The Reverend James Francis Smythe - a Biographical Sketch
James Francis Smythe 1832-1902 James Francis Smythe - his pastorates and career ...

The following Baptist background material is courtesy of The Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford, with thanks to Susan Mills, Librarian.

In the Baptist Handbook for 1903, James Smythe had the following biography written of him by "R.G."

"When a young man, he joined the Church at Old King Street and in 1851 entered the College at Bristol, then under the care of the late Rev. T.S. Crisp and Doctor Gotch.

[NB - Old King Street Baptist Church is now called 'Cairns Road Baptist Church' - Pearl Woolnough, Bursar - Bristol Baptist College]

On account of imperfect health he did not accept a pastorate immediately on leaving College but from 1855 to 1858, he edited a paper which was issued from East Dereham, in Norfolk. (This might have been 'The Dereham and Fakenham Times'). In 1858 he entered the regular work of the ministry and successively occupied pastorates at Worstead, York, Canterbury, Bolton, Berkhamstead and Small Heath, Birmingham. About three years ago he retired and soon afterwards removed into the district of Moseley. Together with most of the members of his family he joined the Church at Oxford Road.

Smyth/SmithOil Portrait

This computer-enhanced image is taken from an inherited original oil portrait (severely faded and damaged) - unsigned and having no known details. It is believed to be a painting of either a young James Francis Smythe or might it be his father, Francis? "Costume" experts may like to offer an opinion.

The original was among the papers and effects of H.J. Drew-Smythe, his grandson, who died in 1983.

Other material from the collection had been sold at auction in 1976/77 in Devon - a collection of parchment deeds and documents and several "Gloucester Journals" of the 1850s.

A "Gloucester Gazette" of the same era was purchased by the Gloucester Museum during the 1970s.

An early 19th century letter from a sea captain (Herapath) aboard the Brig 'Tom Cod' - a slaver ship out of Bristol - was auctioned at Sothebys at about the same time.

In this document was outlined the number of slaves aboard, destination and survival rates etc. Family memory believes the Ivory Coast was its source.

The addressee is not recalled as being a Smythe.

For more than forty years Mr. Smythe maintained a very efficient ministry and proof of the esteem in which he was held is abundantly evident in the large number of friends he made wherever his lot was cast. His preaching was always of an interesting and edifying character and he was most assiduous in all his preparation for public duties. Preaching was to him always delightful work and his real pleasure in it was apparent to all who listened to him.

It is not possible to say which of his pastorates was the most successful. He did excellent work in all of them but he used to speak with much appreciation of the years he spent in the busy town of Bolton and also those amid the quieter scenes of Berkhamsted where the memories he left behind him are still fragrant.

In the ministerial circle Mr. Smythe was always a brotherly man. His warm affection and cheerful spirit and his hearty appreciation, especially of the work that the younger men were doing, made him a welcome visitor at all times. He was in great request as a preacher after his withdrawal from pastoral responsibility and there were very few Sundays on which he was not engaged in the work he loved. "His works do follow him," (R.G.)"

Worstead (Norfolk) 1858-1866 - no information currently available.

York 1867-1872 - courtesy of Fiona Hodgson - " ... [there is] a booklet "A Short History of Baptists in York" that was written and researched by one of our congregation ... it contains a list of his sources. York Baptist Church - Priory StreetRev. James Francis Smythe of Norfolk started his ministry in York on 13 January 1867.

The foundation stone for the church building in Priory Street - which we still use - was laid on 23 January 1867 and took 18 months to complete. It seems that without a church building, the congregation met in a lecture hall in the city. The decision to build a church had been taken in about 1863."

The image is adapted from a picture in this booklet and is based on a watercolour drawing taken from the architectural drawings dating from this era.

