Hannah Bowman

By Michael Green

Hannah was born around 1740 and we are told that, as a young woman, she committed herself and her cause into the hands of the Lord. In 1768 she married Charles Bowman who, the following year, became the gardener at Melbourne Hall, a position he held for over 50 years.  It is reported that Hannah heard the Rev Dr Thomas Ford, the charismatic vicar of Melton Mowbray who had strong Methodist leanings, speak. This was probably in the mid-1770s and she became convinced of her lost state but the real turning point in her life occurred when she heard John Wesley preach at Castle Donnington. There had been great excitement amongst the members of the Methodist society in Melbourne, of which she was a member, when it was learned that he was to preach there and a party, including a heavily pregnant Hannah, was soon formed to travel the 6 miles to listen to him. It was a hot summer’s day in 1779. In fact, the heat was so stifling that Wesley, who had been due to speak in the meeting house, was compelled instead to do so in the open air. The preaching made a great impression on Hannah and she returned home rejoicing in the Lord and joining with her friends in singing When Thou the work of faith has wrought.

John Wesley wrote to her on two occasions. In the first letter written on 4th March 1786, while he was in Bristol, he told her You have only one thing to do – leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, go on to perfection…..The Lord is nigh at hand, my dear Hannah. Trust Him and praise Him. The second letter was written on 14th March 1789 in response to a query from her as to whether it was proper to tend to a hot house or garden on the Sabbath. The response began without salutation and somewhat tersely.

I have neither time nor inclination to enter into a long dispute on this or any other question. All I can do is, first to declare my own judgment, and then set down my reasons for it; and if your son is not satisfied therewith, I do not know any way to help it.

The judgment is that there is no more harm in keeping an hot-house than a flower garden; and I judge there is no more sin in keeping a flower garden than in smelling a rose.

My reason for judging both of these innocent is because neither of them is forbidden in Scripture, and it is sinful to condemn anything which Scripture does not condemn.

I think, therefore, to condemn all who keep hot-houses and flower gardens is a sin both against God and their neighbours; and one of them might say, 'Why am I judged of another man's conscience To my own Master I stand or fall.' I am

Your affectionate brother.

J Wesley

Her words and actions constantly witnessed to her faith and one such example was observed by John Byng who rode extensively through England and Wales on horseback during the latter part of the 18th century and kept a diary of his travels (known as The Torrington Diaries). In the summer of 1790, during the course of these, he visited the gardens of Melbourne Hall and was looked after by Hannah. He wrote that, on mentioning that a fountain was not working, she had replied to the effect that this was obviously God’s wish because He was in charge of everything.

In a sense, Hannah could be described as the mother of 19th century Methodism in Tamworth. There was a particular chemistry between her daughters, Elizabeth and Ruth, and two Methodist local preachers. Elizabeth married Joseph Sadler from Doveridge and Ruth, Samuel Watton from Tamworth. No doubt an element of the chemistry was the girls’ good looks! Byng describes Elizabeth as being a pretty girl. Thomas, the eldest son of Samuel and Ruth, refers in his Recollections written in 1871 to his mother's beauty. Joseph and Elizabeth's second son, Frederick, married and settled in Tamworth. Likewise, Samuel and Ruth made their home there. The Watton and Sadler families were to be substantial influences in Tamworth Methodism for over 100 years.

Hannah became a class leader at Melbourne, a position she held until her death and in which she was faithful, conscientious and much respected. Hannah had witnessed the construction and opening of the first chapel in 1789 and it was while attending worship on 12th May 1800 that she was taken ill. She died four days later.   

Thomas, her grandson, described her as a most holy woman. Thus lived and thus died one of the excellent among women records her obituary which merited two pages in the Methodist Magazine.

This page was added by Ann Fox on 28/08/2015.

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