William Brock (pastor)

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Rev. William Brock
William Brock.jpg
William Brock
Resting placeAbney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London.
Occupationwatchmaker and pastor
Known forSlavery abolitionist, Bible society

Rev. Dr. William Brock (1807–1875), was the first minister of Bloomsbury Chapel in Central London (1848–72);[2] abolitionist,[1] biographer, and supporter of missionary causes.

Early years[edit]

William Brock was of Dutch descent; his ancestors came to England as pilgrims or asylum seekers to escape religious oppression in Holland in the 16th century. He began working life as a watchmaker in Hertford at a shop owned by a Mr Field. He lodged nearby with a lay village pastor, whose enthusiasm tempted him to try his skill in such voluntary pastoral work. In due course, William Brock gave up his watch-making to become a pastor. He applied to the Baptist College, Stepney from where he graduated a few years later. He was offered employment at St Mary’s Church, Norwich. Here he stayed for fifteen years, though not infrequently travelling to London to support meetings of the non-denominational ‘Missionary Society’, which gradually evolved into the nondenominational but largely nonconformist London Missionary Society.

His links with both Anglicans and Nonconformists may have helped him, in 1848, to be appointed minister of the first purpose-built central London Baptist Chapel - the Bloomsbury Chapel[2] - whose establishment had hinged partly on overcoming objections from the Anglican establishment.

Ministerial life at Bloomsbury Chapel and later[edit]

At his Bloomsbury Chapel, which served Central London north of the River Thames, William Brock’s hearty, low-key, oratorial style was in marked contrast to that being developed at the Baptist chapel the South Bank by the ‘crowd-pulling’ evangelist, the Rev. Spurgeon. At an ordination service for a missionary, to which both had been invited, Spurgeon noted how extraordinarily different they were: he found Brock’s delivery to be massive, ornate, rich in words, too ponderous for our tongue, and in terms which would have suited none but himself, but, he generously added it was ’homely, hearty, intense, overwhelming; it did our soul good.

