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Ellis Williams – Robert C William’s Grandfather

Ellis Williams was born in either 1738 or 1758, source information disagrees.2 Robert C. Williams said that Ellis was born in Wales. He was ordained a minister of September 3, 1780. Close to where Ellis was a minister is a city called Wells, England; was Ellis born in the city Wells or in the country of Wales? Ellis married Elinore (Ellen) Jones on July 3, 1790, in Llanycil, Merioneth, Wales. Another record shows a marriage in England. The records agree that Elinore died in 1828 in Bronley College, England. 6

A book describes Ellis, “In the bad old days on the hills many well-wishing people tried to help but the difficulties were often insurmountable. Ellis Williams, a sincere though very poor Curate in the Church of England, made one of the earliest attempts in the eighteenth century, when he was given three parishes on the Blackdowns to look after but barely enough stipend to feed and clothe himself and his family, let along help his parishioners.

In 1787, he wrote to a friend, the Rev John Newton, “The place where I live is called Clay-hidon, in the county of Devon and the diocese of Exeter. The Gospel was strange to the people when I first came among them, and for a time I met with little success. At length some seemed under conviction, and I asked them into my house for the better opportunity of conversing with them. They remained for family prayer. Presently, it was noised abroad that the parson had prayer in his house morning and evening and that without any [prayer] book, and that all were welcome to come. Many did do, especially on Sunday evenings and thus there came about a great revival in the place. Opposition arose as a matter of course, but it soon subsided, and enemies became friends.” 2

The poor were fed by him, though he himself was as poor as they. The naked were warmed by his fire and he would weep and bless them; weep because he could not cloth them. He was steady in his affections and in his principals, and he always acted up to them. In preaching he prayed much. His sermons were made up as much of prayer as of teaching. The prayers were accompanied with strong crying and tears. This mode was not very pleasant to people who had not a religious taste but his people were plain. Never had a man won the hearts of his congregation more than he. 3

The Sunday before he became ill, he preached in the afternoon at Clayhidon. He said, “My dear people, this may be the last time that we shall ever meet on earth; forgive my warmth my heart loves you. God only knows how sincerely I desire your salvation and your advancement in holiness. I know not how to part with you. Oh, remember the Redeemer, remember him. He is the Glory of Heaven. All its beauties center in him.“3

But little did his honest flock think they should be parted so soon. The Sunday before, many farmers and others went in to see him. He said to one of them, “Ah, Mr. B., I am glad to see you here; this is Heaven upon Earth. I die in this way only by believing that Gospel which I have preached for nine years so happily will you all die. If you believe what I have preached to you.” 3

Ellis was buried on August 30, 1790, while Curate of Clayhidon, West Buckland and Angersleigh. “Thus lived and died Ellis William in the 52 year of a laborious and useful life having seen many seals to his labors for God. Having through grace changed a rude people, as most that I know and leaving behind him a name which will but soon be forgotten and which will deserve to be had in remembrance. It is no small pleasure to me that my cottage hath an hundred times received him. That he hath eaten and drank in it and that there was never anything known between us but love and peace.” 3

Robert reported in his diary of receiving a copy of a letter from the Reverend J. S. to the late Reverent John Newton concerning the death of the Reverend Ellis Williams, Curate of Clayhidon, Devon, England. The Reverend J. S. reported of singing “Ah Lovely Appearance of Death” at the wake. “In finishing the service, we commit his body to the ground. We give thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world”. J.S. said “Oh how our Minister loved you”. On the Sunday following the funeral, J.S. reported of preaching at Clayhidon from 2 Peter 1:7-15. 3

“But the work proved too much for Ellis Williams, who fell ill and died in 1790, at the age of thirty-two (conflicts with 52 in prior source). The clergyman who succeeded him was unpopular, and the little church which had been crowded was soon deserted, and the people of the hills were more or less left to their own devices for the next fifty years.” 2

“It would be interesting to know if the John Newton to whom he wrote was the famous John Newton 1725-1807 who was a converted slave trader turned parson who wrote many famous hymns including: “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds”, and “May the Grace of Christ our Savior”. It seems to me [Grosse] to be almost certain that it was one and the same. I don’t know where Ronald Webber got the quotation from, but I would imagine that it was from the correspondence of John Newton, rather than from Ellis Williams who would have been little known.” 5

Robert C Williams felt his grandfather was a good man. He was aware of his grandfather giving his money to the poor and leaving his family bear of the necessities of life. 3

Ellis ministered in the Clayhiddon parish. “Clayhiddon is one of the largest parishes in Devon, some seven miles long and three miles wide. Situated on the central eastern side of the county it adjoins the county boundary with Somerset. It forms an important part of the Blackdown Hills, an area designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The nearest towns are Wellington, Somerset, four miles to the north and Honiton, Devon, ten miles to the south. 4
The population is small and scattered. The village center consists of six houses based around St. Andrews Church and the Half Moon Inn. Regardless of how scattered the community might be, history is always in the making and being recorded. This is a record of the parish’s history put together by the Clayhidon Local History Group. Most histories of Devon dismiss Clayhidon (if they mention it at all) in a few lines, yet there is a wealth of information about the parish. Certainly nothing sensational or headline breaking has occurred, the most notorious event being the murder of a tax collector in 1853. It is basically a record of the way people lived through the ages in a very isolated community.” 4

Sources:
1. Burial Registration, Clayhidon Parish, Devon Record Office in Exeter
2. The Devon & Somerset Blackdowns, by Ronald Webber, published by Robert Hale & Company, Clerkenwell House, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1ROHT ISBN 0 7091 5691X. Copy at Library of Congress
3. Robert C Williams Diary transcribed by Richard R Cherrington.
4. City’s web page, http://www.dotukdirectory.co.uk/Devon/Clayhidon/
5. Letter from Rev. Anthony Grosse to Shirley Miller, February 7, 1977, The Rectory, Hemyock, Cullompton, Devon, England.
6. IGI


Written by Richard W. Thomsen

A view of Clayhidon
A view of Clayhidon
Postcard of Clayhidon Church, postmark 1903
Postcard of Clayhidon Church, postmark 1903

The church was built about 1275, or possibly a little earlier. The first reference to Clayhidon in the Bishops' Registers occurs on 27 February 1275, concerning the presentation of Ralph de Hidon to the living. At the end of the 15th century, the Dynham family, patrons of the Church, inaugurated a program of building work which included the tower and south aisle, the entrance door and the rood screen. Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, and his son Edward VI was responsible for ordering the destruction of statues and stained glass in churches. (The empty niche over the main door bears witness to this). However, the rood screen may have survived during Elizabeth's reign, when Latin Mass was reintroduced, only to be taken down during the Civil War 100 years later. The boards bearing the Ten Commandments were purchased in 1760 and the porch sundial added in 1786. A peal of 4 bells is mentioned in an inventory of 1533. A new bell cage was installed in 1762 at a cost of £30. In 1819 the bells were re-cast into a peal of 5; and in 1913 a sixth bell was added and a new iron cage provided.
Clayhidon lies in the Black Down Hills, south of Wellington and Taunton.
Clayhidon lies in the Black Down Hills, south of Wellington and Taunton.
A view of Clayhidon
Clayhidon lies in the Black Down Hills, south of Wellington and Taunton.
The Blackdown Hills, where Ellis preached, is one of many protected landscapes in England
The Blackdown Hills, where Ellis preached, is one of many protected landscapes in England
Rosemary Lane Chapel, Blackdown Hills
Rosemary Lane Chapel, Blackdown Hills