GERALDINE HOOPER (1841-1872)
Revivalist and Hymn writer
Geraldine Hooper was born into comfortable circumstances on 30th March 1841 and baptised at Hemington Church near Hardington Park, Somerset. Her father was descended from the Marian martyr John Hooper, the Bishop of Gloucester and Worcester and remarkably she later married a man who was descended from probably the most famous of all Marian martyrs, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Her friend and biographer Mrs Grattan Guinness, whose book, ‘She Spake of Him’ has been the main source of reference for this short biography, describes her when a young woman, “Her amiable disposition, sparkling wit and ready repartee, made her an acquisition in society.” Geraldine was vivacious and gifted, being a good dancer and excelling at singing. She was offered £1,000 to be trained as a professional singer. This was quite a sum, but she refused, later remarking, “I am so thankful that it (her voice) has never been used in public for anything but the praise of God.”
At seventeen Geraldine was in danger of becoming one of the spoilt favourites of fashion, but then something happened to her that changed everything. Her biographer says, “It is neither possible nor desirable to enter into the particulars of the trials that at this time were permitted to encompass this lovely and loving young creature.”I am sure it was possible, but I suspect that she didn’t want to associate her friend with scandal. According to Jean Field, who wrote a book called ‘Landor’ about the poet Walter Savage Landor; at 16 Geraldine was befriended by a neighbour, a Mrs Yescombe. Clearly, Geraldine became very attached to Mrs Yescombe who seems to have introduced her into society. Yescombe introduced her to Landor, saying that Geraldine had been cruelly treated by her parents and needed help, so he gave Mrs Yescombe a considerable sum of money only to find out later that it was a hoax. We will never know the true story, but I believe Geraldine did not know what was going on; she was a loving, trusting, naïve girl who was herself duped. She must have felt completely betrayed.
In order to get her away from Bath, her father took her to France where she started to think of God and decided that she would lead a religious life. She did everything she could to come to God through ‘works,’ but after six months she returned home without coming into any ‘peace.’ A little later she went to hear a sermon at Holy Trinity Church, Bath and realised that she was like a proud Pharisee trusting to his own works. The following Sunday, in her own words, “The burden was gone, the darkness was past, the void was filled; and peace, such as the world giveth not, hushed the troubled waters of my soul to rest.”
She was taken by a friend to a Bible reading given by William Haslam (see this website), who was a curate of the Parish at that time. What she heard made her realise that, “I can’t come here and go on with worldly society; I must give up one or the other.” She began to help Haslam at his street meetings, particularly by leading the singing, but also by inviting people in the street to come and listen to him, by helping to keep order and by following up people who gave their lives to the Lord at the meetings. Towards the end of 1861 Hooper began an early morning prayer-meeting for the poor before they started work. In the summer of 1862, with Haslam away for six weeks, she took on all the visiting, classes and meetings at his church in Avon Street.
She used to visit regularly the poor area of Holloway in Bath and one day someone lent her a kitchen from which she began gospel meetings with a few of the locals. Mrs Haslam was with her and was startled at her gifting in this area. The numbers grew and she soon needed to find a bigger place, so she moved her meetings to the Temperance Hall, Widcombe, and over time people from all parts of the city attended her meetings. Large numbers were converted and a band of Christian helpers soon gathered around her.
Remember that in 1861 women preachers were uncommon and many were prejudiced against them. In 1862 Hooper became ill and had to leave the city for her health. She seems to have been beset by illness quite frequently, but her biographer does not indicate what was wrong.
About this time she had a dream that influenced her considerably. “I dreamt that I was standing on the edge of a magnificent cliff, overhanging a lovely lake. While I was admiring its beauty, I heard a voice as if coming up from the depths of the lake, saying, ‘Don’t come near this lake, death lies here.’ Hearing the sound of voices behind me, I turned and saw a large concourse of people coming up the steep incline of a broad road which led onto the cliff. I rushed towards them, crying with a loud voice ‘Don’t go near the lake, don’t go near the lake, death lies there.’ Some attended to my earnest entreaty and turned back; others halted for a moment and then passed on. I ran forward and again entreated them to stop. One of the foremost, a young woman whom I knew well, said, ‘Oh, one step more and then I will turn back!’ She and a group of giddy companions went on, and I saw them all fall over the cliff, into the deadly lake. I cried aloud for a boat, but no boat was visible. I found a rope, but it was not long enough; and as I stood watching in breathless agony, I heard the voice of the young ringleader, as she sank below the waters, exclaiming in anguish and despair, ‘One step more, and my soul is lost! Lost forever!’ The words were repeated twice, and she sank to rise no more!”’
