THE AGAPEMONE TIMELINE
1811: Henry James Prince (hereafter “Prince”) was born in Bath, Somerset, son of Thomas Prince, Jamaican slave owner.
1825: Prince was apprenticed to an apothecary in Wells, Somerset.
1832: Prince became resident medical officer at Bath General Hospital.
1834: Christ was “revealed” to Prince.
1835: Prince relinquished his post at Bath due to ill health.
1836: Prince became a student at Lampeter Theological College, Wales.
1837: Prince became the leader of evangelical students known as the of the “Lampeter brethren.”
1838: Prince married his mother’s lodger, Martha Freeman, a Roman Catholic
1839: Prince completed his training at Lampeter.
1840: Prince took up a curacy at Charlinch, Somerset and commenced an evangelical revival.
1841 (June): Prince was ordained Priest having served his year as Deacon.
1842 (April): Martha Prince died.
1842 (May): Prince was deprived of his post at Charlinch for excessive “enthusiasm.” A breakaway congregation of his followers continued to worship at Charlinch.
1842 (July): Prince gained a temporary curacy at Stoke in Suffolk, and published an account of the “Charlinch revival.”
1842 (September): Prince married Julia Starky, sister of his Rector at Charlinch
1843: Prince was preaching in the streets of Brighton, but he was soon able to hire his own chapel.
1843: Prince received his first call to gather the faithful in advance of the Advent.
1844: Samuel Starky, Prince’s rector at Charlinch, preached a revival in Dorset.
1845: Prince’s followers founded a number of chapels in the Bridgwater area, including the Free Chapel at Four Forks, Spaxton.
1845: Three heiresses of the Nottidge family were married to three of Prince’s followers.
1846 (January): Prince declared that the “Door of Mercy” was closed and that all those who were to be saved had been chosen.
1846-1847: Prince founded the Agapemone (abode of love) around the “free Chapel” at Spaxton, Somerset. Houses, stables, greenhouses and gardens occupied the four and one-half acre site.
1846: Louisa Nottidge was snatched from the Agapemone and committed to an asylum by her relatives.
1849: In the Nottidge v Ripley and Another legal case, Louisa Nottidge successfully sued her relatives for wrongful imprisonment.
1852: John Hugh Smyth-Pigott (hereafter Smyth-Pigott) was born.
1856: “The Great Manifestation:” Prince fathered a child upon his “spiritual bride,” one of his employees.
1860: Nottidge v Prince: following Louisa Nottidge’s death, her relatives successfully sued for the return of her £6000 government stocks.
1860s: Prince issued numerous pamphlets, some distributed in India as well as the United Kingdom.
1867: An investigative journalist, William Hepworth Dixon, published an account of Adventist sects including the Agapemone, based on first-hand information.
1873: The Agapemone engaged in further pamphleteering.
1880s: There was a new wave of Agapemonite proselytizing in Reading, London and Norway.
1886-189: Salvation Army members were seen to be particularly vulnerable to Agapemonite proselyting.
1896: The Ark of the Covenant Church was opened in London with John Hugh Smyth-Pigott as its pastor
1899: Prince died and was succeeded by Smyth-Pigott as sect leader.
1902: Smyth-Piggott declared that he was the returned. The resulting disturbances forced him to retire to Spaxton
1902: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founder of Ahmadiyya Islam published a challenge to Smyth-Pigott’s claim to messianic status.
1905-1920: Well off Agapemone converts from Reading and London moved to Spaxton to live around the Agapemone.
1906-1909: Smyth-Pigott became the father of three children by his “spiritual bride,” Ruth Preece.
1927: Smyth-Pigot died.
1957: Ruth Preece died. The community had effectively died out by this time.
1958-1964: Smyth-Pigott’s children sold the Agapemone premises for housing.
The term Agapemone (a Greek based neologism meaning the abode of love) was coined in the 1840s by H.J. Prince to describe the Somerset headquarters of the Adventist sect he had founded. His followers were known as Princeites by outsiders. Likewise, when JH Smyth-Pigott became leader in 1899, the group were often termed “Pigottites.” Prince himself variously referred to the movement as the Children of the Resurrection or the Church of the Son of Man. In practice, however, both members and non-members referred to the sect members as Agapemonites and that convention is followed here.
Henry James Prince (hereafter, Prince), the founder of the Agapemonite sect, was born at Bath, Somerset, in 1811, the son of Thomas Prince a Jamaica slave plantation owner. Thomas died in 1816, leaving a considerable fortune to his much younger wife. Prince was apprenticed to a Somerset apothecary when he was fourteen but by1830 he was taking courses at Guy’s Hospital in London. By 1832 he was a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, and became Residential Medical Officer of the prestigious Bath General Hospital. He seemed destined for a brilliant career in medicine but after three years a serious illness requiring an operation forced him to give up his medical career.
Whilst still a doctor, Prince had undergone an evangelical conversion experience. This led him to seek ordination into the Anglican church, and in 1836 he became a student at the training college at Lampeter in South Wales. Prince did well academically at Lampeter, but he found himself out of sympathy with what he perceived as the worldly nature of the college administration. Soon he became the leader of a group of similarly austere students, who became known more widely as the “Lampeter Brethren.” Prince’s piety involved asking for divine guidance on even the smallest matter, such as whether to take an umbrella when going for a walk. In 1838, he married Martha Freeman, his mother’s former lodger, also from a Jamaican planter family.
Prince graduated in 1839 and was offered a curacy at Charlinch in Somerset, which he took up in June 1840. The Rector of Charlinch, Samuel Starky had been on long term sick leave since 1839 so Prince was effectively his own master. By 1841, he had inaugurated a full-blown evangelical revival at Spaxton. His pamphlet celebrating this reached Starky, who underwent a sudden recovery and returned to Charlinch to aid in the good work.
From an evangelical viewpoint, things were going well at Charlinch, but unfortunately the Anglican authorities were less impressed. Prince had divided the parish. He refused communion to those who he regarded as ungodly, and went preaching in neighbouring parishes. Prince refused to moderate his activities, and in May 1842 he was dismissed from his curacy. He took up a temporary post at Stoke-by-Nayland in Suffolk but was soon dismissed from that too.
Prince had, no doubt, been tactless, but the errors he had made were administrative, rather than doctrinal, being typical of the sorts of complaint made by the Anglican establishment against evangelical clergy since the Wesleys. Like them, he was undaunted by this “persecution.” If he could not save souls in the established church, he would save them as an independent preacher. His standing amongst the Lampeter Brethren was, if anything, enhanced by his treatment.
In early 1843, Prince hired a chapel in the popular resort of Brighton, and Starky went to Weymouth, having been granted further sick leave. Brighton and Weymouth were very fashionable at the time and attracted the sort of wealthy genteel persons who became an important source of converts for the Agapemonites. The Nottidge family, upon whom Prince had made a big impression during his stay in Suffolk, seem to have owned a house in Brighton, whilst Starky had numerous clerical acquaintances in south Dorset.
Up to this point, Prince’s churchmanship was evangelical but perfectly orthodox. However, between 1843 and 1845 he underwent experiences that were to take him into extreme heterodoxy. He gradually became convinced that the second coming was imminent, in fact would occur in 1845. This was a widespread belief at the time in Protestant circles in Britain and the United States, based upon a qualitative numerological interpretation of certain times mentioned in the book of Daniel. Unorthodox groups, such as the Plymouth Brethren, the Mormons and the Millerite Adventists also shared these millenarian convictions, and even members of the Anglican church were not immune to this. However, Prince also came to believe that he had received a personal commission from God to save a small number of true Christians from the general damnation that was to accompany the Advent. It seems that he (and possibly Starky) believed that they had become mouthpieces of God, semi-divine figures from the Book of Revelation.
Prince seems to have been canny enough to realise that straightforward presentation of these beliefs would alienate not just the Anglican clergy but also the majority of non-conformist clergy including his admirers in the Lampeter Brethren. Between 1842 and 1845, he issued nine different, and largely orthodox, evangelical booklets, many going into second editions. These gained him a glowing reputation amongst both Anglicans and non-conformists, a reputation which slowly became sullied as his admirers became aware, through rumour or personal experience, of his deeper convictions. Nevertheless, he was able to build up a devoted following who accepted him as a quasi-divine figure. During 1845, a number of buildings were licenced with the authorities as chapels in Somerset by his followers, and a purpose built chapel was erected for him at Spaxton, within sight of Charlinch Church.
In January of 1846, he announced to his followers at Weymouth that the gates of mercy had been closed. Now was the time to await the second coming. During 1846, a small country estate, the Agapemone, complete with mansion, stables, cottages, and glass houses was constructed in a four and one half acre site surrounding the Spaxton chapel. [Image at right] Sixty or more followers came to reside here or in the neighbourhood, including a farm at nearby Chilton Trivett, itself owned by Prince. As many as 500 more devotees remained in their own homes in West Somerset or around Weymouth and Dorchester in Dorset.
Prince assured his followers that the impending Advent had rendered conventional religious services redundant. Life at the Agapemone was to be joyful in anticipation of the life to come. Formal religious practices were given up apart from the singing of hymns, written by Prince. Those who died were buried in the Agapemone gardens. Everyday occupations included the playing of hockey. The sybaritic behaviour, or assumed behaviour, of the community offended the good people of West Somerset: walls had to be heightened around the estate and bloodhounds purchased for security reasons. The committal of Louisa Nottidge to an asylum by her relatives in 1846, and the ensuing court case in 1849 when she successfully sued them for wrongful imprisonment, only added to the furore. Between 1848 and 1861, the Agapemone was the subject of largely hostile articles and reports both in the local and national press.
Prince’s autocratic behaviour proved too much for some of his followers, especially since he seemed to allow himself freedoms that the rest of the group members were denied. These were, it was rumoured of a sexual nature. In 1856, despite being married, Prince went through some form of marriage with a “pretty laundress,” who subsequently bore him a child. This was not the first infidelity he had engaged in, it was claimed. Prince felt the need to defend himself through a series of pamphlets, the first he had issued since 1845, as well as some half-hearted attempts by his followers to proselytise locally. He referred to this event as the Great Manifestation.
In 1860, following the death of Louisa Nottidge, her family successfully sued for the return of her dowry, valued at over £5,000. Outsiders must have wondered what sustained the Agapemone now. The millennium had not arrived. Princes follower’s, though largely still loyal, were an increasingly middle aged, and largely childless, group. By the middle 1860s, the group had ceased to be of interest to the press. William Hepworth-Dixon, collecting material for a work of comparative religion in the mid-1860s, found the Agapemonites secretive and guarded, most resembling the privileged but indolent inhabitants of a classic English country house (which, of course, they were in many respects).
Prince continued to write new works and to re-publish earlier ones. Between 1860 and 1875 there was one new work and two reprints. However, the years 1876-1878 saw six new works one of which went into four editions. Perhaps due to this, the 1880s saw a revival of the fortunes of the Agapemone, which gained new followers in the home counties, Wales, and overseas. Prince seems to have attracted converts who became effective missionaries: William Fox in Brighton, James Ker in London, Douglas Hamilton in Dublin, John Allanson in North Wales and, above all, John Hugh Smyth-Pigott [Image at right] in London. The years 1886 to 1889 saw twelve publications, mostly reprints but clearly indicative of renewed activity. The Agapemone became a subject for comment by newspapers once again.
The later 1880s were a time of renewed interest in millenarianism, reflected in the flourishing of the Salvation Army. Smyth-Pigott had been a Salvationist before he became an Agapemonite and was particularly effective at attracting other former Salvation Army members to the Agapemone. This period saw a new wave of members for the Agapemone. There were still followers in Somerset and Dorset but now there were new congregations in Reading, Caernarvon, and London. Smyth-Pigott’s London congregation thrived, and in 1896 the aging Prince was able to dedicate “The Ark of the Covenant,” a splendid new church at Clapton Common, Stoke Newington, a prosperous London suburb. The tower of the Ark carried massive statues of the four creatures of the evangelists; its stained glass windows were the creations of the highly fashionable artist, Walter Crane. Unsurprisingly, when Prince finally died in 1899, Smyth-Pigott was accepted as his successor. The power base of the Agapemone had passed from the elderly ladies of Spaxton to the stockbrokers and company directors of Clapton. The Agapemone was almost respectable.
With hindsight, it is possible to see that Smyth-Pigott’s moment of triumph also presented him with a considerable problem. Prince had apparently promised his followers immortality or being carried away to heaven. Yet he and they had all died. Prince had promised the second coming, yet Christ had not come.
Smyth-Pigott’s response to this situation was bold, innovative and massively controversial. At his Sunday evening service on September 7, 1902, he declared that Brother Prince had not been wrong. Christ had indeed come again, in the person of John Hugh Smyth-Pigott.
This announcement, repeated the next week, produced two main effects. Firstly, the Agapemone became the subject of critical articles in the local and national press. Secondly, Smyth-Pigott found himself the target of considerable personal hostility. A crowd, estimated to number 5,000 or 6,000 strong gathered outside the church. Mounted police had to be called out, and Smyth-Pigott was heckled inside the church. When he left his carriage was pursued by a mob said to be many thousands strong, yelling, hissing and making threats. Within a few weeks Smyth-Pigott was forced to discontinue services in the Ark, which seems never to have been used again for regular services. Over the next couple of years, he gradually seems to have relocated to Spaxton.
Smyth-Pigott had married a vicar’s daughter in the 1880s, but the marriage had produced no children. In 1904, he followed his master’s example by taking a spiritual bride, one Ruth Preece. As with Prince, the legitimate wife seems to have accepted the situation. Between 1905 and 1909, this new union was blessed with three children. When Prince fathered a child on his soul bride, he was decidedly coy in admitting this to the world. His daughter went by her mother’s surname until late in her life. Smyth-Pigott had no such inhibitions. The birth of his first son in 1905 was marked by a jamboree at Spaxton, with Agapemonites coming, it was claimed, from London, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany and India. The Bridgwater assistant registrar was summoned to register the birth.
This openness concerning his sexual life gave the Anglican church an opportunity to expel him from the ranks of its clergy. Smyth-Pigott had been an Anglican curate in the 1880s when he married his first wife. His acknowledgement that he had fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife, meant that he had violated Canon 109 of 1603, part of the code of clerical behaviour that he had sworn to uphold in the 1880s. On the January 20, 1909 he was deposed and degraded from the offices of Priest and Deacon. The impact of this “defrocking” upon Smyth-Pigott was probably minor, but it allowed the Church of England to defend itself against charges of being supine in the face of blasphemy and immorality levelled at it in the popular press.
Smyth-Pigott’s move to Spaxton signalled a retreat from missionary work for the Agapemone. Between 1905 and 1921 leading members of the London and Reading congregations, moved to Spaxton and had large houses built so that they could be in daily contact with the Messiah. Services were held weekly at Spaxton, and occasional services continued at the Ark church up to 1926. [Image at right] At Christmas and Easter and occasions such as Smyth-Pigott’s birthday on the first of August, large numbers of people dined (and some came to stay) at Spaxton. It was, to all appearances, a well-ordered and morally impeccable community. There were firework displays, parties and guessing games. The genteel round of communal meals, prayers, afternoon outings in carriages, tea and later supper, with special “do’s” on festivals, continued the traditions developed during Prince’s reign.
The Agapemone remained a hierarchical society with a clear differentiation between members (the “stock-holders” who part owned the place) and ordinary servants. However, many of the servants ended up being buried in the Agapemonite plot at Spaxton cemetery and therefore must be presumed to have been full members of the sect.
Smyth-Pigott died aged seventy-six in 1927. After his death, Douglas Hamilton, virtually the only remaining man in the community, took over. Repairs were initiated, the buildings renovated and a wireless installed. According to Hamilton, the Agapemone was in a time of waiting (a similar silence has marked the final years of the Catholic Apostolic Church), and was not yet ready to speak to the world. But the Agapemone never did speak again. The “Holy Children” grew up to enjoy well off lives, the elderly and virtually wholly female population of the Abode one by one passed on.
After the death of Sister Ruth in 1956 and of Violet Morris (the last of Smyth-Pigott’s trustees) in 1958, the Smyth-Pigott children,
by then running short of cash, moved to liquidate their assets. Whilst Prince had transferred his own interest in the property to numerous followers and left no personal estate at all, Smyth-Pigott had taken control of the Agapemone premises as his personal property and had been given the houses built around the Agapemone by his devotees. The few remaining Agapemonites retired to a part of the property purchased from the Smyth-Pigotts and the rest of the little realm was sold off. The Mansion house was split up into flats, the chapel became a television studio, and new bungalows covered the once famous gardens. [Image at right]
The theology of the Agapemone, though regarded by many, both in the nineteenth century and subsequently, as alarming and heterodox, was for the most part a reflection of pietism, and in particular of that of the early eighteenth century German writer Gerhard Terstegan, whose works Prince came across at Lampeter.
Four aspects of Terstegan’s work particularly inspired Prince. Firstly, his quietism, which aimed to attain “mystic death;” that is, the annihilation of will through a passive process of abandonment of self to God. Through this process, outward acts of religion become superfluous, and sin impossible. Secondly, Terstegan had established a religious community where he acted as director of souls. Thirdly he had emphasized separation from godless or worldly persons. Fourthly his devotion had been particularly expressed though hymns and poems.
Prince’s theology echoes all of these characteristics, though not always in ways of which the pious Terstegen could have approved. Prince’s “mystic death” led him to the belief that his self had been replaced by that of a divine forerunner; that served to justify the Agapemonites’ disuse of religious observance and his sexual adventures. He established and ruled a religious community, separated from the godless and doomed world. Finally, he published a huge volume of tracts and hymns, some 5,700 pages in all.
Terstegan was a Pietist, and Prince also endorsed the Adventist expectations, and relative disregard of social barriers which characterized radical pietism. As has already been explained, Prince’s expectation of the second coming in about 1845 was not at all original. Such beliefs were, in early nineteenth century Anglicanism, widespread and academically respectable, rather than being eccentric and on the fringes of respectability. The disregard of social barriers, especially those of gender, was shown by the Agapemonites practice of mixed hockey and, less creditably, by Prince’s interest in “pretty laundresses.”
As time passed, Prince departed further from the Pietistic agenda. In the later 1850s, he adopted a dispensationalist approach to the Advent, which may have been inspired by the dispensationalism of the early Plymouth Brethren, also active in South Western England in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Prince’s approach claimed that God’s purpose in history was to progressively make himself and his character known, through a series of dispensations, periods history of humanity during which God continued in the same covenanted relation with his people. Dispensations had a number of common features: a new covenant delivered by a witness, distinctive principles of divine government, a development of God’s Name, a falling away from the divinely ordained principles of the covenant, and termination when a perfect example of the covenant has been found. There had been six such covenants, associated respectively with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and H. J. Prince.
God had not taken over Prince merely to reiterate the same message and bring the same benefits as He had almost 2,000 years earlier. Prince’s new dispensation had three aims; firstly, to reconcile the flesh to Jesus, secondly, to separate out the true Christians from those who merely professed to be ones and, thirdly, to herald the last judgement. The last two of these aims could be seen as standard Adventist fare: the former needs further discussion.
Reconciling the flesh to Jesus was the most original of these aims, and does rather appear to be an attempt to retrospectively justify the “Great Manifestation.” St John, in the Book of Revelation, had been shown the keys of death and Hades, which Prince understood as those of resurrection and of life. Because of Prince’s special status, his body, having died to sin, had been raised again by the Spirit. This had fitted him to perform Christ’s requirement that “the flesh” was reconciled to Him, in order that the Advent should not be the cause of disaster to the earth. That is that the relationship between body and spirit be sorted out before Christ’s final coming. Christ’s gospel of grace had saved souls, but left them in mortal and perishing bodies. Prince’s Gospel of resurrection saved bodies too. The means by which the Holy Ghost had reconciled itself with the flesh was one of the most controversial, and hence faith-testing, of all his acts through Prince. The Holy Ghost, in the person of Henry James Prince, had merged Himself with the consciousness of a woman, as marriage makes men and women of one flesh. Hence at least one of the spiritual brides was not an indulgence but a crucial part of the Agapemone.
In other areas of theology, the beliefs of the Agapemonites seem to have been relatively orthodox, Trinitarian and conforming to the Apostles creed. Compared to other messianic figures, Prince’s output was large, but his concerns were limited and perhaps did not address the issues that engaged many potential Adventists. For all his argumentation, one suspects that his impact, and that of Smyth-Pigott, was closely related to their perceived personal charisma rather than to the originality of their message.
Prince’s message, which he received in 1843, was simple enough, though supported by copious quotations from Daniel, Zechariah and Revelations. The “Day of Grace” was closing, the second coming was imminent and the hearers must believe, both in his message and the ‘healing blood of Christ’. Those made ready to meet the second coming would be caught up and would meet the Lord in the air without suffering death. It was delivered to crowds in Southern England and Wales between 1843 and 1846, and formed the core of numerous pamphlets during the rest of his long life. The presentation was uncompromising: towns, churches, and individuals whether evangelically sound or otherwise who did not accept his authority and message were formally cursed and denounced in terms borrowed from the more hair-raising parts of the scriptures.
Once the Agapemone was established, a number of distinctive practices emerged; disregard of Sunday as a holy day, the disuse of fixed prayers and ceremonies, conversion of the chapel into a drawing room, an easy-going daily regime, in particular the playing of mixed outdoor games, the formal adoption of chastity even for married couples, and the burial of the dead in the gardens of the Agapemone. The only practice that outsiders could regard as properly religious was the collective singing of hymns, with elaborate orchestral accompaniment. Song certainly featured in the vision of heaven in Prince’s writings, and choral worship was appropriate to those already in heaven. Prince’s vision had from its inception been expressed in the form of hymns: prose expositions came later.
Thus the Agapemonites regarded themselves as beyond religion, understood as regular ceremony, observance of holy days, rituals and petitionary prayer. Indeed, if Prince were believed to be semi-divine, then it was not wholly irrational of the Agapemonites to adopt the position that no distinction should be made between ordinary days and holy days, or that prayer and bible reading were abolished. Being in the actual presence of the divine meant that praise, not supplication, was in order. Instead of knowing God “through a glass darkly,” they now knew him face to face. Their beliefs were now to be expressed not though words but through actions: song, activities to maintain the health of the body and to celebrate their status as the chosen ones. Prayer, liturgy, and bible reading were means to an end and, those ends being fulfilled, were therefore redundant.
The adoption of chastity related directly to the well-known claim by Jesus in Matthew 22 that those who have undergone the resurrection will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Prince seems to have interpreted this literally as regards his followers, showing disapproval of the few pregnancies that occurred. Hostile accounts by defectors and other rumours, suggest that the “Great Manifestation” was not the only time when he felt entitled to relax the rules in his own case. Most of his followers seem to have accepted his right to this indulgence as an “idiosyncrasy credit” for his special status (see e.g. Hollander 1958).
There are no substantial “insider” accounts of the Agapemone after the 1850s, and so it is not possible to say much about how the sect’s activities developed over time. Accounts of the “Great Manifestation” suggest that by then a special occasion might be marked by elaborate ceremony. These seem to have involved titles drawn from the apocalyptic texts of the Bible for participants, and distinctively coloured clothes, albeit not ones that could be regarded as vestments of any sort. At some time in the 1880s, the former chapel was refurnished with pews, and a pulpit, and thereafter there appears to have been a return to more conventional forms of worship, which by the 1950s involved an altar, though there never seems to have been a fixed liturgy.
The Agapemone had two leaders who considered themselves to have a divine calling: H.J. Prince, from 1845 to his death in 1899, and J. H. Smyth-Pigott, from 1899 to his death in 1927. After this, the former missionary Douglas Hamilton took charge until his death in 1942. It is unclear thereafter what the remaining women inhabitants did for leadership. When Smyth-Pigott’s spiritual bride, Ruth Preece, died in 1956, her funeral was taken by Harold Nicholson, a former waiter, who was the self-appointed Bishop of the Ancient Catholic Church of England. Even at the end, it seems that the last survivors could not contemplate a service being taken by a woman.
Prince’s management style was dictatorial. His habit of denouncing backsliders and those who rejected him, in the most extreme terms, has already been mentioned. After his revelation, he seems to have issued orders and requests as if the Holy Ghost was speaking through him. Followers and others were expected to refer to him as “The Lord.” This extreme style did not generally extend to his published works, especially those published between 1841 and 1845, many of which were regarded highly by clergy who otherwise rejected his personal claims to divine appointment.
Within the Agapemone, the contemporary class system seems to have been reproduced, middle class and propertied members being served by those drawn from the working classes. The Agapemone resembled modern new religious movements more than earlier millenarian movements in as much as nearly half of the founding members were middle class, and this ability to attract both the affluent and the educated continued until the end of the century.
Although Prince seems, in practice to have run a tight ship, there were exceptions. The Agapemone was, from beginning to end, a male dominated institution but considerable power seems to have been wielded by Mrs Starky, with whom, it was claimed, he had committed adultery. In addition, he established amongst his male followers an elaborate hierarchy of titles “First and Second of the Anointed Ones,” “Angel of the Last Trumpet,” “Witnesses,” and the “Two Golden Candlesticks.” As with many of Prince’s concerns, these titles seem to be derived ultimately from Revelation. They seem to have carried no actual authority within the Agapemone; on the other hand, they were awarded to people (largely men) from a wide range of social classes.
