Robert Stodhart (1779-1846)

Stodhart had trained for ministry in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, and was appointed minister of the New Mulberry Gardens Chapel in 1808, Thomas Young delivering the charge at his institution. His predecessor Isaac Nicholson had met him while convalescing in Cumbria, and regarded him as a worthy successor. He remained in office until 1842, living latterly in Islington. An infant son died of whooping cough in Brighton in 1822.
When the Independent chapel in Pell Street closed around 1833, Stodhart bought the premises at auction to prevent it falling into inappropriate hands.

Doctrinally Stodhart was a hard-liner. The Monthly Repository of 1819 reports a spat over Wood Street Charity School, Spitalfields, and the resulting correspondence. At a managers' meeting, Stodhart proposed that the children of the school should no longer attend at the chapel, Worship Street [a General Baptist chapel in Finsbury Square which later became linked to the Unitarian Baptist cause], adding that the people assembling there denied the co-equal and co-essential Godhead of Jesus Christ, and with Unitarians would be damned to all eternity! Others supported him in less intemperate language, claiming they had monkeyed with the Assembly's Catechism (though as Neal observed in his History of the Puritans, his has by some been thought a little too long, and in some particulars too abstruse for the capacities of children!) But John Evans, the minister of Worship Street for thirty years, mounted a passionate defence; he admitted that because his chapel included paedo-baptists and adult baptists, they practised 'general communion', but he appealed for Christian charity, and Stodhart's motion was lost.

Controversies continued. In 1820 Mulberry Gardens Chapel published a 79-page booklet Letters to the Rev. Robert Stodhart: occasioned by the violent and obtrusive statements presented to the public in a series of pamphlets, attacking ... the character and conduct of the managers of ... the chapel (these related to  the introduction of 'tests' for admission to the Lord's Supper, which had been the subject of legal challenge). The following year came A voice of warning: or a serious address to the Protestants of Great Britain, on the danger of conceding political power to Roman Catholics (Teape 1827) - and on the same theme, posthumously published in 1851, was Popery and Arminianism: a letter addressed to the editors of the Gospel magazine (in vol.4 of Lectures on Popery, published by Hatchard).

In 1829 he offered this testimony to the work and ministry of George Charles (Bo'sun) Smith:
If any person has reason to complain of Mr. Smith I have, for he is come directly into my neighbourhood; but when I see what is going on, and when I remember what Mr. Davies has told me, of the efforts of that man Crosby, (a member of the Port of London Society), to ruin him, when he almost broke up the whole concern here, and deserted the Mariners' House, and closed the shop when Mr S. was in the country - when I saw, that two years ago he was enabled to STRUGGLE THROUGH ALL HIS IMMENSE DIFFICULTIES, AND EVEN TO ADVANCE CONTINUALLY - and when I consider, that I have been for years urging persons to form a day-school in this neighbourhood, and could not succeed, and yet that Mr. S. has come here, and in a few months raised up day-schools for about 300 children, and taken our school-rooms, next to our chapel in Pell-street, at 40l. per annum - and when I look at the events of the Brunswick Theatre, in which he has been so remarkably concerned, I am constrained to believe and acknowledge, THAT GOD HAS RAISED HIM FOR A GREAT WORK AMONG SEAMEN; and whatever, therefore, were my former objections, I am obliged to fall under this conviction, and yield to the appointment of the Almighty.
(The 'day-school' that he mentions does not appear to be included in the 1833 or 1838 lists of local schools.)

In the 1830s Stodhart was involved in a curious affair. A 'classic' work of 1700 by Christopher Ness (1621-1705), An antidote against Arminianism, had been edited - removing the quotations in Latin, Greek and Hebrew and making the language more accessible - by the Rev J.A. Jones, who accused Stodhart of complicity in pirating his work and breaching his copyright - a charge which Stodhart, who had the book on sale in the vestry of Mulberry Gardens Chapel, appears to have admitted. Here is the angry postscript that Jones added to the preface to the fourth edition of his work:

