Ann Carr – evangelist to the poor and the lost

Ann Carr was one of the first female evangelists in northern England. Adrian Gray tells how she had a lifelong passion for reaching to the poorest women in the worst places.

There were some important female influences on the development of Christianity in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in the 1500s and early 1600s such as Anne Askew and Katherine Willoughby, but none of them were regular preachers. It was only with the Quakers that the gifts of women began to be recognised and Elizabeth Hooton (1600-72) from Ollerton and Skegby (near Mansfield) was the first to achieve prominence. However women played little role in the Wesleyan movement and so it was the early 1800s before women played a more widespread role in evangelism, partly because of the freedom they were given in the Primitive Methodists – a grassroots, often Pentecostal movement.
One of the most interesting women evangelists from this era was Ann Carr, born in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire in 1783. The young man she hoped to marry died, and 18 year old Carr was converted at a cottage prayer meeting to become a Wesleyan Methodist although she had been raised a Congregationalist. Clearly a leader, keen to teach and lead prayers, she soon found more freedom with the Primitive Methodists where she went with Sarah Kirkland on a mission amongst the Nottinghamshire miners.

Ann's home church was originally the Wesleyan Methodist church at Market Rasen
Ann’s home church was originally the Wesleyan Methodist church at Market Rasen

When she preached in the open air in Nottingham, ‘many old grey-headed sinners were brought upon their knees and cried aloud for mercy.’ Later in 1820 she spent a month with the Nottinghamshire coal miners around Brinsley, starting with an open air meeting in Bulwell with five saved on the first day. At Eastwood, later to be made famous as the home of the novelist D H Lawrence, hundreds came to an open air meeting and at Ilkeston ‘many obtained the blessings of a baptism of deeper love.’ At Cotmanhay ‘many were filled with joy in the Holy Ghost.’

Working with another woman evangelist, Sarah Eland, she saw revival in east Lincolnshire and Hull. Three hundred were saved around Market Rasen and many more in Louth. However when the Primitive Methodists arrived in Market Rasen she found them more suited to her own methods than the Wesleyans, and moved to Hull. She helped open the Primitive Methodist chapel at Mill Street in Hull. There were reports that dozens were saved each night she preached in Hull including Isaac Johnson, one of the wickedest men in this notorious port, who later became a preacher at St John’s in Canada.

Ann's main chapel in Leeds was in the Leylands district, which was a slum area.
Ann’s main chapel in Leeds was in the Leylands district, which was a slum area.

After Hull she was invited to Leeds where she went to the poorest part of the town to work amongst the many young women who had moved in from the country. She also preached in many other seaports and counties. In 1821 Ann split from the Primitive Methodists and formed the Female Revivalist Society. One of the reasons was the habit of her and her friends of taking over the preaching if the planned male preacher was a little late in arriving. The passion and excitement was such that they were called ‘jumpers’ and they didn’t appeal just to men – whilst researching this I found one person on the internet doing their family history whose great grandfather was converted at one of Carr’s meetings and became a Methodist minister.

The ‘Leeds Times’ – perhaps with a little irony – said she was ‘a woman of extraordinary firmness and decision of character; possessing talents which fall to the lot of very few of the more gentle sex.’ Ann Carr preached without notes with ‘simplicity, perspicuity and force; she often gave utterance to the most thrilling and overpowering evidence.’ She told anyone she could about the Gospel including door to door evangelism an whoever she happened to be sitting next to while travelling; she rode a horse, which was rained to stop whenever it saw a group of workmen at the roadside so she could talk to them.

Ann’s group built a couple of chapels in Leeds in 1825-6, worked in the slums and campaigned for temperance. Her Leylands chapel included seven cottages. Her group also ran a school in Hunslet and used both female and male speakers, but got into financial problems when they tried to expand out of Leeds. Her Society’s membership was heavily drawn from the poorer classes and the loans to pay for the buildings were a burden; Ann became bogged down in financial worries. She died of cancer in 1841 and is buried in Leeds, having had a significant impact in a short time. However her Society was heavily in debt and could not survive without her.

Ann's memorial recorded her dramatic life. Her grace has survived in a central Leeds cemetery.
Ann’s memorial recorded her dramatic life. Her grace has survived in a central Leeds cemetery.

Ann’s friend Martha Williams wrote a detailed history of her life. Drawing on her own journal and the recollections of friends. This is freely available on the internet and makes a great read!

Ann's life was recorded by her friend, Martha Williams.
Ann’s life was recorded by her friend, Martha Williams.