We’re here in London in the United Kingdom, the heart of the British Empire, exploring some of the history of the Church in this area. Some of the oldest and earliest history of the Church took place here in the UK. And at that time, London was one of the largest and most important cities in the world. Starting in 1837 and then in 1840, two absolutely crucial missions came to the British Isles where they converted thousands of citizens. The missionaries found a number of ready converts here. In one area just to the west of here, Wilford Woodroff alone baptized almost 4,000 people. And in some total, over 70,000 Saints emigrated from the British Isles to the Western United States, becoming the backbone of the Church. Join me over the next few days as we travel through the Church history sites in the British Isles and learn about the wonderful history of the Church and the great contributions that the British Saints have made to our faith.
The British Isles are beautiful, full of old history and modern attractions. I’m currently in London on the London South Bank Walk. From here you can catch views of iconic places like the River Thames, Big Ben, the London Bridge, the London Eye, and more. A newer site here is the National COVID Memorial wall, remembering all those who passed away during the pandemic. But as much as I’d like to stay and view all these attractions, I’m here to meet Peter Fagg, a local historian and guide in England, who specializes in early Latterday Saint history. He’s going to help me get started on our adventure. So he takes me across Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben, and into the Victoria Tower Gardens. He’s going to help us understand the historical setting in England before the first Latterday Saint missionaries arrived.
So, Peter, tell me a little bit about what conditions were like in Britain when the missionaries first arrived here.
I think probably the best way to do that is through the words of some of those missionaries. Take H. B. C. Kimball’s words when he arrived in 1837. He says he was shocked at what he witnessed. Women with hardly any clothing on, walking the streets in winter, picking horse poo off the floor that they could dry out for a few pennies or sell. He spoke of children without anything on their feet, and it’s cold in here in the winter. It bites and I can’t imagine going months without anything on your feet. Brigham Young, he said that when he came here, he considered this like a modern babylon. And he says they seem to tax everything. They tax the light coming through the windows. They tax the smoke coming out of the chimneys. The only things they don’t seem to tax are cats and mice and fleas. And the impact on those families was quite dire. But for most of the working class, the idea of owning your own land, owning your own house, having land to breathe in was just out of their scope of vision. The average age of death for a young person was often 50 % of all children under five would die.
The average age of a working class person in some industrial areas was 18 years of age. So this is the the sling, the horror, the poor sanitation that they step into as missionaries. Now, that wasn’t true across the nation. But that was the conditions that our missionaries were coming into.
And witnessing. P oor conditions, indeed.
Wilford Woodroof, an early Latterday Saint Apostle and missionary in London, would write, It gave me pain while passing through the streets of London this cold day to see poor women and especially little children freezing nearly to death with food, fire, and but little clothing beck ing for a morsel to eat. With Peter’s helpful context in mind, I say goodbye and make my way to our next location. While I’d love to explore London more closely, this story is taking us further north to the city of Liverpool. It’s a four hour journey to Liverpool, and it’s not easy. Leaving London can be confusing. Roads can be small and narrow, some with large hedges that block the view of any cars coming your way, and big and confusing roundabouts. Not to mention driving on the opposite side of the car and the road.
So as soon as I got here, I got my own rental car and everybody knows that the British drive on the left side of the road. We’ve heard a lot of interesting explanations for why that is, but never quite settled on one. So I’m on the other side of the car that most Americans would be used to, and I think I’m getting a little used to it, but every once in a while, your brain freaks out because you think you’re driving on the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road, and you have to calm yourself down. So it can be a little unnerving to drive here, but the good news is the drivers are very, very courteous, and I have a good navigation computer that speaks in a polite middle class English voice telling me where.
To go. You are as bright as.
A button, Casey.