R. R. Darslay, writer of the above history, describes matters as follows:
"It was reported in 1869 that the church had looked for showers of blessing and found only drops...[the founding church secretary left the church in 1870]... matters became directed at the minister, the Rev. Smythe, though what matters were discussed are primly omitted from the Minute books. In 1871 he resigned and was asked to leave at his convenience. He departed in 1872."
Canterbury c. 1873-1875/6 - no records currently available.
Claremont Chapel, Bolton, Lancashire (1876-1883)
From Claremont Baptist Church, Bolton Centenary Programme 1969

"During the ministry of J.F. Smythe (1876-1882), a determined effort was made to clear off the balance of the chapel debt, and eventually after a grand bazaar held in the Albert Hall (Bolton) and opened by the Mayor in November 1873 the final amount was paid. But now there was an eagerness to build again, but at this time for the friends who had been working over at Farnworth. The first we hear about Baptist work in Farnworth is the mention of a proposal in the deacons' minutes in 1873 for the establishment of a preaching station in the town. During the years that followed, the movement gathered momentum and quite a few friends from Claremont worked over in that town. The friends at Farnworth had little or no funds but began the work of building a mission chapel in Carlton Street, believing that in time that the money would be duly provided. The chapel cost 600 and nearly the whole amount had to be raised after its erection in 1880. A loan was obtained from the Baptist Building Fund, which was repaid by Claremont on condition that the friends at Carlton Street relieved them from further responsibility as to the general working expenses of the mission. Eventually, in August 1886, at their own request, 44 members were transferred from Claremont to form a separate church and Mr. R. A. Burrows from Manchester College became their first minister.

While these events were taking place in Farnworth in the early 1880s, there seemed to be a recession in the life of Claremont. The amount which had to be raised to free Farnworth was rather a heavy drain upon the church at the time and at the deacons' meeting of 22nd August 1882 a minute was entered which read as follows:

"That having fully considered the Church Finances we are of the opinion that our only course is to give notice to our Pastor that at the close of the present year we shall cease to pay a fixed salary and offer him the seat rents instead."

It is rather sad to read about this and to learn that at the end of the year Mr. Smythe left; and there then followed an interregnum of about nine months, during which the church was shocked at the secession of 31 members who left to form the church which we now know as Zion Baptist ..."

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Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire (1883-1896)
From "Baptists of Berkhamsted" by Owen E. Wright - Berkhamsted Baptist Church 1990.

"In 1882 The Rev. J.F. Smythe of Claremont Chapel, Bolton accepted a call to the pastorate and he removed to Berkhamsted with his wife and daughter, Mary Ella, in January 1883. The renovation of the church was undertaken soon after the settlement of Mr. Smythe. During the restoration, services were held with the Congregational Church. To mark the re-opening, a meeting was held in the schoolroom, following a social tea. Music was supplied by the choir under their conductor, Mr. D. Osborn with Miss K. Cook as organist. The final cost of the work was 137, defrayed by a bazaar and concert in the schoolroom and generous gifts from the friends. It was agreed in 1884 to call the place of worship not High Street Chapel but Claremont Chapel, a name Mr. Smythe evidently liked.

On the Pastor's first anniversary the Rev. Charles Spurgeon and Miss Marianna Farningham took part in the services. A change in the appointment of deacons was agreed. Six were to be elected for a period of three years but two were to retire annually. Messrs. John Sills and J. Gower were elected to serve for three years. Messrs. John Sanders and Charles Norris to serve for two years, and Messrs. William King and George Barnes for one year ... [pp41/42 then outlines a variety of church business and development over a two year period and the elections of various persons to sundry positions] ... At a church meeting on 13th November 1895 the Pastor read a letter in which he stated his intention to resign the pastorate at the request of seven and twenty disaffected members as soon as another sphere of Christian service became available. He resigned in April 1896 and removed to Small Heath Church, Birmingham with Mrs. Smythe and the Misses Emily, Kate and Fanny [Frances], his daughters. Miss Helen Smythe removed to Long Buckby. (No mention here, now, of Mary Ella Smythe (marriage 1886 Lancashire) nor of Mabel Smythe.

