British Context of Wilford Woodruff's Missions

by Amy Harris

April 2023 marked 20 years for me since I made my first research trip to England—my first trip to England, full stop. While there I took a bus to northern Gloucestershire in western England and began walking the public footpaths through villages where some of my ancestors had lived for centuries. It was an idyllic introduction to England, with the rapeseed and bluebells in full bloom. This is my photo of the rapeseed fields that day; unfortunately, my photo of the bluebells didn’t scan well, so I offer this one instead—just know it looked exactly like that.

Photograph of rapeseed field taken by author

Bluebell Wood Grasmere by Aidan Mincher

I was visiting two specific villages about a mile apart from each other: Deerhurst and Apperley, Gloucestershire. As I walked the road between these villages I thought of my great-great-grandmother, Hannah Mariah Eagles Harris, who was born in Apperley, and who, like her ancestors before her, would have walked that road countless times—until early 1841, when she and her husband, Robert, and many of their family, friends, and neighbors, auctioned their household goods, packed their bags, and sailed for New Orleans on their way to Nauvoo. 

Hannah Mariah Eagles

Another person who walked that road between Deerhurst and Apperley was Wilford Woodruff during his astounding mission to that region of England in 1840. The MormonPlaces map of early Church branches shows how widely and quickly the Church spread in this area of England. 

Map from MormonPlaces, courtesy of Brandon Plewe

I will discuss the England of those early converts, the England Wilford Woodruff encountered in 1840.

Religious and Social Revival

The obvious place to start is with the religious landscape already inhabited by those who would join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since 1689, England had allowed Protestants of any flavor to freely worship. And since the Catholic Relief Acts of the 1770s and 1790s and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and later acts in the 1830s, worship and political restrictions placed on Catholics had been removed. Paralleling the gradual emancipation of Catholics was the Evangelical movement of the latter half of the 1700s and early 1800s. We call its transatlantic cousin the Second Great Awakening. Dissenting, or non-conforming Protestants flourished, as did evangelical elements within the Church of England.1 Evangelical revivalism with its focus on personal sanctification and transformation, particularly the version found in Methodism, was widespread by the early 1800s.

There were many branches of Methodism by the 1830s. One branch, Primitive Methodism, had attracted many converts in the three-county area Wilford Woodruff would visit. One group broke off from Primitive Methodists to form the United Brethren who had dozens of preachers and gathering places in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire, and a few chapels—including Gadfield Elm.2

In addition to religious revival, a variety of social reform movements were also experimenting with new ways of forming community and family. This was true across western Europe, Britain, Ireland, and the United States. Some of these movements had religious elements, but many were secular. One English group (that spread to America as well), the Owenites, followers of Robert Owen, formed utopian socialist and communitarian communities. Owenite communities were based on principles of shared labor and greater equality between classes and between the genders.3


Engraving of New Harmony, Indiana, by F. Bate; depiction of Owenite utopia

Other social reform movements had also been gaining momentum and influence since the latter half of the 1700s, such as temperance, women’s rights, labor reform, and abolition of slavery.

Why was there so much interest in rethinking social organization and looking for a religion of personal renewal and spirituality? Many factors fed that interest: the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, the French Revolution, dissatisfaction with the established church, particularly around its enormous wealth, and so on. I will concentrate on one factor, though it is connected to several others: industrialization and its associated dislocations and remapping of social and economic relationships.

Burnley 1900 Smog by Ralph Malan

The Impact of Industrialization 

There was a time when we told the story of industrialization, sometimes called the Industrial Revolution, as a series of inventions that increased productivity. However, more recent scholarship has pointed out the importance of increased consumption as driving demand—a consumer and commercial revolution that predated the industrial one.4

Since the late 1600s, England’s expanding empire was sustained by expanding financial and commercial institutions such as the Bank of England and stock exchanges.5 England had also experienced an agricultural revolution that meant not only greater crop yields, but more “meat per hoof” on animals. 

By the early nineteenth century there were also expansive transportation networks that efficiently moved manufactured goods around the country and the empire. The Thames, of course, had long been important in trade and communication. The canal system had also transformed transportation in the latter half of the eighteenth century—often offering more reliable transport times than many road systems. This pre-existing network was drastically expanded with the coming of the railroad. 

