Utopia Britannica - British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945

A man of peculiar appearance

Gazetter entry

'a man of peculiar appearance
who inspired uneducated and wonder-loving people with a strange fascination'

Free Press 28 Feb 1874


John Wroe, born in the village of Bowling near Bradford, in 1782, was the son of a worsted manufacturer and farmer. After a rather scanty education, he entered his father's business for a time, but later took a farm on his own account. Eventually he married and brought up three children. In1819 he was afflicted with a life-threatening fever. Fearing his recovery was unlikely he became seriously concerned about his spiritual welfare. Shortly after a seeming miraculous recovery Wroe started having visions or trances, which were usually preceded by his being struck blind and dumb. During these trances, many remarkable events were revealed to him. He joined the Southcottians at Leeds in 1820 and two years later claimed the succession as their leader.

At Idle Thorpe in Yorkshire, in 1824, he was publicly baptised before a reported crowd of 30,000 and to demonstrate his divine authority he declared that he would part the waters of the River Aire and walk across. The failure of the waters to part for him seems to have done nothing to undermine his credibility with his followers.

Ashton-Under-Lyne the Holy Gateway
The headquarters of the now Christian Israelite Church were transferred from Gravesend to Ashton-Under-Lyne, where in April 1824 Wroe was publicly circumcised. An elaborate sanctuary, supposedly a miniature version of Solomon's Temple, was opened in Church Street on Christmas Day 1825. Believing that Ashton was to become the New Jerusalem the Christian Israelites built four Holy gateways to the town


In 1830 Wroe reported that he had " had a comand. from heaven to take seven virgins to cherish and comfort him. " Three local families duly provided the virgins from amongst their daughters and Wroe set off on a preaching tour with them. When he returned one of the girls was pregnant - this scandalized some of his followers and they attempted to hold an inquiry at which fighting broke out; pews, fittings, doors and windows were torn out and broken, and 'pandemonium reigned'. Others were prepared to believe Wroe's word that a Shiloh, or messiah would be born to the girl and great preparations were made for the birth. At Peel Park Museum, Salford, there used to be preserved the magnificent cradle made ready for the Shiloh's reception, described as a "beautiful little ark of blue silk and gold" and said to have cost £200.

The Sanctury. Ashton Under Lyne

It's a girl!
When the messiah was finally born it was a girl - which somewhat threw the Southcottians' plans into disarray as they were expecting a boy. At this point they finally lost patience with Wroe and he was forced to leave town


Plaque on the Old Whim Pub one of the four celestial gateways to Ashton

John Wroe now began an energetic life of travel and propaganda. He travelled widely in America, and Australia during the late 1840s and early 50s. It was partly Australian financial support that made it possible for Wroe to build a great house at Wrenthorpe nr. Wakefield. He was also able to attract £2,000 from funds that had been collected with the intention of publishing the Eternal Gospel, symbolically, 40years after Joanna Southcott's death.

Prophet Wroe's Temple
In a dream in 1853 Wroe claimed that the Lord had told him to build a mansion where the Messiah could dwell, along with some of the elect. In the dream he was given detailed instructions on the design of the mansion, but, in the end `Prophet Wroe's Temple' was based more on what he could remember of the design of Melbourne Town Hall. The community was opened on Whit Sunday, 1857, " . . about 250 of the body assembled in Wakefield, from the principal towns in this country America, Germany and Australia, for the purpose of attending the annual conference, and on Sunday morning the ceremony of formally opening the temple was commenced by the entire number; attired in white robes, marching in procession around the grounds in which the edifice is built. They then entered the temple, followed by the prophet; but as no persons were permitted to be present except members of the sect, we are unable to describe the ceremonial observed " Wakefield Express 6 Jun 1857

The original site was 100 acres in extent;
"Prophet Wroe's Mansion . . . . It stands on a fine commanding eminence which slopes gently to the south from which a view of the whole country for many miles round can be obtained. The grounds, consisting of several acres, are well ordered, and abundantly stocked with beautiful trees, and at each of the four corners there is a porter's lodge, and a carriage drive sweeping round to the south front of the hall. The forcing-houses are extensive and full of vines and various fruits from many lands. The stables furnish abundant accommodation for a numerous stud. The house itself is a fine mansion-like structure with south, east and west fronts; and the principal rooms are said to be panelled with cedar "
Free Press 28 Feb 1874

"The beliefs of the Christian Israelites were compounded from both the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ. They included the specific claim that full and complete salvation (of `body, soul and spirit) would be enjoyed by a chosen few of the world's population, restricted to 144,000. These, the descendants of Abraham, would be immortal, and would be joint rulers with God of the eternal kingdom shortly to be established. Their separation from the rest of society was emphasised by peculiarities of dress and diet; especially noticeable was the fact that they never shaved or cut their hair, a characteristic which earnt them the name of `beardies'. "
Alternative Communities in 19th Century England.
D. Hardy

The hopes of the Christian Israelites were never fulfilled, for Wroe died in 1864 in Fitzroy, Australia. His Australian followers were so angry they demanded their subscriptions back for he had promised them he would never die. Melbourne House which had been built for all the members of the House of Israel, was on Wroe's death transferred to his grandson and the community dispersed. For some years after Wroe's death, a room was set aside with his slippers and a suit of clothes ready should he come back as the Shiloh.
After Wroe's death the leadership of the sect was assumed by an American, Daniel Milton, who continued to claim that the Christian Israelites had the right to occupation of Melbourne House and not Wroe's relatives. His campaign for rightful occupation included pasting bills on the walls of the property. The Melbourne house estate remained in the hands of the Wroe family until the 1930s, it was sold in 1956 and became Melbourne House Pentecostal Eventide Home - an old people's home and since 1997,`Prophet Wroe's Temple' has been the offices of Torch Telecom. The Australian wing of the Christian Israelites continued and today has congregations in Sydney, Melbourne, Singleton, Terrigal , Windsor, Brisbane, Kempsey, Australia, as well as missions in Indianapolis, USA, Radom, Poland & Mermansk, Russia.

British Israelism today
The gospel of British Israelism has carried on. Both Queen Victoria and King Edward VII were patrons of the movement. Today the British Israel World Federation claims some two million followers in Britain and America. British Israelism took off in earnest across the Atlantic when, in 1920, a newspaper owned by car manufacturer Henry Ford published a series of anti-Semitic articles culminating in a book called The International ]ew: The World's Foremost Problem. The author was William Cameron, a British Israelite. Cameron went on to found the Anglo Saxon Federation of America that has links with the New Christian Rightwing organisations that started to flourish in America in the 1980s. The latest group to use the ideas of the British Israelites is the Identity Christianity movement., which includes such groups as Aryan Nation, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian & America's Promise Ministries. Identity Christianity, like British Israelism, teaches that the lost tribes of Israel left the Middle East and founded the New Israel in Britain. They believe that Jews, blacks, and indeed all non-white people, are sub-human 'mud people'. British Israelite beliefs have received little academic support and Identity Christianity groups are among extreme Nationalist/Racist organisations kept a watch on by anti-racist & anti-fascist alliances.

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