The Iron Church in Ledbury owed its existence to animosity between John Martin of Upper Hall Ledbury and the Rev John Jackson, rector of Ledbury from 1860 till his death in 1891.


Upper Hall
Upper Hall Ledbury




John Martin (1805-1880) was a wealthy banker (Martin's Bank, bought by Barclays in 1969). Upper Hall, as is the case with many important houses in Herefordshire, is very close to the Church and was bought by the Martin family in 1849. Keen on matters horticultural he set about transforming the grounds with many specimen trees imported from abroad. In 1867 the first Ledbury Cottage Gardening Society show was held in the grounds of Upper Hall drawing a huge entry. He held no public office in the parish.





There are many myths and legends about the Rev Jackson's time in Ledbury, here is his story drawn from Vestry minutes and contemporary newspaper reports.

Rev John Jackson 1815-1891


Arriving in Ledbury from Dodderhill (Droitwich) in 1860 with his wife Margaret and only child John Acomb 5, on an 'exchange of livings' he seemed destined never to please or listen to his parishioners.
Following the death of John Martin's mother in March 1862 in Chiselhurst Kent, she was buried in a vault in Ledbury Parish Church where the ceremony was conducted, not by the Rev. Jackson but by the minister of her home parish. It may be that John Martin insisted upon this against the wishes of Rev. Jackson as she was not a parishioner. We shall never know but the two men no longer spoke to one another.
Mr. Martin stopped attending the church in 1865 although his family continued to do so. The bad blood between them was obviously very personal.
Ledbury Church
Ledbury Church
By 1863 the rector had upset the congregation with the direction he was taking the church. At a heated vestry meeting in the summer of that year there were many complaints about the fact that a number of men and boys were being trained for the purpose of performing full choral service with white surplices, processions etc. This was evidently repugnant to the people of Ledbury.
At this meeting it was also revealed that he proposed to move the organ from the west gallery to the eastern end of the South Aisle without consulting the parishioners. The parishioners were successful in stopping this but a lot of bitterness remained.
Falling out with the organist Thomas Woodward (1793-1872), Jackson dispensed with his services. Woodward countered by making his grievances public through a letter to the press. Now 70, Woodward had been organist since the organ was first installed in 1820, perhaps change was well overdue. For a transcription of his letter and some other church related items click here
Things were not going well and were about to get worse.

Established in the rectory the Jackson family had the usual retinue of servants including from 1866 Elizabeth Parry, 29, as cook and from 1867, Elizabeth Lane, 16, housemaid.
In October of 1868 Elizabeth Parry gave birth to a son in the rectory giving him the Christian name John.
On Sunday Oct 6th 1869 during the morning service Elizabeth, with what must have been premeditated drama, walked into the church accompanied by her mother walked up the aisle, faced the congregation and announced that it was the Rev Jackson's child adding to the child "Look at your Papa".
A few days after this the local magistrates granted an affiliation order (a legal order that the man judged to be the father of an illegitimate child must help to support it.) against him and this prompted an outbreak of graffiti on the Ledbury walls saying "Daddy Jackson".
For more on Elizabeth Parry
click here

Elizabeth, or her mother, must have enjoyed the notoriety suffiently to have had her picture taken, an expensive project at that time, and this, fortunately, survives.

Elizabeth Parry 2

Photograph courtesy of ValRay Jenkins.


The scandal received nation wide recognition resulting in a poem being written to which music was added still available today. For more on this click here.

Matters could not be left like that and shortly after the above incident the Rev Jackson was suspended by the Bishop who referred the affair to the 'Court of Arches' and the Rector left Ledbury.
The Court of Arches is the provincial court for Canterbury, it hears original and appeal cases. Presided over by the Dean of the Arches who must be a barrister of ten years High Court standing or the holder of high judicial office.
It would have been necessary for someone to initiate charges and foot the bill and it fell to John Martin, who probably welcomed the opportunity, to do this and on Friday April 13th 1870 the case of MARTIN v JACKSON started.
This is not the place to go into all the details, suffice to say that he was found guilty. Suspended from office for five years and ordered to bear all the costs of the proceedings, he had to produce a certificate of moral character before being reinstated. This order to be placed on the door of Ledbury Church.

