"The Life and Death of Benjamin Cox" by Geoffrey Timmington



Introduction


Years ago I was shown a small book about the life of a Benjamin Cox. The book was in the form of a Memoriam which was accompanied by a copy of Benjamin's Funeral Service held in the Old Wesleyans' Refuge Chapel, Cradley, on October 27th 1867.

As I was looking at the documents I was told that I was in some way related Benjamin Cox; I thought well it could be possible as my mother was a Cox before she was married. The Memoriam had to be returned so I made photo copies to share with other members of the family. My copy was put in a drawer and for many years I did not give it any more thought. With the increasing interest in the history of Cradley, now being promoted by the Cradley Then and Now Group, and the growing interest in local history arising from publications in the Black Country Bugle I thought I should try to write the story of Benjamin Cox.

When considering this task I thought that I could hardly describe myself as just being "possibly related" as this sounded rather vague. I therefore set out to determine if there was a relationship and if so to what extent. I soon established that Benjamin Cox was my great-great-grandfather. Although I was born in Cradley and lived there for nearly thirty years I had never heard of "The Refuge Chapel" before; neither was it a place known to any of my elder relatives. I wanted to find out about the Chapel which had formed such an important part in Benjamin's life; I was also intrigued to find the location of several other places referred to in the Memoriam.

The Memoriam tells the story of Benjamin Cox's dedication to the Christian faith:-

The design of this memorial is not to eulogise a departed friend but to supply the Christian's Album another portrait of "one of the excellent of the earth", to recall the memory of one who in early life "settled it in his heart that it was the sum of all his business and blessedness to live to God", and who for half a century "walked in fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost" that the Church, of which he formed a part, might have opportunity to glorify God on his behalf.

William Jackson, the writer of the Memoriam, tells the story of Benjamin's involvement with the Wesleyan movement but unfortunately there are only brief references to his family life. The author's writing is typical of the mid 19th century and includes many quotations from the scriptures, sermons and hymns of that period. This text is hardly engaging to the modern day reader so I have attempted to adopt a more relevant style but, where I considered it necessary to convey the true feelings expressed at that time and to retain authenticity, some passages have been retained without alteration.

During the process of tracing my connection to Benjamin Cox I started to build up a family tree of his descendants. At that time little did I know that Cox was one of the most frequent surnames in Cradley and as a consequence of my research I have assembled extensive records of numerous Coxes up to the time of the Census of 1901. I have also been able to determine many direct descendants of Benjamin Cox.

By Geoffrey Timmington (Descendant of Benjamin Cox) Bolton, Lancashire, January 2005


The Birth of Benjamin Cox


There was joy in the humble homestead of Thomas and Nancy Cox when their son was born in 1794. They were a couple of honest, thrifty nailers who lived in Rowley parish, adjacent to Cradley, Worcestershire. Later the child was baptised Benjamin on 1st March 1795 at Halesowen Parish Church. A year later the family moved to Two Gates, Cradley and lived in a clump of buildings known as "Four Dwellings". At that time the district of Cradley comprised 1300 souls mainly living in the hamlets of Cradley, Overend and Netherend; there were some other scattered cottages. The inhabitants were mainly employed making nails in small workshops behind their cottages; others made small chains, anvils, gun barrels and many other articles of iron and steel. There were some coal mines but the coal was of inferior quality. Cradley had open areas of well cultivated land, mainly situated at Cradley Upper Field, between Two Gates Lane and Lutley Parish.

In 1797 the Thomas and Nancy had a daughter Sarah, she was baptised at Park Lane Presbyterian Church, Netherend; their second daughter Hannah was christened at Cradley Chapel in 1803. (It later became St Peter's Church in 1898).

As Benjamin grew up he roamed the fields with other boys, learning his earliest lessons in Dame Nature's school. Like many children at that time, when his arm was strong enough to wield a hammer, he was put to the block and taught to make nails. As he grew up he became particularly fond of music and with his small allowance of pocket money, which his father allowed him, he bought a bugle and he was taught to play by a musician from Halesowen. Benjamin was occasionally taken to Cradley Chapel by his father, who went to church because it was considered respectable to do so.

