Nathaniel Dracup, a Methodist Pioneer


This post draws together what we know about Nathaniel Dracup (1728-1798), the most celebrated of the early Dracups in England.

My previous genealogical post, ‘The Earliest Dracups’, discusses the children of George Dracoppe, our first known ancestor.

His youngest son, John (1596-1673) also called his eldest son John (1627-74).

The latter’s second wife, Sarah Swayne (1626-1672), bore five children, the fourth once again named John, born in Idle in 1658.

We do not know the name of this John’s wife and can trace only one child called (yes, you’ve guessed it) John.


John Dracupp (1688-1767) and his family

This fourth John in succession was born in Calverley in 1688 and survived until March 1767.

In November 1715 he married Mary Rodger (1695-1761), also in Calverley. John Dracupp (as the name is now spelled) and Mary had eleven children between 1716 and 1736, seven girls and four boys.

The two best known are yet another John (1722-1795) and his younger brother Nathaniel (1728-1798). Both were religious men but, while John was a Baptist, Nathaniel was an early convert to Methodism.

Both parents were born in Calverley and were buried there, but both John and Nathaniel were born in Idle.

In ‘The Yankee Yorkshireman: Migration Lived and Imagined’ (2009), Mary H Blewett says of John Dracupp the father:

‘John Dracupp of Horton Village, born in 1688, was both a cloth dealer and an artisan joiner or furniture maker. Two succeeding generations of Dracups drew on this man’s carpentry skills to make wooden shuttles for hand looms used in household production as the West Riding slowly intensified cloth-making.’

A footnote presumably provides a source for this statement, but it is not visible in the online extract of Blewett’s text.

Halifax Books and Authors’ (1906) by J Horsfall Turner says that Nathaniel ‘left Idle, his native place, in 1729 to reside in Great Horton’.

It seems probable that the whole family changed their residence at this point, when John senior had turned 40 and Nathaniel was his eighth and youngest child.

This family were almost certainly the first Dracups to reside in Great Horton, establishing a connection with the area that survives to this day.

Nathaniel had already been a Methodist for some four years when he married Ann Judson in March 1752 at the age of 23. The ceremony took place at Bradford St Peter, the City’s cathedral.

The Judsons seem to have been established in Horton for several generations. In ‘Rambles Round Horton’ (1886) William Cudworth mentions that a Thomas Judson was the first person interred at the Quaker burial ground in 1656 (followed by a Susannah Judson in 1669).

However, Ann Judson, the daughter of a subsequent Thomas Judson of Great Horton, was baptised in Bradford on 16 July 1736 at the age of five. The baptism is recorded at Toad Lane, a Presbyterian Chapel, only recently built in 1719.

Adjustment between different varieties of Nonconformism, including between Presbyterianism and Methodism, does not seem to have been unusual at this time.

Another early Bradford Methodist was Betty Firth, mentioned in ‘Historical Notices of Wesleyan Methodism in Bradford and its Vicinity’ (1841) by William F Stamp:

‘Betty Firth, who afterwards married Thomas Worsnop, one of the earliest leaders at Low-Moor, was at the period of Nelson’s imprisonment, member of the Presbyterian Church, at Bradford. The doctrines there inculcated, were what some have designated “Baxterian Calvinism:” hence Betty, though lover of Methodism, and one of its first members, was never, in sentiment, truly Wesleyan. Hers was the honour of introducing Methodism into Low-Moor; when, after continuing member of Society for five and twenty years, she gratified her early predilections, by uniting herself to neighbouring Calvinistic church, and in its faith and communion terminated her career on earth.’

Nathaniel and Ann probably had six children – five sons and a daughter – over a 25 year period from 1752 to 1777 (though some family trees attribute additional children born after this date, some of them when Ann was already in her late 50s). We know Ann died in August 1805 since she shares Nathaniel’s headstone.

John married Rachael Helliwell of Sowerby at St John the Baptist Church in Halifax in November 1753 when he was aged 31. John’s employment is given as ‘weaver’.  They had two daughters, Rachael and Mary. Ann reportedly died in 1795, in the same year as her husband.

