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  • Writer's pictureSadie

Reuben Thurley-Preacher and draper

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

In Blog 13 we met pupil teacher Gertrude Thurley.

In this Blog I want to tell you a little about Gertrude’s uncle Reuben Charles Thurley, lay evangelist for the Church Army, Congregational minister, and draper, and her cousins Ernest, Frederick and Hilda.

Reuben Thurley, was born in 1864 in Dogsthorpe. His parents, William, an agricultural machineman and Elizabeth, moved in time for their place of residence on the 1871 census to be recorded as Stanground. Reuben was the sixth child born to William and Elizabeth.

William and Elizabeth would eventually have 16 children and, according to the 1911 census, 13 survived into adulthood. So far, I have only traced 12 of their children but they all seem to have had successful and interesting lives – if you can measure such a thing from the records available to us.

The lives of Millicent Ann, William Samuel, Walter, George Baker and Francis Thurley were covered in Blog 14-‘The Thurley Brothers build the ‘Brickopolis’ landmarks’.

James Hopkins Thurley moved to Northamptonshire and became a police sergeant, Ernest William remained in Fletton and travelled widely selling building materials, Henry Frederick moved to Gravesend and became an Inspector in the police force, Susannah married Charles Seward, a hairdresser, and they moved to Lewisham and William S Albert moved to Camberwell with his employment as a draper’s assistant.

By 1881 the Thurley family had moved a short distance to Eyres Row in Stanground, and Reuben at 17, had followed a traditional employment path becoming a carpenter.

Only a year later Reuben married Sarah Ashpool. The young newly married couple settled in Stanground, close to other members of the Thurley family. They had two sons, Ernest in 1884 and Frederick (Fred) in 1886. It was during this time that Reuben and Sarah’s life took a drastic change.

Reuben was involved in the Church Army, which was formed, in 1882, by the Reverend Wilson Carlile. In the Belfast Newsletter, on Wednesday 17th August 1887, it was reported that a meeting in Belfast was held of the Church Army, in conjunction with the English Church Army. The discussion centred around the success of the Church tent that had been pitched in the Sandy Row fields and the possibility of erecting a Mission Hall to enable the work to continue during the winter. Amongst the lay evangelists present was Reuben Thurley.

The idea of the army was to bring together soldiers, officers and a few working men and women, whom the Reverend Wilson, and others, would train to act as Church of England Evangelists among the poor and outcasts. It would appear that Reuben was one of these evangelists. Carlile wanted to share the Gospel with people who wouldn't dream of setting foot inside a church and training people of the same class—ordinary lay people—as evangelists. At the same time as the Church Army was established so too was the Salvation Army, under the leadership of William Booth. Both the Church Army and the Salvation Army continued to work in the most dreadful slums; both had some difficulty with their parent churches (Church of England and Methodist) being able to cope with those coming out of the slums as a result of the mission work, and realised the need for alcohol-free refuges.

In 1888 the Church Army established labour homes in London and elsewhere, with the object of giving a ‘fresh start in life’ to the outcast and destitute. The inmates earned their board and lodging by piece work, for which they were paid at the current trade rates and were encouraged to seek other positions for themselves. The Church Army had lodging homes, employment bureaus, cheap food depots, old clothes department, a dispensary and a number of other social works. There was also an extensive emigration system. Many hundreds, 3,000 in 1906, of men and families were placed in permanent employment in Canada through the agency of the local clergy.

By 1891 Reuben had moved his family to 23 Chaucer Terrace, in the parish of St. Andrew, Nottingham. Reuben was recorded a scripture reader. It would appear that Reuben was continuing his work with the poor and disadvantaged. A scripture minister would have supported the poor and deprived in large towns and cities.

It seems that Reuben wanted to develop his ministry. Nottingham was one of three centres for the Congregational church in England. We cannot be sure, but it may have been during this time that Reuben witnessed the teaching of the Congregational church and decided to train to become a Congregational Minister.

The Congregational church is a Protestant based church where the church government is ruled by the congregation. In England this type of church can be traced to Robert Browne in 1582 and the early Congregationalists were called Separatists or Independents. The Congregational training colleges for their ministers are at Chestunt College, Cambridge, New College, London, and Mansfield College, Oxford.

Chestunt College was established in 1768 when six Anglican students were expelled from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford due to their Methodist leanings. In 1792, following the death of Lady Huntingdon, who owned the college premises, it was decided to move the college to Chestunt in Hertfordshire, to be closer to London. New College, London was established in 1850. Mansfield College was established in Birmingham in 1838, and when it moved to Oxford in 1886 was renamed Mansfield College.

Where Reuben attended for training is unknown but what we do know is that Reuben’s beliefs and obligations meant that the family’s stay in Nottingham was short.

Their daughter Hilda was born in 1893 and following this the family moved to first 9 Annandale Road, Greenwich and then The Lodge, Mauritius Road, Greenwich. Reuben was now a Congregational Minister. He was particularly interested in working with the youth within the church and doing what he could in the local community. To this end he took an interest in political life in Greenwich, standing for the Marsh Ward in 1900. Reuben also enjoyed preaching and even returned to Peterborough to preach.

