Religion, Gender, Industry: Exploring Church and Methodism in a Local Setting

16-18 June 2009

University of Wolverhampton, Telford (Priorslee) Campus with sessions in Madeley and Ironbridge, Shropshire

This international conference and complementary research programme is a joint project between:
Manchester Wesley Research Centre
The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History
in co-operation with the Ironbridge Institute

This conference aims to attract both a general and specialist audience, and its success will depend greatly on both the range of interests as well as new and established scholars present.

It will bring together authorities in the areas of church history (Methodist, Anglican and other), theology and gender studies, with social and industrial historians as well as local historians from Shropshire. More generally, the wider significance of the people and events of this area will appeal to scholars from associated fields.

Madeley parish in Shropshire was at the heart of the early ‘industrial revolution’ around Coalbrookdale. Its Vicar between 1760-1785 was the Revd. John Fletcher, best known as an associate of the Wesleys, but with wider evangelical links. His widow, Mrs Mary Fletcher, continued to minister in the parish until her death in 1815, a rare example of female ministry.

Thirteen papers presented at the conference have been published in Religion, Gender, and Industry: Exploring Church and Methodism in A Local Setting (Pickwick Publications/James Clarke, 2011). The book is now available via JSTOR Books.

A review of the conference by Dr Carol Blessing is available here

Aims and outcomes

  • Fostering inter-disciplinarity between established and new scholars as well as others (such as local historians) engaged in sectors of religious, social and industrial history, gender studies and theology.

  • Published papers from the conference

  • Website with blog for continuing discussion

The subject– In the eighteenth century Madeley [Church of England] parish in Shropshire included Coalbrookdale, the ‘cradle of the industrial revolution’, and Ironbridge, where the world's first iron bridge was built. The parish was the setting for a succession of evangelical ministries by the Revd John Fletcher, his wife Mary (both associates of the Wesleys), her adopted daughter Sally Lawrence and her successor Mary Tooth, between 1760-1840. Madeley became the most notable instance of Methodism remaining within the Church of England, and was also remarkable for becoming a female-dominated parish ministry. Through examining this specific historic microcosm the conference will engage particularly with the following general areas:

  • Methodism’s roots and growth in relation to the Church of England

  • Religion and gender in eighteenth century Britain

  • Religion and emerging industrial society

Main speakers and themes

Dr Jeremy Gregory – Senior Lecturer in the History of Christianity, University of Manchester, (Church of England and religion in general in English social, cultural, political and intellectual history), author of Restoration, Reformation and Reform, 1660-1828: Archbishops of Canterbury and their Diocese, co-editor: The National Church in Local Perspective: the Church of England and the regions, 1660-1800.

Dr Barrie Trinder – author of Industrial Revolution in Shropshire and key authority on the local industrial, social and religious background.

Prof Phyllis Mack – Professor of History, Rutgers University, New Jersey (Women's history, history of religion) author of Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment: Gender and Emotion in Early Methodism.

Dr Peter Forsaith– Research Fellow, Oxford Brookes University, author/editor of 'Unexampled Labours': The Letters of the Revd John Fletcher to Leaders in the Evangelical Revival.

Conference Programme

Follow this link to see the conference programme

Follow this link to download a conference poster or conference leaflet

The location –  Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale is now a World Heritage Site. Historians and biographers of the Fletchers have rarely taken full account of the proto-industrial background. This conference offers a rare opportunity to engage with the parish in its geographic milieu, offering concomitant insights and understanding. There will be times to explore the heritage of the Ironbridge Gorge, and the conference is organised in co-operation with both the parish of St Michaels, Madeley and Fletcher Memorial Methodist Church, Madeley.

2009 marks the 300th anniversary of Abraham Darby’s critical breakthrough in using coke to smelt iron, from which the industrial revolution evolved.

The venue – The conference will be located at the University of Wolverhampton's Telford (Priorslee) campus, although main sessions will be held nearby in Madeley parish churchand at the Ironbridge Institute in Coalbrookdale, the historic heart of the industrial revolution. Coach transfer will be provided to conference sessions in Madeley and Coalbrookdale.A range of other accommodation including hotels and bed-and-breakfast is available locally.

The Telford campus is on the edge of Telford new town, close to the motorway system (M54) and rail line. Telford lies some 30 miles north-west of Birmingham, with easy road and rail access to London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Complementary Programmes

1 – 3-7 June SHROPSHIRE. 'FE:09' Conference at the Ironbridge Institute, Coalbrookdale: ‘Changes in the iron industry in the eighteenth century’ Contact – Ironbridge Institute

2 – 15-16 June; SHROPSHIRE. Guided introduction to John and Mary Fletcher and their local context, preceding the conference. This is planned to include visits to:

  • Madeley Old Vicarage (now a private house), the home of John and Mary Fletcher;

  • Attingham Park, formerly Tern Hall, the country home of the Hill Family where John Fletcher was tutor. A magnificent mansion in the care of the National Trust;

  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum. The world's first iron bridge, built in 1779, is at the heart of this UNESCO-designated world heritage site with its outstanding museums;

  • Ironbridge Institute library (repository for various Fletcher items);

  • Shropshire Archives, Shrewsbury (repository for Madeley parish records and Fletcher papers);

  • Accommodation avaliable at the University of Wolverhampton's Telford (Priorslee) campus or other nearby locations.

  • Contact:Peter Forsaith

3 – 19-22 June MANCHESTER. Study seminar at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre to focus on the extensive Fletcher-Tooth papers in the Methodist Archives.

  • Introduction to the Manchester Wesley Research Centre (MWRC) library on Friday 19 June at 9.30am. Participants will have access to the MWRC and Nazarene Theological College libraries for the duration of their visit.

  • Nazarene Theological College Postgraduate Seminar from 10-11.

  • MWRC annual lecture (Fri. 19 June 5 pm) by Prof. Bruce Hindmarsh

  • On Saturday there will be a 'close up' session to view selected manuscripts in the Fletcher-Tooth papers,and a guided tour of the Methodist Archives at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester by Dr Peter Nockles, librarian at the Archives. Participants will have the option of using the Archives for research purposes.

  • Depending on interest, there may be an opportunity for a tour of the University of Manchester library.

  • Accommodation at Nazarene Theological College, Didsbury, Manchester.

  • Contact: Manchester Wesley Research Centre.

4 – 23-27 June OXFORD. Study week at Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, Oxford Brookes University.

  • Use of Wesley Historical Society library;

  • Guided visit to the Wesleys' Oxford'

  • Wesley Historical Society annual lecture by Revd Martin Wellings (Sat. 27 June);

  • Accommodation at the Harcourt Hil campus, Oxford Brookes University

  • Contact: Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History


Manchester Wesley Research Centre: Dr Geordan Hammond 

Oxford Centre for Methodism Church History: Dr Peter Forsaith