Nathaniel the Shuttle-maker

John and his son Nathaniel were working as shuttle-makers just as the early stages of the Industrial Revolution began to impact directly on their business. It seems likely that they were caught up to some extent in the developments around them.

John Kay
John Kay

In 1733, John Kay (1704-1779) invented the flying shuttle (also called a fly-shuttle or wheeled shuttle). The weaver pulled a cord in the required direction to send the shuttle through the warp. This allowed the shuttle, holding the weft, to be passed more quickly through the warp.

It was no longer necessary for the weaver to pass the shuttle from hand to hand, so the shuttle could be thrown across a wider span, allowing him to weave broader widths of cloth. Moreover, a broad loom weaver no longer required an assistant to catch the shuttle.


This invention led to unrest amongst weavers whose livelihood was threatened, but we know it took hold in the West Riding, at least to some extent. Kay charged an annual royalty fee of 15 shillings per shuttle and was trying to collect these fees in Leeds in 1738.

Kay brought many court cases to protect his patent, but Yorkshire shuttle-makers formed a ‘Shuttle Club’ syndicate, which undertook to pay the court costs of any member.

In ‘The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power’ (1878) Alfred Barlow explains:

‘The Yorkshire weavers were the first to adopt the fly shuttle, but they would not pay for its use, and in fact they formed an association called the Shuttle Club, to pay each other’s costs when prosecuted. Kay was equally determined to enforce his rights, and nearly ruined himself in Chancery suits, although they were decided in his favour. In his attempt to introduce the carding and spinning machinery he had invented, he was seriously opposed by the operatives, and was obliged to consign the spinning machines to the workhouses of Leeds and Burstall, to be used by the inmates. In 1745, in conjunction with Joseph Stell (of Keighley), he patented a small ware loom, to be worked by mechanical, instead of manual power, but either from his circumstances, or the opposition he met with, or both combined, he was compelled to leave Leeds and remove to Bury, where he resumed his improvements in spinning machinery, which soon gave rise to disturbances amongst the spinners.’

'John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle AD 1753' by Ford Madox Brown
‘John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle AD 1753’ by Ford Madox Brown

We do not know whether the Dracups were manufacturing flying shuttles and, if so, whether they were significant enough to be caught up in these disagreements over Kay’s invention.

However, they established a family business surviving several generations.

In ‘Rambles Round Horton’ (1886) William Cudworth says that, when the old school established by his father (see below) was replaced by a new building, Nathaniel’s son – also called Nathaniel – acquired it for shuttle-making:

‘The old school property and the land adjoining were sold in 1815 on behalf of the Wesleyan body to Messrs. John Knight & Co. by the following trustees, namely, Samuel White, James Helliwell, Thomas Stocks, Roger Milnes, Robert Turner, Eli Suddards, John Ramsden, and John Hall. Many interments having been made on the Todley site, the remains were removed to the burial ground adjoining the new chapel. The old school-room was afterwards used as a shuttle-making shop by Nathaniel Dracup, a noted bass singer.’

Elsewhere he says of the older Nathaniel:

‘He had a son Nathaniel, also a son George, the father of Sammy [Samuel] Dracup, who, with his sons, were noted shuttlemakers and makers of jacquard engines when first introduced. The Dracups have been devoted Wesleyans throughout their history.’


Nathaniel the early Methodist

Turner tells us relatively little of Nathaniel the elder, other than that he:

‘…became a pioneer Methodist; over forty years a local preacher with a wide circuit in West Yorks, first class-leader at Great Horton, opened his house until a preaching place could be got; died in 1798. He wrote an Elegy on the Death of Rev. Wm. Grimshaw, Haworth. ‘

Writing sixty years earlier, Stamp says:

‘Amongst those who at this early period joined the ranks of Methodism, was Nathaniel Dracup, of Great-Horton; a steady moral young man then in his nineteenth year, who subsequently became one of the most exemplary and useful members of the Wesleyan Society.’

