News of ‘Prophet’ Wroe’s death filters back to Europe

The news of John Wroe’s sudden death in Melbourne, Australia took weeks to reach Europe and gets widespread coverage in early June 1863. The first title in the British Newspaper Library’s online archive to cover the story is the Dublin Daily Express.

Dublin Daily Express
Thursday 28 May 1863

FANATICISM IN AUSTRALIA

There appear to be a sect in Melbourne calling themselves “Christian Israelites”, but called by others “Wroeites”. Their “prophet” has recently died, and the Melbourne Weekly Review has notice of him.

“It will, probably, be a piece of perfectly novel intelligence to the bulk of our readers to learn that the wretched old man who thus obscurely ended his career was, up till the very last, looked upon by his deluded followers as an inspired personage… able to bestow immortal life on all who believed in him… Yet it is very certain that this was nothing more nor less than a monomaniac… There lies before as a volume of ‘The Life and Journal of John Wroe’, which contains many alleged Divine communications revealed to him.’ …The miserable maniac who died the other day at the ‘synagogue’ in Fitzroy steadily declared all his life that neither himself nor his followers could ever taste death, bat that both they and would be translated to heaven as Elijah was! Indeed, John Wroe’s latest ‘revelation’, delivered only few weeks before his death, was that should return to England within a few months. He had actually taken his passage by one of the Liverpool liners, in fulfilment of the ‘prophecy’, when the inevitable hand of death fell upon him. So ended the eighty years of wild hallucination and daring impiety of John Wroe. His duped followers, it is averred, are at this hour looking for his resurrection and re-appearance amongst them!”

Local photographs in old newspapers

The newspaper archives has only come up with half a dozen photographs relating to the Wrenthorpe area – and three of these are of Silcoates. The first is of the last toll bar in the district.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 13 July 1929

SILCOATES OLD TOLL-BAR

In close proximity to the famous Silcoates School, this reminder of old coaching days is still in use, and is one of the few surviving toll-bars in the West Riding.

The image is of an unnamed man with a white beard and hat standing in front of the gate.

19290713SilcoatesTollBar

Pictures in other newspapers:

Yorkshire Evening Post
Wednesday 1 May 1935

BLOSSOM TIME IN THE ORCHARD

Caption: A scene at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield.

Unfortunately the orchard image is too indistinct to show here.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Wednesday 17 July 1940

PLAYING FIELDS NO LONGER

Caption: Boys at Silcoates School, Wakefield, digging their playing fields in preparation for food growing.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 6 June 1926

A DIVINELY INSPIRED MANSION

Caption: Prophet’s Mansion, at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, built by Prophet John Wroe, who died many years ago. He knew nothing of architecture, and it is said that his plans were divinely inspired. The house is now inhabited by the Prophet’s great-grandson, who confidently awaits his return in the flesh. The second picture shows the novel sundial crowning the house.

19260608MelbourneHouse1

19260608MelbourneHouse2

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Friday 2 October 1908

SILCOATES SCHOOL

On the other side will be found a picture of the ceremony in connection with the opening of the new Silcoates School, the celebrated Congregational college. The new building replaces the edifice that was burnt down some time back. The school was opened by Mr Runciman, and the picture shows Mr G H Baines, JP, one of the trustees, handing the Minister of Education the key. Mrs Runciman will be seen holding a bouquet. At the table is seated Mr Theodore Taylor, MP, while next him is Mr John McLaren, one of the trustees. Immediately beneath this picture is one showing the new school buildings.

19081002Silcoates1

19081002Silcoates2

Ben Wroe: the facts (well almost)

Here’s an odd piece from a Suffolk paper in 1937. It’s on a page crammed with strange facts. Pity it doesn’t really get it right.