The Conversion of Benjamin Cox


At the request of a Miss Maria Brookes, Benjamin paid a visit to the Wesleyan Chapel at Cradley Forge. The place of worship was situated at the side of the River Stour near to the Wagon and Horses public house, formerly known as "The Hammer Inn". The chapel was frequently referred to as "The Hammer Chapel", or more colloquially, "The Amber Chapel". The start of the Wesleyan movement in Cradley began when Rev John Wesley, visited Cradley in 1770; it was an event which affected some of the inhabitants for they began to meet in a small chapel in Butchers Lane. Then in 1786 the small Wesleyan Society moved to a private house near the Chapel Yard. Later the Wesleyans moved to a church previously occupied by the Unitarians at Cradley Forge; this was the start of Amber Chapel.

One Sunday evening Benjamin heard a Wesleyan local preacher named Hancox. The text of the sermon was "The crown has fallen from our heads; woe unto us for we have sinned". Benjamin was so influenced by the sermon that he began to understand how much he had sinned. "The Arrows of the Almighty stick fast within him". He was troubled for three weeks then God appeared to him and "brought him out of the horrible pit and miry clay, and put his feet on a rock, and put new song in his mouth even praise to the Lord." Benjamin dropped his bugle and forsook his companions; he was emphatically "A man on earth devoted to the skies."

One of the First Methodists


Benjamin soon found out that if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus he must suffer persecution. In the days of his "awakening" the change led his neighbours to consider him to be mad; no one believed this more firmly than his own mother. The neighbours were called in and consulted about his change; after passing him through many searching examinations they pronounced him insane. The family doctor told Mrs. Cox to take the bible away, as it was the book that was fostering Benjamin's delusion. His mother at her wits end went to ask farmer Haden, who was shrewd and a converted character, what he thought of the "trouble" that had overtaken her. The "trouble" was explained to Mr Haden, and he good-humouredly dispelled her fears. "If" he said "your lad had been at a cock-fight or a bull-bait, he would have been alright; but now he is coming to his right mind, you don't know what to make of him. Your lad's alright, woman, go home, and like Mary of old ponder the things you see and hear in your heart." Although Benjamin's mother was satisfied she still rather wished her son would leave the Methodists. The Rev Best, of Cradley Chapel, was requested to persuade Benjamin to return to the church but to no avail; Benjamin had made his choice and decided to keep to it because he felt the "Lord had spoken good" concerning the despised Methodists. Thus Benjamin became one of the first Methodists in Cradley.

Benjamin joined the Wesleyan church fellowship and received his first society ticket from the Rev James Rigg, a minister of the Dudley circuit. When he was nineteen Benjamin openly "confessed Christ before man", and walking in the ways of God found his "heaven on earth had begun".

Benjamin lived a godly life and found himself followed from place to place by his previous companions, they goaded him and mimicked like roaring lions. He was most severely tempted to avenge himself but Benjamin had to pass through this crisis. His old friends spent their leisure time baiting the "praying madman". He never passed through Cradley on a Sunday on his way to the chapel without encountering some of these "sons of the devil" who followed him and jeered him to his face. While wending his steps through Cradley on a certain Sunday, a gang pressed him close, they even touched his clothes and some knelt in front of him and adopted a praying attitude and others shouted "Hallelujah" "Glory" and other similar expressions. Benjamin was able to exercise his patience and even counted it a privilege to be "counted worthy to suffer for Christ". Sometimes he turned on them and with solemn reverence announced "There will be no laughing in hell"; they stood rebuked, and afterwards accepted that Benjamin Cox "had been with Jesus".

Benjamin became a man of the Bible and had no difficulty in recalling any passage when the occasion arose. "The Bible was" indeed, "a lamp to his feet, and a light to his path".

In the early days of his conversion, Benjamin was careful in cultivating habits of watchfulness in his prayer. He took delight in holding secret communion recalling that he had sinned alone, that he would have to die alone and that he would have to be judged alone; he therefore loved to pray alone. He prayed regularly around the base of a particular old oak tree in Cradley Park; many of his neighbours remembered the faded grass caused by the frequent pressure of his knees.