The first (open-air) rail line connected Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. This is a painting of that first trip. 

Inaugural Journey of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway by A. B. Clayton

Thousands of miles of track were laid over the nineteenth century, providing England with the most advanced transportation and communication network in the world. To give a sense of the scale of change just between 1830 and 1860—think of how your use of cell phones or the Internet has changed in the last 30 years. I’d bet virtually no one reading this article had a cell phone in 1993 and I’m guessing very few of you used the Internet, or perhaps even knew what it was. In 1994 I received an email in the Missionary Training Center from a former college roommate who told me she was learning to use electronic email that day. By the time I got home in 1996, every TV show and commercial listed a “.com.” It’s not an exact parallel, but I think it can give you a sense of what it was like to live through that kind of technological change. 

Industrialization brought enormous changes in labor patterns. I should go back a bit, however, to point out that small-scale and then large-scale manufacturing had long been important to the English economy. Half of the English population was in wage labor by the mid-1600s, but it was mostly seasonal (agricultural), and therefore not enough to survive on. I quote here from Steve Hindle’s On the Parish about early modern English poor relief: “Paid work was not, therefore, a living in itself, but simply a vital cash supplement to a subsistence based on the cultivation of cottage gardens and the exploitation of common rights.” Proto-industry was widespread in this context. Continuing from Hindle: “By the mid-sixteenth century, perhaps one in six adult males and one in three children and adult women drew their livelihoods from textile production in the cradles of rural industry.”6

This proto-industry, along with the still-majority agricultural work found in small farmer and agricultural labors, preceded industrial and agricultural revolutions and fueled them. One of my favorite accounts from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century illustrates what this meant at a household level: At the end of the eighteenth century, Richard Jones was a small boy living near Ruthin in Wales. He later wrote of how when faced by starvation after a disastrous harvest, his mother had the following conversation with his father: 

“I’ll make a bargain with thee; I’ll see to food for us both and the children all winter, if thou, in addition to looking after the horse, the cattle and pigs, wilt do the churning, wash-up, make the bed and clean the house. I’ll make the butter myself.” “How wilt thou manage?” asked my father . . . “I will knit,” said she, “We have wool. If thou wilt card it, I’ll spin.” The bargain was struck; my father did the housework in addition to the work on the farm and my mother knitted . . . And so it was she kept us alive until the next harvest.7

The Spinner by Giacomo Ceruti

Population Growth

One of the key contributors to the industrial and consumer revolutions was population growth. In fact, without the 1750 to 1800 population boom, it is highly unlikely England would have industrialized at any great scale in the early nineteenth century. To manufacture more goods in massive factories and to buy more manufactured goods, you need more consumers. 


England’s population doubled between 1800 and 1850. Doubled! To compare, in 1970 the United States population was about 203 million, and in 2020 it was about 330 million. If our population had doubled instead, we would have 406 million Americans—76 million more than we currently have. That would be like having an additional California, Texas, and North Carolina today (roughly speaking). To bring it closer to home—Utah had more than 1 million residents in 1970 and had 3.25 million residents in 2020. So, if you’ve lived in Utah over that stretch, especially along the Wasatch Front, you have a really good sense for what that kind of population growth feels like.

We often think of the impact of population growth and industrialization on the cities and manufacturing towns, and Wilford Woodruff would have seen those things when he was in Lancashire. But population growth impacted even places away from major cities, not connected to the expanding rail system. This map from the area where Wilford Woodruff preached in western England demonstrates the fact. You can see that the area of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire had only a line from Bristol and Gloucester to Birmingham.

Map of 1851 railway network in England

These two maps of Cheltenham show how eighteenth-century market and country towns experienced population growth and urban expansion.

This population growth came from what demographers term the demographic transition. Before the mid-eighteenth century, populations—around the globe, not in just England or Europe—experienced boom bust cycles.8 High birth rates were offset by high death rates, meaning populations rarely sustained growth over centuries, as natural disasters, war, and epidemics could decimate populations. In England for example, it took two hundred years for the population to recover to its pre–Black Death population.

