The gunpowder clot

As we’ve already heard, Brooklyn’s Daniel Milton spent much of the last 40 years of his life protesting against the Wroe family, causing chaos for the Wakefield authorities to sort out. On 9 August 1861, he attempted to blow up one of the lodges at Melbourne House.

Leeds Mercury
Thursday 15 August 1861


On Friday night last, a mischievous attempt to blow up an empty lodge with gunpowder, took place at Wrenthorpe. The mansion of Mr John Wroe, commonly called “Prophet Wroe”, is in that township, and is a large building in the Grecian style, and at the four angles of the grounds are lodges, and one of these at the back is uninhabited. It seems that on the night in question some knave broke the window of the lodge, and then introduced a bag containing a quantity of gunpowder which was attached to a long string that had been saturated in a solution of saltpetre, and an explosion took place. The roof of the lodge was injured, and so were the walls, but the damage done is not material, only amounting to about £3.

The death of ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton

The antics of self-styled ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton  a notorious late 19th century celebrity  kept journalists busy for over 40 years. The native of Brooklyn, New York spent much of this time in Wrenthorpe, confronting the Wroes over the ownership of Melbourne House, clashing with police and magistrates, and preaching to anyone who’d listen.

When Milton died, following a fall down the stairs at his Bragg Lane End home, papers across the British Isles covered the story in detail. Here’s the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’s lengthy account.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Tuesday 16 September 1903


No history of strange religions would be complete without a chapter on Daniel Milton “Sixth Observer of the Church of the Christian Israelites” whose death has occurred at the village of Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield.

A pathetic figure, with spare locks and white beard, Daniel Milton looked like a patriarch, and professed to believe himself divinely commissioned to be the spiritual advisor of the sect of Christian Israelites, and the guardian of their worldly property. The sect was originally founded by one Richard Brothers who sacrificed the honourable post of a lieutenant in the Navy to his religious scruples. He was succeeded by Joanna Southcott, whom Macaulay described as “an old woman with the cunning of a fortune-teller and the education of a scullion.” On her death the organisation of her followers was undertaken by three alleged “prophets” – George Turner, William Shaw and John Wroe, the last named whom had a handsome Doric building, known as Melbourne House erected for him at Wrenthorpe. It was understood that the building was to be the worldly habitation of the “Shiloh” or Second Christ, whose coming had been predicted by Joanna.

In 1857 Daniel Milton, at one time a New England shipwright and later made a “Judge” by the Christian Israelites of New York, made the startling announcement that he was the long-expected Shiloh. His wife and three daughters left him, but this in no way lessoned his enthusiasm. In February 1860, without a farthing in his purse, Daniel Milton arrived at the door of “Israel’s Temple” otherwise Melbourne House, Wrenthorpe, and informed John Wroe that he was Shiloh and had come to enter upon his inheritance.

“Take him away, take him away!” exclaimed the octogenarian John Wroe, “my bowels yearn within me.” After a prolonged duel with John Wroe, with the policeman in the background, Milton returned to America, temporarily baffled. He came again, however, the following year and made repeated attempts to take procession of the mansion, endeavouring meantime to awaken public sympathy with his cause by addressing a series of open-air meetings. But his attempts proved futile and again he returned to America.

In 1863 Wroe died and the next year Milton once again appeared at Wrenthorpe and this time got possession of Melbourne House holding “Israel’s Temple” against a siege for nearly a month. Indeed he was only ejected ultimately by the treachery of his garrison. Repeated prosecutions served but to increase Milton’s efforts. Probably no civilian in the country wrote more letters to the Home Office than “Judge” Milton and his numerous practical attempts to obtain possession of the mansion resulted in his imprisonment on no fewer than a dozen occasions.

