Billy Bray visits Baldhu (1852)

Billy was known by some as ‘Silly Billy’ because he appeared to be such a fool, but in fact he was full of the joy of the Lord. He would shout and leap about for joy at the slightest provocation which must have looked a little strange to people, hence ‘silly’. I believe that he was filled with the joy of the Lord and with His love in a mighty way on his conversion and from then on he just poured it out on people. Another eyewitness account of his nature is from William Haslam who wrote the following in his autobiography (the first half) ‘From Death to Life.’ He is writing about his first meeting with Billy Bray in 1852 and I include it here, almost in full, as it is a wonderful account.


‘When all the people who dwelt on the hill (where his church was) were converted, there came upon the scene a very remarkable person, who had evidently been kept back for a purpose. This was none other than the veritable and well-known Billy Bray. One morning while we were sitting at breakfast, I heard someone walking about in the hall with a heavy step, saying ‘Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!’ On opening the door I beheld a happy looking little man, in a black Quaker cut coat, which it was very evident had not been made for him, but for some much larger body. ‘Well my friend,’ I said, ‘who are you?’

‘I am Billy Bray,’ he replied, looking steadily at me with his twinkling eyes; ‘and be you the parson?’

‘Yes, I am.’

‘Thank the Lord! Converted are ye?’

‘Yes thank God.’

‘And the missus inside, be she converted?’

‘Yes, she is.’

‘Thank the dear Lord!’ he said, moving forward.

‘Be there any maidens (servants)?’

‘Yes, there are three in the kitchen.’

‘Be they converted too?’

I was able to answer in the affirmative; and as I pointed towards the kitchen door when I mentioned it, he made off in that direction and soon we heard them all shouting and praising God together. When we went in, there was Billy Bray, singing joyfully.


We then returned to the dining room with our strange guest, when he suddenly caught me up in his arms and carried me around the room. I was so taken by surprise that it was as much as I could do to keep myself in an upright position till he had accomplished the circuit. Then he set me in my chair, and rolling on the ground for joy, said that he ‘was as happy as he could live.’ When this performance was at an end, he rose up with a face that denoted the fact, for it was beaming all over. I invited him to take some breakfast with us, to which he assented with thanks. He chose bread and milk, for he said, 'I am only a child.’


I asked him to be seated and gave him a chair, but he preferred walking about and went on talking all the time. He told us that twenty years ago, as he was walking over this very hill on which my church and house were built (it was a barren old place then), the Lord said to him, ‘I will give thee all that dwell on this mountain.; Immediately he fell to his knees and thanked the Lord and then ran to the nearest cottage. There he talked and prayed with the people and was enabled to bring them to Christ; then he went to the next cottage and got the same blessing; and then to the third where he was equally successful. Then he told ‘Father’ that there were only three ‘housen’ in this mountain and prayed that more might be built. That prayer remained with him and he never ceased to make it for years.’


Sixteen years later his brother wrote to him to say that a church was going to be built on the hill with a vicarage and school and Billy was almost beside himself with joy.


‘In 1848 when the church was completed and opened, he came on a visit to Baldhu and was greatly surprised to see what a change had taken place. There was a beautiful church, a parsonage, with a flourishing garden, and also a school-room, with a large plantation and fields around them. He was quite ‘mazed’ for he never thought that the old hill could be made so grand as that! However, when he came to the service in the church, his joy was over; he came out ‘checkfallen’ and quite disappointed. He told ‘Father’ that that was nothing but an ‘old Pusey’ (A Puseyite was an Anglican who was very close to being a Catholic) He had got there and that he was no good. While he was praying that afternoon, ‘Father’ gave him to understand that he had no business there yet and that Had come too soon and without permission. So he went back to his place at once, near Bodmin and continued to pray for the hill.


Three years later his brother wrote again and this time to tell him that the parson and all his family were converted (see William Haslam on this site for an account of this), and that there was a great revival at the church. Now poor Billy was most eager to come and see for himself but he obtained no permission, though he asked for it every day for more than three months.


At last one wintry and frosty night in January, just as he was getting into bed, ‘Father’ told him that he might go to Baldhu. He was so overjoyed that he did not wait till morning, but immediately ‘put up’ his clothes again, ‘hitched in’ the donkey and set out in his slow-going little cart. He came along singing all the way, nearly thirty miles, and arrived early in the morning.’


What a wonderful account this is of the extraordinary Billy Bray. A small man, full of joy, full of love and obedient to the will of God and what joy he must have felt at seeing such an answer to prayer. Billy is a real example of someone who followed the Biblical injunctions to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always,’ to ‘Pray without ceasing’ and ‘In everything give thanks.’