The Hemel Hempstead Advertiser and Times reported on the resignation of Mr. Smythe and his removal. Mention was made of his connection with the Mechanics' Institute, and his Presidency of it. He had been Chaplain of the Workhouse, Governor of the Dispensary and Vice President of the Soup Kitchen. For thirteen years he had been a Scripture Examiner in the Board School and an Examiner associated with the Herts. Sunday School Union for ten years, and President of the Union in 1895. His eloquence in the pulpit was widely known and he would be greatly missed by the townspeople generally, irrespective of religious differences.

A large number attended a meeting in the schoolroom to bid farewell to Mr. Smythe and family. Mr. C. Norris presided and Mr John Sanders, in the name of the church and the townspeople, presented a purse containing thirty pounds, wishing him God's speed and success in his future ministry. After a reply from Mr. Smythe, Dr. Fry the Headmaster of Berkhamsted School gave a short address."

Site Notes

Dr. Thomas Fry was followed as Headmaster at Berkhamsted by Charles Greene - father of the celebrated writer, Graham Greene, born in Berkhamsted and educated at the school. Francis Sydney Smythe,Frank Smythe - Mountaineer & Explorer celebrated explorer, photographer and mountaineer, was also educated at Berkhamsted.

The school at Ayot St. Peter - nearby.
In 1874 the school was officially inspected and the quality of the teaching was praised by the inspector. Between 1876 and 1879 the school was enlarged to accommodate 65 pupils. In 1881 the teacher was Miss Mary Smythe, who was living in the schoolhouse with her widowed mother of the same name.

NB reference to Mechanics' Institute - qv Mather & Platt zones on this site - Salford/Manchester/Bolton, Lancs - By a strange co-incidence, it is remotely possible that James Smythe operated in the same spheres as John Wormald and the Taylor and Mather families of this place and era. John Wormald's youngest daughter (Babs Wormald, born 1901) later gave birth to the child who was to marrry James Francis Smythe's great grandson, Dicky Drew-Smythe (qv). Additionally, a William Taylor wrote "Baptists in Bolton".

James Francis Smythe was minister at Claremont during the Cotton Strike of 1877 and would have been more than aware of the issues and the work of various industrialist managers and mediators such as Sir William Mather of Mather & Platt, the Engineers.

Also from Claremont Baptist Church, Bolton Centenary Programme 1969 (p5) - ['somewhat' patronisingly] "What sort of life did these early Claremonters lead in those days? Quite a number must have been rather a rough and ready lot of folk. The church was situated fairly close to the cotton mills and many of the cotton operatives probably lived close by. We know from Dr. Ballard's report in 1871 that there was quite a shocking rate of infant mortality amongst the textile workers, and he attributed this to early marriage, intemperance and ignorance on the part of mothers who were mostly illiterate and had gone to work far too early in life to have been able to learn the rudiments of home nursing and elementary domestic management, with the result that children did not always have the care and attention which they should have had. In addition there was terrible overcrowding in the town centre and sanitation was very bad, the Croal for a long time past being a glorified sewer ..."

TOP of pageSection of front - Small Heath Baptist Church c. 1948 - Coventry Road, Birmingham

Small Heath, Birmingham 1896-1899
From the 1948 75th Anniversary Souvenir publication.

"The Rev. J. F. Smythe from Berkhamsted became pastor in 1896. The experience which the incoming minister had gained in several important churches was found to be invaluable.

After the great efforts that had been put forth during preceding years, a time of rest and consolidation was necessary and the ministrations of Mr. Smythe were of untold help at this stage of the Church's career. It made heavy claims upon him and these he manfully met until he felt, after a period of three years, that ill-health made resignation advisable ... from 1899 to 1902 the pastorate was vacant ..."

James Francis Smythe retired in 1899 and died in 1902 at Moseley in Birmingham. After retirement he continued to preach as a guest preacher. It is assumed that he is buried in the Birmingham area. It is not yet known whether he was survived by his wife, Elizabeth; she was, however, alive at the point of the 1901 Census, taken in March of that year.

1881 Census (Smyth(e) search) chuckle page
1881 Chuckle -

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