The Last Bartlett website

Biographical sketch of Reverend James Bartlett

I found this biographical sketch of Revd James Bartlett (1816 - 1881), my great great-grandfather, in the attic at 4, St. Mary's Terrace, Beverley when my grandfather, Frank Neville Bartlett, died in 1981. It was written by his son, James Elijah Bartlett (1853 - 1941).

The account begins in mid sentence as its first page is missing.

James Bartlett - by his son, James Elijah Bartlett

... Bartlett family had lived upon their own property from the time of the Commonwealth.

Most of them had been Puritans and Dissenters. One of them, Timothy, the great grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was a staunch supporter of the Somerton Meeting House, and a very good man.

My father often boasted in his quiet modest way of the Puritan blood in his veins.


The baby James was indebted to his mother’s attachment to the Wesleyans for the lack of godfathers and godmothers – Elizabeth’s devotion prevailed over her husband’s formalism and won for him the privilege of Methodist baptism. The Reverend W. Kaye, then Superintendent of the Somerton Circuit, performed the ceremony. The boy was afterwards repeatedly told by old members of the society then present that the dedication service was singularly impressive, and that the minister’s extempore prayer that the boy might become a preacher of the Gospel, was remarkably urgent and powerful.

James Bartlett's Biography

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Childhood Accidents

For years it seemed quite hopeless to expect he would grow up to be a preacher or anything else. He was so sickly and puny that his mother was told she would never rear him, and was comforted with the assurance that even if she did succeed, he would never be good for anything. He was nearly three years old when he was able to walk alone. From that time he grew more robust, but seemed to be subject to a strange fatality of accident. When a little fellow of five he tripped and fell into a blazing fire. Fortunately his mother was at hand to snatch him as a brand from the burning, but notwithstanding his quick rescue he was so severely burnt about the body that months elapsed before he was pronounced convalescent.

About two or three years after when sliding with some companions, he fell on the ice, striking his head severely. He made the best of his way home to find his mother out and very little fire in the hearth. So he sat himself down by the smouldering embers to wait her return. Soon he fainted and fell forward into the fire, and must have lain there some time before he came to himself. On recovering he was very much frightened to find his face and neck black and covered with blisters, but strange to say he felt no pain.

Some few hours later his mother returned to find him in the chimney corner trembling with fear, for he thought he would be punished for letting out the fire. True his mother was usually severe with him, but now she was too full of maternal anxiety to think of reproof. Doctors were sent for in hot haste and the patient put to bed. His head and face swelled and he became totally blind. Still no pain was felt and the doctor pronounced him a hopeless case.

But after 14 days he began to feel a slight prickling sensation in his face, the pain increased and the doctor hoped. In about five months he was fairly recovered, but bore the marks of his terrible accident to his grave.

A few years after this he went to a well to draw some water. It was winter time and the ice thickly formed round the well. His foot slipped and in he went headforemost. He distinctly remembered going to the bottom, turning and coming to the top. He managed to cling to one of the sides with his numb fingers – how, he never knew – ‘till, attracted by his cries, help and deliverance came. The well was fifteen feet deep, and at that time had five feet of water in it.

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He was sent to school when five years of age, and being quick and intelligent made rapid progress, especially in reading and arithmetic. On reaching the mature age of seven he was promoted to the Bible Class in the Church Sabbath School, and actually dignified with the rank of Monitor. His teacher Mr. Valentine, a surgeon of Somerton, took a great fancy to him and was at great pains to make him familiar with the Bible.

When twelve years old he was fortunate to gain admission to the Endowed school through the influence of Mr. Valentine [See Note 2 below]. The master of this school, a clergyman, sadly neglected his duty and let the boys do just as they pleased, no doubt greatly to their satisfaction.

Apparently Grammar, Geography, and History were accomplishments quite unsuited to the station of these lads. At any rate, their Reverend Teacher kept the veil closely drawn before these mysteries, and permitted his boys to pass their time away in learning reading and spelling from the Bible, and summing puzzles from Francis Walkingame’s Arithmetical Tutor [See Note 3 below]. James was fond of arithmetic and easily beat all his schoolfellows in these exercises, and to tell the truth, made no little profit in the marble line by giving surreptitious aid to those of them who were less bright or industrious.

