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Reading the memoirs of the Rev. James Bradburn one notices he states his stories were from life and not from books. I can wholeheartedly confirm the truth of that statement. In my childhood I was privileged to listen to conversations of my parents and their contemporaries when they mulled over their disappointments and successes and also the material needs of the fledgling Christians who had become their responsibilities within the offices they held at the Chapel. Their disappointments were many and yet, in the long term, who knows but what the setbacks then endured would, by the grace of God, shew a harvest to be reaped in another field of His work.

Jim Bradburn was one of their lads. He was a member of a very large local family. His parents had ordained he should become a worker in a cotton mill. Why not? They themselves went into the mill when they were only eight years of age and cotton was the staple industry of the area. Firstly, he was to be a half-timer; and that he became. Other local children expected to have to do the same. This meant at ten years of age they would work alternate mornings and afternoons in the mill spending the other half of the day at school. A morning in the mill meant being there when the engine started up at 6 am. One could hardly expect a child to be bright and alert after a six hour morning shift but that was its lot at the end of the last century. In addition to being a half-timer, Jim was expected to serve as a dinner-carrier, which meant taking food prepared in the home to be consumed by his father and two brothers who would eat the meals seated on the floor by the machines which they tended.

At thirteen years of age he was eligible to leave school. In spite of his limited education during the previous three years it was well known to his headmaster and the teaching staff that this boy had a good brain and they would have been delighted to see him progressing further to a higher standard of education. The decision, however, had been made at home. A dramatic farewell to his Failsworth schooling has been told to many audiences; the schoolmaster finally, quietly, saying ........ "Well, Mrs. Bradburn, I suppose now Jim is thirteen you are going to take him away from school." "Of course I am," was the reply, "My children were born to work not to go to school." So it was work, family life where little concern was evinced, certainly no love for one another expressed openly, and then meeting, often on the streets, for relaxation with other, similarly placed acquaintances who drifted along, which constituted a bleak and very uneventful life.

But Jim Bradburn, in addition to his good brain, also possessed a good singing voice. A new chapter in his life story, however, was in preparation, unknown and amazingly unexpected. It was due to the persistence of Mr. Robinson Walker, one of the stalwarts of the Wesleyan Chapel at that time, who, after inviting a group of these aimless young people, he saw hanging around in the cold, to a Sunday evening service during which he spotted one as them had an excellent singing voice. Before they could scatter at the end of the service he was quick enough to he on the spot, enabling him to give them a parting handshake and, with the singer he lingered over the handshake, at the same time pressing upon him an invitation to join the choir the following week. This aroused much merriment from the youths as they discussed the happenings of the evening when they were safely out of earshot. lt was, however, the dawn of a completely new life for Jim Bradhurn, When a decision had to be made concerning his new association with the chapel there would he this little man, Mr, Robinson Walker, near at hand, mysteriously so. During these encounters Mr. Walker introduced himself to Jim as a Methodist Class Leader which, at that time, had no significance for the younger man. He was later to learn by the persistence and devotion of the older man how a Christian brought up as a follower of John Wesley interpreted his duties as a lay worker in Christian service.

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The conflict created in the mind of this reluctant cotton worker, dissatisfied with his work, his home conditions, and mystified hy the insight into the life which was being offered to him by these unexpected excursions into chapel-going and religion put him into a chaotic state. His life was changing; he wanted it to change; he had an ambition to be a mill manager and he was attending night school with that end in view. Subsequently his life did change and he accepted responsibilities in the chapel to which he had gone on that cold evening when a service was just a haven from the cheerlessness of the street outside.

He became a Sunday School teacher and prepared to become a local preacher. Just as his day school teachers had spotted his ability, so the people at the chapel realised his potential and were willing to make sacrifices to put this young man on the road to becoming a Wesleyan minister. It was a hard decision for him to make himself. He knew the deficiencies of his education; he knew there would be no co-operation from home; finacial backing would be nil. But he had struggled to study in the most uncomfortable situations at home, sometimes staying up until midnight in a cold·room with only the light from a candle, and then having to be up soon after 5 a.m next mornng for his work at the mill.

There were members of the chapel who made provision in their homes for Jim to study in more congenial conditions. About this time Methodism was venturing into evangelism in a different manner by opening a college at Calver in Derbyshire. Cliff College came into being following evangelical work undertaken by the Rev. Thomas Champness who saw so many likely candidates possessing inadeguate schooling but who, under skilled guidance, would better serve the cause to which they had given their allegiance. To Cliff College it was arranged that Jim Bradburn should go as a prspective candidate for the Ministry. It is difficult in the 1980s, in Britain, to imagine the effect this swift change had on the young man as he made his break with the past. Unloved at home; yet it was home with a known stability and he was to embark on an academic career which he felt would expose his woeful inadequacies both in learning and breeding.

Because l was identified with the friendships of my parents, the career of this Cliff student was always a matter of great interest to me, as well as to my parents, and on the occasions when he returned to take special services I would devour the tales he told of his training which took him to different parts of the country where the problems were of such a wide variety. His wasn't an easy life.

At Cliff he received a great deal of encouragement as he struggled with subjects which proved very difficult but, here again, his usefulness was spotted and his tutors and examiners had seen in him one who would be admirable material for mission work at home. His career then became largely within the purview of the Home Mission Department of the Methodist Connexion and it took him to towns and cities where he had large congregations within the Central Halls. They demanded a leader of enthusiasm and vitality to keep alive the Christian activities which were essential to their survival. Into these he always introduced his ministry of song and was able to enlarge the musical side of his work by accepting other talented members of his societies thus making it possible for orchestras to develop, oratorios to be rendered, celebrity concerts to be run, and music to permeate the whole field of his operations.

During the ministry of the Rev. James Bradburn he had lived through two world wars and was on the point of starting, in 1939, a new Evangelistic Enterprise at Luton when Britain declared war on Germany. The end of his ministry was therefore frustrated by war-time inconveniences which cancelled his pioneering efforts. Made as he was, however, he to the end inspired the younger workers in their endeavours as many in the Coventry district will testify, as he came to the end of his life on 19th November 1977 aged 95 at Nuneaton in the home of his daughter.


Failsworth View 1840

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