Hooper accepted that she needed to spend time away from Bath to regain her health, but she was always eager to return. On one occasion she wrote, “They kindly wish me to stay till the end of October, but I cannot delay a day beyond Sept 29th. I long to get back to my work, for I feel every day how short the time is, and how great is the privilege of telling poor sinners about a precious Saviour.”
William Haslam wrote about Hooper in the second of his two autobiographical books called ‘Yet not I.’ He said, “Geraldine Hooper was indeed eminently useful to me. The cheerful readiness with which she acceded to my wishes and the wonderful ability and success with which she accomplished what she undertook, were truly astonishing.” In September 1863 Haslam and his family left Bath to take up the parishes of Buckenham and Hassingham, a few miles east of Norwich. From the first Sunday revival broke out and they had meetings every day for the next eight months. Into this environment came Hooper in December of that year. In his biography he says, “At this critical time, who should offer us a visit, but Miss Geraldine Hooper from Bath. After we left that place, she took up our mantle and went forward with a double portion of our spirit, and with much more result.”’ These are significant words from a man who led revival in several parts of the United Kingdom during his lifetime. I believe that she did literally that. Haslam seems to have been her mentor and it is likely that he prayed for a double portion for Hooper when he left Bath. The UK had been in revival since 1859 and so she was ministering in an atmosphere of revival; she also had an incredible heritage and had worked with and received a double portion from a great revivalist. Small wonder she ministered in such power.
Hooper had come to Norfolk for a rest, but she had little of that. Mrs Haslam asked her to speak at a barn meeting; she had never spoken to so many people, but William Haslam says, “Her address was like kindling a fresh fire and a very bright and warm one it was. The people became wild with admiration and their eagerness to hear her was intense. Her fame spread so rapidly that the Norwich papers took up the subject.”Hooper and Mrs Haslam would conduct many meetings in barns that would be full to bursting. Haslam describes a scene he witnessed, “One evening at the end of January, as I was returning home on a clear and frosty night, I could hear singing, though I was nearly a mile from my house. On approaching nearer I could distinguish the tune and thought I could hear Miss Hooper’s voice. Hastening forward I was astonished at the scene before me. It was a bright moonlit night, with snow on the ground and a cold north-east wind. In spite of this there was a very large concourse of people standing in rapt attention, listening to the preaching.
Miss Hooper, together with Mrs Haslam were standing in a cart, round which were suspended from the trees my drawing-room and dining-room lamps, besides other lights. I was told that the barn was full of people and also the adjoining classroom. Standing among the crowd I heard the best part of the address. In her characteristic way she told a humorous story, but one which I have no doubt will be remembered by many to this day. It made the audience smile for the time; but the application of it was very solemn and pointed. Words cannot convey an adequate idea of the tone and manner, or the unction and power with which the simple story was applied; but the effect was marvellous and the result great.”
Haslam points out that Hooper was able to control the largest and roughest meetings through her readiness and wit. Her power was irresistible. Haslam recounts an example of how she ministered. He was walking along with her on the way to the railway station, when they saw a renowned gamekeeper and his dog coming towards them. Haslam told her that he was a cruel man and the dog vicious, and asked her to speak to him while he went and got the tickets. The gamekeeper saw them and quickened his pace to avoid them, so Hooper took off after him. “When he perceived that she was overtaking him he changed his course and crossed the line. She followed in his track and soon came up even with the dog, which was following his master, led by a chain. She patted its back, at which the animal seemed pleased and wagged its tail; so she continued stroking him, when the man growled over his shoulder without turning round, ‘You’d better take care o’ that dog.’
‘Oh’ she replied, ‘dogs never bite me; I am fond of them and they know it. Is it your dog?’
