The rich potential of an archive relating to the Evangelical Revival is now being realized, with the completion of a sixteen-year project to catalogue the intimate correspondence contained within the remarkable Fletcher-Tooth archive, held at the John Rylands Library.
John Fletcher (1729–85) and his wife Mary Bosanquet (1739–1815) were two of the leading figures of the Evangelical Revival, an event that produced Methodism and related denominations as well as the evangelical movement of the Church of England. The contribution made by this remarkable couple has consistently been overshadowed by that of John Wesley, but their joint ministry is now attracting fresh attention. This reappraisal is being promoted by a major cataloguing project which, after 16 years, has reached a significant milestone.
The project aims to unlock the research potential of the personal papers of the Fletchers and their associate Mary Tooth (1774–1843). The Fletcher-Tooth archive is one of the largest in the Methodist Archives and Research Centre (MARC) comprising 42 boxes of letters, diaries, sermons, notebooks, theological treatises, scripture notes and legal papers created between 1760 and 1843.
The collection has international research significance for the study of evangelical Christianity. John Fletcher was a model Anglican parish priest whose work as a systematic theologian remains influential, especially in the United States. His wife Mary was a formidable religious leader in her own right who, for 30 years after her husband’s death, exercised oversight of both Methodism and the Church of England in the Shropshire parish of Madeley. Mary was the first woman authorized by John Wesley to preach and her manuscript sermons are a unique survival from the period. As significant as they are in isolation, when viewed together, the devotional writings of John and Mary Fletcher comprise one of the spiritual treasures of the Revival.
The significance of the collection extends beyond the religious. Madeley and its adjacent village of Coalbrookdale were early centres of iron-founding and related trades. The Fletcher-Tooth collection shines a fascinating light on the development of one of the modern world’s first industrial communities. The papers contain material relating to many other aspects of the 18th and 19th centuries, from the founding of the Sierra Leone colony for freed slaves to social unrest in West Yorkshire. The daily reality of British life across nearly a century is contained within this remarkable collection.
Since 1997 Dr Lloyd has been engaged in the detailed cataloguing of thousands of individual letters sent to the Fletchers and Mary Tooth from hundreds of correspondents from every walk of life and part of the country. The scope of the project is illustrated by the fact that the paper catalogue of the correspondence is contained within ten substantial volumes.
Work on the in-letters was completed in December 2013 and the catalogue is now available online through Elgar. Future phases of the project will make available catalogues of other parts of the collection, including letters written by the Fletchers and papers connected with their oversight of religious life in Madeley.
Enquiries about the collection should be emailed to Dr Lloyd: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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