The respect of the villagers for the deluded “Judge”, “Prophet” and “Shiloh” was as great as their pity. It would well-nigh be impossible for any man to have made more sacrifices for his belief. His wife, his family, his comfortable home in the States, he exchanged for solitude and semi-destitution. He dwelt alone in a two-roomed cottage, which was strangely furnished and stocked. There were no blinds or curtains to the windows of the stone-floored living room – only a newspaper pinned across to keep out the draught and to obstruct the views of the many folks who, out of curiosity, assembled in the vicinity. On one side of the apartment stood an ancient Caxton-like hand printing press with cases of type close by. On the trestle table and strewn about the floor were piles of home-printed pamphlets containing reports of legal proceedings in which “Shiloh” was involved, and also thousands of handbills reproducing spiritual quotations, a selection of which “Judge” Milton was wont to issue monthly. Over the mantelpiece in large type were printed the mystic words:-

Jesus and Joanna
My two witnesses

The public demand for his works was very limited and he eked out an existence by making useful articles at his carpenter’s bench and by occasionally undertaking a little white-washing and painting. For over 60 years he was a teetotaller and a non-smoker, and it was his boast that he could live comfortably on 4s. a week.

One of his many declared beliefs was that he would never die. When the villagers argued the point with him he would ramble off into a maze of Biblical references laying special stress on the statement that there was “a certain house which was built upon a rock.” If it were suggested that his explanation was not quite clear, that “Judge’s” invariable retort was that earthly-minded beings could not appreciate such matters.

Time has replied to Daniel Milton. On Wednesday afternoon a neighbour, not having seen the “Judge” for a day or two looked through a crevice in the paper window covering and saw the old man – he was 82 years of age – lying at the bottom of the stairs. The neighbour forced open the door and found the “Judge” in a semi-unconscious condition with a wound on the head, evidently the result of a fall. His earthly mission was soon over and the villagers are touched with sadness that so sturdy and kindly a creature should have lived and died in so pitiable a cause.

A Wakefield correspondent writing last night gives some interesting facts in Daniel Milton’s history:-

Daniel Milton (he says) was a prosperous young ship’s carpenter in New York, when Prophet Wroe was on his travels and visited that city. He was much impressed with Wroe and becoming a great man in the sect firmly believed that he was to be Wroe’s successor. There was one incident at least which gave him some ground for this belief. On being shown a house which Daniel was building in New York, Wroe said (putting his hand on Daniel’s shoulder) “It’s a fine house, Daniel, but I’m building thee a finer house in England.” Daniel was quite convinced that he was to have the house known as Prophet Wroe’s Mansion or Melbourne House. But Wroe never intended this, and when the mansion was completed and invitations were issued to all the followers to visit it, Daniel was overlooked. The reason of this is difficult to understand, unless the Prophet thought he would be trouble with him in the future. Daniel was much agitated and distressed with the slight, and came over to England. He preached to 30,000 near the Mansion. The police interfered and he then took a field for the purpose, but he was compelled to stop again.

Since that time he has crossed the Atlantic no fewer than 22 times and been in danger of shipwreck once or twice. On one occasion it is said that the vessel was considered lost, but Daniel was a giant to work and through his exertion the ship was saved. Each time that Daniel went to America he returned strong in the faith that he would possess the Mansion and control of the affairs of the sect and he was delighted when on two occasions he got possession of the keys to the lodges. The last occasion was no farther back than Monday last.

The gates of the Mansion grounds have for years been kept locked, for Daniel would have been inside had he got half a chance. He has been seen to carry a step-ladder from his house to the Mansion walls in order to look over there at his “Mecca”.

It is only fair to say that he has been a source of great annoyance to the present owners of the property and the greatest fault the man had (in this writer’s opinion) was his devilish delight in any misfortune suffered by the Wroes. He kept a list of all deaths that had occurred on the property since his exclusion from the Church.

The deathbed scene was a singular one. A makeshift bed had been made for him on the floor of his living and workroom, which was devoid of furniture, except for a stool or two. An antiquated printing press stood nearly in the centre of the room whilst on two sides were boxes of type, on another side a case containing pamphlets setting forth his grievances and in the midst lay the patriarchal form of the old man, dying in spite of his own undoubted belief he would never die.

Milton’s relations in America are well to do, a nephew of his being a judge. He was fond of relating how, on the occasion of his nephew being raised to the bench, he (Daniel) said: “You are a judge of the temporal courts, but I am a judge of the eternal courts” for Daniel had been styled Judge amongst this peculiar sect.

More articles on Daniel Milton’s many scrapes in future blogs.


