The Fletcher-Tooth Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This is the largest single collection of personal papers in the Methodist Archives and represents an exceptionally rich primary resource for the study of the evangelical movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with particular emphasis on the role played by women.

The collection consists of 43 boxes of manuscript material comprising several thousand letters, journals, diaries and commonplace books together with spiritual autobiographies, scripture notes and papers concerned with the running of Methodist Societies. For more detailed information about the content and arrangement of the collection see the appropriate section below.

Scholars have worked extensively on some areas of the collection. Patrick Streiff for example based his recent biography of John Fletcher largely on material in the Methodist Archives, but those areas of the collection relating to Bosanquet-Fletcher and Tooth remain virtually untouched. Scholars have been either unaware of the existence of the collection or have been deterred by its size and uncatalogued state.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher (1739-1815)

Mary Bosanquet was born in Leytonstone, Essex, the daughter of a wealthy banker of Huguenot extraction. She was converted at an early age under the influence of one of the family servants. Her evangelical leanings caused a partial alienation from her family and at the age of 22 Mary left home. She lived for a while in London where she joined the Methodists.

In 1762 she moved back to her own house in Leytonstone where she founded a Christian community cum orphanage and school with Sarah Crosby and Sarah Ryan. Mary's detailed account of the running of the community is contained in A Letter to Mr John Wesley by "A Gentlewoman" published in 1764.

After experiencing financial difficulties, the community moved to Cross Hall in Yorkshire where John Wesley was a frequent visitor. Mary was accustomed to 'exhort and to read and expound the scriptures' and by 1771, with Wesley's reluctant approval, she had begun to preach, one of the first Methodist women to do so.

On 12 November 1781 she married the famous Anglican evangelical John Fletcher. From then until her husband's death four years later, the couple pursued a virtually joint ministry in Fletcher's parish of Madeley in Shropshire. Mary converted the tithe barn to use as a Methodist chapel and preached there regularly in addition to acting as a class leader.

Mary continued her ministry after Fletcher's death. She was allowed by the new Anglican Rector to remain at the Vicarage and to choose the curate who was to have charge of the parish. Her status as the most revered woman in Methodism shielded her to some degree from attempts by the leadership of the Church to minimise the role of women. With her long-time companion and confidant Mary Tooth, she maintained an extensive correspondence with Methodists of both sexes and was a source of encouragement and inspiration to the younger generation of female Methodists like Mary Taft.

After her death from cancer in December 1815, Mary was made the subject of a biography by the prominent Wesleyan minister Henry Moore and was also eulogised by Zachariah Taft in his important work, Biographical Sketches of ... Holy Women.

John Fletcher (1729-1785)

Fletcher was born in Nyon, Switzerland, the youngest of eight children. He studied classics at Geneva and after a short-lived attempt at a career in the military, arrived in England in 1750. He worked as a tutor to the two sons of Sir Thomas Hill of Shropshire and became involved with Methodism, coming to the attention of the Wesleys at a very early stage. Fletcher was converted in the winter of 1753-4 and took Anglican Orders three years later.

Fletcher became the Vicar of Madeley in Shropshire in 1760, much to the disappointment of John Wesley who had hoped that he would join the Methodist itinerancy. In addition to conducting a model parish ministry, Fletcher maintained his links with the evangelical movement. He was appointed one of the chaplains of the Countess of Huntingdon and acted for a time as President of her ministerial training college at Trefecca.

The Wesleys held Fletcher in very high regard. As early as 1761 it was proposed that he become their designated successor as leader of the Methodist movement and this remained John Wesley's hope, periodically expressed, until Fletcher's early death. Physically fragile and of a retiring nature, Fletcher himself was very reluctant to commit himself to a prominent role, although in his later years he did show more inclination to travel in support of the Methodists.

As a parish priest and pastor, Fletcher was regarded as a role model. The purity of his character and devotion to his parishioners overcame early suspicion of his high Christian standards. He introduced informal worship on Methodist lines but centred around complete devotion to the Church of England. He helped to found day schools and Sunday schools and was tireless in visiting the sick and needy. From 1781 his ministry was shared with his wife the famous woman preacher Mary Bosanquet and she continued the work after his death.

