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From the West. 'Derby from a Field Adjoining Abbey Barns', 1805-08, by Christopher Holland. Courtesy Derby Museum and Art Gallery. (The white building with the grey roof on the left is the Agard Street, Particular Baptist Chapel. The artist had Windmill Hill Pit just behind him.)

In the year 550 AD England was invaded by fleets of Angles from Schleswig Holstein. They sailed west across the North Sea, along the Humber Estuary, and then south down the River Trent. Some continued north up the Derwent until they could go no further and, instead of sailing off with their spoils, settled near the heart of England. They made clearings and cultivated the soil. Someone chose a site for a farm by Markeaton Brook and called it Northworthy, the Saxon name for 'North Homestead'. (1)

On the other side of the world, and over 1,000 years later, Job Charnock, the East India Company's Governor of the Bay of Bengal, sailed north from Madras in the sticky heat of the monsoon season. He had been authorised by his ministers to make a treaty with the Emperor Aurangzeb and was returning to the three villages of Sutanati, Govindpur and Kalikata from where he had been forced to retreat three and a half years earlier. He sailed up the Hooghly River and was rowed ashore at Chuttanuty on August 24, 1690 with an escort of thirty soldiers. They pitched their tents and brought provisions from the boat. Under a large, shady tree Charnock began to conduct business with English and Indian merchants. Some of Charnock's sailors found the place so unhealthy they called it Golgotha. (2)

Northworthy became Derby. In the late 18th century it was a town of about 8,000 souls. The three villages in Bengal became Calcutta, the capital of British India. The aim of the Angles was to prosper in a new land. Charnock's aim was to trade and grow rich with little regard for the inhabitants of India.

In 1799 a man was to travel from Derby to Bengal with a very different vision.

William Ward is born in Derby

What few biographical facts we have of William Ward's early years are provided by Samuel Stennett ('Memoirs of Mr William Ward', 1825), a fellow student of Ward's at Ewood Hall. The two continued to correspond throughout a lifelong friendship and Stennett is likely to have visited Ward's relatives and old school friends while preparing his biography.

William was born in Derby, on 20th October, 1769. (3) His father John Ward (4), was a 'carpenter and builder', and his grandfather Thomas Ward (5), had been a farmer at Stretton, near Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

John Ward died when William was 'quite a child'.

William's mother was profoundly affected by 'a discourse by a female Quaker at the Town Hall in Derby' (6) and her religious feelings started from that time. She joined the Methodists and gave William a nonconformist upbringing, 'conversing and praying with him in private'.

Facsimile from the 'Derby Mercury', 19th - 26th August, 1774. The Town Hall, Derby. Courtesy Derby Local Studies Library.

John Wesley (1703-1791). Courtesy 'The Centre for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey D.D., 1761 - 1834'.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, visited and preached in Derby periodically between 1762 and 1788. A new Methodist Chapel was built in St Michael's Lane in 1764, and Wesley preached there for the first time on 20th March 1765. The first Sunday School in Derby was established by the Methodists in 1786.

When William was very young he went to Mr. Congreve's School (7), and later was 'placed under the tuition of a Mr. Breary', by whom he was educated until it was time for him to be apprenticed.

Though an active child, William did not take part in the rough and tumble of childhood, preferring to study. (8) A fellow school-mate recalls William 'was always composing something', and the two of them 'were in the habit of walking out together in an evening, sometimes till late, discoursing on different subjects to enlarge their minds'. He impressed his contemporaries in Derby who felt he was 'destined to fill some important station in the world'.

The 'Derby Mercury'

On Thursday, 28th November, 1782, an advertisement appeared in the 'Derby Mercury'; it read: 'An Apprentice is wanted to the Printing Business ­ a steady, well disposed Youth, that has had a tolerable Education, will be most agreeable'. According to J. D. Andrew ('The Derby Newspaper Press 1720-1855'), this was the advertisement, placed by the newspaper's owner John Drewry, that started William's career as a printer. He was 13 years old.

Facsimile from the 'Derby Mercury' 28th November, 1782. Courtesy Derby Local Studies Library.

The 'Derby Mercury' was, at the time, Derby's only newspaper and had been founded in 1730 by John Drewry's uncle, Samuel Drewry. It was printed and published from premises on the corner of Irongate and Sadlergate. The ground floor was a shop. It sold medicines and books, as well as being the front office for the newspaper. Many of the books Drewry sold were printed in London, but he also printed and sold poll books, sermons and last minute confessions of murderers. The floors above were his residence.