When Benjamin Cox and his fellow worshippers were journeying to hold prayer-meetings, they made it a practice to walk a certain distance in silent prayer to God, during that walk "He would make bare his arm". For a time Benjamin prayed for the conversion of three wicked men who lived near to him and he lived to see two of them reformed. Even until his death he still had hope that the other would still be "plucked as a brand from the burning". All who knew Benjamin could testify how heartily he entered into the spirit and design of prayer-meetings and how he spared no effort to promote them. Every Sunday, for years he left home at five o'clock in the morning to walk four miles to attend a prayer-meeting at The Level. (The Level was probably the meeting house near Level Street, Brierley Hill). On a Sunday evening, at the close of the usual prayer-meeting, he called upon the congregation to remember the Monday night prayer-meeting; such meetings were never dull for long when he was present.

After a time he was considered a fit person to be entrusted with the charge of a class at Amber Chapel. He entered upon this work with much trepidation and heart-searching, but found it one of the greatest supports to his Christian pilgrimage. His class usually met on a Sunday morning at seven o'clock. For most of the two hours prior to the meeting of his class, he read the Scriptures thus he went refreshed to bless those who looked to him for cheering words. Seemingly it was considered that few men possessed greater qualification than Benjamin Cox for this specific work. It was said that "he had great knowledge of the Scriptures, had humility and charity. He was a doer of the word and not just a hearer. Benjamin possessed the happy art of leading those committed to his care to the Savior, and then of uniting them to one another in bonds of sweetest endearment".

At seven o'clock precisely he would give out the appropriate hymn, and the singing of that hymn could always be taken as an indication of what the meeting would be. The lessons that his classmates enjoyed with him, were not readily forgotten. The true secret of Benjamin's success as a leader was that his mind was so thoroughly imbued with the supreme importance of the everlasting state, even so he had a happy mood. He was known for his "divine influence accompanying his sanctified utterances, the heavenly smiling countenance, which seemed to radiate the light and joy, and peace which he enjoyed, and the uplifted hands which he so often raised in wonder, adoration, and triumph".

When he was twenty one Benjamin married Maria Brookes, the girl who had persuaded him to go to the Amber Chapel; the ceremony took place on 30th July 1815 at St Thomas Church, Dudley. They probably lived in the family home at Four Dwellings (This could have been Parkside House where they were found to be living at the time of the 1841 Census. Parkside House was located opposite Cradley Park and off what is now Tanhouse Lane near its junction with the Turnpike, now Stourbridge Road).

The membership at the Amber Chapel, included James and Elizabeth Bowater, of Quarry Bank then in 1817 they moved to live with three other families and Benjamin at Parkside House (This may well have been the "Four Dwellings" which were previous occupied by Benjamin's parents) The Bowaters opened their house to prayer meetings where many conversions took place; a class was formed and two more prayer meeting were established, one Sunday morning and one in the evening, both meetings were crowded and often there was scarcely standing room. Benjamin attended regularly and became a leader of a prayer class. Later it was considered necessary to hire a room; so they gathered in an unoccupied nail warehouse, opposite the Baptist Chapel in Butchers Lane where the Wesleyans also started an adult school.

Endangering Life and Limb


Having established himself with the Cradley Wesleyans Benjamin sought other fields on which to "unfurl the blood-stained banner of the cross". Benjamin shared the concern of the Bowaters, when they became anxious on account of "the spiritual darkness of Lye" (Lye is a neighbouring community between Cradley and Stourbridge). Their next challenge was to make conversions in the area known as Lye Waste where at that time no stranger could pass through without endangering life and limb. In spite of these dangers these good Wesleyan people remained dedicated to start their preaching.

In 1818, a young woman from Lye offered her house for a prayer meeting; when the meeting took place the Bowaters were accompanied by Benjamin and some of their friends. The next week a few more people went with them and the meeting was crowded even up the stairs and many had to stand outside. Not long afterwards a class was formed and Mr. Bowater was appointed leader. According to Benjamin on the first night there were only about half a dozen inside; but outside there was a dense mass of half-naked men and women, in dirt rags. Those inside stared at the men of prayer as if they were insane, while those outside raised such turmoil as would have unnerved less courageous men. When prayer had been offered,and the congregation left the building, they found the "roughs" armed with stakes, sticks and the like, and were hustled about; they thought that their lives were in jeopardy. The Wesleyans were fully committed to their faith otherwise they would not have risked their lives in that uncivilized place.