Fletcher's most enduring legacy has been in his interpretation of theology. He took the views of John and Charles Wesley and presented them in a systematic form which has had a lasting effect on Methodist doctrine. His arguments regarding Christian perfection and the baptism of the Spirit have been very influential in the development of holiness theology particularly in the American Pentecostal movement.

Mary Tooth (1777-1843)

Virtually nothing is known of the life of Mary Tooth before she moved to Madeley as Mary Bosanquet-FIetcher's companion. Based on the evidence of correspondence within the collection, this move took place in about 1809. There is also in existence a letter of 1798 addressed to Miss Tooth at a boarding school at Shiffnall in Shropshire. The contents of the letter indicate that she was already very concerned with spiritual matters. As she had at least one sister also living in Madeley, it may be assumed that the family were native to Shropshire. It is hoped that more details will emerge as the collection is catalogued.

Mary Tooth was the last of Bosanquet-FIetcher's live-in companions and confidants and also acted as her executrix. She was however very active in Methodist affairs in the Madeley and Bridgnorth area in her own right. After Bosanquet-Fletcher's death in 1815, she continued to correspond widely and was active in promoting the role played by women. Tooth herself was preaching as late as the 1830s and her obituary in the Methodist Magazine states that she was acting as a leader for three classes until a few days before her death on November 15th 1843.

Arrangement

The collection is divided into the following main categories of record

Letters written to Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher, John Fletcher and Mary Tooth:

  • Seven boxes, each containing several hundred items arranged by correspondent in surname alphabetical order.

Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's diaries and journals 1772-1813:

  • Five boxes containing several hundred loosely attached sheets in rough chronological order. These manuscripts are not conventional diaries/journals but are rather detailed records of personal daily devotions and spiritual concerns.

Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's notes on Scripture:

  • Two boxes containing detailed notes and reflections on bible passages. These loosely attached sheets are arranged by book and some are dated. The boxes cover the Old and New Testament respectively - the coverage of the New Testament appears to be comprehensive in so far as each book has a section devoted to it.

Miscellaneous manuscripts of Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher:

  • Three boxes containing a wealth of material including scriptural notes, remedies for the treatment of illness, copy letterbooks, land conveyances, notes on the "dispensation of the Spirit" and "communion with spirits" and over one hundred draft letters to unnamed correspondents.

Journals of Mary Tooth:

  • One box containing bound journals covering Tooth's life between 1798 and 1842. The journals are in conventional diary form but also contain some draft letters, memoranda and spiritual writings.

Miscellaneous manuscripts of John Fletcher:

  • Six boxes containing miscellaneous correspondence to Fletcher (some of it satirical), devotional writings on various themes, fragmentary sermons, devotional writings in French, drafts in French and English of some of Fletcher's published works, commonplace books, sermons and sermon outlines.

Henry Moore's Draft Life of Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher

Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's Manuscript Autobiography and Account of her husband

Pocket Books of Mary Tooth:

  • One box of thirty-one volumes of the annually produced Methodist Pocket Book. They contain details of meetings and lists of daily expenses for the years 1799-1831 (incomplete).

Mary Tooth's Commonplace Books:

  • One box containing twenty-two manuscript volumes dated 1787 to 1818. They contain dated addresses/sermons delivered by Tooth at named places, copies of John Fletcher's scriptural notes, copies of psalms and verse, financial accounts and accounts of the spiritual experiences of named individuals.

Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's Watchwords:

  • Three boxes containing loosely attached sheets. The "Watchwords" consist of spiritual/devotional reflections on specific scriptural themes. Many of the "Watchwords take the form of questions and answers. It is probable that they were used in class meetings.

Leases:

  • One box of title deeds relating to a house and associated land in Madeley Wood, converted by John and Mary Fletcher into a Methodist chapel and school. The deeds date from 1729 to 1786, with a codicil of 1808.