Framlingham Weekly News
Saturday 31 July 1937

BOY LEADS SECT

In the colliery village of East Ardsley, a few miles from Leeds, lives a nine-year-old boy who is the head of one of the strangest religious sects in the country. He is the great-great-grandson the “Prophet” Wroe, founder of the Christian Israelite movement, which, in its heyday, had followers throughout the West Riding. Members of the sect were well-known, because all male members were required to wear their hair long and to grow a beard. Their teaching was “Belief the law and the Gospel.” The boy, who became head of the movement following the death of father, John Wroe, in a road accident, wears his hair in two long plaits, which reach over his shoulders. He lives with his mother at The Mansion, a residence which has been in the family for generations, and follows the faith his forefathers. The Mansion, with farmlands, was left in entail for the prophet’s descendants so long there should heir and a pair of slippers and a vacant chair in readiness for the founder of the movement, who, it is believed, will one day return.

Silcoates School pupil Benjamin Wroe wasn’t nine but would have been about 15 when this was published. He didn’t live at the Mansion as it had been sold to the Christian Israelite Church the previous year and his mother had died three years before. Ben Wroe was killed in Normandy in 1944.

 

Another dispute over a well

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 5 June 1858

A CHARGE OF ASSAULT AGAINST “PROPHET” WROE

At the Court House [Wakefield], on Monday last, Mr Wroe, better known as “Prophet Wroe”, was charged with having assaulted an old woman named Jane Ramsden, at Carr Gate, on the 18th ult. The affair arose out of a dispute which exists between Wroe and some of the persons in that locality regarding their right to take water out of a well situated on his property. On the day in question the complainant went to the well, and got a pitcher of water, when Mr Wroe went up to her, seized hold of her, “shook” her, and took her pitcher from her and poured out the water. Witnesses were called who stated that they were in the habit of getting water from the well for the last 15 years. Mr Shaw, who (instructed by Mr Barratt), appeared for Mr Wroe, said all that the defendant had done was done in the bona fide assertion of his right. A man had as much right to order another out of his field as out of his house. In the present instance, Mr Wroe had only, after repeated warning, used the necessary force to turn the complainant off his property. Witnesses were called who stated that Mr Wroe had only ordered the woman off, and that no unnecessary violence was used. The case was dismissed.

Wroes’ burglary: the miscarriage of justice

Picking up on the story of the three men convicted in August 1842 for the burglary at Brandy Carr House, and their sentence of transportation to Australia...

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 17 August 1844

INNOCENT PARTIES TRANSPORTED

Our readers will remember that about two years ago, the house of Prophet Wroe, of Wakefield, was broken into and a silver watch stolen; also, that three men, called Benjamin and John Pickersgill and James Ramsden, were tried for the robbery at York Assizes, in August, 1842, and transported for ten years. It now appears, however, that the men were in no manner connected with the robbery, and are perfectly innocent of it. This information has been obtained from James Hudson, now a convict at York Castle, who has made a voluntary confession to the Governor of the Castle, by which it appears that the robbery was committed by himself and five other men, whose names he gives; he details the proceedings on the night of the robbery, and what was done with the property. We trust the Magistrates will take measures by which these innocent men will be restored to their homes.

Shocking that what we would consider a major news story, although covered in many of the papers, is tucked away in seemingly random ‘local news’ type columns. And that’s it, there’s no further coverage, nothing about when the men did return home. A very different news agenda to that of today.

Jailed for dodging US Civil War draft

A great article from the Leeds Times: information on ‘Prophet’ John Wroe’s demise, the aftermath at Melbourne House and, most intriguingly of all, the latest troubles facing ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton.

As we’ve already heard, Brooklyn’s Daniel Milton spent much of the last 40 years of his life protesting against the Wroes, keeping the local police and courts busy, and even served time in Wakefield Prison. But on a trip home in the autumn of 1864, when he turns out to vote in the US general election, he lands up in jail for spending too much time in Wrenthorpe instead of enlisting to fight for the Union.

Leeds Times
Saturday 17 December 1864

THE “SAINTS’ ” DISPUTED INHERITANCE AT WRENTHORPE

John Wroe, the ignorant old man who falsely and wickedly designated himself a Prophet, died in Australia, in Feb, 1863, after falsifying his own prediction in this respect, for he had declared that he should return to England in the flesh, remain here for four years, and be then put to a violent death, only to re-appear at the Temple in West Ardsley for his permanent heavenly residence upon earth. We really thought that the imposture he propagated had long since exploded, and can only express our regret that such is not the case.