After 1750, however, two things happened. Death rates dramatically declined and, following that, birth rates increased. The consequence of this was sustained global population growth over nearly three centuries—a purely modern phenomenon.

So, what does this mean for people in western England in the 1830s? It means they often lived longer than previous generations did, resulting in increasing numbers of people who had relationships with grandparents. But the biggest difference was the babies and children. The death rate that declined after the 1750s was infant and child mortality deaths. Demographers estimate that the majority of humanity before the twentieth century died before the age of 15.9 And in pre-1800 England, about 10 to 15% of children did not live to their first birthday and an additional 10 to 15% did not live to their tenth. 

Summertime, Gloucestershire by James Archer

To give you just one example, the Sharp family may have had unusual levels of infertility (eight adult siblings only had three daughters between them who lived to adulthood), but their experience was common across classes in eighteenth-century England. After five years of marriage, sister Elizabeth was widowed when she was 34, had no children, and left no record of having ever been pregnant. Elizabeth’s oldest brother and his wife, Mary, were married ten years before having their first child, a much longer time than the common experience of having a child within a year or two of marriage. Mary was 42 at the time, and that pregnancy proved to be her last. Another brother and sister-in-law had a child within a year of their marriage, but the boy was premature and stillborn, and his mother died within a few hours of delivering him. Another brother’s wife, Catherine, was regularly pregnant, but she miscarried or gave birth to stillborn babies eighteen or twenty times in the first fourteen years of their marriage. In July 1773, Catherine gave birth to a son. Elizabeth noted that Catherine was “safe in her Bed, but with her usual Ill luck a fine child, but still boarn.”10 It is no wonder that the birth of Catherine’s daughter in 1778 was celebrated by the entire family. Elizabeth was in attendance and noted that her brother and sister-in-law were “blessed with a Little Girl . . . the only time of her success . . . this great Blessing was felt most thankfully by us all.”

Before the nineteenth century, most English households had relatively few children. And it wasn’t just child death; most English families sent their children off to apprenticeships or service jobs in their mid-teens, so many households had their own small cohort of children and then young servants or apprentices who may or may not have been related to them.11 Industrialization repeated this pattern, though it often meant going into paid factory work rather than apprenticeships in skilled trades. The 1840s England that Wilford encountered was still in transition between these systems. Particularly the people who had joined the United Brethren and lived in the three western counties probably had much of the previous system in place, as they were not in industrial areas and many of them came from skilled trades.

Population growth was fueled by more children surviving childhood and going on to have children themselves. Simultaneously, women’s age at first marriage dropped a bit, meaning women had perhaps one or two more children than previous generations, and more of them survived. At the same time, the mobility and dislocations of industrialization brought increased numbers of illegitimacy, which more than doubled between 1750 and 1820, though some of that rate can be attributed to changes in how those births were recorded and not just to raw numbers of increased illegitimacy.

Shifts in Individual Life

While industrialization expanded on previous manufacturing patterns, its scale was unprecedented in the impact it had on social, familial, and economic patterns. Industrial towns sprawled out to become massive industrial cities, packed with polluting factories, rapidly built slums, and seemingly endless rivers of migrants from villages and countryside. Industrialization mechanized agricultural work and pushed traditional trades, particularly textiles, into factories. Old employment patterns, many based on personal relationships between apprentices and their masters’ families or between families and their servants were replaced with relationships solely based on exchange of labor for a wage. I don’t want to make those pre-industrial days seem like some sort of golden era—they were not. They had their own share of exploitation and injustice. But industrialization brought a scale of economic transformation across the country—one that exacerbated the differences between socioeconomic groups. While there was typically better access to food and greater access to manufactured goods, class differences were further deepened.

So, what about the people living in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire in the 1830s and 1840s? What was life like for them? First, you should know it was and still is a beautiful part of the country. In fact, it’s the part of country Americans imagine when they think of English villages. The Malvern Hills (in the background of this painting) and the Cotswolds remain a postcard-perfect area.