  • Also included in the box are two notebooks used by Mary Tooth to record contributions towards enlarging the chapel and the addition of a school room and a sheet of income and expenses in the name of John Fletcher towards funding a school room c.1785

Notebooks of John Fletcher:

  • One box containing manuscript volumes of dated sermons in French and English, bible notes, copy letters In French and English, notes in Latin and Greek, receipts for money given to Methodist preachers in London by the circuit official Samuel Tooth including John and Charles Wesley, Joseph Bradford, Thomas Lee and James Creighton, and notes used for scripture meetings [by Mary Fletcher].

Poetry:

  • One box of manuscript verse by several authors including Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher.

Biographical Accounts and Spiritual Experiences:

  • One box containing a large collection of manuscript accounts of the lives and spiritual experiences, happy deaths etc of named individuals. The collection is arranged by surname and appears to cover the period 1775-1825.

Letters by Mary Tooth to named correspondents:

  • One box of letters written between 1798 and 1838. Correspondents include family members, Mary Fletcher, Henry Moore and Sarah Jenkins.

Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's Accounts of Sarah Ryan and Sarah Lawrence:

  • One box containing the above manuscripts. It also includes a folder of manuscript notes concerning the running of children's meetings. The notes take the form of questions and answers on biblical/devotional themes.

Correspondence of John Fletcher:

  • One box containing letters, copy and original, written in English to various correspondents between 1752 and 1785.

Correspondence of Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher:

  • One box containing correspondence, copy and original, (much in draft form) to named individuals between 1764 and 1814.

Papers concerning the Madeley [Methodist] Society:

  • One box containing a wealth of material including three eye- witness accounts of the opening of Madeley Barn [as a Chapel] in 1788, detailed scripture notes used in meetings, notes for Watchnight services, draft addresses/sermons by Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher and financial bills and receipts.

Sarah Lawrence manuscripts:

  • One box containing diary extracts, an address/sermon, scripture notes, correspondence, account of the opening of Madeley Barn [as a chapel] in 1788 and a commonplace book.

La Flechere family correspondence:

  • One box of letters by members of John Fletcher's family in Switzerland.

Miscellaneous manuscripts:

  • One box of material including fragments of the diary of Sarah Jenkins and papers re her memoirs, notes on devotional matters, papers re Sunday Schools and correspondence.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The Methodist Church

Archivist's Note

This catalogue of the Collection was produced by Gareth Lloyd in 2013 as 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 Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

After Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's death in 1815, her papers were kept by her executrix Miss Mary Tooth. Access to the collection was granted to the Wesleyan minister Henry Moore when he wrote a biography of Fletcher, published in 1817.

After Tooth's own death in 1843, the collection was acquired by the Wesleyan Methodist Church and was preserved in London as part of what became the Methodist Church Archives.

In 1976 the Fletcher-Tooth collection was transferred on permanent loan to the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.

Related Material

Collections at the John Rylands Library:

  • The John Fletcher Library: Several hundred volumes which were once in the personal possession of John and Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher.
  • John Fletcher collection: One hundred and three items consisting largely of correspondence written by Fletcher to members of his family and to various evangelicals including John and Charles Wesley, Joseph Benson and Sarah Ryan. Many of the letters are in French.
  • Fletcher/Huntingdon correspondence: Volume containing 19th century transcripts of twenty-five letters between John Fletcher and the Countess of Huntingdon.
  • General 18th/19th century manuscript and printed collections: John and Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher were significant figures in the Methodism of their day and their posthumous reputation remained very high. There are many references to John Fletcher in particular, in the personal papers of their contemporaries. Researchers should therefore consult the printed editions of the works of John Wesley and the catalogues of the papers of such figures as Charles Wesley, Dr Thomas Coke and Joseph Benson. There is also a considerable number of mainly 19th century printed books and tracts in the Methodist Archives, which examine aspects of the lives and work of the Fletchers of Madeley and their associates.

Other Institutions with Fletcher papers:

  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum Library and Archives, Ironbridge
  • Westminster and Cheshunt College Library, Cambridge
  • Wesley College, Bristol
  • National Library of Wales [Calvinistic Methodist Trefeca collection], Aberystwyth
  • Shropshire Archives and Research Centre [Brosely/Madeley Circuit collection], Shrewsbury