And must I, before I close, refer to some painful matters? I am obliged to do so; but, it is most reluctantly. A gentleman holding high rank in society, and who ought to have acted very differently, has recently pirated an edition of my work, in which I have assuredly a legal Copyright; every page of it having undergone (25 years ago) more or less, by my hand, revision, correction, addition, and emendation. This said gentleman, when remonstrated by me, for his invasion of my property, replies, in an epistle smoother than oil - "Neither Mr. G. nor myself had the most distant idea but that this work was (with the exception of your notes, which we cautiously avoided inserting) the original writing of C. Ness. Now, dear Sir, it becomes a question, what is to be done in this case? If this work be your copyright, and I cannot for a moment doubt it is as you say; how is the present difficulty to be overcome?" The difficulty was overcome in this way, viz., by subsequently sending me the name of his legal adviser, whose instructions from him were, "simply to follow the course of the law!" His letter conveyed to me also the following notice, "It is my intention forthwith to publish one [i.e. Ness] from the original edition of 1700, &c. &c." But the Admiral found that a copy of the original was so rare, as not easily to be obtained; in short, it was, after much search (at that time) no where to be procured. To work goes wit; and so a very worthy man, Mr. Robert Stodhart, of Pell-street, employed doubtless for the purpose*, made me a friendly call, and craved the loan for a week (under a pretence of desire of perusal) of my old original copy; which he immediately took to a Printer, and had an edition surreptitiously printed from my own book!!! I have already told the public this sad dishonourable tale; and since Mr. Stodhart has, in print, confessed himself as guilty as I have ever accused him, I need make no further reply to him, but, submit to his abuse.

Subsequent to all this, Admiral Pearson has also published another edition; but which is now neither one thing nor the other. It is indeed a sad cut-up work now; and not a little craft has been resorted to also, by some mere verbal alteration, here and there, where it was not desirable to leave out my ideas exactly; and this doubtless to avoid a prosecution. However, I am too poor to wage war with an Admiral's pocket; I can only pocket the loss; and close by informing the reader, that all the copies of my work being sold; the first pirated edition being deficient of all my notes, &c. &c.; the second as I have described it; and Stodhart's, ill-gotten, 3s. volume!! of old Ness, not being perhaps readable by 99 persons out of every 100; because of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, strewed in every page; I have, at the earnest intreaty of many Christian friends, put forth this fourth edition, carefully revised throughout. And, overlooking pecuniary advantage, have directed it to be sold, in boards, with an excellent new portrait of Ness, engraved from the original, at the small price of fifteen pence!!!

* My letters and private correspondence with Admiral Pearson, were published by Mr. Stodhart. Query. How came he by these, if there was no combination between them?

In 1830 Stodhart became one of the first committee members of 'The General Union of Trinitarian Protestant Dissenting Ministers, residing in and about the Cities of London and Westminster' which was formed of Independents, Baptist and Calvinistic Methodists in opposition to the longer-established 'General Body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers,' which met at Redcross Street Library. They claimed that their intention was not to question others' orthodoxy, but as gentlemen assembling at that place are under the necessity of uniting with Socinians and avowed Unitarians, with whom many Ministers cannot conscientiously unite, upon any grounds, or under any pretence whatever, the name assumed by this Society is merely designed to express that all its Members are exclusively Trinitarian in their principles, and that no person denying the scriptural doctrine of the Trinity in Unity, or of the Essential Deity and all-sufficient atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, can ever be admitted as members of this body. The creation of this group was ridiculed in other quarters.

The tables were turned on Stodhart in an 1846 protest, in William Scott's Christian Remembrancer  that the 'London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews', under the patronage of both Archbishops and 19 diocesan bishops, had given life membership to Stodhart, who we believe labours under what we used to consider a canonical disability to 'life-membership' in a religious institution which assumes to be of the Church of England: or, pro tanto, the Church of England itself. The writer went on to object to donations from schismatics and secessionists - and even Lutherans!

A final publication (apart from the posthumous one mentioned above) was The trial of AntiChrist, otherwise, the man of sin, for high treason against the son of God (1841, 198 pages).

Stodhart had some devoted disciples. See here for a biography from the Gospel Herald of Ann Wells (1779-1856), and here for a memoir of James Sherman (1796-1862) who had been a member of Stodhart's congregation and after training at Cheshunt became a minister of the Connexion, but later became a Congregationalist; a supporter of the LMS, he was a keen abolitionist, and was one of the founders of Abney Park Cemetery.

He died in 1846, aged 67, four years after retiring from his ministry.

Dissenters & Nonconformists 3 St Matthew Pell Street