Tragic death of John Wroe II

Yorkshire Evening Post
Tuesday 19 January 1932


The police are anxious to trace a cyclist aged about 25 who was riding a bicycle along Bradford Road, Carr Gate, East Ardsley, towards Bradford, at 5.30p.m. on Monday, and was the only witness of an accident which resulted in the death of John Wroe, farmer, of Carr Gate.

Wroe was knocked down by a motor-van owned by Newboulds, Ltd, of Bradford, and was terribly injured about the legs and body. He was taken to Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, and died soon after admission.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Wednesday 20 January 1932

Great-Grandson of “Prophet” Wroe

The death of a great-grandson of “Prophet” Wroe, founder of the Christian Israelite Movement, was inquired into at Wakefield to-day by the West Riding Coroner, Mr C J Haworth.

The dead man was John Wroe (52), of Melbourne House, Carr Gate, near Wakefield. On Monday evening he was knocked down by a motor-van, and sustained injuries from which he died shortly afterwards.

Muriel Cooke-Yarborough, dancing instructress, of Vernon Road, Leeds, said she was driving her car from Wakefield when the van passed her. The van pulled out to pass a cyclist and soon afterwards it slowed down. Witness saw a body in the road, and the van driver later said her: “I pulled out to avoid a cyclist, and never saw him”, meaning the dead man.

Melbourne House and the WW1 war effort

Yorkshire Evening Post
Tuesday 14 November 1916

To the Editor of The Yorkshire Evening Post

Sir,– Rather more than two miles from the city Wakefield, on the main road to Bradford, stands Melbourne House, perhaps better known locally as “Prophet Wroe’s Mansion”.

This palatial residence, situated on one the finest sites in the district, has now been unoccupied for many years.

In view of the fact that all available accommodation is required at such time this for providing convalescent homes and hospitals for our wounded heroes, I am surprised that this most suitable mansion has not before now been commandeered by the authorities in power.

There have been times during this war when education has had to stand on one side in order to provide accommodation for troops. Then, why allow this charming dwelling to remain empty?

No doubt some local gentlemen with more influence than I have, will take up the matter, now that it has been brought to their notice. – Yours, etc.,

Wakefield, November 13th, 1916.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Thursday 16 November 1916

To the Editor of The Yorkshire Evening Post

Sir, – My attention having been drawn to a letter your paper of yesterday’s date, headed “Prophet Wroe’s Mansion”, and signed “Soldier”, beg to direct your attention to an important misstatement contained therein.

It is not the case that the house has not been occupied for several years; such has never been the case any time. It is at present occupied, and, moreover, is regularly used, by the office bearers of the Christian Israelite Church as their headquarters for the transaction of necessary Church business. – Yours, etc.,

Leeds, November 16th, 1916.

The Christian Israelites in Sheffield

John Wroe and the demise of the Christian Israelites was a popular topic to fill column inches, even into the early years of the 20th century. Here, a columnist writes about the Church in Sheffield.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Tuesday 16 September 1902


“The new Messiah” continues to attract attention. We have had in this district (writes a correspondent) developments as extraordinary as anything in the Ark of the Covenant. There used to be in Sheffield, and there may be yet perhaps, a sect known as the Christian Israelites. They were followers of “the Prophet John Wroe”. My introduction to this sect was in Endcliffe Woods many ago, when the old wheels were still being worked, and the rivulet pursued its way unrestricted by Corporation or any other regulation. A man without head-gear was lapping the water in one of the upper reaches. Getting into conversation with him, he frankly told me that the reason he wore no hat was because it was against his belief. Following up the clue thus afforded, I found he was a follower of John Wroe. One part of their creed was that they must not wear any head gear or “mar the four corners of their beard.” John Wroe, I found, was a personality of some consequence. My informant, who was a shoe maker by trade – and a very good shoemaker too, for he made me much comfortable and reliable footwear – lent me the books of his faith. The believers in John Wroe had a place of worship near St George’s Church, which was known, I believe, as the Victoria Rooms. At one time they had a brass band, which used to conduct them to their meeting-house. They called their prophet the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and they held that whoever kept his commandments could never die. Asked how it came about that the sect which, at one time had about fifty of a following in Sheffield and the neighbouring locality, had dwindled to less than half-a-dozen, this member of it had a ready reply. He admitted that a number had died, but he took their death as testimony to the truth of his faith. “The fact they died” (he said, quite confidently) “was clear proof that they had not kept the commandments.” Of course, with faith like that, there was no arguing [warning, pathetic pun approaching], and the cobbler kept to his “last” a believer in John Wroe.

