The honest Peculiar People

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Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The honest Peculiar People' page

An unusual Christian sect

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Brian Pettitt stumbled across an article about the Peculiar People which appeared in the Southend Standard during May 1974. It complements an existing article on the site by Mave Sipple which can be found here (RDCA-Admin).

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«Unto you therefore which believe He is precious - you are a chosen generation, a Royal priesthood, an holy nation, a Peculiar People; that you should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light - which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God» (1 Peter ch 2 vv 7, 9, 10)

The honest Peculiar People

I have always been interested in the Peculiar People, because as a child I was one myself.

The name might raise a laugh nowadays, but older residents will remember that those who belonged to this sect were held in high regard for their honest and temperate mode of life.

I remember as a child of five or so sitting on a bench at the other side of the pulpit in the St. Ann's Road chapel, dressed in a velvet suit with a white lace collar, listening to sermons which seemed to drag on, and to hymns which were sung with gusto and sincerity.

The preachers were devout men, although they mightn't have seemed so to me at the time, and looking back on the congregations in that tiny chapel, I realise after the passage of years that their firm religious beliefs, their great kindnesses not only to each other but to those who needed them, and, above all, their sincerity and peace of mind, gave them a certain something for which we have all been searching ever since.

The preachers were not scholarly men but they knew the Bible by heart, lived by it and died in the certain knowledge that we would all meet again.

True the aitches were often left off, but what they had to say and the way they said it was fire to the congregations.

I have heard stories of them jumping over forms in the ecstacy of a religious fervour.

It is difficult to relate that behaviour to the present pattern of church going, where congregations sit mute-like, almost under sufferance.

Perhaps the "Blood and fire" of the Salvation Army is the nearest to it . . . I know a little about that, too, as until I was 14 I attended the Salvation Army Citadel in Southend.

Over the years I have been to church many times, but have never been able to recapture that feeling of belonging and participation that was so very evident during my early days at the St. Ann's Road chapel. Maybe, as with other things, it is time that has lent the enchantment, but I don't think so.

It was in 1837 at Rochford that James Banyard started the mission which later became the Peculiar People.

Banyard was a Methodist, and for a time a preacher with them, but there was some kind of dispute and he left.

For a time he preached in the open in Rochford Square and later in a building known as The Barracks, which stood near the Marlborough Head.

In 1850 the new denomination, then known as the Banyardites, was organised and in 1852 Banyard and three others were ordained bishops.

Banyard laid it down: «We will have a prayer meeting at 5 in the morning before we go to work, and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7. On the Lord's Day we will meet at 6 and 10.30 in the morning, at 2.30 in the afternoon and 6.30 in the evening.

«When we meet to worship the Lord, let no vain or worldly thoughts enter your hearts, but keep your minds on the Lord, fall on your knees and ask the Lord to meet with us and bless us.

«At all meetings brothers and sisters may offer their thanks, praises and requests for God the Father and His people, except Sunday afternoon and evenings when the leaders will preach from the Word of God.

«We will accept no money for preaching, make no laws, have no book of rules but the Word of God alone.

«For unless one knows his sins are forgiven, and that his name is on the Lamb's Book of Life, we will not accept him as a member of the Church of God.

One of the strong centres of the sect was at Daws Heath, and the Rector of Thundersley at that time is on record as saying that the Peculiars did much to «straighten out» the villagers and changed them from the type that smuggled brandy and drinks to temperate and honest civilians.

In fact they changed Daw's Heath from «a crime-stained wilderness into a particularly peaceful garden of Essex.»

The Peculiars were faith healers, and I well remember services where there was a laying on of hands, which meant that a sufferer knelt down, an elder or bishop laid his hands on his head and offered prayer, with the congregation joining in.

Their faith in devine healing was based on the Epistle of James (v 13,14,15) but the practice of annointing the sick with oil and praying over them was not adopted until some time after the sect was formed.

This prayer healing came about because of a man named Samuel Hammond who went through an operation, but the lancet slipped and caused his death.

Soon after this a Mr. William Perry of Southend, a victim of consumption, was at prayer when he heard distinctly the words: «Is any sick among you let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, annointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.»

The following Sunday Mr. Perry, so weak that he had to be helped by two other men, got to The Barracks at Rochford and told Banyard the words the Lord had given him.