Our readers will remember that in March, 1864, we duly detailed the steps which had been taken by Daniel Milton – who calls himself “the Promised Shiloh” and “the Head of the Church” – to recover possession of the Saints’ Inheritance at Wrenthorpe, on the ground that it had been built with the money of the disciples, and was intended to be their home when the earthly Millennium comes to pass, and how Daniel soon found himself in the Lion’s Den – otherwise the Wakefield House of Correction – for obstructing the executors of John Wroe’s will in the execution of their duty. Since that period, the farms, farming stock, houses, and the elegant articles of furniture appertaining unto Melbourne Temple, have been disposed of by public auction, for the benefit of the kith and kin of the deceased “prophet”: and within the “hallowed walls” of the structure there is now nothing to testify to its departed glories except two faithful female adherents of Wroe’s, who wander about the tenement sorely distressed in mind owing to the trouble that has fallen upon Israel, but who still firmly believe that John will re-appear on February 4th, 1865. Whether his resuscitation is to be merely spiritual or of the flesh, fleshly, is not clear even to the mental vision of these sorely afflicted females. But they bide their time, holding loyally to their creed, and will be prepared to welcome Wroe even if he comes under the questionable shape of a spiritual medium, rather than in propria persona, and on board one of the excellent mail steamers via Point de Galle, Aden, and Southampton.

In the meantime the man who was the thorn in the side of the prophet and his adherents has got into trouble at New York. Daniel Milton, “the promised Shiloh”, unluckily took it into his head to go and visit his mother, east of the empire city, just at the time when the draft for the army was being conducted therein. For the moment he was not missed, inasmuch as he has latterly spent much of his time in England, and on the Atlantic; but he was discovered and “brought to book” when he turned up in his ward on the 8th November to vote for old Abe Lincoln. For this offence of evading the draft he was sent to the Bastile, Greenpoint, New York, where he remained at the date of the latest advices. But he requests us to state that he intends to lecture in the neighbourhood of “Israel’s mansion”, at Wrenthorpe, on Whit Sunday next [4 June 1865], on “the Law of Moses, English Law, and Lawyers”. We freely give Mr Milton the benefit of our columns for this announcement, and do not anticipate that he is likely to be disturbed by the reappearance of the “old familiar form of the man whose rest he had so much disquieted” – we mean the deceased “prophet”, John Wroe.

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

WILFUL DAMAGE AT WRENTHORPE

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.

Burglary at the Wroes: three transported to Australia

Here’s the well-known local story of the burglary at Brandy Carr House, Jerry Clay Lane, as reported by a couple of the papers at the time. A couple of points: it says Alverthorpe because Jerry Clay Lane was in the Alverthorpe-with-Thornes township; and, don’t you just love the term ‘burglariously’.

Yorkshire Gazette
Saturday 13 August 1842

BURGLARY AT PROPHET WROE’S RESIDENCE

Betwixt twelve and one o’clock, on Thursday morning last, the premises occupied by Mr John Wroe, the notorious Prophet, situate at Brandy Carr, Potovens, near Wakefield, were burglariously entered by six villains, who cut a pane of glass out of a window, and then opened the window and got into the house. Prophet Wroe was that night sleeping at his establishment in Thompson’s yard, Wakefield, and the only persons in the house were Mrs Wroe, Miss Wroe, and a servant girl. In an outhouse, however, there were sleeping B A [Benjamin Apperley] Wroe, the prophet’s son, and a servant man. The ladies heard a noise in the house, and got up to see what was the matter. The six men were proceeding upstairs, three lights their hands, and two armed with pistols and one with a gun. The ladies screamed aloud, and the thieves threatened to take their lives if they did not cease to cry out. One of the burglars, presented a pistol at Mrs and Miss Wroe, and demanded their money or their lives. One of them opened a drawer in Mrs Wroe’s room and took out a gold watch, to which was attached a gold chain and a key. The servant man in the outhouse heard the cries of the ladies and awoke B A Wroe, and they went into the house and encountered the six men coming down the stairs. B A Wroe threatened to shoot the men, but his gun was not loaded, and whilst he loaded it the thieves got off, taking the watch, &c, with them. B A Wroe fired alter them, but with no effect. The men’s faces were blackened, and they had on colliers’ working dresses. On Monday Benjamin Pickersgill, John Pickersgill, and James Ramsden, colliers, residing at Bragg Lane, near Potovens, were brought up by the police, at the Court House, Wakefield, charged with being of the party who committed the above burglary. They were committed for trial at the ensuing York Assizes.