‘Did you rear it?’
‘Do you feed it? And does it come when you call it?’
‘Of course he do.’
‘What would you say if he did not come, or if he snarled at you and followed the poachers?’
‘Why, I’d shoot him pretty quick!’
‘I believe you would. Now, do you know that I think God has done very much more for you than ever you did for this dog? Do you love God? Do you come when he calls you? Or do you follow that old poacher, the devil, and like him and his company a deal better?’
He was silent. What more she said I do not know; but by the time I came up he was in tears. Before the train moved on he promised to attend the barn meeting that evening. He did so, and also remained to the after-meeting. Then and there he surrendered himself to God and sought for mercy. He did not find peace that night or the next; but on the following day came to tell us how the Lord had saved his soul, and made him happy in a Saviours love.”’
Hooper left Norfolk in February; there were 1,800 at her final meeting and they contributed something from their meagre income towards the gift of a gold watch to thank her for the work she had done among them. At the end of the meeting many went away crying at the thought of her leaving. Norfolk was the beginning of her wider ministry that took her to many parts of England. For the next eight years she preached around 4,000 times and visited many towns, speaking to thousands at a time. In most of the venues there were not enough seats to satisfy the hungry crowds. Sometimes she would arrange a 4.00am meeting for those who were locked out of her evening gathering. Many, many people came to know Jesus as their Saviour, although there are no records as to numbers because Hooper never kept any records. Her ministry was extraordinarily successful; one of the places that benefited a great deal was Luton and the surrounding area.
Hooper visited Luton in May 1866; speaking in the largest Wesleyan Church, which held 2,000 people. She spoke two or three times a day and many came to the Lord. She visited Luton five or six times and wherever she spoke there were many who could not get in. One man who objected to lady preachers went once out of curiosity, and ended up travelling at least 1,200 miles to hear her whenever she was in the area. The witness of one woman gives some idea of the effect Hooper had on people. “I have often been surprised to hear with what interest strong, rough men will speak of her. I frequently attended the services in neighbouring places, and often after them, as I walked down the town, a countryman would stop me and touching his hat, would say, ‘I think I saw you at so-and-so, ma’am. Didn’t we have a beautiful sermon?’ And I think I never asked, ‘And are any good results visible in your neighbourhood?’ without being answered in the affirmative.”
Another witness to her Luton meetings says “Never shall I forget those occasions. Her clear annunciation and musical voice made her attractive as a speaker. The chief impression, however, which she created was that she was animated simply by one desire, - to do good. Her earnestness was touching and habitual. Whilst she has been preaching I have sometimes looked around and been struck with the rapt attention which she secured. I frequently observed some of the most unlikely persons in the town listening with awe and pleasure. The results of her labour were remarkable. All the churches in Luton benefited by them. Many were added to Christ’s Communion through her efforts.”
On one visit she spoke to 7,000 people, covered in a space between two large factories. She went on to Dunstable from Luton and a long report of the meetings is made by the Dunstable Borough Gazette on 12th May 1866. In it they report that, “These anticipations have been more than realised, and the feeling is that last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday must be marked as red letter days in our history.” Around 4,000 attended the meetings. The reporter described Hooper as eloquent, clear, original, fervent and earnest. The same paper reported that over 7,000 came to her meetings in July of the same year.
The newspapers carried reports of several of her meetings and some printed verbatim accounts of her sermons, a few of which can be read in her biography. Mrs Guinness warns that the verbatim accounts are not completely reliable and they can never give over the sense of power and anointing that were on her words.
Hooper worked very hard wherever she was. Someone who hosted her said, “Wherever she stayed, those in the house saw little of her, for the people would come at all hours to speak to her about their souls, or else she had appointments to visit invalids who could not venture into the crowded assemblies; and then (slight as were her preparations for speaking, never more than a few notes in the margin of her Bible), she would never enter on her public engagements without a considerable time of devotion.” A lady wrote a letter to Hooper two weeks after she had spoken at Kingsbridge in 1868, which gives an idea of her effectiveness as a speaker. “Numerous proofs are constantly reaching us that your words have penetrated hearts hitherto impenetrable…One clergyman who had affectionately warned his flock that they ought not to hear you, as it was unscriptural for a woman to preach the Gospel, now says, that after witnessing such signs in his own neighbourhood of the efficacy of your words on the utterly irreligious and vicious, he is obliged to believe it a work of God. Another old inhabitant says the place has never had such a shake since Whitfield preached here.”
