Knowing, Growing and Showing the Love of God

The Reverend John Fletcher

[Image: Fletcher Tomb]John Fletcher, born in 1729 as Jean Guillaume de la Flechere, was of Swiss decent from Nyon near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. He was born to a wealthy family who were related to the, Dukes of Savoy.

Fletcher migrated to England in 1750, and in 1752 moved to Shropshire as tutor to the Hill family at Tern Hall, the house on the site of the present-day Attingham Park. The first mention of John Fletcher in Madeley was when he was invited as a guest preacher at the old church. Fletcher had been offered a valuable stipend in another parish but was so determined to become vicar of Madeley that he offered the then incumbent vicar the opportunity to exchange positions.

John Fletcher was ordained in 1757 by the Bishop of Bangor, and the following day was licensed as curate in the parish of Madeley. He was instituted to the vicarage of Madeley in 1760. It is assumed that his original name was anglicised to help him be accepted by those he was called to shepherd and preach to.

He quickly made an impact with the poor, but the farmers and respectable tradesmen suspected that he was a Methodist or Baptist. His style of preaching was not well received and did not attract support from the clergy or the wealthy of the area. They referred to him as being an heretical schismatic. Eventually, by his good works, personal qualities and preaching skills he won them over. One of the characteristics of Fletcher was that he didn't always require a pulpit to preach from; an open field was just as good. He often ventured into the working communities, the colliers, iron men, bargemen and the poor all had frequent visits. He treated all as equals, never pandering to the whims of the powerful.

Congregations increased and by April 1761 the church, then a small medieval building, could scarcely contain those who wished to attend services. Early in his ministry he formed two religious societies in the parish. Such societies, regularly meeting together for prayer and contemplation of religious matters, met in many parishes in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1764 John Wesley paid the first of many visits to Madeley. Fletcher was a great friend and confident of both John and Charles Wesley. The three united not just as friends but also as crusaders of faith.

In 1770 Fletcher went to Italy and France for five months, and between 1777 and 1781 was again abroad, returning to find that the ministry of his curate, Alexander Greaves, had been disappointing, commenting that, a cloud is over my parish. In November 1781 he married Mary Bosanquet, a woman he had known for many years, in the hope that she would help him to revive the religious societies in the parish. In his speech to the Wesleyan Conference in 1784 Fletcher, by that time very ill and in great pain, expressed the hope that after his death Madeley would remain part of a Methodist circuit.

Fletcher contracted tuberculosis and went to a warmer climate for recuperation. He never fully recovered and died on 14 August 1785 aged 56. His cast iron tomb lays in St Michael's churchyard which also contains his wife Mary, adopted daughter Sarah, and Mary Tooth who was both companion and successor to the work of Mary.

Melville Horne who left the parish of Sierra Leone in January 1792 replaced Fletcher as incumbent of Madeley. He allowed Mary Fletcher to remain in the vicarage, and to play a prominent role in the religious life of the parish, which continued during the ministry of his successor Samuel Walter.

From the Vicarage, Mary Fletcher co-operated in a joint ministry with the incumbent of the parish church, and with the ministers of the Wesleyan circuit based in Shrewsbury. Charles Hulbert, the Shropshire historian, regarded her as "the great centre of union between Church and Wesleyans in Shropshire". From about 1799 she was joined by Mary Tooth, who worked for over 40 years in Madeley as preacher and class leader. The Vicarage Barn, near to the parish church, was equipped as a meeting house. Mary Fletcher held a prayer meeting there at 9.00am each Sunday morning, those who attended then went on to Morning Prayer at the church. After lunch, there was a further meeting with readings from Wesley, Whitefield and other authors. Some of those present then went to the afternoon service at St. Michael's, but others went away in order to attend evening services in their own chapels.

At this time there was strong sense of common purpose between Samuel Walter and the Methodists. Hugh Bourne, one of the founders of Primitive Methodism, visited Madeley in 1808 and noted "for the first time I heard a gospel sermon in the church". Close links were maintained with Methodist societies within the parish at Coalbrookdale and Madeley Wood, where chapels had been built during Fletcher's lifetime, and Coalport, where a new chapel was provided by Mary Fletcher in memory of her adopted daughter, Sally Lawrence, who died in 1800.