Isaac Crewdson (Beaconite) writerSamuel Jackman Prescod - Barbadian JournalistWilliam Morgan from BirminghamWilliam Forster - Quaker leaderGeorge Stacey - Quaker leaderWilliam Forster - Anti-Slavery ambassadorJohn Burnet -Abolitionist SpeakerWilliam Knibb -Missionary to JamaicaJoseph Ketley from GuyanaGeorge Thompson - UK & US abolitionistJ. Harfield Tredgold - British South African (secretary)Josiah Forster - Quaker leaderSamuel Gurney - the Banker's BankerSir John Eardley-WilmotDr Stephen Lushington - MP and JudgeSir Thomas Fowell BuxtonJames Gillespie Birney - AmericanJohn BeaumontGeorge Bradburn - Massachusetts politicianGeorge William Alexander - Banker and TreasurerBenjamin Godwin - Baptist activistVice Admiral MoorsonWilliam TaylorWilliam TaylorJohn MorrisonGK PrinceJosiah ConderJoseph SoulJames Dean (abolitionist)John Keep - Ohio fund raiserJoseph EatonJoseph Sturge - Organiser from BirminghamJames WhitehorneJoseph MarriageGeorge BennettRichard AllenStafford AllenWilliam Leatham, bankerWilliam BeaumontSir Edward Baines - JournalistSamuel LucasFrancis August CoxAbraham BeaumontSamuel Fox, Nottingham grocerLouis Celeste LecesneJonathan BackhouseSamuel BowlyWilliam Dawes - Ohio fund raiserRobert Kaye Greville - BotanistJoseph Pease, railway pioneerW.T.BlairM.M. Isambert (sic)Mary Clarkson -Thomas Clarkson's daughter in lawWilliam TatumSaxe Bannister - PamphleteerRichard Davis Webb - IrishNathaniel Colver - Americannot knownJohn Cropper - Most generous LiverpudlianThomas ScalesWilliam JamesWilliam WilsonThomas SwanEdward Steane from CamberwellWilliam BrockEdward BaldwinJonathon MillerCapt. Charles Stuart from JamaicaSir John Jeremie - JudgeCharles Stovel - BaptistRichard Peek, ex-Sheriff of LondonJohn SturgeElon GalushaCyrus Pitt GrosvenorRev. Isaac BassHenry SterryPeter Clare -; sec. of Literary & Phil. Soc. ManchesterJ.H. JohnsonThomas PriceJoseph ReynoldsSamuel WheelerWilliam BoultbeeDaniel O'Connell - "The Liberator"William FairbankJohn WoodmarkWilliam Smeal from GlasgowJames Carlile - Irish Minister and educationalistRev. Dr. Thomas BinneyEdward Barrett - Freed slaveJohn Howard Hinton - Baptist ministerJohn Angell James - clergymanJoseph CooperDr. Richard Robert Madden - IrishThomas BulleyIsaac HodgsonEdward SmithSir John Bowring - diplomat and linguistJohn EllisC. Edwards Lester - American writerTapper Cadbury - Businessmannot knownThomas PinchesDavid Turnbull - Cuban linkEdward AdeyRichard BarrettJohn SteerHenry TuckettJames Mott - American on honeymoonRobert Forster (brother of William and Josiah)Richard RathboneJohn BirtWendell Phillips - AmericanM. L'Instant from HaitiHenry Stanton - AmericanProf William AdamMrs Elizabeth Tredgold - British South AfricanT.M. McDonnellMrs John BeaumontAnne Knight - FeministElizabeth Pease - SuffragistJacob Post - Religious writerAnne Isabella, Lady Byron - mathematician and estranged wifeAmelia Opie - Novelist and poetMrs Rawson - Sheffield campaignerThomas Clarkson's grandson Thomas ClarksonThomas MorganThomas Clarkson - main speakerGeorge Head Head - Banker from CarlisleWilliam AllenJohn ScobleHenry Beckford - emancipated slave and abolitionistUse your cursor to explore (or Click "i" to enlarge)
Brock is just on the right of centre in the crowd of this painting which is of the 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention.[1] Move your cursor to identify him or click icon to enlarge

The welcoming, homely style of William Brock also showed itself in his inclusive approach to different denominations upon leaving Bloomsbury Chapel. Still in good health, but having given up his financially comfortable position as pastor of a major Central London church on reaching the age of 65, he chose to supply churches and chapels of all denominations, part-time. He became, to use his own words, "churchless, wifeless, homeless" in one week, and adapted to retirement from Bloomsbury Chapel by renting rooms in Hampstead (close to where his eldest son lived) for the summers, whilst, during winters, he ‘hibernated’ as he called it, on the south coast, at St. Leonards, where the air was fresher and the climate milder.

Career as a Biographer[edit]

Amongst his wider interests, William Brock was an active member of the Peace Society pioneered by such figures as Henry Richard. William Brock was therefore opposed to warfare at the time of the Crimean War and Siege of Lucknow but nevertheless wrote well researched biography of the life of general Sir Henry Havelock, who was a fellow baptist. Published, in 1857, Brock's departure into contemporary biography, achieved an enormous circulation and ran to many popular editions. However, he was widely criticised by those who would not buy his book, including friends in the Baptist ministry and Peace Society, for attempting the portrayal of a Christian who was also a soldier in complex contemporary political and military events. Less controversial was his biography of John Bunyan; it too became a best-seller, bound into many of Cassell's late Victorian editions of Bunyan's works.


Besides his interests in the work of the Peace Society, albeit somewhat compromised by his controversial biographical writing, William Brock was also active as an abolitionist. His name occurs frequently in accounts of meetings held in England during the 1840s, 1850s and early 1860s to support the abolition of slavery in the United States, and pressing for abolition in Josiah's Conder's nonconformist newspaper. At an early stage in this work, he appears as a delegate in the painting of the world's first international Anti-slavery Convention in 1840, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London.[1]

Death and memorial[edit]

William Brock died at St. Leonard's on 13 November 1875, and was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London.