After her second visit to Kingsbridge in 1869 a newspaper said. “The question is being asked by many, will the good impressions made on saint and sinner by these addresses prove like ‘the morning cloud and early dew?’ We believe not. We think that addresses so full of Gospel truths, delivered with such zeal and earnestness, with such burning love for conversion of souls, by one who without controversy, has been called to the work and qualified by an Almighty Power, cannot be delivered in vain. It is impossible!”
A town she visited five times was Torquay and a lady who was present at these meetings describes well how people viewed her. “She never visited us without hearts being gathered to the Lord, and not a few being received into Christian fellowship at various churches. There was in her preaching such fervour, and so much that was suited to every state, that one always felt a special blessing from above was present with us. Our beloved friend was one unquestionably called by her Lord and Master to the work; otherwise she could never have edified all classes as she did. Experienced Christians were comforted and cheered, weaker ones encouraged and strengthened, and the careless were so aroused and drawn to Christ, that many have been changed characters since… Her loving ways won the hearts of all who met her. There was a rivalry even amongst the servants in our families, for the pleasure of waiting on her. Whenever she preached the people flocked in from miles around and much seed was scattered far and wide, of whose growth we have often evidence… Her catholic charity was conspicuous; members of every congregation in town attended her services and in many cases she entirely overcame the prejudice felt by so many against lady preachers.”
Hooper undoubtedly had an exceptional speaking gift that appealed to people from all walks of life. A fellow lady preacher was at one of her meetings and listened to her preach. She writes, “I had never heard her speak before. I was overwhelmed. My feelings were indescribable during her powerful address. Often very often, had I proclaimed the Gospel, but I felt then that I had never preached in my life. I had laboured longer in the vineyard than she, and yet she was already a skilled workman and I a mere beginner.”
She had a way of bringing everyday things into her preaching that people could relate to; much as Jesus did. Once she spoke on several pub names that were in the town. She also had a remarkable wit and repartee that was ready in all circumstances. If there was rowdiness in her meetings or if she was being challenged by an individual, she always had the right words to address the particular situation. Probably the characteristic that attracted people most was the love that was in her. Hooper poured out love wherever she went, be it in her preaching, in visiting the sick, teaching children or in serving visitors to her home. She often said, “Is there nothingI can do for you?”’ She went to any lengths to help someone; rich or poor, friend or stranger. She would sit up all night with a sick child; ransack the city to find grapes, when out of season, for someone who was sick; meet someone at the railway station who was going on a long journey with a foot-warmer for the trip; or take food to a poor sick woman day after day. She was brave as well; an extract from a friend’s letter bares witness. “In the spring of 1863 we had scarlatina in our house; seven out of ten were ill at one time. No human creature could be kinder; from six in the morning till twelve at night, and sometimes all the night through, she helped my anxious and weary wife – a God-sent angel of kindness and sympathy, and a most clever and efficient help. When our little son died, her love and attention were beyond all praise; she helped us in every possible way.”’ Another friend described her. “It was the deep well of overflowing love which was in her soul that made Geraldine Hooper so irresistibly attractive to all who came within the sphere of her influence. It was not her gifts, though they were wonderful; it was not the pathos of her natural eloquence, though no-one could listen to it unmoved; it was not the sweet music of her voice, though that thrilled all who heard it; no! It was herself that charmed and won the love of those who came near her – it was her warm loving heart. Everyone felt that they had access to an ear ready to listen in tenderest sympathy to their sorrows and cares and able, from its own wealth of affection, to soothe, help and cheer.”
She was just full of the love of Jesus and people could not fail to notice it and be drawn to her and to the Jesus she spoke about.