The premises were at the north-west corner of the Market Place and within sight of All Saints parish church, at the very heart of Derby. The main coaching inns (on Sadlergate and Irongate) were within yards, and daily stage coaches left from these inns for Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and London.

Left: Map of Derby, 1806, showing the premises. Courtesy Derby Local Studies Library. Right: watercolour of Irongate by Louise Raynor, 1865. Courtesy Derby Museum and Art Gallery. John Drewry's shop was the first on the left. The painting shows the signboard of a later occupant, William Bemrose, also a printer, and founder of the Bemrose Corporation. (9)

According to J. D. Andrew, the newspaper was only local because it was printed locally. The content was a digest of the London newspapers, plus other news from Birmingham, York and Newcastle. With a population (in 1789) of only 8,563, everyone would have known the local news anyway.

The newspapers that formed the content of the 'Derby Mercury' were published in London, in the area around St Paul's Churchyard. This was also the area where medicines were produced and sold, and was also the centre of the printing and book publishing trade.

The staff of the newspaper was very small. The proprietor was known as 'printer' because, together with a journeyman printer and an apprentice, the paper was created between them. There were no reporters. What local news they printed had to be 'well attested' because it was handed in by the public.

One of the main tasks of an apprentice would have come after the newspaper had been printed. This was to wash the ink off the type, break down the form, and put all the individual pieces of type back in their correct partitions in the cases ready to be reset for the next issue, or for any books they were printing.

According to Marshman, by the end of his apprenticeship William 'rose to the grade of corrector of the press'. This 'gave him an opportunity of storing his mind with various and useful knowledge' and 'by incessant reading and attempts at composition' he 'gradually acquired great fluency and command of language'.

An apprenticeship normally lasted four years. Stennett says: 'so useful had he become to his employer, that he continued with him two years longer'. He became editor of the 'Derby Mercury', 'on behalf of his master'. and raised the circulation to 1,500. William was just 18.

John Drewry's house, shop and printing works as it is today, from Irongate.

Nonconformity in Derby

Derby was a conservative town and the newspaper's outlook reflected that. The majority of the inhabitants always supported the Anglican tradition and nonconformists had gained very little foothold; unlike Nottingham and Leicester, where Baptists had been established for some time. In the countryside outside Derby there was more support for nonconformists, and in the north of the county, Quakers had a long tradition.

With the expansion of Derby in the late 18th century, and the influx of new workers from the countryside, the area around St Alkmund's, and north of St Werburgh's, was where the growth was taking place, particularly around Nun's Green and along Friar Gate. The land had been common grazing land, but was sold by the burgesses for development to provide expansion for the town. This is where William's father John would probably have found work as a carpenter and builder, and may have been the area where the Ward family lived. It is worth noting that between 1783 and 1808, the first Particular Baptist Chapel, the first General Baptist Chapel, an Independent Chapel and the first Quaker Meeting House, were all built; mostly on the north-west side of Derby. (The 1791 Map. The 1806 Map.) (10)

St Alkmund's Church, founded about 800 AD. Courtesy Derby Local Studies Library.

Stennett tells us that 'in consequence of his pious mother's connection with the Methodists, he, when young, constantly attended their meetings'. William then moved on to attend the worship at the Independent's chapel (later known as Congregationals), on Brookside. The Independents started in 1778 and numbers steadily increased until they were able to build their first meeting house in 1783. The first minister, Mr. John Smith, was said frequently to preach in the open air, and in the surrounding villages.

Independent's Chapel, Brookside, built in 1783. Courtesy Derby Local Studies Library.

World Affairs

Among the great international events of the time, Ward, and the residents of Derby, were reading about the struggle for American Independence, the upheavals of the French Revolution and the fight for the Abolition of Slavery.

By comparison, English news, would have seemed mundane. The 'Derby Mercury' for Thursday, August 13th, 1789 (reproduced below) illustrates this . The English news included: the Royal Family had reached Plymouth in perfect health; the hay harvest in the High Peak had been the best ever remembered; at Winchester a man acknowledged the justice of his sentence of execution, for ravishing a girl; at Whitehaven a four feet nine inch long eel was caught.

The reports of the French Revolution in the same issue reflect the excitement in the French National Assembly as they set about writing their new constitution ­ 'as a great example to nations and ages'. This compelled Ward to write an editorial under the heading 'Remarks'.

