Clifford

John Clifford was born on October 1836 in a house in Back Street (now 52 Wilne Road), Sawley, into a family long-established in the village.  The house now carries a plaque recording the fact.  His family moved to Beeston when John was four years old, but already he had attended the Sawley Baptist School (his uncle, John Stenson, was then the schoolmaster).  Aged 11 John started work as a jacker-off in the lace industry, splicing the cotton on the bobbins in order to maintain an unbroken thread. He never forgot the long hours and drudgery and campaigned all his life for better conditions for the working man.  He was baptised (in the Baptist Church baptism is not bestowed in childhood but only on recipients observed to have attained a state of religious conviction) on June 18, 1851, and shortly afterwards began preaching.  He made such an impression that he was recommended to the Baptist Academy for training as a minister.  Even before he had finished his training, he was offered the post as minister for the Praed Street Baptist Chapel in London.  He agreed on condition that he could also study for a university degree.

He took up the post the day after his 22nd birthday, and with his oratory and energy he soon revived a congregation that had been in decline.  He remained its minister for the next 57 years.  His university studies prospered, and he acquired a clutch of degrees, BA, MA, MSc and LlB.  His doctorate was an honorary one awarded by an American college.  In 1862 he married Rebecca Carter, of Newbury in Berkshire.  They were to have seven children.

The activities which Clifford pursued through the Praed Street church were varied, reflecting the social consciousness that was ever a strong thread in his personality – these included a benefits society, sickness benefit, a savings scheme, job vacancy information, and adult education.  The Praed Street church buildings became too small, and in 1870 the work was transferred to a new church in Westbourne Park.

In the Baptist Church itself Clifford rose to the highest positions, including presidency of the National Baptist Union and the Baptist World Alliance. He travelled widely and was received by the prime ministers of South Africa and Australia, and by President Taft in the United States.

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