Just two years after the founding of the Church, missionaries were sent to preach the gospel in Canada. They met with great success and baptized a number of British subjects who then desired that the gospel be preached to their relatives in Great Britain. Consequently, Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve was set apart on 4 June 1837 to open a mission in England. Willard Richards, Joseph Fielding, and Elder Orson Hyde were also called to serve with him. As the group traveled to New York, they were joined by Canadians John Goodson, Isaac Russell, and John Snider.
On 1 July 1837, the seven men set sail for England. They arrived on 19 July 1837 in Liverpool. Two days later they traveled to Preston where Fielding’s brother James was pastor of the Vauxhall Chapel. They preached the gospel there the following two Sundays, 23 and 30 July. Just 11 days after their arrival, a baptismal service was held in the nearby River Ribble that was viewed by about 8,000 curious onlookers. Nine converts, all former members of Fielding’s church, were baptized by Elder Kimball, the first of whom was George D. Watt. A week later, the number of converts reached 50.
The first branch in England was created in Preston on 6 August 1837. It continues today as the oldest continuously functioning unit in the Church. The first conference in England was held four months later on Christmas Day. Missionaries extended their labors to Alston and Bedford, where branches were soon established, but the greatest work was done in the Preston area. Opposition began to mount through ministers and the press, but within nine months, more than 1,000 had been baptized. During 1837, branches were established at Walkerfold, Ribchester, Thornley, Penwortham, Wrightington, Alston, Barshe Lees and Bedford. During 1838-1839 an additional 21 branches were created.
In 1838, Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde returned to Nauvoo, leaving Joseph Fielding in place as president of the mission. Elders Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball (on his second mission to England), Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and George A. Smith arrived in England in 1840.
Wilford Woodruff traveled to the potteries district and established the Church in Hanley. While there he became acquainted with converts William and Ann Benbow. In March 1840, he traveled south in company with William Benbow to the Herefordshire area where he met William’s brother John Benbow. The Benbow family was converted after their first visit with Woodruff and told him of their congregation of over 600 people who had formed their own church, the United Brethren. Woodruff preached to members of the United Brethren and in five days baptized 32 people from the congregation. Within 18 days of his arrival at Herefordshire, Woodruff had baptized the two most influential members of the United Brethren, John Benbow and Thomas Kington, and 15 of their preachers. Eventually, all but one of the congregation was converted and baptized, and in 1840 they deeded their Gadfield Elm Chapel to the Church. It was the first building to be owned by the Church in England. Ministers were so concerned about the progress of the Church that they petitioned without success the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask Parliament to ban the Mormons from England.
In 1840, additional members of the Quorum of the Twelve arrived in England. On 14-16 April 1840, they held a meeting of the Quorum, the first such meeting held outside of the United States, and conducted a general conference of the Church. The Apostles grouped the many local congregations into conferences, beginning with the Gadfield Elm Conference organized on 14 June 1840. In 1840, the mission began publication of a periodical, the Millennial Star. During the same year, through the generosity of former United Brethren leaders Benbow and Kington, an edition of the Book of Mormon and a hymnal were prepared for publication. Brigham Young obtained the British copyright for the first European edition of The Book of Mormon. It was published in Liverpool in January 1841. The British Mission was headquartered in Manchester until 1842 when it was moved to Liverpool. It remained there until it was moved in 1929 to Birmingham.
Soon many converts began immigrating to the United States. John Moon brought the first company of 41 converts with him on the ship Britannia in June 1840. Around 800 members left for America during 1840-1841.
Because of the hardships suffered by the first groups of emigrating Latter-day Saints, the Church in Britain established a system of emigration, chartering its own ships for the huge numbers desiring to emigrate. Leaders procured ample provisions for the voyage and set up companies of emigrants presided over by priesthood brethren. The system was enhanced in 1849 when President Brigham Young established the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF), a revolving fund wherein those without means could have their way to Zion paid for by the Church, but were expected to repay the loan once they were settled. The money would then be loaned again to other immigrants needing financial help in order to join the Saints in America.
In 1851, the British Mission published the Pearl of Great Price. It was the first time the texts had been compiled and published together. The volume was canonized as scripture 27 years later.
