CLEANLINESS AND GODLINESS

INTRODUCTION AND AUTHOR'S NOTES

This is the story of a small town in Cheshire in the 19th century. It concentrates on the middle 50 years of that century. Its major heroes are an entrepreneur called Thomas Hazlehurst and his son, who was also called Thomas. It is a record of their major achievements in creating a business manufacturing soap and alkali, and their influence in the growth of Methodism in the town and surrounding area. In the title cleanliness relates to soap and godliness to Methodism. The title is particularly relevant because it is based on a quotation from a sermon by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism 1.

It is not a comprehensive history of Runcorn in the 19th century which has been covered elsewhere, especially in Bert Starkey's books Old Runcorn2 and Schooner Port3 . It is not meant to be a work of scholarship, although it does contain some original research which has not been published elsewhere. Its style is intended to be readable and accessible rather than scholarly and abstruse, but references in the form of endnotes are given at the end of each section for those who would like to explore the subject in more detail. Information other than that relating to Thomas Hazlehurst, father, and Thomas Hazlehurst, son, and their family is included in order to provide a context for the main story. Other heroes will appear, especially John Johnson and his sons who were also soap and alkali manufacturers. They were Anglicans rather than Methodists, and their careers mirror those of the Hazlehursts in many surprising ways.

My interest in Thomas Hazlehurst - and his father (yes, it was initially this way round) began when I was taking an Open University course relating to Evangelicalism in Nineteenth-Century Britain. The advantage of this course, other than its interest, was that instead of an examination at its end, the student had to embark on a project which included some original work. For me, Thomas Hazlehurst, son, fulfilled the requirements for this project perfectly.

In the 19th century the major group of evangelicals in England was the Methodists whose movement commenced with the preaching of John Wesley in the 18th century. Thomas Hazlehurst, father and son, were prominent Methodists in the town of Runcorn. As I explored the available evidence, I discovered that although the Hazlehurst family had received plenty of mention in the histories of Runcorn, nothing had been written about it in a collated form. And so the Thomas Hazlehursts, especially the son, formed the subject of my project. Time was limited; we had only something like 6 weeks to collect material and write it up. The project was necessarily written in the context of the course which was run by the Faculty of Religious Studies. This meant that the project's focus was religious rather than being "straight" history. Since completing the project, I have found more material and not all the material I found previously could be used in the project. So I wanted to write the material up as history for the general reader, rather than to satisfy my examiners in the Religious Faculty of the Open University.

From the start of the project, material and inspiration was supplied by H F (Bert) Starkey, who has remained my mentor and supporter ever since. Other invaluable help has been given by Alex Cowan, archivist of the Runcorn and District Local History Society, and the founder chairman of the society, W E (Bill) Leathwood. I later discovered that David Willams, who is married to a direct descendent of the Thomases, was researching in the field of family history and this, of course, included the Hazlehursts of Runcorn. Our work has been complementary and we have shared all the information we have gathered. My thanks go to all of these and to many other people who have given me information, ideas, inspiration and support.

As I said above, the father and his son who form the focus of this story were both called Thomas. Thomas the son received various titles during his lifetime, including "Prince of Methodism", "Prince of the Wesleyans" and "The Chapel Builder". I shall endeavour to distinguish clearly between the two. Where there might be some possibility of confusion, I shall refer to the father as "senior" or "the founder". I hope it will be clear when I am referring to Thomas the son.

The work is not yet complete (is historical research ever complete?) and I am using the internet as the vehicle for publication rather than a printed booklet. This has a number of advantages: the costs are less for the writer and for the reader; the work is likely to reach a wider audience; and it means that I can update the work as any new information comes to light. In addition, more chapters are in preparation and will be added when they are suitable for publication. If anyone has information to add, corrections to make, or questions to ask, please do so via this website.

©Peter I Vardy, May 2005
1 Wesley, J. Sermon xciii, 'On Dress'
2Starkey, H. F. (1990) Old Runcorn, Halton, Halton Borough Council.
3Starkey, H. F. (1983) Schooner Port: Two Centuries of Upper Mersey Sail, Ormskirk, G. W. & A. Hesketh.
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