On Friday 18th June 1909 it was reported in the Stamford Mercury that:

‘the Christian Endeavour Society attached to the Millfield Congregational church organised a very successful ‘flower and egg service’ on Sunday. The Rev R Thurley of Greenwich preached morning and evening and spoke at the children’s service in the afternoon.’

The Christian Endeavour Society is an international, interdenominational Protestant youth organization founded by Reverend Francis Clark of the Williston Congregational Church, Portland, Maine, ‘to make young people more useful in the service of God and more efficient in church work thereby establishing them in their faith and the practise of the gospel.’ Clark, desiring to provide an avenue of expression for the religious life of young people and to give them an opportunity to perform tasks for the church, organized a local youth society, which was quickly duplicated in many Protestant congregations across the nation and beyond. An international and interdenominational organization was formed in 1885 called the United Society of Christian Endeavor, with Clark as its first president.

In the 1911 census we find that Reuben, Sarah and their daughter Hilda had moved back to Fletton. They were now living at Rothbury House, Kings Road, which is just off the High Street.

By looking at various records it would appear that Reuben, in moving back to Fletton, was retiring from ministry. It may have been that he was unwell, as he died on 23rd January 1917 aged just 53, after being of poor health for some time.

But the years 1911 to 1917 also proved to be some of the busiest for the family. Not only did Reuben start a new business, but he watched all his children marry, and of course become involved in the Great War.

Reuben was obviously a man of action and did not take to retirement readily. Along with property concerns he had in Fletton he also established a drapers. It was announced in the Peterborough Advertiser, on Saturday 26th October 1912 that Thurley and Sons, General Draper, was opening on the 1st November at 70 Bridge Street. This was a partnership between Reuben and his son Fred, a draper. Perhaps Reuben was providing the financial backing for his son’s venture.

Just prior to the opening of the shop, on 27th October 1912, Ernest, a bookbinder, married Thelma Shipley at the Holy Trinity Church, Lambeth.

Just three years later, in 1915, both Fred and Hilda married.

First of all, in the spring, Hilda married Ernest Levi Ward Newell from Stanground. They soon settled into married life living at 1 Fellowes Road, Fletton. Ernest started his own business, and they were soon joined by their first child Phyllis Dorothy Newall.

Then on 29th November 1915 Fred married Winifred Amy Ashpool at St. Luke’s, Enfield. Winifred was in fact Fred’s first cousin once removed. His mother, Sarah, was Winifred’s cousin. But as with many young couples the Great War weighed heavy on their first years of marriage.

Fred made his attestation for service on 8th February 1916. The attestation was an acknowledgement that he was liable for service. In fact, he returned to work until he was conscripted on 25th August 1917. During this period Fred may have worn an armband to show that he had attested. Fred had applied for exemption from service, due to his father’s death, three times prior to conscription.

Fred spent until the 19th December 1917 in England training. He was then allocated to the 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment in France. Fred’s battalion was involved in Operation Michel in March 1918. It was during this time that the battalion retreated 15km from Ly-Fontaine, through Jussy to Hangard Wood. Fred suffered a gunshot wound to the right ankle. In reality this was probably a shrapnel wound. Although it is unknown exactly when the injury occurred it is probable that it was towards the end of March as the line was stabilising. Between 21st and 31st March 55 of the battalion died, 10% of their rifle strength. Three of the fallen were from Peterborough and one man, William George Culpin, was from Woodston.

Fred was admitted to the 2nd Northern General Hospital in Leeds and was discharged medically unfit on the 11th February 1919. He was considered to have a 50% disability and his address on discharge was 3 Fellowes Road, next to his sister.

Reuben was well liked and respected in both Fletton and Peterborough. At his funeral, held at the United Methodist Chapel on Fletton Avenue, mourners included family, friends and in acknowledgement of the work he had carried out in Peterborough Mayor Nicholls JP. Reuben had provided well for his wife and his estate totalled £4,970 7s 2d.

After Reuben’s death, Sarah took on the draper’s shop. With Fred as manager the shop moved premises to 5 Market Place. Fred and Winifred welcomed a son on 14th November 1919, Ernest Frederick Reuben Thurley. Unfortunately, tragedy followed, only five years after their marriage and looking forward to a life together after the Great War, Winifred died in 1920. She was buried at Fletton cemetery on 5th June 1920.

In 1921, mother and son, Sarah and Fred not only worked together but they also lived together, finding companionship at 3 Fellowes Road. Fred did not remain a draper. He had several career changes. First to a poster artist and then he worked for the post office. Fred’s son also re-joined the family and in 1939 was an engineer.

Sarah and her two sons all lived together at 133 Fletton Avenue. Sarah died on 23rd March 1951, Ernest in 1962 and Fred on 10th January 1973.

Hilda and Ernest also remained in Fletton moving to 105 London Road. Hilda died in 1980.

My thanks to Michael Kennelly who provided me with information regarding the Congregational church and scripture readers.

My thanks to Derek Smith who provided me with information regarding Frederick Thurley and his military service in the Great War.

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