Out-migration took thousands of members and many of the district and branch leaders from England in the 19th Century creating a shortage of leaders. From the period 1840 to 1868, at least 150 sailing vessels brought tens of thousands of saints from England to the United States.
In the 1880s, former member William Jarman traveled through England with his anti-Mormon lectures and helped to create deep prejudices against the Church. He eventually lost favor after losing several debates to B.H. Roberts. The 1890 manifesto officially renouncing polygamy helped to create a period of relative calm for the Church in England. In June 1894, the First Presidency began to encourage the European Saints to remain and build up the Church in their own countries. Nevertheless, many continued to immigrate to the United States.
In August and September 1906, England received its first visit from a prophet, Joseph F. Smith, who spent several weeks in England and Scotland giving sermons which were later published in the Millenial Star.
From 1910 to 1914, in the wake of the Reed Smoot hearings in the United States Senate during the first decade of the 20th century, a well-organized anti Mormon campaign was mounted by various ministers and former-Mormons. They lectured and published pamphlets accusing the missionary program as being a front to enslave British girls as polygamous wives. Missionaries during this era were often attacked, and one was tarred and feathered. Eventually, British Home Secretary Winston Churchill investigated and then dismissed these accusations as having no basis in fact.
In 1914, England became fully involved in World War I. Missionaries from America continued to staff the mission until the United States involvement in the war began in 1917, effectively eliminating available men to serve. In 1913, the British Mission had enjoyed a force of 258 missionaries. By 1919, the number had dropped to 31 with just five being Americans. Local missionaries filled the void. In 1919, the Church applied again for missionary visas. The request was denied because politicians prejudiced by the anti-Mormon campaign preceding the war felt that Mormon missionary work was disruptive to English society. Appeals launched through Utah’s congressional delegation eventually prevailed and missionaries from America were allowed to return in 1920.
During the early 1930s the British Mission instituted a “chapel-acquisition programme” intended to encourage the construction or acquisition and remodeling of buildings as meetinghouses. Even though the program was launched during an economic depression, branch leaders enthusiastically embraced the challenge and instituted building fund-drives in their branches. By 1935 twelve meetinghouses had been built or acquired and others were underway.
In 1937, Church leaders in Great Britain celebrated the centennial of the Church in the British Isles. During the first one hundred years, 126,593 persons had been baptized, and 52,000 of those had immigrated to the United States. To be part of the observances, President Heber J. Grant, his counselor J. Reuben Clark Jr., and 50 other Church leaders arrived in England during July 1937. During two weeks of festivities, President Grant dedicated chapels in Burnley, Bradford, Rochdale, Merthyr Tydfil, Liverpool, South-west London, and North London, and attended a pageant and Centennial Ball. He also conducted three overflow sessions of conference.
The upheaval of World War II, 1939-1945 disrupted every aspect of life in England including the Church’s operations. In September 1939, after England’s declaration of war, the American missionaries were evacuated. Mission President Hugh B. Brown followed in January 1940 and British members were appointed to the leadership positions vacated by the missionaries. With great zeal, “home missionary work” was performed by the members and many converts were made during the war. When American leadership resumed in May 1944, with President Brown’s return, the number of branches had increased from 68 to 75, although they were later consolidated into 29 units. During January 1946, the first post-war missionaries returned to England.
More than 12,000 members attended the dedication services of the London Temple conducted by President David O. McKay on 7-9 September 1958.
On 17 June 1960, the first stake in England was created in Manchester. The British Mission was divided the same day, creating the North British Mission. An aggressive building program, aided by building missionaries, was responsible for the construction of several meetinghouses in the early 1960s. The Institute of Religion was inaugurated in Britain in 1970.
The first-ever area conference of the Church was held in 1971 in Manchester. Fourteen General Authorities, including President Joseph Fielding Smith, participated in the 27-29 August meetings. After the Church discontinued holding large area conferences and replaced them with more localized regional conferences, the first regional conference of the Church was held in London on 13 October 1983.
Latter-day Saints throughout the British Isles participated in three days of celebration on 24-26 July 1987, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first missionary work in Great Britain. Thirteen General Authorities, including President Ezra Taft Benson and his first counselor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, four apostles, and seven members of the First Quorum of the Seventy participated in the events. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath attended the anniversary dinner in London. The dinner featured a videotaped message from United States President Ronald Reagan.