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Apprentice Shoemaker

After 15 months of this kind of education, when most of the Bible had been read and spelt through, and even Walkingame exhausted he left school to learn a trade. The usual term of schooling was four years, but his progress was so satisfactory to the Master and the Trustees that it was thought to be unnecessary to keep him longer at his books. He was therefore apprenticed in June 1829 [See Note 4 below] to Mr. ?? Hart, Boot and Shoe Maker of Longsutton [See Note 5 below], for a term of seven years. His master was landlord of the "Hare and Hounds" Inn, and although he kept a very respectable house and was himself an upright and honourable man so far as his dealing with his fellows were concerned, the boy was thrown into associations far from helpful to the formation of good character.

Under his father’s roof he had been subject to wholesome restraint and discipline. His father troubled little about his conduct, and was too easy and good tempered to reprove him. Often he winked at his faults and secretly enjoyed his mischievous pranks, at times openly taking his part when his mother attempted corrections. The good mother firmly believed in the rod and used it vigorously when the occasion required. James does not appear to have been guilty of much worse than staying out too late to pay, stealing his mother’s hoard apples, or playing some practical joke upon a neighbour.

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James Bartlett's Biography

Fun and Drollery in Full Swing

In his new home very little restraint was attempted. His fun and drollery had full swing and encouragement.

He had some time previously learnt to dance and beat the drum, and now his dancing improved and his skill as a drummer brought him into frequent request. He added to his accomplishments a knowledge of whist and soon won applause in the skittle alley.

His reading abilities made him popular in the tap room. On arrival of the "Sherbourne Journal" there was generally a full room to listen to his reading of the latest news. Discussion and argument followed as a matter of course and James became a politician, an out and out Reformer, and from that time throughout his life took a lively interest in Public Affairs. Never did he lose his singular love for a newspaper.

His master’s daughter was the privileged possessor of a History of England, a Text Book of Geography, and better still an illustrated copy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The apprentice gained her favour and was permitted to enjoy these treasures to his heart’s content. He read, and re-read till he had almost the whole contents of these books by heart. The Bible was rarely opened. It had been his lesson book and his punishment book, and now he was glad of the chance of forgetting it.

As the years went on he plunged deeper into fun and wickedness, but his mother’s training kept him from profanity and gross sin. He says he could never utter an oath, and dare not tell a lie even in his worse days, but felt little compunction in playing at Trap(?), burn ball or rounders on the Sabbath instead of going to church. He confesses also to having several times taken too much drink during revel time, and admits to having broken a few heads at single stick play, and some times he says he inflicted summary punishment upon a provoking companion. For although he was merry, good tempered and peaceably inclined he had plenty of fighting blood in him, which it was rather dangerous to rouse.

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Horse Thieves

He relates an incident of these apprenticeship days that made a deep impression on him, as he fully believed he narrowly escaped a violent death.

One night about 10 or 11 o’clock he was returning from Somerton to Longsutton. After crossing several fields he got into a dark lane. Suddenly he was startled at hearing a chain rattle inside the hedge. Although much afraid, he tried to see what was the cause of it, but could not. So on he went, shaking with fright, as quickly as he could until he got to the gate leading into the field where he had heard the strange noise.

There he saw a man standing evidently keeping watch. The moon was shining so that he could just see his face as he bent over the gate, looking into the field in the direction of the strange rattling sound.

Terrified and trembling he crept softly on the dark side of the lane, and just as he got to the gate took to his heels. The man tried pursuit but soon gave it up as hopeless.

Almost dead with fright and fatigue he got safely on the high road and soon reached Longsutton, but told no one of his adventure until next morning there was a hue and cry after some horse stealers who had carried off Lady Harris’ carriage horses. It was discovered also that the stable door had been forced by the coulter of a plough taken from the very field where the boy had heard the rattling chain.

He now told his story and was taken before Lady Harris, but although he was nearly sure he recognised the man at the gate, he kept the secret to himself, and said he could not swear to anyone. Horse stealing was then a capital offence, and men engaged in the commission of such a crime would have very little hesitation in making short work of any possible witness against them. So he and his friends thought, and were thankful.

