History of the Church in the British Isles

In the summer of 2013
In the summer of 2013
In the summer of 2013

In the summer of 2013 in Preston, England, Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from around the United Kingdom participated in the British Pageant. Church pageants are outdoor theatrical productions highlighting stories from Church history and the scriptures. The Church has a long history in the UK: Church members came to England over 175 years ago, a decade before they arrived in Utah.


The first missionaries sent abroad by the Church arrived in Liverpool on 19 July 1837, only seven years after the Church was founded, and 10 years before the first Latter-day Saint pioneers would settle Salt Lake City in 1847. Seven missionaries were sent, including two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Hundreds joined the Church after hearing their message, and in 1840, those converts began to depart from this same harbor to join their fellow Church members in America.


In the River Ribble, near Preston, Lancashire, England, missionary and apostle Heber C. Kimball baptized the first converts in England on 30 July 1837, only 10 days after the missionaries’ arrival. Several thousand curious spectators watched the baptisms from the park-like banks. It was near here that the Church first took root in the British Isles. The Preston Ward, the Church's oldest continuing congregation, was founded in 1837.


In 1840, missionary and apostle Wilford Woodruff shared the teachings of the Church with John and Jane Benbow in their farmhouse in Herefordshire, above. They decided to be baptized shortly after and invited Woodruff to speak to members of their church, the United Brethren, a group of over 600 people.


Woodruff preached to members of the United Brethren and in five days baptized 32 people from the congregation, many in this pond near the Benbow home. Eventually, many members of the United Brethren, as well as their neighbors, joined the Church. Combined, there were about 1,500 converts to the Church from the Herefordshire area.


The Gadfield Elm Chapel was built by the United Brethren in 1836 and deeded to the Church in 1840. It was the first building to be owned by the Church in England and one of the first chapels ever owned by the Church. As a missionary to the British Isles, Brigham Young preached at Gadfield Elm twice, once on 17 May 1840 and once on 14 December 1840.


The Gadfield Elm Chapel acted as the focal point of Church activity for thousands of Latter-day Saints. Around 1842, as many converts began to immigrate to the United States, the chapel was sold to help fund their journeys. Over the next 150 years, the chapel was used as a toolshed, a garage and a home, eventually falling into disrepair. In 1994, the property came up for auction, and a group of local Latter-day Saints joined together as the Gadfield Elm Trust to raise money to purchase and restore the building. This group then donated the building to the Church in 2004. Then-President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008), traveled to England to accept the building as an official Church historic site.


This marketplace in Ledbury, Herefordshire, was the scene of missionary activity as well as commerce. Wilford Woodruff visited the town many times while working with the United Brethren. Brigham Young spent a week in the town and directed others to find him from this marketplace.


Pictured above is the view from atop the Herefordshire Beacon (Malvern Hills), the site of both a pre-Roman British fortress and a Roman fort. Wilford Woodruff went there to pray on several occasions. On 20 May 1840, he, Brigham Young and Willard Richards met there and decided to print the Book of Mormon and a hymnal with funds donated by John and Jane Benbow and Thomas Kington.


In 1841, the first copies of the Book of Mormon to be printed outside the US were published in Liverpool, England, at the direction of Church leaders, including Brigham Young. Before Young left England in April 1841, he requested that a copy of the Book of Mormon be taken to Queen Victoria, who had begun her golden reign in 1837. Richly bound copies were made for her and for Prince Albert, and missionary Lorenzo Snow received an audience in 1841, at which time he presented the book to Her Majesty.


The first Church missionaries in Scotland were Alexander Wright and Samuel Mulliner, Scots who joined the Church in Canada, then traveled back to their homeland to share the gospel. On 14 January 1840, Mulliner baptized Alexander and Jessie Hay of Bishopton in the River Clyde, above. It is believed that those were the first baptisms of the Church in Scotland. Mulliner also conducted the first Latter-day Saint sacrament service in Scotland, also in Bishopton.


Overlooking Edinburgh, Scotland, is a natural feature known as Arthur's Seat. While presiding over the missionary work in Scotland, Orson Pratt came to Edinburgh in May 1840. He ascended Arthur's Seat multiple times. From there, he dedicated Scotland for the preaching of the gospel and prayed that he might find 200 souls who would accept his message. Before Pratt left the country, that prayer was answered. Because of that, local Latter-day Saints have sometimes referred to Arthur's Seat as Pratt's Hill.


The first Church missionaries arrived in Ireland in July 1840. Several days after their arrival, missionaries John Taylor and William Black were headed toward the town of Lisburn, accompanied by a farmer from the area named Thomas Tait. As they walked, Taylor discussed the scriptures with Tait. When they came to Loch Brickland, Tait decided to be baptized in the lake, thereby becoming the first person to be baptized in Ireland.


The first official emigration company left Liverpool for New York City on 6 June 1840. To pay for the trip, many British Church members worked several months or years prior to their passage or after arriving at their port of entry in America. Their eventual destination was the Church member-settled city of Nauvoo, Illinois, pictured above. By 1845, some 25 percent of the city's population was from the British Isles.


Between 1840 and the turn of the century, as many as 52,000 converts emigrated to join the main body of the Church in the United States. The number of Church members who remained in the UK was relatively small and remained so through much of the early 1900s. In the mid-1950s, Church membership in Britain began to increase. In 1961, the Church built the Hyde Park Chapel, pictured above, on Exhibition Road in central London as a place of worship. Since its establishment, the chapel has played an important role in the lives of Church members within the UK and abroad.  It was recently remodeled to include a variety of exhibits on principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, temples and the history of the Church in the British Isles.


Today, the Church has over 185,000 members in the UK, as well as two temples: the London England Temple, dedicated in 1958, and the Preston England Temple, above, dedicated in 1998. A Church missionary training center is also located near the Preston Temple.

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