Conferences were held in six cities in the British Isles and nine public markers were dedicated at various sites of importance to the Church. Five of the markers were dedicated in England: in Avenham Park along the banks of the River Ribble where the first converts were baptized on 30 July 1837; at Benbow Farm in Herefordshire, where Wilford Woodruff baptized 65 in March 1840; at Hungerford, where Apostle James E. Talmage was born; at Hyde Park Chapel in London; and at Albert Dock in Liverpool, where the first missionaries landed and where the first emigrants sailed from on 6 July 1840.
In November 1990, Terry Rooney of the Bradford 2nd Ward, Huddersfield England Stake, became the first Latter-day Saint elected to Parliament.
Natives of England who have been called as General Authorities through the years include John Taylor, president of the Church 1880-87; Elders George Q. Cannon, John R. Winder, George Teasdale, James E. Talmage, John Longden, B. H. Roberts, George Reynolds, Joseph W. McMurrin, and Derek A. Cuthbert. Elder Kenneth Johnson is currently serving in the Seventy.
The London Temple was rededicated on 18 October 1992 by President Gordon B. Hinckley. A second temple, in Preston, England, was dedicated on 7 June 1998 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
On a trip to England and the Republic of Ireland 24 August-2 September 1995, President Gordon B. Hinckley created the Canterbury England Stake, rededicated the Hyde Park Chapel, and met with members, missionaries, and news media in Liverpool and elsewhere. The Tabernacle Choir performed in Royal Albert Hall in London on 14 June 1998, a performance taped by BBC for rebroadcast in September 1998.
Following a six-year effort, the rebuilt Gadfield Elm Chapel, the oldest LDS meetinghouse in the Church, was rededicated on 23 April 2000, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve. In 1842, the chapel was sold to assist new British converts immigrating to America, and during the next 152 years the building fell into disrepair. In 1994, a group of members from the Cheltenham England Stake formed a charitable trust to purchase the historic site and restore it. On 26 May 2004, President Gordon B. Hinckley received the title to the meetinghouse on behalf of the Church.
The England Bristol Mission was consolidated with the England Birmingham, England London, and England London South missions on 1 July 2002.
In 2002, membership reached 135,819.
Sources: Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, Richard O. Cowan, ed., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, 2000; V. Ben Bloxham, James R. Moss, Larry C. Porter, Truth Will Prevail: The Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles, 1837-1987; 1987; James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, David J. Whittaker, Men With a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837-1841, 1992; Europe West Area Public Affairs Council, Exploring Your Heritage: Church Historical Sites in the British Isles, nd.; Derek A. Cuthbert, The Second Century: Latter-day Saints in Great Britain, 1937-1987, 1987; “Gadfield Elm: The Oldest LDS Chapel in Europe,” Ensign, October 1986; “English, Irish Members Greet President Hinckley,” Ensign, November 1995; Don L. Searle, “The Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland,” Ensign, June 1998; “Cradle of the British Mission,” Church News, 17 January 1959; Bryan J. Grant, “Church History Exhibit Opens in Britain,” Church News, 11 July 1987; Parry D. Sorensen, “Pres. Grant Visited Great Britain for LDS Centennial,” Church News, 18 July 1987; Dell Van Orden and Gerry Avant, “Church Celebrates its British History” and “Markers Tell Where History was Made, Church News, 1 August 1987; Dell Van Orden, “Liberty Sparked First in Britain,” Church News, 1 August 1987; Gerry Avant, “British Strength Lauded in Birmingham,” Church News, 1 August 1987; President Reagan Praises Church’s Accomplishments” and “Saga of Church in British Isles Lauded at Anniversary Dinner ” and “Scriptures Given to Queen, Prime Minister,” Church News, 1 August 1987; Gerry Avant, “Site Acquired for Second Temple in England” and “Thousands Tour London and Swiss Temples,” Church News, 24 October 1992; Gerry Avant, “Thousands Gather and Savor Experience of Temple Dedication” and “Temples Rededicated, Lives Renewed,” Church News, 31 October 1992; “Oldest LDS Chapel in England Refurbished and Rededicated,” Church News, 6 May 2000; Historic Chapel Given to LDS, Church News, 27 May 2004.