He was given leave to appeal and at the appeal hearing, heard by the Privy Council, on November 23rd he was exonerated with costs sustained by John Martin. The main reason for the success of the appeal was, as usual, how can the evidence of two servants be accepted over that of a gentleman! He returned to Ledbury.
Although most of the newspapers of the time reported the scandal, the best report is in The Times. Those with a Hereford Library card can access the Times digital archive free. Go to the Library website, scroll down to Online resources, scroll down to Access The Times Digital Archive, then sign in using your Library Card. Search for Rev Jackson or Court of Arches. A summary of the evidence and the result is on April 29th 1870
At the hearing there were suggestions of financial irregularities and these came to a head at a Vestry meeting held on July 13th 1871. It was alleged that:

1 Monies donated to 'The Church Restoration Fund' were unaccounted for and that he refused to give any explanation.

2 He refused to give any account to the parish of a balance held on King Edward's Grammar School account.

3 Monies contributed to the Church Missionary Society remained unpaid.

4 Monies contributed to the Indian Famine fund remained unpaid.

5 He refused to give an explanation about discrepancies in the Coal distribution in Ledbury

6 At his direction the Communion table had been removed and replaced with a plain deal one.

The outcome of all this is not known.

To add to his trauma his only son, by his wife Margaret, John Acomb (Jackson) died in September 1873 at the Ledbury rectory. You would have expected, given the local association, that he would have been buried in Ledbury but it was not to be, he was buried in Malvern.

Despite all these misfortunes he never retired and remained Rector of Ledbury until his death in 1891 at the age of 76, although no report of his death appears in the Herefordshire papers, a report in the Gloucester Citizen of July 23rd says it all.
The Rev. John Jackson, MA, rector of Ledbury is dead. He was attacked with influenza and afterwards with gout, three weeks ago, and from the first the doctors gave little or no hope of his recovery, and early this morning he died. The deceased, who was 76 years of age, came to Ledbury in 1860, and his relations with his parishioners was never of the pleasantest order. He was an archaeologist and a very clever wood carver, having carved the oak pulpit in the parish church. He had an easy style in the pulpit, and until very lately always pleased the very sparse congregation with his discourses. He had a very noble presence, and to a stranger appeared to be a genial, kindly, and venerable old gentleman, and now that he has gone his parishioners fervently hope that he has found that peace and rest that he denied himself during the long years he was amongst them.
He was buried in Malvern cemetery with his son.


In 1871,with the parish in disarray, an influential section of the congregation decided to break away from the established church and form a 'Free Church', one not controlled by the Church of England. The Minister's stipend of £ 50 per annum was paid by John Martin

A meeting place was needed quickly and research by Celia Kellett shows the Market House was used from 1871 until 1876 when John Martin, clearly the prime mover behind this schism, offered to build a new Iron Church and increasing the stipend to £ 120pa.


A Typical Catalogue
A Typical Catalogue

In the 19th and early 20th centuries 'Iron Churches' were designed in kit form and bought from catalogues. Ranging from simple rectangular huts through to ornate examples to include side rooms for use as a vestry etc., they were popular as Britain's population soared, from nine million in 1801 to 41 million in 1901, and moved to towns forming populous areas with no church available. Of prefabricated construction , which would today be described as 'flat pack', they consisted of a flat timber frame, clad in corrugated iron and lined with high quality tongue-and-groove boarding; they were often bolted together using local volunteers, One attraction was that they could be disassembled and erected elsewhere as needed after permanent churches were established. They were relatively cheap to buy, costing anything from £ 150 for a one seating 150 to £ 500 for one seating 350.
Ledbury Iron Church
The Iron Church











Built in New Street and one of the larger churches available, it was able to seat 250 and included an apse and small vestry.



Its location can be clearly seen on this map.



1886 Map

With the Iron Church attracting much of the congregation of the Parish Church it is easy to imagine that it was resented by the parish curate, Rev John Jackson.
This is shown by a news item in the Worcestershire Chronicle of Saturday 28 April 1877.

The Burial Question-Absurd Complaint by a Clergyman.


