Cover image: Wilford Woodruff baptizing Ann Rowley in Benbow Pond – 1840
The Dawning of a Brighter Day by Julie Rogers.

The Anglican ministers in the South of England were furious. They called a convention and wrote a petition to the highest religious authority in the land, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In this petition the rectors stated that one Mormon missionary had baptized fifteen hundred persons, mostly members of the Church of England, during the past seven months. They hoped to convince the Archbishop to use his power and influence in Parliament to ban Mormons from preaching in Britain.[1]

Although this reaction seems extreme, it was not unprecedented. Around this time Wilford Woodruff wrote that the church ministers were very stirred up, concerned that they would lose their flocks. “They are holding conventions and meetings to contrive schemes and plans to overthrow and stop the work of God.”[2] Wilford continued his entry, explaining what church attendance looked like in that area at that time: “They do not have more than 10 or 15 persons in their church on the Sabbath and they really begin to think something strange is happening. Truth will prevail.”[3]

The Mission of the Apostles

In 1840, Wilford Woodruff and eight other Apostles were sent under the direction of Joseph Smith to proselyte in the British Isles.[4] After the Apostles arrived, they disbursed to different regions. Wilford went to Staffordshire in an area known as the Potteries. After a few successful months preaching and baptizing, he was inspired to go south with a recent convert, William Benbow, into the three-county area of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire.[5]

Wilford was introduced by  William Benbow to his brother John in Herefordshire and taught the members of the religious group that John Benbow helped lead.[6] The United Brethren were a group of former Methodists hoping to restore Christianity back to its apostolic roots—the perfect candidates to convert to the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[7] In less than four months, Wilford taught and baptized over five hundred individuals in the three county area, the majority of them were members of the United Brethren.[8]

With this growth in missionary work, Wilford began to attract attention not only from those interested in the message that he had to preach, but also from community and church leaders in the area. Wilford wrote that in one of his meetings on Sunday, March 8, he was approached by a constable and was told that he had a warrant for his arrest by the rector of the parish. After Wilford proclaimed he had a proper license to preach, the constable stayed for the meeting, and Wilford recorded that the constable and four local preachers were baptized when he finished preaching.[9] Wilford stated that two Anglican clerks were sent as spies to a subsequent meeting, “but they were both pricked in their hearts and received the word of the Lord gladly, and were baptized and confirmed.”[10] The rector became so alarmed that “he did not dare to send anybody else.”[11] Now in earnest, the rectors held their convention and wrote up a petition to Archbishop William Howley.

Archbishop William Howley by John Henry Robinson

The Archbishop’s reply to the petition from the rectors was grounded in the religious laws of England. Archbishop Howley and the rest of the council at Canterbury reasoned “that if [the rectors] had the worth of souls at heart as much as they valued the ground where hares, foxes, and hounds ran, they would not lose so many of their flock.”[12] The ministers were focusing on more trivial pursuits, namely the common elite pastime of hunting foxes and hares with hounds, instead of converting souls to the faith. Howley wanted the ministers to shift their focus from inconsequential, external matters, such as the number of individuals attending church, to the teachings of salvation.

Hostilities against the Latter-day Saints

Although English law allowed for preaching and missionary work, that did not eliminate persecution against the Church. An entry in the Hereford Times in Dymock, Gloucester, stated that effigies of the leaders of the Latter-day Saints of that neighborhood were shot, hung, and burned.[13] Wilford shared an account of a meeting during which a mob threw eggs, bricks, and rocks on the house, breaking the tile on the roof and shattering windows. Knowing that this was against English law, Wilford proposed to go with the brethren into the midst of the mob to build a testimony against them but, for his own safety, he was not permitted to go and the mob eventually dispersed.[14] Wilford was also pursued by a mob as he was preparing to baptize several converts—yet he commenced with the baptisms anyway, writing, “I performed the ordinance without any insult or injury excepting the tongue of slander and throwing a dog into the pool where I was baptizing.”[15] Wilford continued to push on in his missionary work despite the attempts by mobs and local clergy to interfere.

