Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gadsby, William

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GADSBY, WILLIAM (1773–1844), particular baptist minister, the son of a labourer, was born at Attleborough in the parish of Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in January 1773. He went to Nuneaton Church school and to another school, and at thirteen was apprenticed to a ribbon weaver. As a lad he had the gift of public speaking, and often harangued his fellow workmen, ending with ‘preaching to them hell and damnation.’ In 1793 he met with a baptist minister named Aston from Coventry, and on 29 Dec. that year was formally baptised at the Cow Lane chapel, Coventry. Until he was twenty-two he worked as a ribbon weaver, and then went to Hinckley, Leicestershire, as a stocking weaver. In 1796 he married Elizabeth Marvin, and began business on his own account. Two years afterwards he commenced preaching regularly at Bedworth and Hinckley, but he continued his business, and used to carry his wares to market in a pack. At this time he was referred to as ‘a very tried man, bearing very blessed marks and evidences of divine teaching within, though clownish and illiterate, almost to the extreme.’ He settled at Manchester in 1805 as the pastor of the Back Lane baptist chapel, situate in George's, now Rochdale, Road, where he remained till his death. At first he met with considerable opposition, but gradually his sterling qualities were appreciated, and he attained great popularity. He had ready wit and quaint humour, and was an earnest and persuasive speaker, though he would often startle his hearers with some eccentric remark. ‘He was called an antinomian, and probably he did not speak with sufficient discrimination or exactness on the nature of moral obligation, but no minister in Manchester lived a more moral life, or presented to his hearers a more beautiful example of christian discipline or self-control’ (Halley). It is calculated that in the exercise of his ministry he travelled sixty thousand miles, and preached nearly twelve thousand sermons.

Between 1806 and 1843 he wrote frequently on religious subjects, and published a number of pamphlets, most of which were afterwards issued in a collective form in two vols. (1851) by his son, John Gadsby, who also in 1884 edited and published a volume of Gadsby's ‘Sermons, Fragments of Sermons, and Letters.’ Gadsby wrote many prosaic hymns and other verses, and published them in ‘A Selection of Hymns,’ 1814, in ‘The Nazarene's Songs,’ 1814, and elsewhere. He died at Manchester on 27 Jan. 1844, and was buried in the Rusholme Road cemetery. There is a tablet to his memory in his chapel, and a good portrait of him was engraved by W. Barnard after F. Turner.

[Memoir by his son, John Gadsby, 1844, new edit. 1870; Halley's Lancashire, its Puritanism and Nonconformity, 1872, p. 527; Procter's Bygone Manchester, p. 144; Manchester City News, 24 and 31 March 1888; Brit. Mus. Cat. of Printed Books; John Dixon's Autobiog. 1866, contains reminiscences of Gadsby.]

C. W. S.