Complete facsimile of the 'Derby Mercury' for 13th August to 20th August, 1789. Courtesy Derby Local Studies Library.
Click on a page to view. The areas indicated in white are specifically about the French Revolution.

It was not expected that a provincial newspaper should have editorials, but as J. D. Andrew writes in 'The Derby Newspaper Press 1720-1855', during 1789 and 1790 various articles relating to the Revolution in France were in sympathy with the movement and 'it was probably Ward who was responsible for these'.

It is worth quoting John Clark Marshman in full here (from 'The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman and Ward', 1859) because his account probably reflects what he heard from Ward's own lips while their families lived together at Serampore:

'Mr Ward, in the enthusiasm of youth, had imbibed that democratic feeling which the novelty of the French revolution, and the brilliant prospects of improvement with which it opened, had inspired in so many benevolent minds in England. He was led to join a political society in Derby, affiliated with the Parent Society in London, which Mr. Pitt was making the strongest effort to extinguish. For this association he drew up a series of rules (11), in which the defects of our own political institutions were exhibited with such vigour of language and bitterness of spirit, (12) that they attracted attention of the ministers of the crown, who ordered a prosecution to be commenced against one of the London journals in which they had appeared. The case was ably and successfully defended by Mr., afterwards Lord Erskine. Soon after Mr. Ward composed a political address adapted to the revolutionary sympathies of the day, which was distinguished by the same talent and exhibited the same republican acerbity of feeling. It was honoured with a similar prosecution, and defended with equal success by the same forensic ability. After the verdict of acquittal had been delivered, Mr. Erskine, who was ignorant of the name of the author, stated that he thought that the paper was generally, and, he thought justly, attributed to the accomplished pen of Dr. Darwin (13), then residing at Derby. At a subsequent period, Mr. Ward, without the consent of the church, admitted Thelwall, the well known democratic orator, into the Baptist meeting-house, to deliver a political lecture. The result was disastrous; the windows were broken by a mob; the lecturer and his audience were expelled with violence; and great odium was brought on the denomination in the town.'

The chapel in question may have been the Agard Street Particular Baptist Chapel. It opened on the 12th June, 1794. The only other Baptist Chapel, the General Baptist Chapel, on Brook Street, did not open until 20th July 1802. (14)

According to Marshman, Ward was visited by a Mr. Clarkson in Derby, who was travelling the country to gain support for the movement for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. 'After the interview, Mr Ward became one of the most earnest advocates of abolition, and improved every opportunity to hold up the atrocities of the trade to public detestation'. Ward 'published extracts from the evidence, week after week, accompanied by his own remarks, till a large number of his subscribers informed him that they could no longer endure this weekly exhibition of horrors, and must give up the journal unless he discontinued it'.

The outcome of the national movement was the eventual Abolition of the Slave Trade so that slavery could 'never again exist in conjunction with the British flag.' (15)

The effect on Ward was quite different. Whether his political activities, his nonconformist views, or his championing of certain causes, as editor of the 'Derby Mercury', caused problems with his employer is not known, but they would certainly not have helped in a town, and for a newspaper, that traditionally supported the establishment. (16) It may be, however, that his employer, John Drewry, was willing to support his gifted editor. If that was the case, the support was sadly removed when John Drewry died in 1794 and the newspaper passed to his son John Drewry II. (17)

In later life Ward deliberately set aside all political activity and actively discouraged signs of republican fervour in the new missionaries being sent out from England.


(1) Page 21, 'Citizen's Derby', by W Alfred Richardson, University of London Press, 1949.

(2) Pages 15-18, 'Calcutta', Geoffrey Moorhouse, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971.

(3) Nathaniel, a nephew, is mentioned in J. C. Marshman. William must therefore have had at least one brother (see Chapter 24).

(4) Ward was not an uncommon name in the town. The Derby Local Studies Library has an alphabetical index of references to local residents found in Parish Registers, histories, biographies and newspapers etc. Between 1702 and 1788 there are 15 references to different John Wards. The closest entries to the relevant time are:

a) the 'apprenticeship of one John Ward to Edward Fletcher, joiner, on August 16th 1762'.

b) the 'marriage of John Ward to Ann Fletcher, at St Alkmund's, on September 12th 1764'.

The occupation ties in with what we know from Stennett. It is quite feasible that John married his employer's daughter.

