Lewis Court Bible Christian Collection

Scope and Content

This important collection of manuscripts and printed material was amassed by the Bible Christian minister and historian Lewis Henry Court over a period of about fifty years. It documents the history of the Bible Christian Connexion from 1815 to 1907 and of the United Methodist Church from 1907 to 1932. Prior to depositing the material in 1949 he collected further items.

The collection consists of letters, press cuttings, magazines and illustrations. It is a composite collection of material from many different sources, periods and places. The following main subject areas can be identified:.

a. Correspondence of the O'Bryan family, 1815-65.

b. Letters of prominent preachers, 19th cent.

c. Material concerning missionary activities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and China.

d. Material concerning the Methodist Church [post-mission period] in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

e. Photographs and portrait engravings of several hundred Bible Christian and United Methodist ministers, 1840-1932.

f. Correspondence concerning the preservation of the Lewis Court collection, 20th cent.

Administrative / Biographical History

Lewis H. Court (1871-1960) .

Lewis Henry Court was born into a Bible Christian family in Kingsbrompton, Somerset. He became a local preacher at the age of seventeen and entered the full time ministry four years later. He served in home circuits for forty-two years mainly in the south-west of England, before he was forced into retirement by ill-health in 1934.

Court was a gifted writer and artist, who produced several books on Methodist history and related subjects including a biography of the evangelist William Ready entitled Ready Aye Ready (1936), Romance of a Country Circuit (1921), which describes Court's Bible Christian upbringing in Kingsbrompton and Some Dartmoor Saints and Shrines (1927). He also published several collections of poetry and used his artistic abilities in the design of at least five churches.

Court died in January 1960 at his home in Minehead, Somerset.

The Bible Christian Church 1815-1907 .

The Bible Christian Church was founded by a dissident Wesleyan Methodist preacher William O'Bryan, who began a plan of independent evangelism on 18th October 1815 in North Cornwall. The first society of twenty-two people was established at Lake Farm in the small Devon village of Shebbear and by Christmas 1819 O'Bryan had 980 followers including 66 preachers. They were termed Bible Christians because of their practice of regularly consulting the scriptures for guidance.

The movement spread rapidly in the southwest of England despite opposition and by 1820 missions had been established in the Channel Islands and Kent. The Bible Christians were noted for their evangelistic zeal and extensive use of female preachers. They adopted the typical Methodist feature of an annual Conference with minutes, an itinerant ministry, class tickets etc. This facilitated the later union with other Methodist Churches. The Bible Christians had however a predominantly Radical or Liberal political outlook, which helped to distinguish them from the older Wesleyan tradition.

In 1829 O'Bryan withdrew from membership, taking with him a few supporters to form the Arminian Bible Christians. However he spent much of his time in America and in 1835 the new body re-joined the original Bible Christians. O'Bryan's claim to leadership then ended and he spent most of his remaining years in the United States. The mantle of leadership was taken over by James Thorne, who guided the affairs of the Connexion with considerable skill for the next forty years.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the heartland of the Bible Christian Connexion remained in the southwest of England, although there was considerable local success in other areas of the country including Kent, the Channel Islands and parts of South Wales. The first Bible Christian overseas mission was established in Canada in 1845 and this was followed by Australia (1850), New Zealand (1878) and China (1885).

The Bible Christians joined with the United Methodist Free Churches and the Methodist New Connexion in 1907 to form the United Methodist Church. At the time of union they had 220 ministers, 15,00 local preachers and 34,640 members.


The object has been to provide the researcher with a detailed description of each document within the collection.

Wherever possible people mentioned in the collection have been identified in notes after each entry and their significance indicated. All the source material used in this identification can be consulted at the John Rylands University Library - see list of printed sources below.

In the case of undated items, every effort has been made to date the item from internal evidence. Such dates have been placed in square brackets.

Mr Roger Thorne, the Archivist of the Plymouth and Exeter districts of the Methodist Church, kindly provided assistance with regard to historical research for this catalogue.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was preserved in the Methodist Archives at City Road and was transferred with the rest of the Archives to the John Rylands University Library of Manchester in 1977.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection was produced by Gareth Lloyd in April 1995. The present catalogue has been produced to replace this with an ISAD(G) compliant catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The collection was given by Lewis Court to the Methodist Church in November 1949 in a special ceremony at the Book Room in City Road, London. Many of Court's ministerial colleagues from the former Bible Christian and United Methodist Churches were present for the occasion. .


Harmon, Nolan Bailey (ed.), Encyclopedia of World Methodism (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House,1974)  .

Bourne, Frederick William, The Bible Christians their Origin and History (London: Bible Christian Bookroom,1905)  .

Beckerlegge, Oliver, United Methodist Ministers and their Circuits 1798-1932 (London: Epworth Press, 1968)  .

Shaw, Thomas, A History of Comish Methodism (Truro: D. Bradford Barton, 1967)  .

Family Names