Robert Carr Brackenbury

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Robert Carr Brackenbury (28 May 1752 – 11 August 1818) was born in 1752 at Panton House, near Wragby, Lincolnshire. His biographer, Terence R Leach, Brackenbury’s biographer, describes him as a ‘poet, practitioner, philanthropist and mystic’.[1] Brackenbury was educated at Felsted School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge University.[2]


Robert Carr Brackenbury was from a wealthy Lincolnshire family. His chosen career as a Methodist preacher was ‘far removed from what might be expected of a wealthy 18th century Lincolnshire squire’.[3] As a Methodist preacher, Brackenbury was very influential, and proved instrumental in the spread of Methodism in Lincolnshire. Terence Leach suggests a great deal of his influence stemmed from his social standing, for he was ‘the only person in his social sphere who showed any interest in the Methodist cause’.[4] However his skills as an orator were also well recognised throughout the county, and indeed throughout the country, and he was in high demand to speak at the opening ceremonies of Methodist chapels throughout England. He remained an active preacher throughout his life, even taking Methodism to Jersey, where his legacy is still well remembered.

In 1779, Brackenbury constructed a Methodist chapel above the stables in the grounds of his estate in Raithby by Spilsby, Lincolnshire. Raithby Hall was also constructed by Brackenbury around this time. The chapel was completed before the house, which was just a ‘shell’ when John Wesley visited Brackenbury on 5 July 1779 to open the chapel. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism and a great friend of Brackenbury. Brackenbury was held in high regard by John Wesley and despite never being ordained, was appointed by Wesley to be part of the ‘Legal Hundred’, a conference of esteemed ministers who advised Wesley and provided guidance on the appointment of preachers.

Wesley writes of his visits to Raithby and to Brackenbury’s home fondly, after a visit in 1779 he wrote that he ‘could not but observe, while the landlord and his tenants were standing together, how “Love, like Death, maketh all distinctions void.”[5]

In 1791, Brackenbury had just lost his friend and mentor Charles Wesley. He decided to leave Southampton, and take the first coach that drew up. By complete chance Brackenbury ended up in Weymouth, where he was told of Portland's darkness and immorality, although in reality conventional crime was rare on the island, and it was probably the unusual marriage and sexual customs that concerned those on the mainland.[6] Within the space of a year Brackenbury and his friend George Smith had a large Methodist following on the island. In 1792 he had a large chapel built in the village of Fortuneswell, including the minister's house, entirely at his own expense. Brackenbury himself continued to stay on Portland for long periods, and in 1792 he rented a thatched cottage at Wakeham for meetings, and there the first Tophill Sunday Schools were held. Upon his death in 1818, his wife continued his work on the island. The 1792 chapel was later replaced with the Underhill Methodist Church, also known as Brackenbury Memorial Church.[7]


Robert Carr Brackenbury was married twice. His first marriage in 1782 ended two years later with the death of his wife Jane, who was aged just 24.

He was remarried in 1795 to married Sarah Holland, also a dedicated Methodist. Sarah was very much Robert’s junior, and survived him by almost 20 years. Records indicate that Sarah continued her husband’s ministry after his death; the 1841 census lists her occupation, as ‘Cure of Souls Without Clerk In Holy Orders’. Despite two marriages, Robert Carr Brackenbury died without any children. Upon the death of his second wife, Sarah, his estate was sold, in an impoverished state, to the Reverend Edward Rawnsley (1816–1905).


Robert died in 1818 and is buried in Raithby Church.


Unfortunately few records survive of the life of Robert Brackenbury; his modesty demanded that all letters and papers be destroyed after his death.


  1. ^ Terence R Leach ‘John Wesley’s Earthly Paradise’ Laece Books, 1993
  2. ^ "Brackenbury, Robert [Carr] (BRKY769RC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Terence R Leach ‘John Wesley’s Earthly Paradise’ Laece Books, 1993
  4. ^ Terence R Leach ‘John Wesley’s Earthly Paradise’ Laece Books, 1993
  5. ^ John Wesley ‘Journal of the Revered John Wesley, Sept 13 1773 to Jan 2 1776’, p.152
  6. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0946159345.
  7. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0946159345.