Image of a house in the Cotswolds taken by the author

Hereford, Dynedor and the Malvern Hills, from the Haywood Lodge, Harvest Scene, Afternoon by George Robert Lewis

In those stone cottages or timbered homes, spaces were becoming increasingly privatized and specialized. Instead of all activities—working, manufacturing, sleeping, eating, cooking, socializing, caring for the ill, entertaining—occurring in one or maybe two rooms, homes were being segregated for more privacy. They were also acquiring more consumer goods, like furniture, decorations, and dishes, which allowed for greater comfort and more ways to store, prepare, and present food, which usually also meant more domestic labor to purchase, clean, maintain, and store all those goods. Merchant and trade families had a variety of household goods like bellows, bed linens, lacquered trays, baskets, and platters in addition to equipment for horses, carriages, and their trade.12

Many of the families in the three counties came from skilled trades, shopkeeping, or farm-owning backgrounds. My own ancestors were butchers and carpenters. Many early converts had left for America before the 1841 census was taken, but the Samuel and Ann Roberts household in Deerhurst in the 1841 census, for example, lists Samuel as a basket-maker. Ann is my third-great grandmother, mother of my great-great-grandmother I began this article with. Samuel and Ann were baptized in 1840. 


In conclusion, while the western England Wilford Woodruff encountered looks tranquil to us now and was a bit removed from industrialization, it was an area undergoing enormous change. The converts from that area changed even more as they embraced a new faith, a church, and for most of them a new country.

Amy Harris was chosen to present her research at the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation Conference, “Building Latter-day Faith,” which was held on March 4, 2023. To watch Amy’s presentation, please visit

The Wilford Woodruff Papers Project’s mission is to digitally preserve and publish Wilford Woodruff’s eyewitness account of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ from 1833 to 1898. It seeks to make Wilford Woodruff’s records universally accessible to inspire all people, especially the rising generation, to study and to increase their faith in Jesus Christ. See

Amy Harris is an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University and an accredited genealogist. She is a native of Ogden, Utah, and, due to no effort on her part, she was raised by spectacularly good parents and particularly stellar siblings. Her research focuses on families, women, and gender in eighteenth-century Britain, though she has also written on family and genealogy in the Latter-day Saint context.  She is particularly interested in the way family and social relationships inform one another. Her most recent book, Being Single in Georgian England: Families, Households, and the Unmarried will be published by Oxford University Press in 2023. Amy teaches British and European history, introductory and advanced genealogy courses, English paleography, and women’s studies. She currently serves as the director of the Family History Program at BYU.


  1. Robert Pope, ed., T&T Clark Companion to Nonconformity (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).
  2. Carol Wilkinson and Cynthia Doxey Green, The Field is White: Harvest in the Three Counties of England (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2017).
  3. Krishan Kumar, “Utopian Thought and Communal Practice: Robert Owen and the Owenite Communities,” Theory and Society, 19, no. 1 (Feb 1990): 1–35.
  4. Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Jon Stobart and Mark Rothery, Consumption and the Country House (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Hannah Barker, Family and Business During the Industrial Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
  5. Amy Froide, Silent Partners: Women and Public Investors During Britain’s Financial Revolution, 1690-1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Laura Gowing, Ingenious Trade: Women and Work in Seventeenth-Century London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). 
  6. Steven Hindle, On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England c. 1550–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 23.
  7. Quoted in Bridget Hill, Women, Work, and Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-century England (Routledge, 1989).
  8. Pier Paola Viazzo, “Mortality, Fertility, and Family,” in The History of the European Family, vol. 1, Family Life I Early Modern Times, 1500-1789, eds. David I. Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001): 157–190.
  9. Max Roser, “Mortality in the past: every second child died,” Our World in Data, 11 April 2023,
  10. Elizabeth Sharp Prowse, memorandum and commonplace book, 26 July 1773, typescript, Gloucestershire Archives, D3549/14/1/2. 
  11. Ilana Kraus Ben-Amos, Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
  12. Sale of effects of Daniel Browett of The Leigh, Gloucestershire, 29 December 1840, Moore and Sons of Tewkesbury, estate agents, Gloucestershire Archives D2080/554; Sale of effects of Robert Harris of Apperley, Gloucestershire and Thomas Bloxham of Eldersfield, Worcestershire, January-February1841, Moore and Sons of Tewkesbury, estate agents, Gloucestershire Archives D2080/555.