Another night the Wesleyans found the "roughs" at the door with a big drum which they beat most lustily. The house on this occasion was full, and a feeling of solemnity seemed to pervade all minds; it even reached those outside, for when Benjamin and his companions came out the roughs opened out a way for them through their midst, and allowed them to pass unmolested.

On one occasion the Wesleyans met to hear a local preacher named Hartshorn; then just before the text of the sermon was announced, Ephraim Knowles a renown pugilist ordered the preacher off the chair. Mr. Hartshorn continued for some time but was later dragged off the chair and through the crowd by the bully.

Benjamin and his companions made it a practice not to go together to the Lye Waste, for they found that when they did the natives became so excited as to completely disrupt the meetings. They therefore went separately by different routes and met at the house where the services were to be held. The roughs singled out Benjamin as the "head and front of their offending" and when they saw him they would scream through the village "he's come again". Thus Benjamin was prepared to put his life at risk so that he might win souls.

The gatherings soon became so large that it became necessary to secure another place for their services. A club room over a carpenter's shop was hired then one night the floor gave way and the worshippers fell into the workshop below; that is all but those who where left suspended on benches fastened to the wall. This event led to the erection of a chapel at Waste Bank which was opened in 1822; services were conducted there until 1835 when the premises were taken over. The Wesleyans moved to a cottage and for two years they were subjected to great persecution and as a consequence they were obliged to move. Later they were offered land in Dark Lane where they erected a building which was opened in 1837.

The Wesleyan Chapel at Lyde Green


For some years Benjamin led two classes during which time he spared no effort to promote the prosperity of Zion and laboured hard to introduce Methodism to Cradley. The good work grew and prospered and it became necessary to have a chapel. At first the prospect was gloomy but land was found in Light Green (later known as Lyde Green) then trustees were needed. The Wesleyans searched in vain for men of property in neighbouring churches who would take responsibility; in the end they had no alternative but to become trustees themselves. The Wesleyans made a start but when the building was a mere shell they ran out of money. The half finished building stood all through the winter of 1825; then in the following spring the members raised a little more money and the building was completed but they still had to furnish the inside. The Wesleyans were offered the interior of an old chapel in Bradford Street, Birmingham so they set about carting the woodwork ten miles from Birmingham back to Cradley. The Methodist Chapel was opened in October 1826 and it was given the name "Ebenezer".

In 1828 on the suggestion of Rev. James Sugden and John Rattenbury, the Dudley Circuit was divided into two. Many of those at the Amber Chapel went to the new Ebenezer Chapel, including Benjamin who was a member for the rest of his life, except for just a few weeks in 1849 when there was an "unhappy division" as he described it; he also left during a dispute just eight weeks before he died.

By this time Benjamin and Maria were blessed with six children; their first child was Hannah (also recorded as Annstia or Amelia) born 1819, two years later Rebecca was baptised at Cradley Chapel. Their first son Stephen was born in 1823. Soon after they had three daughters Sarah, Rhoda and Rose, they all probably died in childhood. The couple went on to have three more sons Simeon in 1827 followed by Jessie in 1830; three years later they were blessed with the arrival of Caleb but he died as a small child.

"Thoughts Divine"


Benjamin and his family continued to live at Parkside House, near the Turnpike at its junction with Tanhouse Lane; the Pargeter, Bowater and Hingley families also lived at the same address. At the time of the 1841 Census the Cox family comprised Benjamin and his wife Maria with their children, Annstia, Stephen, Rebecca, Simeon and Jesse; they also shared their home with Benjamin's sister Hannah and her daughter Maria aged two.

It became Benjamin's practice to rise between four and five o'clock, and spend about twenty minutes in praying and studying the scriptures before he went to his nailshop. After breakfast and tea he read his bible. While he was at work in his nailshop he became so absorbed in his thoughts that he was oblivious of what was happening around him. His sons, Stephen, Simeon and Jessie who worked in the same workshop had been known to leave their work more times than once, and go and play without their father missing them. At such times Maria would go to her husband and say "Benjamin, why don't you make those lads come in to work, and not let them spend their time in play like this?" Then Benjamin on waking from his trance would say "My dear wife, I didn't know the lads were out".