In October 1868 Hooper married evangelist Henry Dening. At first they lived in Ottery St Mary, Devon; where her husband combined his evangelistic work with those of a farmer. He later realised that he needed to be an evangelist full time, so he gave up farming and they moved back to Bath to live in her old childhood house in Green Park. They had a very happy marriage, Henry being a gifted man in his own right, and they were able to minister together well. Marriage filled a hole in Geraldine’s (I will call her Geraldine from now on to avoid confusion) life in that she had been quite lonely; never being in one place long enough to form good friendships. In 1870 she gave birth to a daughter.
In 1870 they built a Mission Hall that seated 1,000 people called St James’s Hall. This was a good base for their work in Bath and it was often filled to bursting when they had their many meetings there. However, this did bring up a difficult issue which was the question of whether they should form a church to look after all their adherents. Before her marriage Geraldine believed that it was unscriptural for a woman to lead a church, but now she was married the situation was different. Once they decided they were called to an itinerant ministry, they chose not to form a church, but rather urged their people to attend a converted ministry, it did not matter which denomination.
Geraldine always worked very hard. She had her girls Bible study in Bath, all her itinerant work, her duties as a wife and mother; she was a hymn writer (60,000 copies of her hymn book were sold) and put her hand to many other things in Bath and elsewhere. As already mentioned, she was often sick; her hard work only weakened her further. Her friends were often concerned that she was working too hard and wanted her to rest, but mostly she ignored their concerns and continued at the same pace. A close friend, Dr Forbes Winslow, wrote to her. “Do not forget my medical cautions. You must not ignore this fact, that the brain cannot bear with safety a long and sustained pressure. It is your duty to resist the temptation to speak when you feel mentally and bodily fatigued. It is madness for you to exhaust prematurely your powers. Do husband your strength and then God may in His mercy give you a long life of usefulness. If you violate the laws of health you must suffer in mind as well as in body. Do not let injudicious though well-meaning friends induce you to over tax your strength; if you do you will break down, as others have done (he mentions four or five evangelists who have broken down). Have the courage to say ‘No, no, no’ to all who try to induce you to act imprudently.”
What is it about the work of the Lord that drives people to an early death? Many of the healing evangelists in America died in their fifties or early sixties and there are many other examples. On the one hand our bodies are ‘temples’ and so we have a duty to not abuse them; so it is ungodly if we drive ourselves to a state where our bodies break down. Anyone who has been involved in a ministry that sees the sick healed or people coming to Christ knows what a charge you get out of it. I can easily see how someone who sees thousands giving their lives to Christ wants to go on and on, but is that godly? Would not more people come to the Lord over forty or fifty years, if one worked at half speed, rather than over ten years at full speed? On the other hand one has to ask whether there was an anointing from the Lord for these ten years and then He was going to take His hand away. Did Geraldine know that she had a set time and so she had to do as much as possible in that time period?
In her last months Geraldine certainly knew that she was not going to live much longer. She often said that she did not expect to see her little girl grow up and that her training would not devolve on her. Her death came as a shock and a surprise to many, but not to her. On July 30th, 1872 she developed symptoms on her face of a disease called Erysipelas. This is a streptococcal infection that today is easily treated with antibiotics, but of course they did not have any in 1872. It would not normally cause death but Geraldine had the added complication of a low immune system due to her frequent illnesses. The doctors thought that she would recover, but she told her husband immediately on getting the illness that she wouldn’t. The inflammation went to the eyes and she became blind, then to the brain. A few days later she went to be with her Lord.
Many thousands came to see Geraldine to her final resting place in Locksbrook Cemetary in Bath. She was an extraordinary woman who did much to extend the Kingdom of God and her death was a tragic loss to the Body of Christ. What might she have done had she lived? Going back to the question of was she ungodly, driving herself when she knew that her body was not strong enough? I do not know the answer in Geraldine’s case, but generally speaking we must look after our bodies and I would say that being driven is not normally a godly attribute.
If you would like to read more about Geraldine Hooper then ask your library for ‘She Spake of Him’ by Mrs Grattan Guinness. We are fortunate that Mrs Guinness has included many eyewitness accounts that give a good idea of what Geraldine was like and how she ministered. Another book that mentions her is William Haslam’s second half of his autobiography ‘Yet not I,’ published in 1897.