Spence, Robert

Bookseller of York, born on 8 March 1748 at Stillington. He came in hs early years under the influence of the Rev William Richardson of St.Michael-le-Belfry, and later of Alexander Mather. His experience of 'entire sanctification' was evidenced by his changed character. He served as a local preacher for over 50 years and was the biographer of William Grimshaw.

Trained as a bookbinder, he set up also as a bookseller, in later years in partnership with his fellow local preacher Richard Burdekin, who wrote his biography. He published a commentary on the Bible by another local preacher, Councillor Parker. In 1781 he issued a hymn book drawn largely from John Wesley's 1780 Collection of Hymns. This went through numerous editions on both sides of the Atlantic. Its original title, A Collection of Hymns from various authors was changed in 1785 to A Pocket Hymn Book designed as a constant companion for the pious. Wesley objected that 'the leave he had given for gentlemen to reprint his hymns was to ministers of congregations, not to booksellers; and on condition that they should not attempt to mend or alter his hymns'. In 1786 Wesley responded by issuing his own Pocket Hymn Book for the Use of Christians of all Denominations which was frequently reprinted down to a Dublin edition of 1810, but was never as popular as Spence's.

Though tempted to leave the Methodists, Spence decided otherwise and was known to assert that Methodism could more easily do without him that he without it. John Wesley breakfasted with him on his last visit to York. Thomas Coke made Spence's home his base on his visits to the city and his second wife died there. He became the first treasurer of the York District Missionary Society when it was formed in 1813, was actively involved in the WM benevolent society in York and held many other local and circuit offices. He died on 4 August 1824. His brother John Spence, also a local preacher, died on 18 March 1791.

  • Richard Burdekin, Memoirs of the Life and Character of Robert Spence (1827)