CHAPTER 2 : 1816-1842

5. THOMAS HAZLEHURST, FATHER AND FOUNDER

There can be little doubt that the influence of Thomas Hazlehurst, together with his financial contributions, played a major part in the growth of Methodism in the town. He held most of the positions in Methodism which were available to a layman. In 1818 he was a trustee of the newly opened chapel in Halton village1 . In 1825 he was treasurer of the school in Runcorn2 . He was a class leader and trustee for more than 30 years and a circuit steward for more than 20 years. An illustration of his importance to Methodism locally is a letter dated July 15th 1833 which is held in the Special Collections department of the John Rylands Library in Manchester3 . The letter is addressed to Rev Jabez Bunting who was effectively the leader of the Wesleyan Methodist movement at the time4 . The text of the letter is of little importance - it concerns the appointment of a minister - but what the letter does show is that Thomas Hazlehurst was an important person locally in the Methodist church.

In his private life he showed evidence of considerable piety; he prayed daily in the morning, in the middle of the day and at the end of the day, and would not allow this to be interrupted by 'the company of friends or by the calls of business'. In a Memoir written some 2 years after his death, attention was drawn to a number of his special attributes. These included his 'love of the truth' which appeared to be threatened by the Oxford Movement (the 'Tractarians') and the early development of biblical criticism; his 'catholic spirit', whereby, although being fully a Wesleyan Methodist, he had 'a friendly feeling both for pious members of the Church of England and evangelical dissenters'; his 'habitual cheerfulness'; his 'affability of manners', being friendly and approachable; his 'zeal in doing good'; integrity in public and business life; and, above all, his Christian piety5 . Some years after his death, his home was referred to as 'one of the old Methodist model-homes'6 .

Thomas had a considerable involvement in civic matters. In 1822 he was a member of the Select Vestry and he was a member of the Committee on Bridewell, Offices and Petty Sessions in 18297 . In 1831 an outbreak of cholera was anticipated in the near future in the town and a Board of Health was formed the following year to promote cleanliness and organise the removal of unhygienic nuisances8 . Thomas, as a member of the vestry and a man of consequence in the town, was a member of this Board9 . In 1838 he was a member of the Coronation Celebration Committee and also around that time a Director of Runcorn Gas Company10 . He was elected an Inspector of the Lighting and Watching Act, as was Philip Whiteway11 .

Thomas died on 18th February 1842, aged 63, the cause of death being certified as "disease of the heart". His death was rather sudden. The previous night he had retired to bed "in his usual state of health". After awaking the following morning he complained of a cough and then a pain in his chest which was quickly followed by his death. Only 3 months later, on 26th May, his wife Mary died,. It sounds as if she failed to recover from the loss of her husband and her death was also sudden12 ; it was certified as being due to "apoplexy".

Thomas' gifts to Methodism ended with his death for his will did not include any bequest to the church. The will did ensure that his wife was cared for and he left sums of money to his daughters Sarah and Mary. The remainder of his estate was to be inherited in equal parts by his four sons when they attained the age of 21.

1Mullin, p. 64.
2'Origin and Development of Wesleyan Methodist in Runcorn.'
3John Rylands Library Special Collections, PLP 57.43.1
4Bebbington, D. W. (1989) Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, London, Routledge, p. 29.
5Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, April 1842, Obituary, p. 333; Ibid., September 1844, Memoir, pp. 710-717.
6Ibid., October 1886, Obituary of John Hazlehurst, p. 798.
7Simpson, J. (c 1874) 'Early Local Government in Runcorn: Abstracts from the Vestry Minute Book 1751-1851.' in Runcorn Historical Publications No 3. p. 38.
8Starkey, Old Runcorn, p. 116.
9The Runcorn Gas Company: A Hundred Years of Runcorn and its Gas Supply. [details unknown], p. 5.
10Simpson, p. 38.
11Communication from A. Kelly
12Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, August 1842, p. 694.
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