Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Priestley, Timothy

PRIESTLEY, TIMOTHY (1734–1814), independent minister, second child of Jonas and Mary Priestley, was born at Fieldhead in the parish of Birstall, Yorkshire, on 19 June 1734. He was brought up by his grandfather, Joseph Swift, and sent to school at Batley, Yorkshire. For some time he was employed in his father's business as a cloth-dresser. His elder brother, Joseph Priestley, LL.D. [q.v.], who thought him frivolous, tells how he snatched from him `a book of knight-errantry' and flung it away. He received his religious impressions from James Scott (1710-1783) [q. v.], who became minister of Upper Chapel, Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, in 1754. Scott in 1756 established an academy at Southfield, near Heckmondwike, and Timothy Priestley was the second who entered it as a student for the ministry. Joseph Priestley speaks of the course of studies as `an imperfect education;' it was efficient in training an influential succession of resolute adherents to the Calvinistic theology. Timothy Priestley distinguished himself as an assiduous pupil; he got into trouble, however, by going out to preach without leave. His preaching was popular, and he was employed in mission work at Ilkeston, Derbyshire, and elsewhere. In 1760 he was ordained pastor of the congregation at Kipping (now Kipping Chapel, Thornton), near Bradford, Yorkshire. It was an uncomfortable settlement, the owner of the Kipping estate having ceased to be in sympathy with nonconformity. Early in 1766 Priestley became minister of Hunter's Croft congregational church, Manchester. His chapel was enlarged during his ministry. He is described as ‘a strong preacher, careless of personal dignity, and of abounding audacity’ (Mackennal). Many stories are told of his pulpit eccentricities. His deacons accused him of ‘irregularities,’ the fact being that he eked out on inadequate maintenance (60l. a year) in sundry ways of trade. He was said to have an interest in ‘the liquor business,’ and it was alleged that he made packing-cases on Sunday nights. He retorted that he never began till the clock struck twelve. He made many electrical machines for sale, under his brother's directions, and constructed for his brother an electrical kite, 6 feet 4 inches wide, which folded up so as to be carried like a fishing-rod. His relations with his father were not cordial, though there was no breach. He visited him at Warrington in 1762, and excited the amusement of the leaders of dissenting culture. He refused to join the petitions (1772-3) for relaxation of the Toleration Act, except upon the odd condition that concealment of heresy should be made a capital offence. In 1774 he was in London, preaching at Whitefield's Tabernacle, Moorfields. His brother, who was then living with Lord Shelburne, told him it mortified him to hear people say ‘Here is a brother of yours preaching at the Tabernacle.’ In 1782 the two Priestleys were appointed to preach the ‘double lecture’ (24 Aug.) at Oldbury, Worcestershire; Joseph wished his brother to decline, and on his refusal to give way, himself withdrew, his place being taken by Habakkuk Crabb [q. v.]

Priestley's Manchester ministry terminated in his formal dismissal on 14 April 1784, only two hands being held up in his favour. He removed to Dublin, where he remained some two years. He then received a call to succeed Richard Woodgate (d. 28 June 1787) as minister of Jewin Street independent church, London. Here he remained till his death. He issued a periodical, ‘The Christian's Magazine, or Gospel Repository,’ designed to counteract unitarianism. It seems to have reached but three volumes (1790-2, 8vo); the first is dedicated to Lady Huntingdon [see Hastings, Selina]. whose friendship he enjoyed. It contains a biography of Scott, his tutor, which was reprinted in 1791, 8vo. On his brother's death he preached at Jewin Street, 29 April 1804, and printed (1804, 8vo) a funeral sermon, with appendix of ‘authentic anecdotes,’ the authenticity of some of which has been disputed (Univ. Theol. Mag. 1804, pp. 295 seq.; Rutt, Memoirs of Priestley, 1831, i. 31). He had more imagination than his brother, and probably shared his defects of memory. His advertised ‘Animadversions’ on his brother's theological views do not seem to have been published. He published also an annotated ‘Family Bible,’ 1793? fol.; 1804, 2 vols, 4to; the ‘Christian's Looking-Glass,’ 1790-2, 12mo; ‘Family Exercises,’ 1792, 8vo, and a few single sermons. He died at Islington on 23 April 1814, and was buried at Bunhill Fields on 29 April. His funeral sermon was preached by George Burder [q. v.] Two engraved portraits of Priestley are mentioned in Bromley. His son William (1768-1827) was independent minister at Fordingbridge, Hampshire.

[Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London. 1810, iii. seq.; Yates's Memorials of Dr. Priestley, 1860, p. 16; Miall's Congregationalism in Yorkshire, 1868, p. 243; Halley's Lancashire, 1869, ii. 448 seq.; Turner's Nonconformity in Idle, 1875, p. ll9; Sutton's Lancashire Authors, 1876, p. 96; Mackennal's Life of Macfadyen, 1891, p. 101; Peel's Nonconformity in Spen Valley, 1891, pp. 145, 153 seq., 158; Nightingale's Lancashire Nonconformity (1893}, v. 116 seq. (portrait).]

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