of Bible Christian Ministers and Laymen (Jersey, 1905-6), vol. 1 pp.111-16, vol.2 pp.103-108
  • Richard Pyke, Men and Memories (1948) pp.83-4
  • Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography