The other day I shared some new information about links between my Roe ancestors and the Evans family. My fellow researcher and distant relative Keith Roe has discovered that Rev. David Evans, who was the Baptist minister of Biggleswade in the late eighteenth century, was married to Mary Moss. She seems to have been the sister of Martha Moss, the wife of William Roe of Pirton, Hertfordshire, and indeed Mary Evans seems to have lived in Pirton after her husband’s death in 1786.

There is reason to believe that William Roe of Pirton may have been related in some way to my 3rd great grandfather Daniel Roe, a Baptist shoemaker in Biggleswade. There is also a connection of some kind between Daniel’s wife Eliza Holdsworth, my 3rd great grandmother, and the Evans family. Her mother was Lydia Evans and her grandfather Francis Evans, though little is known as yet about their origins. When Daniel and Eliza were married at Blunham in 1825, one of the two witnesses was Mary Evans, and there is reason to believe that she was the daughter of Biggleswade maltster and Baptist lay preacher Caleb Evans. Daniel and Eliza would name one of their sons Caleb.

A Baptist meeting

What do we know about Rev. David Evans and his wife Mary? From Baptist sources, we know that David was born in Mydffai, Camarthenshire, Wales. He he was said to be 76 years old when he died in 1786, meaning that he was born in about 1710. He was baptised as an adult in 1734 and began preaching in 1736. His first posting was in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, after which he went to Ireland, and thence to Newport Pagnell. Some sources give his next and final posting as Biggleswade, while others mention an intermediary posting in nearby Maulden, and others a move in 1749 to Great Gransden in Huntingdonshire, where he was said to be ‘a very acceptable minister’.

All sources agree that it was in 1751 that Evans was appointed as minister of the Baptist congregation in Biggleswade. According to Keith Roe’s research, it was on 15th October 1751 that David Evans married Mary Moss in Potton, a few miles to the north of Biggleswade. David would have been about forty years old, but Mary was not quite nineteen, having been born in 1732, the daughter of Peter Moss and his wife Mary Ingoldsby. She had a brother Thomas who would marry Mary Daly in Ickleford, Hertfordshire, in 1761, and her sister Martha would marry William Roe at Arlesey, Bedfordshire, in 1767. We don’t know whether David and Mary Evans had any children – certainly none are mentioned in Mary’s will of 1806 – or whether there was any connection to Caleb Evans of Biggleswade, who was born in about 1780 and died in 1842.

John Geard

Perhaps the most memorable event to occur during David Evans’ ministry at Biggleswade was the great fire that destroyed the Baptist meeting house, as well as a number of other properties in the town. John Geard, the minister of Tilehouse Baptist church in Hitchin, and a friend of the Evans family, records the event in his memoirs (Windmill Hill, from which he viewed the fire, remains a focal point and a popular meeting place in the town to this day):

June the 16th, I was alarmed with the report of a terrible fire at Biggleswade.

I went upon the Windmill hill near Hitchin and from thence could see columns of smoke ascend up like clouds, though the fire was eleven miles off.  

On the 20th, I went to Biggleswade, and saw somewhat of the dreadful effects of this fire. It was an awful sight indeed. There were more than one hundred dwelling houses quite destroyed, and about twenty more that were destroyed, to a greater or less degree.  

There were seventy-nine poor families who were quite burned out. Several maltings were destroyed, and the Dissenting Meeting house, in which I had repeatedly preached, and in which good old Mr. David Evans had preached for many years, was quite destroyed. There was not anything belonging to the Meeting House …but was burned. There were few, if any persons of property, in the town but what were affected by this calamity, more or less, though some were affected much more than others. Mr. Herbert, merchant, was deeply affected, as to loss of property of different kinds. Mr. Foster suffered considerably, but he suffered but little compared with Mr. Herbert, and compared with what he was in imminent danger of suffering. Yet there was mercy mingled along with affliction, in this case. I do not recollect that there was any life lost, whereas there was one, if no more lost at the Potton fire in 1783.