It's worth noting that there were few dissenters at that period in Derby and those churches that existed were not legally allowed to hold infant baptisms. Most babies were baptised at their local parish church within eight days of birth. If the above records refer to William's parents then the baptism would probably have been at St Alkmunds. Unfortunately the records of baptisms and deaths at St Alkmund's do not exist for the period 1729 - 1813. It is therefore not possible to find records of William's baptism, or John's death ­ that is if St. Alkmund's was their parish church. Currently, no reference to the infant baptism of William Ward has been found.

(5) In the records of Brailsford Parish Church two interesting entries are recorded: 'Thomas Ward of Stretton married May Fone on 3rd May, 1720'; also, 'Thomas Ward of Stretton married Hannah Morley on 18th June, 1728'. Whether these are both the same Thomas Ward is not known, but to have the village attached to both names is unusual. To have two different Thomas Wards in the same small village, both marrying in the same Derbyshire village, some sixteen miles north of Stretton, is unlikely. The marriage, by tradition, would have taken place in the parish of the bride.

(6) In her biography of the energetic Quaker evangelist Abiah Darby (1716-1793), Rachel Labouchere quotes a letter dated 30th September, 1774, which mentions a visit to Derby on page 173. 'We had many glorious meetings as we passed along, both among friends and others. We had a meeting at Barnard Castle in their Town Hall, one at Norton in the meeting yard, one at Tadcaster in the Methodist House. One at Harrogate in one of the Rooms and at Derby, Burton and Lichfield in their Town Halls, and all where no Friends had meeting houses ­ which were extraordinary opportunities ­ but rather no Friends dwelt in these places yet we were not destitute of friends' Company for several met us there, accompanied us to them, and at Derby we dined four and thirty friends, tho' none lived very near.' According to the edition of the 'Derby Mercury' quoted above, this meeting at the Town Hall, Derby, took place on 24th August, 1774. The building had been rebuilt in 1730 to replace the previous Town Hall, and Abiah Darby may not have known that the meeting was being held on the exact spot where the founder of the Quakers, George Fox, was imprisoned between 1650 and 1651. The previous Town Hall housed the town gaol on the ground floor.

Abiah Darby was the wife of Abraham Darby II who inherited the ironworks in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, from his father, Abraham Darby I. Coalbrookdale was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

According to a leading member of today's meeting, Abiah Darby is known to have contributed financially to the Quakers of Derby.

Derby's association with the Quakers goes back to their founder, George Fox, who was imprisoned for blasphemy in the notorious town gaol, below the Town Hall, between 1650 and 1651. At his trial Fox bid Justice Bennett to 'tremble at the word of God'. Bennett scornfully nicknamed him a 'Quaker', and the name has stuck ever since. The forces of Cromwell were recruiting in the Market Place and since: a) his sentence was coming to an end; b) he was regarded as a born leader; and c) he talked sense about religion, he was brought before the commissioners and soldiers and offered a commission on the spot. He refused, and was thrown back into the dungeon, 'a lousy, stinking low place without any bed', and kept there for six months. ('George Fox and the Valiant 60', Elfrida Vipont). The prison used to flood when the nearby Markeaton Brook overflowed, which was not uncommon.

According to Simpsons 'History and Antiquities of Derby' the Quakers in Derby were one of the earliest establishments of that body. They survived discreetly and built their first meeting house in 1808 on St. Helen's Street. It still survives almost unchanged to this day.

For more information about Ironbridge, go to the Ironbridge Gorge Industrial Museum web site

(7) There had been a Grammar School in Derby since 1555 (created by a Royal charter from Queen Mary). The school produced some gifted pupils, including the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamstead. It was available, free, to the sons of Burgesses and Freemen as part of the school's Charter. Wealthy parents were willing to pay for their sons to attend and this raised the standard of teaching. However, by the end of the 18th century, with public boarding schools coming into existence (such as Repton), wealthy parents no longer sent their sons to the Grammar School. This meant a decline in standards. William was not eligible for the Grammar School, so his widowed mother must have struggled to provide him with the education he actually received. There were small private schools in the area of Green Lane and The Wardwick so William probably went to one of these. At the Derby Local Studies Library there is a list of all the pupils who ever attended the Grammar School when it was at St Peter's Churchyard. There is no record of a William Ward.