The Gazette also produces the calendar for the upcoming Assizes.

YORKSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES

Calendar of the Prisoners for trial at the ensuing assizes be holden this day, before the Right Hon Thomas Lord Denman, and the Hon Sir William Henry Maule, Knight.
William St Quintin, Esq, High-Sheriff

130 131, and 132. BENJAMIN PICKERSGILL (51), JOHN PICKERSGILL (25), and JAMES RAMSDEN (24), charged with having, at Alverthorpe, committed a burglary in the dwelling house of John Wroe.

The Bradford Observer is one of several titles that covered the trial in York.

Bradford Observer
Thursday 1 September 1842

YORKSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25TH
BEFORE MR JUSTICE MAULE

BURGLARY AT MR WROE’S (COMMONLY CALLED “PROPHET WROE’S”) HOUSE

Benjamin Pickersgill, (51), John Pickersgill (25), and James Ramsden (24) were indicted for having, on the 4th of August instant, at Alverthorpe, burglariously broken and entered the dwelling-house of John Wroe, and stolen therefrom one gold watch and one gold chain. Sir Gregory Lewin and Mr lngham appeared for the prosecution; Mr. Wilkins for the prisoners Pickersgill; and Mr Roebuck for the prisoner Ramsden.

This case excited some little interest in consequence of the peculiar notoriety of the prosecutor, who is the founder, we believe, of a sect of religionists professing very singular tenets, and who wear the distinctive badge of a beard. The prosecutor has been long known by the cognomen of “Prophet Wroe”, and his followers as “Wroeites”; but he himself at present carries on the secular occupation of a wool merchant at Wakefield. His residence, known as “Brandy Carr House”, is at Alverthorpe, a short distance from Wakefield ; but when the occurrence, out of which the charge arose, took place, he was not sleeping at home.

This was on the 4th of the present month, at about two or three o’clock in the morning, at which hour Mrs Wroe was alarmed by a whispering noise and footsteps, and soon after heard the door unbolted, and people walking in the passage. She rang the bell for her maid servant, who came up into her room, and soon after she saw six men in the house, three of them with lighted candles in their hands. One of them presented a pistol at her, and exclaimed, “Your money or your life”; to which she replied, “We have no money, we don’t keep it here”, and took refuge again in her bedroom, from which she screamed out loudly for assistance. Two men, of whom Ramsden she said was one, followed her into the bedroom, and threatened to blow out her brains. From a small box, one of the men took a gold watch, key, and chain.

At this juncture, Benjamin A Wroe, a youth about 16 years old, the son of the prophet, who is a master printer at Wakefield, and was sleeping in an adjoining outhouse with the groom, was alarmed by his mother’s outcries, and forcing his way into the kitchen window by breaking the glass, seized an unloaded gun, with which he confronted the six robbers whom he met in the passage, and presenting it at the breast of one of them, threatened to shoot him if he spoke or stirred. The men shrunk back, and three of them ran up the stairs, upon which young Wroe returned for the purpose of loading the gun, and the men seizing the opportunity decamped, carrying with them the watch, key, and chain. Young Wroe, who had just got his gun charged, fired after the fugitives.

Soon after the three prisoners were apprehended, and each of them was identified by Mrs Wroe, Miss Susannah Wroe, and Master Benjamin Wroe. All the prisoners were found guilty, to be transported for ten years.

But as we know, the prisoners’ ordeal didn’t end there…

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

“PROPHET” WROE’S SUCCESSOR
DEATH OF THE WRENTHORPE CLAIMANT

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
Shiloh

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.

 

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

CURRENT TOPICS

“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

ESTHER JEZREEL

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

WRENTHORPE

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.