John Geard’s memoir also mentions David Evans’ death and funeral, which occurred in the following year:

February the 7th [1786]. On this day, I went to Biggleswade, and attended the funeral of good old Mr. David Evans. He was arrested, January the 27th, with a paralytic stroke, and died February the 2nd aged 76 years. He was this day buried in the meeting house, and great respect was shown him at his funeral. By his own desire, Mr. Mayle of Blunham preached his funeral sermon, from 2 Cor. 1:12 “For our rejoicing in this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-wards”. There was a great number of people attended his funeral. It was calculated the number amounted to 800. Mr. Bowers, who then preached at Biggleswade, prayed before the sermon. He was not put into the grave till after the sermon, and I then spake over the grave.

Geard goes on to pay tribute to his fellow minister:

Mr. Evans had not been capable of preaching for some time before his death. He had lived at Biggleswade more than 30 years. He had labored under great discouragements there, as to apparent non-success. He once told Mr. Foster Senr. of Cambridge, when he went to supply Mr. Robinson’s congregation there, that he did not know that he had been instrumental for the conversion of one soul by all his preaching at Biggleswade. If he did not know of any such circumstance either at that time, or afterwards, I came to the knowledge of such a circumstance, after he was dead, in conversing with a man, who, I hope was a truly serious character and who attributed his first serious impression to a sermon that he heard at Biggleswade, and, I understood, preached by Mr. Evans, to whom he never made himself known. His general character and conduct, however, were highly exemplary. The celebrated Mr. George Whitefield, with all his popularity and success, did not leave behind him a more respectable character than good old Mr. Evans did, with all his apparent comparative want of ministerial success.

Though he was but little attended on, in the exercise of his ministry, he was highly esteemed by the town and neighbourhood in general. When he walked in the street, the very children were emulous to show, in their way, their respect for his character. Mr. Kirkby, one of his congregation, once related to me a peculiar anecdote, which bespoke the high estimation in which the general character of Mr. Evans was held. Mr. Kirkby, soon after he was settled in the neighbourhood of Biggleswade, as a farmer, to which he had removed out of Leicestershire, was at public dinner at Baldock, I presume, at one of the fairs held there. Somehow or other, the conversation at table took a turn, that led one of the company to speak about Biggleswade, who knew nothing of Mr. Kirkby, nor that he had anything to do with Biggleswade, much less that he had any connection with Mr. Evans, and whom perhaps, somebody or other of Biggleswade, had some way or other lately displeased. He spake about Biggleswade, somewhat to the following purport. “Biggleswade is a comical sort of place. I do not know that there is above one honest man there. I do believe there is one. The old Presbyterian parson is, I believe, an honest man. I do not know that there is any other there.” Now, though, I trust the man was far enough from being right in his opinion, relative to other people, yet what he said bore an exceedingly honorable testimony to the character of Mr. Evans, whom, it appeared, he meant, by the old Presbyterian parson, and this coming from one who was far enough, I presume, from being a Presbyterian himself, and who, perhaps, knew nothing or next to nothing of Mr. Evans, except what he had derived from general report concerning him, spoke so much the more forcibly in honor of Mr. Evans.

The 1806 will of Mary Evans (via Hertfordshire Archives and Library Services)

As yet, I’ve been unable to trace David Evans’ will. However, his wife Mary composed hers on 22nd March 1806 and a transcription can be found on the excellent website of the Pirton Local History Group. The principal beneficiaries are Mary’s sister Martha Roe and her nieces Mary and Ruth Odell, the daughters of Martha’s daughter Ruth, the wife of George Odell; Ruth had died in 1804. The witnesses to the will are John Geard, his wife Elizabeth and son John junior. Mary Evans also leaves a sum in trust to John Foster, a Biggleswade merchant (perhaps the person mentioned in John Geard’s memoir), and William Foster, a brewer in St Neots:

And I direct that the interest and dividends thereof be paid to the Minister for the time being of the congregation of  protestant dissenters of Bigleswade aforesaid called Baptists for and in consideration that he shall on the sixteenth day of June in every year preach a sermon in commemoration of the dreadful fire which happened at Bigleswade aforesaid on that day in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty five.