An edition of the Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society from 1901 carries an item concerning ‘Extracts from the stewards’ book of the Old Octagon Chapel, Bradford’ attributed to one Charles A Federer.

The extracts in question record two disbursements by Nathaniel:  ten pence to cover his bill on April 2 1767 and one and sixpence for hiring a horse on July 2 of the same year. Nathaniel also appears as owed 15 shillings and fivepence in April 1770, as well as 14 shillings and threepence the following July.

Federer comments:

‘The name of Nathaniel Dracup constantly recurs throughout the book, instead of the locality where he lived and worked, viz., Great Horton. He was the first-fruits of Wesley’s preaching in the rugged hill-district south of Bradford. He joined the Bradford society in 1747, at the age of nineteen, and at once set about proclaiming amongst his neighbours what the Lord had done for him. His zeal and energy in the cause of experimental religion, and of Methodism in particular, were successful in gathering around him the nucleus of a society whose leader and quasi-pastor he became.’

Nathaniel is identified by Stamp as one of four early Methodists in the neighbourhood and ‘in all likelihood’ the first in the ‘populous township’ of Great Horton (In contrast, Cudworth, when relating the same fact, calls Great Horton ‘the then small village’.)

Nathaniel became leader of the first school class in Great Horton, holding Methodist services in his home for many years before the first school and preaching room were built.

Stamp describes him thus:

‘He was one of the first local preachers in this part of the West-Riding, and for upwards of forty years laboured in that vocation with untiring diligence and zeal; frequently preaching on the Sabbath three or four times, and walking during the day from twenty to thirty miles. His style as a preacher was argumentative; and though far from being a Boanerges in the pulpit, his ministrations were of a highly useful and acceptable character.’

Preaching Methodism at this time was not free of danger. Stamp provides an extensive description of the tribulations of Thomas Mitchell, a contemporary of Nathaniel’s in Bradford who was ‘stationed’ in Lincolnshire.

Thomas was thrown seven times into a neck-high pool of water, then painted from head to foot in white paint, but his tribulations continued:

‘Then they came and took me out again, and carried me to a great pond, which was railed in on every side, being ten or twelve feet deep. Here, four men took me by my legs and arms, and swung me backwards and forwards. For moment, felt the flesh shrink; but it was quickly gone. Gave myself up to the Lord, and was content his will should be done. They swung me two or three times, and then threw me as far as they could into the water. The fall and the water soon took away my senses, so that I felt nothing more. But some of them were not willing to have me drowned. So they watched till I came above water, and then catching hold of my clothes with long pole, made shift to drag me out.’

The local Minister told the mob to take him out of the parish:

‘So they came and took me out of bed second time. But had no clothes to put on, my own being wet, and also covered with paint. But they put an old coat about me, took me about a mile, and set me upon little hill. They then shouted three times—‘God save the king, and the devil take the preacher!’

Here they left me pennyless and friendless: for none durst come near me. And my strength was nearly gone, so that I had much ado to walk, or even to stand. But from the beginning to the end, my mind was in perfect peace. found no anger or resentment, but could heartily pray for my persecutors. But knew not what to do, or where to go. Indeed, one of our friends lived three or four miles off. But was so weak and ill, that it did not seem possible for me to get so far. However, trusted in God, and set out; and at length, got to the house. The family did every thing for me that was in their power: they got me clothes, and whatever else was needful. Rested four days with them, in which time my strength was tolerably restored.’

One wonders whether Nathaniel encountered similar hostility.


Nathaniel’s brother John

According to Turner, John became Baptist Minister at Steep Lane Sowerby, where a chapel had been established in 1751. He succeeded the original pastor, Matthew Scott, assuming the role in 1761, at the age of 39.

He left after 17 years to take up a similar role at Rodhill End Chapel near Hebden Bridge.  He was the third pastor at this location, replacing his predecessor, Richard Thomas, who died in 1772.

Then in 1784 John was asked to return to his previous post, where he remained eleven years until his death in 1795.