(8) Rough and tumble did not mean just schoolyard games, but a form of legalised riot called the Shrovetide Football Match. The game bears no resemblance to any football match we know. The young men living south of Markeaton Brook were named after the parish of 'St. Peter's', and those living north of it were called 'All Saints'. It took place on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday of each year. Shops and businesses were boarded up as the whole town was the pitch ­ including the river and the brook. The ball, a solid mass of leather, was thrown at noon into the dense mass of people assembled in the Market Place to a great roar. The crowd heaved and wrestled the ball either to Nun's Mill, which was the aim of 'St Peter's', where it had to be struck three times against the water wheel in order to score a goal, or for 'All Saints' the goal was Gallows Baulk, on Osmaston Road. Teams of specialists were positioned at strategic places to attack the opposing side. The tactics were intrigue, bluff and brute force. The game went on till night, and was resumed on Ash Wednesday. In 1846 the game was abolished by the Mayor. ('Some Reminiscences of Old Derby', Alfred Wallis, 1909, one time editor of the 'Derby Mercury')

A tussle between the 'up'ards' and 'down'ards' in Henmore Brook at the Ashbourne Shrovetide Football Match.

Today Ashbourne still holds a football match on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday every year. The town is about the same size Derby was in 1800 and the rules are very similar.

(9) The two storey building halfway up Irongate on the left hand side was the birthplace of the painter Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797). As a teenager Wright had decided his future vocation, against his father's wishes. He learned to draw by studying numerous Derby shop and inn signs in the street, rushing home, and drawing as much as he could remember of them in secret. Wright's later friendship with some of the members of the Birmingham-based 'Lunar Society', inspired him, in the 1760's, to produce some of the most original and innovative paintings of the 18th century (Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797, Jane Wallis, Derby Museum and Art Gallery, 1997). Today Wright is regarded as Derby's most celebrated son. There is a monument on Irongate, an art gallery devoted to him in Derby, his paintings hang in the National Gallery, London, and in the Louvre, Paris. In 1997 an exhibition was put together with 260 of his paintings and drawings, celebrating the 200th anniversary of his death. I was fortunate enough to win the contract to produce the 120 page full colour commemoration catalogue, and produced it in Joseph Wright House, a four storey building on the site of Joseph Wright's birthplace. In Ward's time Wright was living and painting a couple of hundred yards further north at Old St Helen's House (See Figure 3 on a Derby map of 1791).

(10) The Methodists moved from St Michael's Lane in 1805 and built a new Church on King Street. They then moved to London Road ­ where they are today. The St Michael's Lane building was turned into a malt house and is now demolished, as is the King Street Church. The Particular Baptist Chapel on Agard Street was in the path of a railway line. It was knocked down and a new church built on Green Lane, now called Trinity Baptist. The Brook Street General Baptist Chapel grew and prospered. It moved, first to St Mary's Gate, and then to Broadway. The Brook Street building is still standing and has been turned into a restaurant at a cost of £1 million. All the features (apart from the pews) have been preserved. The Independents (later known as Congregationals) still worship on the same spot, but in a relatively new building. The Quakers still use their original meeting house.

(11) The Derby 'political society' was the Derby Society for Political Information, and the 'parent' society was the London Corresponding Society. 'The Derbyshire Reform Societies. 1791-1793', by E Fearn. Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, Volume LXXXVIII. 1968.

(12) The address, published by the Derby Society for Political Information after a meeting of the Society held at the Talbot Inn, Irongate, on 16th July, 1792, can be found on the Digital Library Page. Or, click on this link to go straight to a scan of the actual printed document.

(13) J. D. Andrew in 'The Derby Newspaper Press 1720-1855' says: 'Ward drew up an address letter published by Derry in 'The Morning Chronicle', which became the subject of a prosecution.

(14) Dr. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, and member of the influential Lunar Society, had a house on Full Street.

(15) 'Records of the First General Baptist Church in Derby', S Taylor Hall, 1944.

(16) Many years later, in 1813, when the East India Company Charter was up for renewal, William Wilberforce was a powerful, and persuasive voice on the floor of the House of Commons, eloquently arguing that missionary activities in India should not only be allowed, but encouraged. He cited the names of Carey, Marshman and Ward, and their work at Serampore, as exceptional examples of the benefits that could flow from such activities.

(17) According to Geoffrey Moorhouse, on page 54 of his book 'Calcutta', published in 1971, 'Fountain and Ward had police records in England for openly supporting the French Revolution.'

(18) 'Derbians of Distinction', by Maxwell Craven, 1998. Page 77.


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