A record of the time shows that Banyard at first was reluctant, saying «It is not for me to dampen your faith, brother» but they got to their knees and prayed.

But healing powers were sent to Banyard which entered William Perry, chased away the consumption and made him a healthy man.

That very same Sunday afternoon he walked all the way from Rochford to Paglesham with a young man, Samuel Harrod, who was to preach there.

Two more people were cured in this way, Charles Porter of Southend, who had a liver complaint, and Mrs. Gray, from Hawkwell, suffering from asthma.

From this followed the doctrine of laying on of hands, something which led to a great deal of trouble later on, when some brethren were persecuted for failing to call a doctor in cases of illness which sometimes ended in death.

This led to a split and another denomination was formed, called the Liberty Section, who held that the passage from St. James did not prohibit medical aid for children who, for themselves, could not have faith.

My own grandmother, Mrs. Harrod, remembered with love by some even today as '"Mum" Harrod was one of those who never had a doctor in her life.

She had nine children without the help of a doctor - one died of whooping cough at the age of three - and lived to 93.

She and her husband, Elder Harrod kept a boot shop along Marine Parade - the site later becoming the Peveril restaurant - and later in Southchurch Road.

She attended people in times of sickness, whatever the hour. She acted as midwife and she laid out the bodies of the dead.

"Safe in the arms of Jesus'" was one of the hymns we sang at her funeral, and although today I am not a church-goer, it is the memory of this wonderful lady, her honesty and devoutness which part convinces me there is a life hereafter.

Her mother was a Thorrington - Great Grannie Thorrington to me - she ran a post office and general store at Daws Heath until she was 84.

She belonged to the sect, and over the years acted as midwife to 90 births, going as far as Canvey to help on her horse and trap.

I remember her when she was over 90. She had the face of a countrywoman, rosy as an apple, clear skinned and blue eyed. Her hands, were knarled with arthritis, but she always seemed to be propped up in bed with a lace bonnet on her head, making rag dolls!

It was laid down that in childbirth it was contrary to the laws of nature and of God to solicit the assistance of men. The Biblical case for their beliefs was laid down as:

«Men's redemption from sin and his reconciliation and acceptance with God and also his deliverance from sickness and diseases is through faith in and by obedience to God's word. The children are made partakers of the benefit of God's healing power through the parent's faith and prayer and by the prayer of others, and we cannot declare the whole counsel of God and His mind and will if we exclude the doctrine of faith healing, … such deliverances are the signs that confirm the gospel and give visible proof that the doctrine is of God.

«We believe» went on the doctrine, «that our faith it rightly grounded and since God has save us and adopted us into His family. He has revealed His love and power in healing us and our children from very many diseases, raised many who have been very near to death, and restored to health in very special manner many little children. He has told us what to do in sickness and it is a very serious thing to go contrary and to do otherwise.

«We see for the Peculiar People that unity of faith in God healing the sick is necessary for unity of spirit, and cannot allow liberty in preaching or teaching otherwise. Those who are weak in the faith we will receive and we will try and strengthen them, and if they fail and call in a doctor and remain contrite we will try and help them, but we can have no fellowship with those who oppose and justify themselves.»

There was a further split in 1897 so that there became the Peculiar People and the Original Peculiar People.

Today the chapel in St. Anne's Road is the Evangelical Church, and at Thundersley is the old graveyard in which a number of Peculiar People lie buried.

Dennis Morgan

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This page was added by Robert Stephen on 12/07/2016.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

Good afternoon.

I find this article a very interesting read. In an old photograph album of my grans there was a picture of a lady and a young girl standing either side of the grave stone of a William Thorrington. I have often wondered who he might be and who the peculiar people were.

By Jessica Blagbrough
On 08/01/2017

Interesting Robert. If you would like to get in touch drop me a brief email to the site address (see Contact Us at the left side of the Home Page). Give telephone number etc.

Regards Bob Stephen, site webmaster.

By Bob Stephen
On 05/11/2016

Fascinating would like to share our family history with writer as my grandfather's brother was Bishop of the Peculiar People, when he died he had a mile long procession through Southend-on-Sea. I'm trying to trace my family history. I do have a copy of the news article from the time, but its not very clear. If you are interested and we can help each other please get in touch.

Regards, Robert Harrod.

By Robert Harrod
On 05/11/2016
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