During this period John published a book of hymns. In fact they were probably published as early as 1754, since this advertisement appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer of 2 July of that year.




This online Hymnary says:

‘In 1787, Mr. Dracup published a small volume of 63 hymns with the title, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, by John Dracup, Minister of the Gospel at Sowerby. Bolton, planted by R. Jackson.

Two of these, beginning “Free Grace to every heaven-born soul,” and “Thanks to Thy name, O Lord, that we,” had previously appeared in Lady Huntingdon’s Collection, undated ed. Cir. 1772, and again in the revised edition of 1780.

Both are in Denham’s Selection (1837); the former is in Gadsby (1853) and in Stevens’s Selection (1881), and the latter in Reed’s Hymn Book, 1842, &c. A third hymn of Dracup’s, very touching both in sentiment and language, is found in a small Baptist supplementary Selection. It begins, “Once I could say, ‘My God is mine.’” His other hymns have seldom had more than a local use.’

This site supplies the words of three hymns attributed to John, but Turner is more selective:

‘As the book is exceedingly rare, and sells at 10 shillings, I append a specimen (two verses of six) of his poetical abilities:

That I could but now lay hold

By faith on Christ my Lord!

That I now, divinely bold,

Could venture on his Word!


What ail this tim’rous heart of mine?

This heart of unbelief:

If I can all to Him resign,

Why walk I thus in grief?’

Turner questions whether John was strictly a Baptist during the first of his two stints at Sowerby:

‘The Methodists occupied the Steep Lane Chapel at the first, and these ministers were not Baptists. The place must have been carried on apart from Methodism.’

However, he is clear on the status of Rodhill End Chapel, from which John returned a confirmed Baptist.

It is interesting to speculate about the relationship between the brothers, the nature of their theological discussions and the true extent of their theological differences.


Nathaniel helps to establish a Methodist school and chapel

Federer says of Nathaniel:

‘Through his unwearied efforts a school-chapel, the first Wesleyan school in the Bradford district, was erected in 1766, at a place called Old Todley, near where the Four Ashes Inn now stands; James Jowett and James Brayshaw being named in the deed of conveyance as purchasers of the site.’

Cudworth is Federer’s source:

‘From deeds in the possession of the Broadbent family it appears that the old school was built by the Wesleyans of Horton in the year 1766, the ground having been purchased for that purpose by Jonas Jowett and James Brayshaw. It remained as a day and Sunday school and preaching-room until the erection of Hunt Yard Wesleyan Chapel in the year 1814.’

A Great Horton Conservation Area Assessment (2006) adds that Old Todley was a group of buildings located behind the Four Ashes (now an auctioneer’s located at 535 Great Horton Road)

It describes them as ‘…a cluster of low cottages, a blacksmith’s shop, schoolhouse, and burial ground which formed the centre of the village of Great Horton.’

Cudworth also names Nathaniel amongst the trustees of the Old Chapel, which dates from the same year:

‘In immediate contiguity to Westbrook House there stood, until the year 1810, the old Octagon Chapel, the first place of worship erected by the Wesleyans of Bradford. In addition to the undoubted interest attaching to it from this circumstance, the building, from the peculiarity of its construction — having eight sides to it — elicited the remark of John Wesley that it was “the largest octagon we have in England, and the first of the kind where the roof is built with common sense, rising only a third of its breadth.” The dimensions of the chapel were fifty-four feet square. It was opened during the summer of 1766.’

He adds:

‘Nathaniel Dracup, described as a ” shuttlemaker, Great Horton,” was a party to the deed of erection of the old Octagon Chapel at Bradford in the year 1765, and he was one of the society stewards, Bradford being at that early period regarded as a branch of the Birstall circuit.’


Great Horton Octagon Chapel


Nathaniel the poet

Stamp expresses regret that other records contain no reference to this ‘truly excellent man’:

‘Beyond the grateful recollections of those who knew and prized his worth, his only earthly remembrancer, up to this present time, has been a somewhat rude, yet touching Elegy, wrote by him on the death of the celebrated Grimshaw, to whom Nathaniel was devotedly attached.’