I’ve been in Britain for a couple of days, and I think I’m starting to get a feel for the accents here. So I’m going to try the next part in an authentic British accent. We’re traveling down the motorway to Liverpool. You can see all the lorries around us. When we arrive in Liverpool, we’ll be walking up and down the docks talking to various peoples about the beautiful history of these lands and all the wonderful labels of the missionaries of the Latterday Saint movement and the wonderful work that they did here among the British people.
Before we arrive in Liverpool, we need a bit of history. In 1837, back in America, during a Sunday meeting in the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith approached Apostle Heber C. Kimball and said in his ear, Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me. Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel and open the door of salvation to that nation. Heber was stunned and even a bit worried. He thought of England as an elegant country, but considered himself an uneducated and unsophisticated man. Kimball would later write, The idea of being appointed to such an important mission was almost more than I could bear up under. I truly felt my weakness and unworthiness. But Heaver knew the restored gospel was true and accepted this new calling. Several months later, Heaver and several other missionaries boarded the ship, the Garrick, and crossed the Atlantic towards the famed seaboard of Liverpool. Liverpool is a large and major city. The Liverpool Cathedral is the largest Cathedral and religious building in Britain. But our journey is taking us to the Royal Albert Dock. Liverpool is a major seaport where hundreds of thousands sailed across the world to the Americas.
It’s also home of the Beatles. The Beatles were a group of… Well, you should know who they are. Here you’ll find amazing food for all you seafood lovers.
And did I say there are a lot of statues here? There’s a lot. And what’s surprising is among all these statues stands a Latterday Saint Monument along these docks. Nestled here stands the legacy sculpture. This statue represents the 50,000 Latterday Saints who left their home country of England, going on the dangerous ship vo yages, many times, five to six weeks long, across the ocean to the Americas, and many traveling even further across the country to the dry desert of Utah.
Here at the Albert Dock in Liverpool stands an unlikely monument to Latterday Saint migration. Tens of thousands of Latterday Saints disembarked from this location, the homes in.
America, to a new.
World, a new life.
As part of their new faith. But this statue is not just symbolic of the thousands who emigrated to the Americas. It’s symbolic of the first missionaries who came to England and spread such an influential message.
Here in 1837, when the first missionaries arrived, in fact, Elder Hever C. Kimball was so excited, he jumped the last seven feet to the dock.
As the missionaries made their way through this city, the dire poverty caught their eyes. Hever wrote that with regard to the state of the country, we may say it is bad indeed. We often see in the streets whole families begging for bread. It is truly heartrending to see so many small children nearly naked going from house to house begging. This scene of things is passing before our eyes daily, and we look upon it with sorrow and regret. After arriving in Liverpool, they eventually made their way North to Preston, next to the River Ribble. Back then, Preston was a cotton producing town stricken with poverty. But the town of Preston played a key role in the growth and spread of the restored gospel.
They also came to this place, Market Square, where they saw a political debate happening, and they saw a banner that said, Truth will prevail, which they took as a sign that their mission would be successful.
Hebrew wrote about this banner, It being so seasonable and the sentiment being so appropriate to us in our situation, we were involuntarily led to exclaim, Amen, so let it be.
This obelisk is actually a feature that was here in the square when the missionaries first arrived. It might be one of the places where Hebrew see Kimbal or Isaac Russell or Orson Hyde preached their sermons on the Book of Mormon and the message of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One unique thing about this area is that the symbol of the city of Preston is the banner of Saint.
Wilford, the missionary that first brought Christianity to this area.
The banner has the lamb with the halo around it, which is the Lamb of God. Behind him is the banner.
Truth. And down below are two peas, which sometimes people joke.
Stand for proud Preston or poor.
People, but actually stands for Prince practice, Latin for the Prince of Peace. And so the first missionaries arrived and find their success in the city of the Prince of Peace.
