Howard family, of Bedford

John Howard (1791-1878) came of strong Methodist stock: his son Frederick recorded in the 1912 Methodist Who’s Who that he was ‘born at Bedford a month before John Wesley died’ and it was claimed that he was the oldest living Local Preacher (see Local Preachers) at the time of his death. After apprenticeship to an ironmonger at Olney, he returned to Bedford to establish his own business, first as an ironmonger and then, from 1835, as an iron-founder, specialising in the manufacture of agricultural machinery. A consistent Tory in politics, Howard took a leading part in the opposition to Lord John Russell’s parliamentary candidature for Bedford in 1830, citing Russell’s critical comments on Methodism in his Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe (1829). Russell’s defeat was ascribed, probably inaccurately, to Methodist influence, represented by the intervention of Howard, as circuit steward, and Maximilian Wilson, the Superintendent Minister. Howard’s own political career carried him to the mayoralty of Bedford (1858-62), the first WM to hold the office. Two of Howard’s sons joined him in the business, and in 1850 he retired from active management of the firm.

James Howard (1821-89), John Howard’s second son and senior partner in the firm of J. and F. Howard, excelled as an engineer, gradually improving the firm’s agricultural machinery: some seventy patents were registered in his name. Under his leadership the company built the Britannia Ironworks in Bedford in 1856-59 and in 1862 acquired the 600-acre Clapham Park estate for practical and experimental farming. Howard wrote extensively on agricultural topics, was a model employer, and active in civic improvements. He pioneered the volunteer movement in Bedford, forming a company of his own workers, later the 9th Bedfordshire Rifles. As Liberal MP for Bedford (1868-74) and Bedfordshire (1880-85) he gained a reputation as a champion of tenants’ rights and he was a member of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society. He died in London on 25 January 1889.

Frederick Howard (1827-1915), John Howard’s fourth son, was James’s partner in the firm, specialising in its financial and commercial organisation. A Deputy Lieutenant for Bedfordshire and a magistrate, he received a knighthood in 1895 and died on 6 January 1915. Among his benefactions were the organ at St. Paul's Wesleyan Church, Bedford in 1869 and a Gospel Cars given to the WM Home Mission Committee.

John Howard’s third daughter, Helen Howard (1830-1921), married in 1855 Charles Farrar (1833-96), son of the Rev. Farrar, John. Three of their sons pursued careers in engineering, travelling to South Africa to work in J. and F. Howard’s operations there. George Herbert Farrar (1859-1915) founded the East Rand Proprietary Mines, played a leading role in the tense politics of the Transvaal in the 1890s and raised and commanded troops during the second Boer War. He received a knighthood (1902) and a baronetcy (1911) and was killed in a railway accident on active service in South West Africa during the First World War.


‘Dear old Mr Howard was to have preached but has been very ill all the week … he delivered his message always feeling from his great age that it might be his last opportunity & with earnestness entreated the people as an old man to flee to that Saviour who had been his strength & support through so many years.’ The Bousfield Diaries, pp. 15-16.

  • Jonathan Rodell, The rise of Methodism. A Study of Bedfordshire, 1736-1851 (Woodbridge, 2014), pp. 200-06.
  • Richard Smart (ed.), The Bousfield Diaries. A Middle-class Family in Late Victorian Bedford (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. xiv-xviii, 15-16
  • George Goodwin, rev. Jonathan Brown, ‘Howard, James’, ODNB
  • John Pinfold, ‘Farrar, Sir George Herbert, baronet’, ODNB.
  • Methodist Who's Who (1915)
  • Methodist Recorder, 21 January 1915; Winter Number, 1898, p. 65

Entry written by: DCD and JAV
Category: Person
Comment on this entry