This is William Grimshaw, perpetual curate of Haworth from 1742 to 1763 who became a friend and disputant of Wesley’s.

A Life Action Ministries website mentions the Elegy in its biography of Grimshaw:

‘Nathaniel Dracup, who lived in Bradford, could often be found among the crowds of worshipers drawn from many miles around to Haworth. Attracted by all he had heard of God’s work in this village, Dracup was also drawn by Grimshaw’s unusual gifts as a preacher. He later wrote a tribute in verse that expresses something of the power of the preaching that brought him and many others back again and again to Halworth [sic]’

Stamp provides an extract from the Elegy which ‘may be regarded as a specimen of the whole’:

‘Twas now his heart ran o’er with peace and joy,

His eyes with tears, and all his sweet employ

Was publishing the Saviour’s worthy name,

And setting forth the honour of the Lamb.


And now his soul felt sweet angelic fire;

His bosom glowed with love and strong desire,

To seek and save the wandering souls of men

And bring them back to peace and rest again.


My muse, draw back the scenes of past delight,

And bring the man,- the wond’rous man to light:

See, there he stands! The pious crowds among,

Celestial eloquence flows from his tongue:


Lo! On his reverend brow the frowns arise,

And from his tongue the awful threat’ning flies:

He tells the sinner what must be his doom;

He thunders out the awful wrath to come:


He treads self-righteous schemes to dust, and then,

Knocks down the props on which poor mortals lean:

And thus, with zeal divine, he tears away

All but a Christ whereon to rest or stay.


But now his face a milder aspect wears,

And conscious pleasure in his eye appears;

He points the sinner to the Lamb of God,

And tells the virtue of atoning blood.’

Nathaniel might not have been a first rate poet, but this is the work of an educated man with extensive experience of persuasive writing as well as preaching.

He might have been self-taught or, perhaps more likely, his parents were also comparatively well-educated.


Nathaniel’s Death

Federer again follows Cudworth:

‘In 1781 the Great Horton society, including Little Horton, Clayton, and Brownroyd Fold (which latter with Lentrop or Leventhorp Hall formed the two societies into which the original Crosley Hall society appears to have divided in 1775), had grown to 175 members. The names of the Class Leaders and Local Preachers were John Murgatroyd, Nathaniel Dracup, John Hodgson, Richard Fawcett (a man of wealth and influence), Thomas Dobson, John Shutt, James Wilkinson, John Haley, Jonathan Hudson, and James Throp.

When the new Great Horton Chapel was built in 1814-15, Old Todley was sold, some of the old gravestones being brought away and placed in front of the new building. Amongst them is one which bears the following inscription:-” In Memory of Nathaniel Dracup, a sinner saved by grace, who fell asleep in Jesus, May 30th, 1798, aged 69 years.”’

Stamp describes Nathaniel’s death:

‘His death was eminently peaceful and suited to his life. While Roger Milnes, a brother leader, was engaged in prayer, and in allusion to the speedy liberation of the aged saint, adopting the petition of the Apocalypse – “Even so come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” Dracup, with peculiar fervour, uttered the response, “Amen!” and with the “so be it” of the church upon his lips, breathed his soul at once to God. He died May 30th, 1798, Aetatis 69, having been a member of the Methodist society upwards of fifty years.’

The gravestone – now with its inscription very worn – may still be found in the front garden of the present Great Horton Methodist and United Reformed Church.

Nathaniel’s will is preserved on Ancestry, dated 9 July 1792. Here is an extract:

‘…and as we (my wife and I) are old and infirm the house and furniture must be at our disposal while we both live and when we are both dead if the house be unsould then I will that it be sould (if one of my children can make it convenient to buy it well) and the money after my debts are all paid be equally divided among my children that shall then be alive. I give Hannah my Dresser and Pewter, Wilm. my little throw and Thos. and George all the rest of my tools to be divided betwixt them and I will that all of my children have a share of my books devided among them and that they deal every other thing in a friendly way and have no jar among them.’



September 2015

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