Soon after dinner he read a chapter of the bible with his family and then God's blessing was implored on the whole household. Later in life he held prayers and readings of the Scriptures with his family after breakfast and supper. Throughout his life he always expressed kindness and was ever sparing of the faults of others; the friend of all and the enemy of none.

The Rev W Drewett, a Wesleyan minister from Mill Bridge, Yorkshire resided in Cradley from 1839 to 1842 and recalled the great progress Benjamin had made in the divine life -

... he was a holy man and walked with God.. He was one of the few members at Cradley who met me on Friday evenings at the good old Mr. and Mrs. Bowater's house where we read and conversed about Mr Wesley's plain account of Christian perfection. He listened with great interest; and at the first meeting, and at the second meeting he interrupted the reading by saying "so long to be filled with the love of God, let us unite in prayer for this blessing". All present knelt before the lord and Benjamin prayed with extraordinary unction and power. All in the room were overwhelmed by the divine presence". The Rev Drewett went on to recall "Poor Benjamin's heart was that evening filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, and from that time as long as I knew him, he retained the blessing he then received. He became a man of much faith and prayer. His pious influence was felt and acknowledged by many in the neighbourhood. His absence from the house of God, which was of rare occurrence, was always felt to be a loss. He rendered valuable service to the sick-rooms and in the prayer meetings."

For a short time in the early 1850s Benjamin and Maria lived at 34 Pritchett Street, Birmingham 4b (Maria was born in Birmingham so they may have made a temporary move to be near relatives); by 1857 they had returned to Cradley and lived at Overend with their daughter Amelia and her child plus their niece Maria; both children were born out of wedlock. Their son Simeon and family lived next door. The eldest son, Stephen, had moved across the Turnpike, from Parkside House to Cuckoo's Corner where he lived with his wife Mari Ann and their three children. Benjamin's other son Jessie remained in Tanhouse Lane possibly at Parkside House. All members of the family were nail-makers except Jesse who was a forgeman at the New British Iron Company, then the largest employer in the district. Many of the family were recorded as participating in the activities of the Wesleyan Chapel.

Benjamin and Marie returned to Cradley and lived in Bloomers Row, Hightown; their granddaughter Ann also lived with them. Jesse married Abigale Chance in 1852 but she died six years later leaving him with a son Eli. A few months after his wife's death Jesse married Susannah Parsons; they lived in Windmill Hill where they had two children.

Benjamin's wife died in 1867 from then on Benjamin's health began to fail but at the same time it was noticed with joy and satisfaction that "as his outward man decayed, his inner man was renewed day by day."

In the early part of 1867 the minister of the Wesleyan Chapel refused to allow Sunday funerals and several leading members of the Wesleyan Society, including Benjamin, withdrew to avoid strife and contention. Those who broke away joined the worshippers at a place they called "The Old Wesleyan Refuge". The meetings of the "Methods" as they were know had been taking place for at least fourteen years in a group of cottages just off the High Street (now Colley Lane), Cradley.

The Refuge was close to a chain warehouse which later became the Primitive Methodist Chapel where many of Benjamin's descendants were to worship.

The End is Near


On Sunday, July 28th 1867 Benjamin attended two services at the Refuge Chapel. On leaving the prayer-meeting on the following evening he told three of his brethren that it had been an unexampled means of grace to his soul that he had had "such an insight into the heavenly world as to excite in his breast the desire to depart and be with Jesus which was far better".

On Tuesday morning he rose at the usual time, between four and five o'clock; and he went to the nail shop. Benjamin had a break for breakfast to pursue his prayers at 11-00 a.m. when he was taken ill and went into the house. His grand daughter Ann (aged 17), who kept house for him realised how ill he was and sent for his neighbor and friend John Raybould. When Mr. Raybould arrived he found Benjamin lying on the couch and trembling from head to foot, he immediately sent for Doctor George Taylor. By the time doctor arrived Benjamin was unconscious. They shook Benjamin and asked him if he could recognize them he responded "George, if this is dying work it is happy work" He then shouted "tell them..." four or five times but his sentence was left unfinished.