Then there is at this day an equally remarkable manifestation of faith or infatuation. Within a mile or two of Wakefield is a place called Wrenthorpe Palace, where another “prophet” was honoured even more reverently than John Wroe. There are many wonderful stories Wakefield way of what took place at Wrenthorpe. After a time the prophet disappeared, on an evangelising mission, it was said, and for many years the Palace was kept up in perfect condition, the dinner laid every day in good style, so that the prophet, when it pleased him to return, might find everything in apple-pie order for him. His followers were not confined to Yorkshire or the neighbouring counties. They came from all parts, and there have been some rare assemblies in the grounds, which are still sacred to the sect. Some years ago an American sailor turned up and presented himself as the missing prophet and the machinery of the law had to be put in operation to get him evicted. To-day the place is now in possession of one who claims to be the rightful owner, and who issues little leaflets from time to time to remind the world that Wrenthorpe is still the Mecca of the Faithful.

Delving further back, we find the article from which much of this story was copied.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Thursday 5 July 1888


The creed of the “House of Israel”, as now disclosed the death of Esther Jezreel, known by her people as “Queen Esther”, reminds me of the Christian Israelites, about whom I wrote several papers some seventeen years ago. They were the followers of the Prophet John Wroe, whom they styled the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah”. Their great doctrine was that the Faithful could never die. By “the Faithful” they meant all who kept the Commandments of John Wroe. There is still one of the sect in Sheffield. He is a shoemaker, now nearly seventy years of age, and he recently married a wife of 27! He gave me the books of his Prophet, which I read carefully, and very curious reading they were. When I asked him what had come over his companions he admitted they were dead. “Then you do die?” I remarked. “Yes”, he said, “the death is a proof they did not keep the Commandments.” There was no arguing on these lines, of course. These Christian Israelites wore their hair long, disdained the use of hats, and refused, as they put it, “to mar the four comers of their beard” – in other words, to shave, or even to trim, their beards. They had one time a brass band, and made a unique show as they proceeded to a building in Gell Street – afterwards a school, I believe – for service. They maintained, in excellent style, a princely place called Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, with full retinue of servants, in daily expectation of the return of their Prophet. Can any Wakefield readers tell us about Wrenthorpe?

Esther (or Clarissa White) was the widow of James Jezreel who had almost completed a massive fund-raising project to build the headquarters of the Jezreelite Church in Kent.

And, picking up on the request for more information about Wrenthorpe, a reader’s not so helpful response is published in the Telegraph three weeks later.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Thursday 26 July 1888


The “Wrenthorpe”, writes a correspondent, in reply to my request for information, “is better known as ‘Potovens’ in Wakefield. The writer knew Prophet Wroe nearly fifty years ago, also many of his followers, and was acquainted with the building of the Temple or Mansion, which is of stone, the wood being cedar. The funds were got from his followers. Wroe carried on the business of a printer in King Street in that town.” Printers were smart people in those days. They are a class who have always had an eye to “the chapel”, and duly reverence the “Father” thereof; but they not now produce a genius who sets up as a Prophet – unless it is sporting prophet, and even sporting prophets are more prone to get into duckponds than temples and mansions. John Wroe found prophecy a better calling than job-printing. Most printers who have built houses for themselves have got them through a building society. John Wroe’s notion was an improvement upon that – he got his mansion through his followers, who believed in him so thoroughly that they keep it up in expectation of his return. Does any Wakefield reader remember about the sailor who turned up at “Potovens”, stating he was the prophet Wroe? The followers thought the Prophet had acquired some very bad habits in his travels. A prophet who was eternally hitching his slack, expectorating all over the place, and swearing at everybody – whose prophecies were limited to threatening to send them to very warm place if he did not get all he wanted – was not what they expected. So they went to law, and it took the brethren six months to evict that false Prophet.

The ‘sailor’ is of course, Brooklyn native, Daniel Milton.