But not all of their experiences would be so positive. Just a few days after their arrival, they experienced a terrifying supernatural experience. This building, currently un occupied, is the location where this happened. Even when talking to the locals just across the street, they said it was considered a haunted place. It was here that Heber C. Kimmel and others fell to the ground shaking and sweating and saw a vision of evil spirits with horrible countenances, foaming and lashing their teeth. Heber wrote, Although I felt exquisite pain and was in the greatest distress for some time and cannot even now look back on the scene without feelings of horror, yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enemy against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world. A year later, Hever related the harrowing story to Joseph Smith, who replied, I then knew that the work of God had taken root in England. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you. And so began the work of preaching the restored gospel in England. They eventually visited a preacher, James Fielding, and were invited to speak to the congregation.
In just a few days, many requested baptism. I’m heading to a special location to the Latterday Saints near Avenham Park. So I take a stroll through the park and find myself near a river and bridge. This location is considered sacred for many Latterday Saints. I’m scheduled to meet with a local scholar and researcher from Community of Christ, Andrew Bolton.
Tell us why this place is so special.
Well, this gorgeous place has the River Rival flowing through it. So this river is one of the biggest ones in the country. It’s a river that rises in the Pennines in Yorkshire and flows into the Irish Sea somewhere over there. This is sacred geography in the Latterday Saint movement, as important as Palmyra, as important as Kirkland, is because the first baptism in Europe in the British Isles happened just over there in front of the tram bridge that you can see.
It was here where Hebrew performed the first baptism for the Church outside the United States, where Church membership in the British Isles officially began. The converts at that time were excited.
I understand there’s some foot race that happens down here when they first come.
There’s a race to be the first to be baptized in the Latterday Saint Gospel in the British Isles. Two race to get here. George Watt is the younger one and fitter, and he wins the race. And he’s the first to be dunked in the pool over there by the Chant Bridge.
Hebrew described, I had the pleasure about nine AM of baptized nine individuals and hailing them, brethren and sisters in the Kingdom of God. These were the first persons baptized into the Church in a foreign land and only the eighth day after our arrival in Preston. It must.
Have been a sight.
Yeah, happy. And the evening park here will be filled with people. So there would.
Have been a lot of people here on a Sunday afternoon before that we saw this.
It was at this park in 2012 where members joined together to celebrate 175 years since those first baptism.
Now, what was it about the message of the restored gospel that appealed to these.
So much? So this is a really good question. People here in Preston and other parts of the country were suffering a great deal of poverty.
Although the Industrial Revolution was creating wealth for some, it created great poverty for many others. Factory systems meant less job, wages went down, and people were pushed out of the common land.
They crowd into these slums. They’re very unhealthy. There’s no toilets, human manure everywhere, disease everywhere. Infant mortality rate was perhaps one child in two dies. So it’s awful. Life expectancy falls 38 in the rural areas to 19 in the city town areas. So it’s an awful situation. But the Latterday Saints had a gospel that spoke to the poor, spoke of the hope of Zion. The package, I think, of Latterday Saint ism, what sometimes it could be called the fullness of the gospel, was very winning. So they were hungry for a good news gospel. Gospel means good news. The Latterday Saints had good news.
A major message of the restored gospel was the hope of Zion, a united people and a people with no poor among them and who took care of each other.
So this would sing sweet melody to the first listeners of the Latterday Saint gospel here.
That’s all appealing.
It is. It’s a huge, attractive package.
Andrew then tells me there’s more places to visit nearby. So we head back through Avene Park to a special garden not too far away. Known as the Japanese Rock Garden, it hosts various special exhibits, one of which is a stone monument with a plaque remembering the first baptism and the amazing effect it had on the Church. They also planted an oak tree and erected another monument to remember those first missionaries. Regularly scheduled meetings are still held in Preston to this day, which makes it the oldest continuous Latterday Saint congregation in the world. There’s a third tree in plaque here remembering thousands of saints who emigrated from the British Isles to the United States. The first mission to England was proving to be a major success. To finish up the story of the first British missionand to contemplate the enormous effect this mission had on the Church, Andrew takes me to one final location just under an hour north of Preston.