Benjamin was washed and conveyed to bed, where he requested his friends Mr. Taylor and Mr. Raybould to pray, which they did, and right heartedly he responded to their petitions. In the evening Joseph Bloomer, a member of the Refuge Chapel, called to seen him; no sooner had he got into the room when Benjamin accosted him with "my dear Joe, is it well with thee?" Joseph could not utter a word; he was so upset with the thought of losing his "father in the Gospel".

On Wednesday afternoon Benjamin's three friends returned and when they entered his bedroom he requested them to sing. They sang some verses of a hymn and Benjamin joined with them and frequently exclaimed "Glory to God" and "Praise the Lord". Afterwards they all prayed.

The next day, Mr. Jeston Homfray, wealthy industrialist who had been involved in establishing the Ragged School in Mapletree Lane, Cradley, called to see Benjamin. Mr. Homfray and was astounded to find Benjamin in such a happy state of mind and asked him if he had been serving God for many years; Benjamin replied "Fifty-four years, Sir." Benjamin was then asked how he looked upon his passed works and whether he was building his hope of heaven on them. Benjamin replied "I look upon my past righteousness as nothing but filthy rags, and I found my hope of heaven on free grace." Benjamin was pleased that Mr Homfrey had called and then said to him "tell all to come and see a good man die".

By Friday night Benjamin was racked with pain throughout his body. Next day Benjamin Cartwright called and the invalid greeted him saying "Well Benjamin is it well with thee? What sort of progress be'est thee making with the Divine life?" Cartwright told him "he was trying to make his calling and election sure". Benjamin Cox continued "Go on; make good progress; let nothing turn thee aside from the main object of life." He then contrasted the preaching of the early Methodists and that of modern Methodist ministers declaring with much energy in favour of the former as being more evangelical, heart searching and likely to accomplish the intentions of those preaching.

When Mr. Taylor, Mr. Bloomer and Mr. Raybould entered his room, Benjamin said "I have been making a plan of my funeral; if it were the Lord's will I should like to be buried on the Sunday, so that you all can come; I should like the 42nd hymn of the Wesleyan Hymn Book, sung at my funeral, to the tune of Old Kent. I want you to sing the whole of it with all the voice you are capable of."

It was thought by those sitting up with Benjamin that he would die about five o'clock in the morning of Sunday, but he rallied. At noon Mr. Raybould returned to see his friend and by the afternoon the bedroom was crowded with others who wanted to see how it fared with their friend. At Benjamin's request, the society connected with the Refuge Chapel, congregated round his bed at four o'clock; although in the most excruciating pain he earnestly asked one and all of them, to let nothing frivolous turn them from the pursuit of the better land.

During the Sunday night Benjamin became delirious which his medical attendant attributed to his having been visited by so many persons through the day. On Monday morning his three friends returned and were asked to sing; they were joined by Benjamin and so he went on throughout the day.

At three o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, August 6th, he was heard to say, "Praise the Lord" and these were the last words he uttered on earth. Up to seven o'clock he lifted his hands as was his wont when he uttered any expression of praise; but from that hour he was unable to move them. About ten minutes to two o'clock on Tuesday August 6th 1867 Benjamin Cox was offered in death; "it had taken eight days to take the tabernacle down".

On Sunday, August 11th, 1867, Benjamin's mortal remains were carried, in accordance with his wish, by the eight persons whose names appeared first in his class-book. The whole of the Society from the Refuge, with a large number of friends and relatives, took part in the funeral cortege to Cradley Church. The Rev J.H.Thompson, B.A., incumbent, paid a much-prized tribute to Benjamin before the body was buried in the adjacent graveyard. The lamentation throughout Cradley on that day was "A Prince and a great man has fallen in our Israel."

On Sunday evening October 27th Benjamin Cox's Funeral Sermon was preached by Rev Charles Everett Broughton, of Birmingham to an overflowing congregation, in the Old Wesleyans' Refuge Chapel. The text was: "And his Lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord" (Matt XXV, 21). The hymn after the sermon was:

"There is a beautiful land, where all is bright,
No sickness no pain, no sorrow no night;
There happiness dwells, and joy reigns for ever,
In that beautiful land - just over the river."

(Sung to the tune of Hanover)

"MARK THE PERFECT MAN, AND BEHOLD THE UPRIGHT; FOR THE END OF THAT MAN IS PEACE"


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