Some correspondence has been published which shows that the spirit of intolerance on the part of clergy of the Established Church in rural districts has not by any means died out.
On the 7th of the present month, Mr G H Piper, solicitor, Ledbury, wrote to the Rev G J Llewellyn, minister of the Free Church in that town.
I have received instructions from the Rev. John Jackson, rector of Ledbury, to inquire by what authority you to the use of members of the Church of England, wherein the rector of the parish, or, by his permission, ministers of the Established Church have the exclusive right of conducting the ceremonies ordained by the Church for that purpose.
To this Mr Llewellyn replied, saying he was not aware that any act of his on the occasion referred to entitled the Rev. John Jackson to make the inquiry. This reply was addressed to Mr Piper, and was dated April 9.
Three days after Mr Llewellyn wrote a letter headed “private and confidential” to Mr Jackson intimating that he,the writer,had felt bound to reply formally to the solicitor above mentioned and adding: but apart from such formalities surely something is due as between one minister of religion to another. I therefore merely ask permission to write and say that in joining with friends in singing a hymn over the grave of one of my Sunday scholars after the funeral service was concluded, I have no conception that I was infringing on anyone's rights or doing what was offensive to you or anyone else; a course which I have carefully striven to avoid ever since I came to Ledbury. What I did was simply out of sympathy and kindness towards the bereaved family, by their wish and request, and after arrangements with them, of which, as I am informed your curate was apprised on the Tuesday before the burial.
Thereupon Mr Piper replied:
I am instructed by the Rev. John Jackson to acknowledge the receipt of your letter to him of this date. He cannot receive it as “private and confidential” according to your request, but he has no wish to press heavily upon you for the infringements of his rights,and for intruding upon that portion of the Ledbury Cemetery which is retained for members of the Church of England, and over which he has the same privileges and authorities as in the ancient churchyard, and as you, as a Dissenting Minister, were “infringing anyone's rights” and thereby doing an illegal act, he is willing to accept your letter as an explanation of your conduct, on the clear understanding that nothing of the kind shall ever occur again.


The church was established as a protest against the establishment and, as might be expected, the various ministers reflected this; they were all dissenters. Dissenters, in this context, does not mean nonconformism, which originally referred to refusal to use certain vestments and ceremonies of the Church of England, but rather separation from it.

The Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 gave legal recognition, once registered, to places of worship. The Church of England as the Established Church was exempt from the Act's requirements. Registration was required before a place of worship can be used as a venue for marriages. Given the reasons for this church's existence it was not registered and no marriages took place there at this time.

Baptisms however were conducted, in both the Market House and the Iron Church, and the baptism register book survives. (HARC AG1/1 ) The first baptism recorded for Ledbury is that of Henry Bromley Crewe on Aug 13th 1871, father a watchmaker with the ceremony conducted by Philip Norton.

According to local mythology the Rev Gordon J H Llewellyn was the only minister at the church. That this is not the case will be shown but there is a conundrum here: The front cover of the register shows that it was first used at Cleveland Road in the parish of St John’s, Wolverhampton and indeed the first two entries are of baptisms in Wolverhampton by the Rev Gordon Llewellyn. The puzzle is that these are entered before but dated some six months after the first entry for Ledbury. I have no explanation!
Baptism Register Baptism Entries




















All the baptisms are listed in the Forest of Dean Family History Trust website (free to use after registration, look for Emmanuel Church) and from this list it is possible to work out who the incumbents were:

August 1871 to February 1874 Philip Norton
September 1874 to April 1878 Gordon J H Llewellyn
July 1878 to August 1880 Thomas Henry Leeson

In early 1871 Philip Norton (1842- 1924) was living in New Street, which suggests the church was up and running at the date of the census- April 2nd, he is described as a Minister of The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion.
The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion was formed as a result of forced dissension from the established church of the day (1783). Its adherents were influenced by the preaching of George Whitefield of Gloucester, a friend and co-worker of John Wesley. Demands for meeting places came from all parts of the country and the Countess took a deep interest in each request. Initially these congregations were described as "societies in the secession patronised by Lady Huntingdon" but later the congregations formed "The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion".

Gordon J H Llewellyn (1848-1916) is never in Ledbury on any census.
Thomas Henry Leeson (1850-1924) during his time in Ledbury was attracted to Kate Freeman, daughter of Thomas Freeman, a Chemist of Southend, doubtless a member of his church, they married on Aug 7th 1879
It must have rankled that, for legal reasons, the marriage had to take place at the Parish Church with the ceremony conducted by the Rev Jackson, the Bridegroom's occupation given as Minister (Dissenting). Their first child, Mabel Jane, was baptised on June 8th 1880 by her father in the Iron Church and the last baptism entry for the Iron Church is dated Aug 1st 1880.

A newspaper report of February 13th 1892 says:
'The Iron Church at Ledbury, which for 14 years past had been subscribed to by an influential portion of the inhabitants, was recently closed, and the wardens and pew renters have just presented the building to the new rector (Preb. Maddison Green), to be in trust of the rector and church wardens for the time being. The rector has decided to remove the building to a new and thickly populated district at some distance from Ledbury Church.'


In other words as soon as John Jackson died the 'influential portion of the inhabitants', who had maintained the church after John Martin died, abandoned the Iron Church and returned to worship in the parish church.

