Butterworth, Joseph, MP

Son of the Rev. John Butterworth, a Baptist minister in Coventry, he was born on 12 August 1770. He was apprenticed to a harness plater in Birmingham, moved with him to London and then became a very successful law bookseller in Fleet Street, London and founder of a well-known firm of law publishers. In 1791 he married Anne Cooke of Trowbridge. Adam Clarke, his wife's brother-in-law, influenced him to become a Methodist and he undertook the publication of Clarke's Commentary. He was the second Methodist to enter the Commons, representing Coventry as an Independent (1812-1818) and Dover (1820-1826) and was an opponent of Catholic emancipation. He was a founding member of the Committee of Privileges in 1803. He was well known for his philanthropy and as an anti-slavery campaigner. In 1813 he spoke in support of allowing Christian missionary activity in India and in 1816 defended the WM missionaries in the West Indies against the aspersions of J.F. Barham. Wilberforce used to refer to him as 'honest Butterworth'. As treasurer of the WMMS 1819-1826 he was able to use his gifts and influence to promote religious and social rights in many parts of the world. The initial meeting of the Bible Society was held at his home. Neither high office nor success affected his concern for the poor and he valued highly his service as class leader. He regretted the tendency towards a high doctrine of the Pastoral Office, continuing to see Methodism as a movement within the Church. He died of brain fever in London on 30 June 1826.

  • G.J. Stevenson, City Road Chapel (1872), pp. 353-5
  • Benjamin Gregory, Autobiographical Recollections (1903), pp.379-80
  • R.G. Thorne (ed.), The House of Commons, 1790-1820, vol. 5
  • H.K. Jones, Butterworth's: history of a publishing house (1980)
  • Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (1995)
  • Oxford DNB