Bunting family

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Jabez Bunting (1779-1858; e.m. 1799), the architect of the WM Church, described by W.R. Ward as 'undoubtedly one of the front rank churchmen of the nineteenth century', was a more representative figure than the crude dictator vilified by his opponents. Born on 13 May 1779 in Manchester, the son of a radical tailor, he studied medicine there under Dr Thomas Percival. He was converted under the preaching of Joseph Benson and was at first associated with Manchester revivalism. His circuit ministry was spent in northern circuits with two periods (1803-1805 and 1815-1824) in London. After 1832 he resided in London as the first Secretary and master mind of the WMMS and from 1835 President of the Hoxton Theological Institution. He was Connexional Editor, 1821-24. As early as 1806 he had been Assistant Secretary of theConference, becoming Secretary in 1814-1819 and 1824-1827. He was four times President (1820, 1828, 1836 and 1844), a record only equalled by Dr Robert Newton.

John Pawson said in 1805 that Methodism was a body without a head. In a period of political and economic instability and a rising tide of radicalism within the connexion, Bunting personified the WM doctrine of the pastoral office and gave much-needed leadership, not only for ministers but for wealthy and articulate laymen. The 'Liverpool Minutes' of 1820, responding to a decline in membership, was his work, as were the Regulations of 1835. He promoted the election of younger ministers (including himself) to the Legal Hundred, the annual Pastoral Address, the right to memorialize Conference, the place of laymen on key committees, the proper training of ministers and their ordination by laying-on of hands. He was the epitome of 'high Methodism', which stressed the Connexion', the national, the international (including foreign missions). He saw Methodism as an independent body between Church and Dissent - not unlike Thomas Chalmers of the Scottish Free Kirk. Though often typecast as a Tory, he supported Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and in the 1840s opposed Peel on the Maynooth Grant, the Dissenters' Chapel Bill and Graham's Education Bill. Later he advocated the opening of Methodist day schools. When defending the supremacy of Conference, he memorably declared that 'Methodism was as much opposed to democracy as to sin' (Nottingham Review, 14 Dec. 1827). His policies provoked opposition leading to the secession of Protestant Methodists (1828) and the Wesleyan Methodist Association (1835), and finally to the Fly Sheets controversy. Clearly there was an air of clericalism about 'High Methodism', the marks of a Connexion becoming a Church, but having to attain too quickly the maturity of a national institution. Bunting showed an inflexibility and insensitivity and his opponents a cantankerousness which precluded any hope of genuine partnership between ministry and laity for a generation.

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Bunting received an MA from Aberdeen and a DD from Connecticut Wesleyan University, USA. Before his death he declared that he had sought to be a true Methodist, an Evangelical Arminian, as in his classic sermon on Justification by Faith (1812). He died in London on 16 June 1858 and was buried at Wesley's Chapel by special Home Office permission three years after the graveyard had been closed. In 1986 a plaque was placed on his home at 30 Myddelton Square, London.

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William Maclardie Bunting (1805-1866; e.m. 1824), the eldest of his three sons by his first wife Sarah née Maclardie), was born in Manchester on 23 November 1805 and educated at Woodhouse Grove and Kingswood Schools and St. Saviour's Grammar School, Southwark. He was not afraid to oppose his father in Conference, and was a minor hymn writer (MHB 296, 571, 750, none of which survived into Hymns and Psalms). He retired from circuit life on health grounds in 1849. As Hon. Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance from 1858 was perhaps the first non-Anglican to lead prayers in Lambeth Palace. He died at Kentish Town, London on 13 November 1866.

A younger son, Thomas Percival Bunting (1811-1886), his father's biographer, became a solicitor in Manchester. As a member of the Committee of Privileges he strongly supported his father. Despite his early opposition to lay representation in Conference, by 1871 he was in support of it in his pamphlet Laymen in Conference? T.P. Bunting's son Sir Percy William Bunting (1836-1911), an alumnus of Pembroke College, Cambridge, was called to the Bar in 1862. He was a promoter of the Forward Movement, The Leys School and the Free Church Federal Council. He edited the monthly Contemporary Review from 1882 until 1911, when Miss Evelyn Bunting and his nephew Dr J.S. Lidgett became co-editors, and succeeded H.P. Hughes as editor of the <span class="font-italic">Methodist Times</span>in 1902. He was associated with the ecumenical Review of the Churches (1891-96) and the Grindelwald Conferences of Church leaders and contributed a chapter on Methodist union to the New History of Methodism in 1909. His concern for social reform was expressed in his The Citizen of Tomorrow (1906). He was knighted in 1908 and died in London on 22 July 1911. His son Sidney Percival Bunting (1873-1936) inherited his parents' social and ethical values; his legal career took him to South Africa, where he became actively involved in labour and communist politics.