Most of the animosity towards converts and missionaries was expressed through the printing of anti-Mormon pamphlets demonstrating the contrast between the High-Church style of the Anglican church and the Low-Church style of the Latter-day Saints. Several ministers in the three-county area published pamphlets attacking the faith. In one pamphlet, John Simons, rector over Dymock, stated that Mormonism was a faith made of “pretended revelations and unscriptural doctrines” which created a “deep scheme to pick the pockets of poor and ignorant people.”[16] During this time, the working class felt that they were not receiving enough poor relief or assistance from the Anglican church, leading to lowering numbers of attendance.[17] Many in the working class would have felt at home with the Latter-day Saints because of their practice of communalism.

Simons also tried to discredit the character of Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, by referencing his use of seer stones,[18] an argument often used in anti-Mormon literature in the nineteenth century.[19] They characterized this as spiritual “magic” and Simons’ pamphlet concluded, “I warn you . . . that if you will follow the wicked and blasphemous doctrines which are now taught among you, you will plunge yourselves headlong into everlasting misery.”[20] Through his pamphleteering, Simons also painted the Latter-day Saint faith as a money-making scam based on flawed doctrine on obtaining salvation.

Another publication written by William Morrish, a minister over Ledbury, Herefordshire, stated, “Many of you, I believe, are simple-minded Christians, really anxious about the salvation of your souls, but at the same time not sufficiently ‘grounded in faith.’ ”[21] In making this remark, Morrish placed the blame on his parishioners’ ignorance and not on his own preaching, which was yet another aspect that the working class struggled with in relating to the Anglican church. In the restored Church of Jesus Christ and other nonconformist sects, there was more space for the average lower- to middle-class person to become actively involved in worship and leadership positions. In contrast, in the Church of England the clergymen were primarily middle- to upper-class individuals who were educated at Cambridge or Oxford.[22] Both Morrish’s and Simons’ arguments focused on directing their parishioners back under their shepherdship, promoting that they were the only ones with the true authority to bring about the salvation of souls. The earliest anti-Mormon arguments that were made in the nineteenth century did not distract many of the working-class individuals who felt a connection to the Latter-day Saint faith over the Anglican Church.

“Mormonism In Utah—The Cave of Despair”
from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspapers

Consequences of Misleading Rhetoric

The publishing of anti-Mormon rhetoric continued to grow through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. With the public introduction of the faith’s practice of plural marriage, the working class’s perspective on and interest in the religion began to change. In 1884, Wilford Woodruff’s son Asahel was serving a mission in England. In a letter to his father, Asahel painted a picture of how anti-Mormon propaganda was being spread: “The country is being continually flooded with misrepresentation about us as a people . . . the mere mention of Latter Day Saint or ‘Mormon’ has about the same effect on them as the shaking of a red blanket has on a wild bull.”[23] This change in rhetoric towards the Latter-day Saint faith over the nineteenth century transitioned from arguing over a doctrinal standpoint to using exaggerated and imaginary perspectives of the faith’s practice of polygamy.

The anti-Mormon preaching and pamphleteering in England continued to gain traction into the early twentieth century, resulting in some Latter-day Saint missionaries being banned from England. Although the British government had never interfered before in Latter-day Saint missionary activities, from 1910 to 1922 there was a push to prevent Latter-day Saint missionaries from entering England due to continual propaganda about the practice of polygamy and the threat of violence in cities, especially in northern England.