The Agapemone was financed by a range of investments that arguably were provided by Prince’s early supporters, both women and men. It was the decline in these investments after the First World War that seems to have begun the impoverishment of the Agapemone. In addition, the Agapemone owned a 163 acre farm a few miles from Spaxton at Chilton Trivett. This seems to have been largely farmed by others on their behalf, though in the 1850s some of the member’s children seem to have been housed there, perhaps because of Prince’s disapproval of his followers continued attachment to procreation.
It might seem rather trite to say that the Agapemone failed the ultimate challenge for any sect, that of survival, especially since by surviving for over a century, it did a lot better than the vast majority of Christian sects. Why then did it finally disappear?
A number of reasons suggest themselves. Firstly, it was a largely celibate movement which failed to rectify this weakness by continuing recruitment from outside of its membership. Secondly, much of its appeal seems to have been related to the charismatic appeal of its leaders rather than to its doctrines. Once they were gone, there was little to attract outsiders to the movement. Once Smyth-Pigott retired to Spaxton, he seems to have made no effort either to engage in “succession planning” or to attract new members. Thirdly, there is the wider religious and social context. The Agapemone was founded at the end of a period of intense social and religious turmoil. A comparable period occurred between 1870 and 1890s, once again a period of growth for the Agapemone. The 1960s have been seen as a comparable period in the twentieth century, but by then the Agapemone was extinct. Fourthly, Prince adopted what Wilson (1959) termed an introversionist strategy of withdrawal from a corrupt world. Since his followers tended to keep themselves away from corrupting influences their ability to proselytize was limited.
Image #1: Postcard of The Agapemone from the East c. 1907.
Image #2: Photograph of John Hugh Smyth-Pigott.
Image #3: The Agapemone chapel interior in the late nineteenth century.
Image #4: Agapemone Garden c. 1860.
The main sources for this entry are:
Schwieso, Joshua J. 1994. ‘Deluded Inmates, Frantic Ravers and Communists’: A sociological Study of the Agapemone, A Sect of Victorian Apocalyptic Millenarians. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Reading.
Hollander, Edwin. 1958. “Conformity, Status and Idiosyncrasy Credit.” Psychological Review 65:117-27.
Wilson, Bryan R. 1959 An Analysis of Sect Development. American Sociological Review 24:3–15.
Barlow, Kate. 2006. Abode of Love: Growing up in a Messianic Cult. Fredericton, Canada: Goose Lane Editions.
Dixon, William H. 1868. Spiritual Wives. Fourth Edition. London: Hurst and Blackett.
Mander, Charles. 1976. The Reverend Prince and His Abode of Love. East Ardsley: E.P. Publishing.
Matthews, Ronald. 1936. English Messiahs: Studies of Six English Religious Pretenders, 1656-1927. London: Methuen
Menen, Aubrey. 1957. The Abode of Love: The Conception, Financing and Daily Routine of an English Harem in the Middle of the Nineteenth-Century. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
Miller, Edward. 1878. The History and Doctrines of Irvingism or of the So-Called Catholic and Apostolic Church. London: C. Kegan Paul and Co.
Montgomery, John M. 1962. Abodes of Love. London: Putnam.
Prince, Henry J. 1859. Br. Prince’s Journal; or, An Account of the Destruction of the Works of the Devil in the Human Soul, by the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Gospel. London: Arthur Hall; Virtue and Co.
Schwieso, Joshua J. 1996a. “’Religious Fanaticism’ and Wrongful Confinement in Victorian England: The Affair of Louisa Nottidge.” Social History of Medicine 9:159-74.
Schwieso, Joshua J. 1996b. “The Princes of Widcombe – A Most Unusual Family.” Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset 34:27-31.
Schwieso, Joshua J. 1992. “’This Frightful and Blasphemous Sect’: Apocalyptic Millenarians in Victorian Dorset.” Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 119:12-18.
Schwieso, Joshua J. 1991. “The Founding of the Agapemone at Spaxton, 1845-1846.” Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society 135:113-21.
Stunt, Timothy C.F. 2004a. “‘Prince, Henry James (1811–1899).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37864 on 31 January 2017.
Stunt, Timothy C.F. 2004b. “‘Smyth, John Hugh (1852–1927).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40853 on 31 January 2017.
Joshua J. Schwieso
15 January 2017