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The Bible Christians

About the year 1830 the Bible Christians [See Note 6 below] introduced themselves into Longsutton and commenced holding services.

In 1834 he went to one of their meetings for the first time, not with any good intent, but simply out of curiosity and to enjoy the fun of annoying the congregation.

He began to go frequently, got an old B. C. Hymnbook, and as he was fond of singing was soon able to join heartily in that portion of the service.

One week evening in 1835 he went alone to the meeting to hear Mr. Jas Bennett preach. At the close of the service plans [See Note 7 below] were offered for sale. He invested three halfpence but was far more puzzled with this plan than ever he had been with any of Walkingame’s problems. At last however he mastered its intricacies, and was delighted to be able to know who was to preach.

He says "I shall thank God to all Eternity for that plan. It seemed to bind me to the meetings, and I made a resolution to hear all the preachers that were appointed ".

In a short time he became an attentive and devout worshipper, and determined to change his ways and his companions.

He gave up cards and skittles, and dancing and beating the drum, but not without a severe struggle, and many a relapse.

He brought upon himself terrible persecution in consequence of this change of life – he found this hard to bear especially as he had not yet learnt to pray for strength and grace from on High.

On one occasion he broke loose and turned on his persecutors so fiercely that for a long time he had peace. Stung to madness by the taunts of his shop-mates, he flung down his work saying "religion or no religion I cannot stand this" and knocked down the nearest, and threatened to thrash them all round if they said another word. They knew his temper and held their peace.

This outburst however brought upon him much remorse, and almost made him despair of ever becoming a Christian.

He kept aloof from pious people and so had to fight his battle without any sympathy or help from his fellows.

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Received into Bible Christian membership

His apprenticeship closed June 9th 1836, and on that very evening after preaching Mr. J. Bennett spoke to him, and after much kind persuasion got him to take a note of admission on trial for membership.

His condition then his own words will show.

"I loved the people of God, the house of God, and the service of God. I hated sin and flew from it as from the face of a serpent. I delighted in the Bible and religious books, but I could not rejoice in a sin pardoning God. I was much puzzled to know my real state. As I was now a member of society I was able to open my mind freely to the preachers, and I did so. They told me that all that was needed was that I should cast my soul upon the Atonement of Christ".

"I tried to do so, and prayed day and night that God would help me, and make it all clear to me".

"On December 21st after more than two years’ earnest seeking, the light came, and flooded my mind and heart and soul. I was at my work in the shop alone, and as was usual with me, I was thinking deeply about my condition. I tried then and there to cast myself simply and entirely upon Christ. I thought on many passages of Scripture and tried to lay claim to the promise they contained – these two in particular:

- Unto him that worketh not but believeth in Him that justifyeth the ungodly his faith is counted to him for righteousness.
- God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them

"All at once I did rest upon the Atonement, my burden was gone, my guilt cancelled, my sins pardoned, and my soul abundantly happy, and I praised God".

At once he determined to give himself entirely to God, and from that time, his whole life was one of consistent devotion to God.


  1. Reverend James Bartlett was born on 12th April 1816 in Somerton, Somerset to James and Elizabeth Bartlett (née Taverner). He was a Bible Christian minister from 1840 until he retired in 1874. He died on 21st June 1881 in South Petherton, Somerset.
  2. James was one of twelve boys who received this free schooling at Somerton Free School.
  3. Francis Walkingame, 1723 – 1783, schoolmaster and writer on arithmetic.
  4. James was 13 years old.
  5. Long Sutton is a village a few miles south of Somerton in Somerset. The Hare and Hounds pub stood on the west side of the green by 1737 and remained until about 1870. In the manuscript (pictured above) Mr. Hart's name is unclear - I think it may have been "Jas" - i.e. James, but let me know if you have a better idea.
  6. The Bible Christian Church was founded by William O’Bryan, a Wesleyan Methodist local preacher on 18th October 1815 in North Cornwall.
  7. See for an explanation of Methodist plans.

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