Even though the practice of polygamy was ended in the Church by President Woodruff in 1890, anti-Mormons “inflamed the popular imagination” by spreading the rumor that Mormon missionaries came to England to convert naïve young girls in order to lure them to Utah to become plural wives.[24] The momentum from anti-Mormons in early twentieth- century England quickly spread into politics, and the English government stopped giving missionaries equal treatment with their visa applications.[25] In the end, however, the United States—mainly through its two Utah senators—prevailed on the British government, and missionaries were able to return to Britain once again.[26]

Truth Will Prevail in the End

Wilford Woodruff’s record of his mission to England in 1840 gives great insight into how truly prepared the people were to hear the gospel message despite persecution and hostilities from religious authorities and others in the area. England’s religious tolerance allowed missionary work to continue, although rumors and misconceptions surrounding the practice of plural marriage temporarily brought efforts to a standstill. It was an uphill battle to regain the right to evangelize, however the British mission demonstrates that, in spite of attempts by those who opposed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, truth will prevail in the end.

About the Author

Ellie Hancock graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from BYU in April 2022. She is the Historian for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. She loves being able to learn from the life, teachings, and testimony of Wilford Woodruff and is grateful to be a part of a project that gives new insight into the Restoration of the gospel.

Ellie Hancock was chosen as a recipient of the Carol Sorensen Smith Award and was selected to present her exemplary research at the Wilford Woodruff Papers Building Latter Day Conference in March 2023.

The mission of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation is to digitally preserve and publish Wilford Woodruff’s eyewitness account of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to inspire all people, especially the rising generation, to study and to increase their faith in Jesus Christ. See



Some original text has been edited for clarity and readability.

[1] Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc, 1986), pp. 118–119.

[2] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, September 24, 1840, p. 183, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[3] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, September 24, 1840, p. 183, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[4] James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, David J. Whittaker, Men With a Mission, 18371841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles,

[5] Carol Wilkinson and Cynthia Doxey Green, The Field is White: Harvest in the Three Counties of England, pp. 41–42,

[6] Wilkinson and Doxey Green, The Field is White, p. 42.

[7] Grant Underwood, “The Religious Milieu of English Mormonism,” in Mormons in Early Victorian Britain, pp. 38–39.

[8] Wilkinson and Doxey Green, The Field is White, pp. 46, 54.

[9] Leaves from My Journal, March 8, 1840, p. 92, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[10] Leaves from My Journal, p. 93, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[11] Leaves from My Journal, p. 93, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[12] Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 118.

[13] “Proceedings at Dymock: The Dymock Lads,” Hereford Times, November 14, 1840, British Library Newspapers.

[14] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, September 16, 1840, p. 178, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[15] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, April 5, 1840, p. 95, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[16] John Simons, A Few More Facts Relating to the Self-styled Latter-Day Saints,” (Homend-street, Ledbury: J. Gibbs, Jun. 1840), p. 1.

[17] Horace Mann, Census of Great Britain, 1851: Religious Worship In England and Wales, Abridged From the Official Report Made By Horace Mann, Esqr., to George Graham, Esqr. (London: George Routledge and Co., 1854), pp. 94–96.

[18] Simons, A Few More Facts Relating to the Self-styled Latter-Day Saints,” pp. 2–3.

[19] J. Spencer Fluhman, “A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012), pp. 39–40.

[20] Simons, A Few More Facts Relating to the Self-styled Latter-Day Saints,” p. 2.

[21] W. J. Morrish, The Latter-Day Saints and The Book of Mormon: A Second Warning from a Minister to his Flock, p. 1,

[22] Robert L. Lively, “Some Sociological Reflections on the Nineteenth Century British Mission,” in Mormons in Early Victorian Britain, pp. 22–23.

[23] Letter from Asahel H. Woodruff to Wilford Woodruff, December 2, 1884, p. 2, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,

[24] Malcolm R. Thorp, “The British Government and the Mormon Question, 1910–1922,” Journal of Church and State 21, no. 2 (Spring 1979), pp. 305–307.

[25] Thorp, “The British Government and the Mormon Question, 1910–1922,” p. 313.

[26] Thorp, “The British Government and the Mormon Question, 1910–1922,” pp. 317, 321.