Andrew, where are we now? What’s this place?
This is Longreach Ferry. We’re in Lancaster. Preston is over there. Preston. Okay. First baptism happened over there. Hebert C. Kimball and others, they walk up this valley. They walk. There’s no busses, there’s no trains. They go on foot. They’re too poor to have other kinds of transportation. Then this is the Harder Valley. This valley is rich with Latterday Saint stories, and so is the Ripple Valley. Now, the Janetta Richardson story is just down here.
One of those that lived in this area was Janette Richards. Although not the first to be baptized, she would be the first to be confirmed a member of the Church overseas.
First Church member in England is a woman, Janette Richards.
Yeah, and first woman in England and the British Isles. Overseas, the first woman overseas.
On the day he were baptized, Janette, he sent a message to Willard Richards, another missionary, saying, I baptized your wife today.
And then he comes and meets her and they have the same last name, first of all. I remember a story where they were walking together in this valley and Willard turned to Janeta and said, Richards is such a nice last name. I don’t think I’ll ever change it. What about you? And.
She says, I don’t want to change it either. It’s a nice proposal. It is. It’s a very sweet moment.
Heaver’s words came true as they did end up building a relationship and marrying. Willard Richards had another special experience here. During the second British mission, Willard was called to become an apostle by Joseph Smith. And later in this valley, they would ordain him.
An apostle. And he’s ordained here in Lancaster.
Which is probably the only time in the history of the Church that an apostle has been ordained on foreign soil outside of Church headquarters away from America here in Lancaster.
Yes. So this is a wonderful story.
Preston played such an important role in the growth of the Church. From this first mission, there grew about 1,400 Saints in just eight months, worshiping in 26 branches.
And all these Saints start migrating to America, start to affect the Church. What are the statistics for how many people from this area end up in America?
In Nauvoo, which grows to a population of around 12,000, 4,000 British Saints by 1844 are there. One in three Saints talked like me on the streets of Nauvoo, and two out of the three Saints talked like you.
A decade after Hebrer’s mission, there grew about 30,000 Saints in the British Isles. This is an extraordinary number. Andrew gives me some more statistics to hit home how successful this mission was.
So at that time, that’s 60 % of all the Church members in the world.
Yeah, that’s far more.
Than there are in America.
And if you count those that have migrated, you can say 80 % of the Church in the world is British born and British baptized. One scholar talks about this as being the greatest revival missionary effort since John Wesley the Methodist preacher.
It’s a very British Church.
Yeah, and just in 14 or 15 years. The gospel fit the needs of the people at that particular time. It did. It’s an amazing story.
I thank Andrew for his time and showing me around all these sacred locations and providing me with some great information and research. These locations during the First British Mission are sacred sites or sacred geography, as Andrew called it. It’s an honor to have some of our sacred stories and sites in the great country of England alongside its ruins and rich history.
I’m here at Sallee Abbey, the remnants of a monastery that existed here hundreds of years ago. And in the background is pendant Hill, the place where George Fox hiked and received inspiration to start the Quaker Movement. And just like these areas are crucial to other religious movements, the Rival Valley remains to be important to the past, the present, and the future of the Latterday Saints. The sacrifices of the early Saints here laid the foundations for the gospel here and in America. And the sacrifices that the present day Saints continue to make show that a global community of Saints worldwide continue to contribute to the restoration and the building up of the Kingdom of God.
Just as these first Saints were poor and hard and ready to hear the restored Gospel, so can we have the opportunity to humble ourselves and accept the rich blessings that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers. And just like these early Saints and missionaries in England, we can start laying the foundations of our own stories of faith. The first British mission and the work by Heber C. Kimball and others, laid the seeds for the Church to ignite in the British Isles. But this was only the beginning. Subscribe to our channel and watch for part two of this series where we explore the second British mission, even more sacred sites, and the profound effect it’d have in the British Isles and the Church.