The Rev Charles Maddison Green, who succeeded Rev. John Jackson, must have inherited a troubled parish and run down church. Whilst in Ledbury he collected some scurrilous, humorous, printed material that was available which he fortunately kept among his personal papers. Well worth reading, but too long to include on this page, click here to read.

Within three years the church was being restored as a note in the Ledbury Marriage register on the July 1894 page says:

The Parish Church being closed for restoration the Iron Church was licensed for Divine Session Marriages.

This note only appears in the Marriage register but clearly, with the church closed, baptisms and burials must also have been conducted there. All the marriages conducted in Ledbury from July 9th 1894 to July 29th 1895 were held in The Iron Church and have a note in the individual register entry saying so.

Here is a list of the marriages in the Iron Church.

1894 Bridegroom Bride July 9th Percy Lewis Louisa Webb Aug 1st Albert James Chadd Sarah Elizabeth Bibbs Aug 14th Thomas Davis Tryphena Carpenter Aug 26th Joseph Phillips Rhoda Annie Jones Sep 12th George Bayliss Sarah Gittins Nov 11th George Henry Pritchard Mary Ann Whyld Nov 18th James Gibbons East Fanny Malpas Nov 26th Michael Belcher Harriett Hester Walters Dec 23rd Francis Lewis Mary Ann Chadd 1895 Feb 13th Henry Phillips Elizabeth Brookes Apr 15th Charles Lucas Berkley Teressa Badcock May 4th Thomas Stephen Dance Edith Jones Jun 9th Edwin Read Hook Emily Cale Jun 17th Ernest William Baldwin Hannah Nash Jul 16th Tom Drinkwater Agnes Hatton Jul 22nd Benjamin Herbert Rapson Lucy Helen Berkley Jul 29th William Buckley Alma Jane Cowley





From St Katherine's to St Catherine's.



A Bust Of the Rev Green
A Bust of the Rev Green
in Ledbury Church



The Rev Maddison Green was not only the Rector of Ledbury but Master of St Katherine's Alms Houses, living in the Master's House.

He must have received an enquiry about the church from Nailsworth parish who were looking for a temporary church whilst theirs was being rebuilt. Unfortunately any communication to him on this does not survive but his reply does and it is thanks to the foresight of the Nailsworth parish in their record keeping that we are able to tell the following story.

Here is his reply sent on St Katherine's headed notepaper:
March 22 (18)98
St Katherine's
Ledbury
Herefordshire

Dear Sir, Before I could reply to your letter of the 12th inst I was obliged to see a gentleman whose father took a very principal part in the erection of the Iron Church here in order to get the requisite information, as I have only been here 6 years.
I find that it has been erected under 30 years, cost nearly £ 400. It will seat I think 250 adults. It has an apse &/or altar, & a small vestry.
I think we should probably part with (it) for about £ 100. Hitherto I have retaining thinking I might move it to a more distant part, or use it, but I have pretty well abandoned that idea.
It would be a great deal too large for my purpose.

Believe me,
Yrs very faithfully

Chas E Maddison Green

Nailsworth did indeed buy it for £ 100 as their Parish Magazine records:

Whitsun 1898
The temporary Iron Church was opened on Whitsunday, and appears to be generally admired. Including the choir and chairs, it will seat about 270.


You have to admire the speed of this operation, between March and Whitsun of the same year the building was taken down, moved and re-erected ready for use and we must be grateful that a local Nailsworth photographer took a picture of the church and the vicarage, reproduced in full here.

The Church at Nailsworth

Nailsworth made good use of it until their new church was ready and in April 1900 their Parish Magazine records:
We have at last been able to dispose of the temporary Iron Church, having accepted an offer of £ 105 for it. This is £ 5 more than we originally gave, but we have had to spend a considerable sum in renewing parts, and in varnishing etc. We bought it a bargain and I think we have sold it a bargain; it has proved of the greatest use to us while the New Church was building.


And from an entry in Sep 1901:
Many who used to worship in the temporary Iron Church while the New Church was building will be interested to hear that it has been purchased by Messrs. J. Rolfe & Co of Shepherd's Bush, London and is to be re-erected by them at Neasden.
The Iron Church at Neasden
The Iron Church at Neasden
1901-1916







Neasden (London) St Catherine's Church's website says that in 1901 a temporary church was built on the corner of Prout Grove and Neasden Lane. (see History of Neasden Church) and I have been able to get a picture of the church in that location:


A local historian in Neasden says it was sold to Wood Green (also London) in 1916 but I am unable to confirm its final fate!









Back to Top