The Church in the British Isles.
As a young man, David O. McKay was a missionary in Scotland, his ancestral homeland. This picture, on the shores of Loch Lomond, was probably taken during his tour of the European missions in 1952, the year after he was sustained as President of the Church. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
by Bryan J. Grant
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the British Isles when seven LDS missionaries landed at Liverpool, England, on July 19, 1837. The success of this first mission (more than 1,500 converts by April 1839) set the stage for the even more successful apostolic mission of 1839-1841, which saw nine of the eleven apostles (the twelfth place was vacant at the time) serving as missionaries in England under the direction of Brigham Young. The Church grew rapidly in Great Britain among the working classes of the Northwest, the Midlands, and, especially, Wales. Membership counts at the end of 1851 showed 33,000 members of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland and 12,000 in Utah. Although total membership in the British Isles declined after the mid-1850s due to emigration and attrition, substantial additions through baptisms continued through the 1860s. From 1870 to the mid-1950s, the Church did not experience sustained growth in the United Kingdom and Ireland. But the dedication of the London Temple (in Lingfield, Surrey) in September 1958 and the creation of the Manchester England Stake on March 27, 1970, initiated a second growth phase of membership; by 1990 the Church had more than 160,000 members in 9 missions, 40 stakes, and more than 330 wards and branches in the British Isles. The strength of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1990 is indicated by the number of stakes: thirty-two in England, five in Scotland, two in Wales, and one in Northern Ireland. Branches (congregations) in the Republic of Ireland, whose members are not as numerous as in other areas, are under the jurisdiction of mission districts rather than a stake.
When the missionaries first arrived in the British Isles, they went to Preston, England, where Joseph Fielding's brother, Rev. James Fielding, had invited him and his missionary companions to preach at his Vauxhall Chapel. James's enthusiasm waned when it became apparent that he risked losing his congregation, and he promptly closed the chapel to the missionaries. They then taught in private homes, and a week later baptized the first nine British converts in the river Ribble, at Preston. By Sunday, August 6, there were nearly fifty converts in Preston, and Elder Heber C. Kimball organized the Preston Branch. In two months, membership had reached 140, and the original branch was divided into five separate branches in October. Missionary work was extended to Bedford, and to Alston, near the Scottish border, where the missionaries had relatives. Elder Kimball preached in the villages of the Ribble Valley.
On Christmas Day of 1837, the members met for the first conference in Britain, and on Sunday, April 8, 1838, another conference held in the Cockpit, Preston, drew down the curtain on the first phase of Mormon missionary work in Britain. There were 1,500-2,000 British members of the Church, and the leadership was transferred to Joseph Fielding as elders Kimball and Orson Hyde set sail for America.
APOSTOLIC MISSION, 1838-1841. The second major LDS missionary thrust in the British Isles began on July 8, 1838, at Far West, Missouri, when the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation instructing the Twelve Apostles to prepare to serve a mission in Great Britain. Brigham Young and six other apostles left from New York for Britain between December 1839 and March 1840. Willard Richards, who had remained there after the 1837 mission, was ordained an apostle in Britain on April 14, 1840, by Brigham Young. The missionaries baptized thousands of converts (Wilford Woodruff personally baptized more than a thousand), organized branches and conferences, and directed the work of the Church, including printing scriptures and tracts, and began publishing the millennial star, the British Church periodical that would have a continuous run from 1840 through 1970. In 1841, shortly before he returned to America, Brigham Young arranged for richly bound copies of the Book of Mormon to be presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The volume presented to the queen was located in the Royal Library at Windsor in 1986.
The Britain of those days was ripe for a message of hope, and the preaching of a restored gospel of Jesus Christ was timely. By June 1842 there were 8,245 members of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Six years later there were 18,000, and by the end of 1851 England had 24,199 Latter-day Saints, Wales had 5,244, Scotland had 3,291, and Ireland had 160—a total of almost 33,000—and an additional 11,000 had already emigrated to America. In 1851 there were more members of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland than there were in Utah (12,000).
EMIGRATION. Emigration to the United States to help build the main body of the Church was the recommended pattern for the members during the first century of the Church in the British Isles. The perpetual emigrating fund was established in September 1849 to assist. Those who emigrated with the help of this revolving fund were to pay back the money as they could, so that others might be helped. The fund was formally discontinued in 1887, after thousands had benefited from it. Additional thousands were assisted by friends and relatives who had already emigrated. From 1847 to 1869, more than 32,000 British and Irish converts to the Church left their homelands for a new life in pioneer America. When the novelist Charles Dickens visited the Amazon before it set sail from London on June 4, 1863, to see what the Mormon emigrants were like, he noted: "I…had come aboard this Emigrant Ship to see what eight hundred Latter-day Saints were like…. Nobody is in an ill-temper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word, nobody appears depressed, nobody is weeping, and down upon the deck in every corner where it is possible to find a few square feet to kneel, crouch or lie in, people, in every suitable attitude for writing, are writing letters. Now, I have seen emigrants ships before this day in June. And these people are strikingly different from all other people in like circumstances whom I have ever seen, and I wonder aloud, "What would a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!'…I should have said they were in their degree, the pick and flower of England" (Dickens, pp. 223-25).
Dickens set down his impressions of Mormon emigrants in one of a series of essays that appeared at intervals between 1860 and 1869 in his weekly magazine, All the Year Round. He later published them in the chapter "Bound for the Great Salt Lake" in The Uncommercial Traveller. He concluded with:
I afterwards learned that a dispatch was sent home by the captain before he struck out into the wide Atlantic, highly extolling the behaviour of these emigrants, and the perfect order and propriety of all their social arrangements…. I went on board their ship to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment they did not deserve it; and my predispositions and tendencies must not affect me as an honest witness. I went over the Amazon's side, feeling it impossible to deny that, so far, some remarkable influence had produced a remarkable result, which better known influences have often missed [Dickens, p. 232].
The 895 LDS emigrants under the direction of Elder William Bramall were well organized. The ship's captain explained:
The most of these came aboard yesterday evening. They came from various parts of England in small parties that had never seen one another before. Yet they had not been a couple of hours on board, when they established their own police, made their own regulations, and set their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o'clock, the ship was as orderly and quiet as a man-of-war [Dickens, p. 223].
THE CHURCH IN BRITAIN IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. The early years of the twentieth century were troubled times for the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Much of its strength had been drawn away through emigration; between 1870 and 1892 Church membership declined from 9,000 to barely 2,600. Then, against the backdrop of the polygamy issue, and fanned by newspaper exposés and by novels from writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Winifred Graham, an "anti-Mormon crusade" reached a peak in 1911. Persecution was rife, violence was threatened, and missionaries were occasionally tarred and feathered, as in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Nevertheless, the Church grew in this time of trials, more than doubling in membership between 1897 and 1910, and averaging more than 8,000 members in Great Britain from then until after the end of World War I. But with missionary work disrupted by two world wars, a modest decline kept membership at an average of about 6,000 through 1950.
In the mid-1950s, membership in the United Kingdom and Ireland stood at 9,000, when the second major phase of the growth and development of the Church in the British Isles began. Emphasis was given to "staying and building," and steps were taken to ensure that Church members in the United Kingdom did not need to emigrate to enjoy all the blessings of the Church membership.