A daughter of T.P. Bunting, Sarah Maclardie Bunting (1840/41- 1908) and her husband Sheldon Amos worked and campaigned tirelessly against poverty, the Contageous Diseases Act and prostitution, and for such causes as female emancipation and women's suffrage both in Britain and abroad.


Jabez Bunting:

'Percy Bunting's Life of his father… It seems to me that much indiscriminating laudation has been lavished on it. It is certainly much better than I expected. Its style is readable and lively, the minuteness of detail is very interesting: his description of his poor ancestors is in fine taste and feeling. But the book is too much a manifestation of Percy Bunting as well as a memoir of Jabez Bunting. Percy gives too much play to his unwearied but most wearying playfulness: he is perpetually making unreasonable and generally unsuccessful attempts at smartness, and in one passage he enters or rather plunges most dangerously, gratuitously, and unskilfully into the metaphysics of Regeneration, in order to come as near as he can to Baptismal Regeneration whilst professing his disbelief in the doctrine. Certainly his remarks are open to terrible criticism.'

Benjamin Gregory, Autobiographical Recollections (1903) p.413

'His figure was hardly impressive, he was of middle size, portly, looking like a mayor. The charm was in the voice, which once heard could not easily be forgotten. It had a ring of authority and decision, though not of harshness, and it was at the same time flexible and persuasive… His fame was based rather on his abilities as a tactician and organiser, in short, he had the qualities of a statesman; and he did for Methodism what Bishop S. Wilberforce did for the Anglican Church. He may not have been in the very first rank as a preacher; yet I heard in his lifetime, from one who knew him well and was well qualified to speak, that in extemporary prayer (much used in Methodism) he was without equal.'

R. Denny Urlin, Father Reece, the Old Methodist Minister (1901), pp,51-2

'Prominent on the [Presidential] platform was Dr. Jabez Bunting, who appeared to me to be amiable and unassuming, although it was his fate to have many detractors who accused him of ambition and the love of rule. That he wielded great influence was beyond a doubt; but it was natural in the case of an elderly man who had great powers of mind, as well as a silvery and persuasive eloquence.'

R. Denny Urlin, reminiscencing about his boyhood, in Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1901 p. 29

Sarah M. Bunting:

'Her extreme views upon the emancipation of women caused her to be looked upon with a shadow of mistrust and disapproval by many good women of her generation. Personally I owe her a great debt for the sympathy and understanding she gave me at a time when I much needed both. She was a highly intelligent and gifted woman, very philanthropic and warm-hearted, but not always wise and tactful in the advocacy of her views. She decidedly strengthened the almost unconscious rebellion in my own mind. She suggested to me that women ought to be allowed to qualify for the medical profession. I must confess that the idea at first gave jme a shock... However, Miss Bunting talked and argued with me, and opened my mind to many considerations and sides to the question which were then unknown to me and made me think seriously on many matters.'

Katherine Price Hughes, The Story of my Life(1945) pp.36-7

  • Wesleyan Takings (1840), pp.1-33
  • Robert A. West, Sketches of Wesleyan Preachers (1849) pp.1-32, 336-44
  • G.S. Rowe, Memorials of the Late Rev. William M. Bunting (1870)
  • T.P. Bunting & G.S. Rowe, The Life of Jabez Bunting, DD (1887)
  • Wesley and his Successors (1895), pp.99-104
  • Benjamin Gregory, Sidelights on the Conflicts of Methodism … 1827-1852 (1898), pp.375-80, 495-545 and passim
  • James H. Rigg, Wesleyan Methodist Reminiscences Sixty Years Ago (1904) pp.26-29, 151-52
  • J.H. Rigg, Jabez Bunting, a great Methodist leader (1905)
  • G. Elsie Harrison, Methodist Good Companions (1935) pp.55-87
  • John Kent, Jabez Bunting, the Last Wesleyan (1955)
  • John Kent, The Age of Disunity (1956)
  • W.L. Doughty in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, April 1958 pp.141-60
  • John H.S. Kent, 'The Interpretation of Jabez Bunting', in WHS Proceedings, 31 pp.125-32, 150-54; 32 pp.13-17
  • Robert Currie, Methodism Divided: a study in the Sociology of Ecumenicalism (1968), pp.31-43
  • W. R. Ward, Religion and Society in England 1790-1850 (1972)
  • W.R. Ward, The Early Correspondence of Jabez Bunting 1820-1829 (1972)
  • W.R. Ward, Early Victorian Methodism: the Correspondence of Jabez Bunting 1830-1858 (Oxford, 1976)
  • Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol.62 no.1, Autumn 1979
  • Alan J. Hayes & D.A. Gowland (eds.), Scottish Methodism in the early Victorian Period: the Scorttish Correspondence of the Rev. Jabez Bunting (Edinburgh, 1981)
  • K.G. Greet, Jabez Bunting (Peterborough, 1995)
  • D. Hempton, The Religion of the People: Methodism and Popular Religion c.1750-1900 (1996) pp.91-108
  • Oxford DNB