The Papers of Joseph Benson

Scope and Content

The collection comprises some 150 items, the majority being letters written by Benson concerning Methodist affairs. The vast majority are letters aritten by Benson and were sent initially from The North East, Yorkshire and Lancashire. After 1801 the correspondence is mainly sent from London. Correspondents include John Wesley, John and Mary Fletcher, Thomas Coke, Jabez Bunting and Adam Clarke. Subjects include the Birstal Preaching House Controversy in 1782, the Bristol Scaramentarian Controversy in 1794, and a long running dispute with Thomas Coke who accused Benson of Arianism. There are also engravings of Benson, biographical notes, fragments of letters and other papers. The collection covers 60 years from Benson's 18th year to 1820, just prior to his death. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) and Dictionary of Evangelical Biography 1739-1860, edited by Donald M. Lewis (1995)

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Benson (1748-1821) was born of farming stock at Mamerby in the parish of Kirkoswald in Cumberland. The son of John and Isabella Benson, he was intended by his father for the Anglican ministry and received a sound classical education locally from a Presbyterian Minister.

He was converted under the influence of a Methodist cousin. and at 16 was introduced to John Wesley in Newcastle. Shortly after this first meeting Wesley appointed him classics master at Kingswood School, near Bristol.

In 1769 Benson entered St Edmund Hall Oxford but was denied Anglican orders because of his Methodist sympathies.

In 1769 he was entered at St.Edmund Hall, Oxford, but left the following year to take up the post of headmaster of the ministerial training college at Trevecca. He resigned after less than a year following a dispute with the College's founder the Countess of Huntingdon.

Benson was refused Anglican Orders in 1771, and became a Methodist itinerant. He was soon regarded as one of Wesley's foremost preachers. Benson married Betty Thompson in 1780, they had six children before she died in 1810.

Benson was a great favourite of John Wesley and the two often corresponded. He went on to become President of Conference in 1798 and 1810 and served as its secretary in 1805 and 1809. In 1803 Benson was appointed connexional editor and in this capacity was a major influence on the development of the monthly Methodist Magazine.

The magazine was founded by John Wesley as the Arminian Magazine in 1778 it was retitled the Methodist Magazine in 1798 and again as the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine in 1822.

Despite his own experiences, Benson was a staunch supporter of the link with the Church of England and two of his own sons entered the Anglican priesthood.


The collection is divided into two series: letters and fragments.


  • PLP 7/6 - PLP/7/11/- Letters 1766-1820
  • PLP 7/12/- Fragments 1770-1825

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The Methodist Church

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the Collection was produced by Gareth Lloyd in 1991 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.

Family Names