The Bradley family were stalwarts of Derby branch

by Jim Sherlock


James Fowkes was President of the Burton-upon-Trent Branch of the church until he left Britain with his wife Mary and family on the steamship Wisconsin in June 1880. He and his family settled in Nephi, Utah, they remained faithful in the Church and there are many Fowkes’ to be found in the Church today. James is mentioned here in relation to Derby branch because one of the children of his first marriage remained in Britain and became a driving force for the branch in the twentieth century. The child’s name was Elizabeth. Though born into the church (James having been baptised during the time of Heber C. Kimball’s mission to Britain), she was only baptised in her late thirties, well after her family emigrated to Zion. She had moved to Derby in her twenties where she met and married George Bradley in 1885.

It would later be reported of her life as a young wife and mother:

It was while rearing her family that she became aware of the inadequacy of the religious creed of the chapel she and her children attended. Its teachings did not square with those of the Bible, which she believed to be the word of God. What was she to do? Sincere in her questioning, she was not left long without answer. A Mormon missionary directed to her by her brother in America—a tract—earnest soul-searching—a witness that this was the truth. She accepted the Gospel, and was baptized, and with her into the Church she brought her husband and her entire family.

In the late 1800s, the small LDS congregation in Derby met at the London Road ‘LDS Hall’, and had a succession of missionary Elders in charge of the branch. But by the early 1900s the Bradley family were becoming stalwarts. George Bradley Senior, husband to Elizabeth, while still an Aaronic Priest, was sustained as Sunday School President and also as Branch Clerk in 1904. The following year he was released as Sunday School President and replaced by his son, James E. Bradley (aged nineteen) with George Bradley Senior as first assistant and George Bradley Junior (age sixteen) as second assistant.

Derby SSchool_early 1900s_with Geo Bradley snr
Derby SSchool early 1900s with Geo Bradley snr

In November 1904, the Saints left London Road, and moved to rented rooms in the newly built Trades Hall (later re-named Unity Hall) in Derby. This was destined to be the meeting place for the Saints for over a half century.  The new home was quickly put to good use. On January 25, 1908, the record reports,

A successful social was held in the Unity Hall, Burton Road, Derby. When about one hundred and thirty Elders, Saints and their friends met. Thru (sic) the efforts of Mr. Wilfred Sykes one of the best orchestras in the city was obtained.

The little branch seems to be doing well at this point in its life. A report from May 21, 1908, provides the following information:

Elders Thomas Martin and David J. Sutton report the Derby Branch in a prosperous condition. The Saints are striving to live their religion, are helping the Elders in their work among the people, are united, have a great love for one another, and many are faithful in paying their tithes. Friends and investigators are attending the meetings.

The missionaries were well taken care of and were often the senior leadership in the branch at this time. One missionary during this period, Daniel W. Grover, who served for two years starting October 1908, wrote home to his wife and family describing his Christmas.  

We went to the Bradley families’ home at 1 o’clock Christmas day and helped get away with a 30-pound turkey and many other good things and of course they had invited several of the young girls in, where the girls were the only ones that belonged to the church in their family so that we had a very nice crowd and 5 of us Elders. After dinner we sang songs played games until 8 o’clock then had tea. Went on with our games and singing until about 1 o’clock. Well, you can’t imagine, or I can’t tell you the time we did have. 

Throughout the period before World War One the branch was active with regular socials, and when possible, MIA meetings in addition to Sunday services. An indication of the strength of the membership is found in a reference to a Christmas party in 1909 which had over two hundred in attendance. The corresponding party a year later drew an attendance of one hundred and fifty.  

One event of note from this period occurred on February 28 1910, when the first Relief Society was organised in Derby. The organisation came at the hands of Charles W. Penrose – one of the Twelve Apostles, who visited Derby with his wife. The report is as follows:

Monday, Feb. 28.

Pres. Charles W. Penrose, Sister Romania B. Penrose, and Pres. Daniel W. Grover [President of the Nottingham Conference] went to Derby and organised a Relief Society. The following were set apart: Elizabeth Bradley as president, Annie E. Levy as first counselor, Alice Wathall as second counselor, Charlotte Orme as secretary, and Sarah E. Bradley as treasurer.

The sisters were addressed by Sister Penrose about their duties and work, and Pres. Penrose also gave them good counsel and advice.


James Bradley & Fanny Ryder Wedding
James Bradley & Fanny Ryder Wedding

As well as her Relief Society responsibilities, during the war when fewer missionaries were called and many of the local Priesthood holders were serving in the armed forces, Elizabeth served as a local missionary. She delivered tracts from door to door, bearing the soul-comforting message of the Restoration, so needed in those trying times.

In March 1916, George Bradley Jnr, then aged 26, was sustained as branch president. He was one of the few leaders of the Church in the area who were locally born, rather than serving missions from the USA, and had been ordained an Elder only six months earlier. He was to serve for only two months before he announced that he was joining the army to fight in France. He stated that his younger brother Wilfred would serve in his stead while he was away. He also joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Conscription was introduced in January 1916, but it is not clear whether George joined voluntarily or was conscripted. In truth he was probably following the example of his brother John. He returned on leave later in the year and still presided at the meeting, but was released in absentia in January 1918, when his father, George Bradley Senior, was sustained in his stead. Wilfred Bradley was sustained as first counselor.

A few days later George Junior died as he was returning home on leave, apparently one of the earliest victims of the Spanish Flu that decimated the young of the time. The record states that he ‘contracted a cold, which developed into pneumonia.’ He was given a military funeral in Derby. He was twenty-eight years old.

The death of George hit the little branch hard, the Bradley family in particular. On February 10, District President Leroy S. Dickson spoke in Sacrament meeting in Derby on the life and example of the recently deceased Brother George Bradley Jnr. George’s father, George Senior, who had been in office as branch president for exactly one month, was released, and George Jnr.’s younger brother Wilfred, aged 24, was sustained in his stead.


Elizabeth Bradley_middle age
Elizabeth Bradley

Sister Elizabeth Bradley served as the Derby Branch Relief Society President for thirty-six years during a period of extremes – two world wars and the great depression, as well as the ‘Roaring Twenties’.  Her grandson, George Bradley, wrote the following in her biography.

One of the early stalwarts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Derby Branch was Elizabeth Bradley.

Always very active, Elizabeth was called to be the Relief Society President in the Derby Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1910, an office she always cherished. She had many amazing experiences during her presidency. Her service brought her through two world wars helping her sisters in the branch as many of their husbands were gone to serve their country in the armed forces

Elizabeth Bradley had five children; James, Sarah Elizabeth (‘Lizzie’), George, John, and Wilfred – all of whom were strong in the church. In 1910, however, the numbers in her immediate reach began to fall. John (aged 19) and his elder sister, Lizzie (23), announced their plans to ‘go to Zion’. A farewell social was held in the branch on July 20, as they were leaving in company with Elders William Howard and John Barker, who were returning home from their missions. John Bradley later returned to Britain in 1915 and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps to serve at the front in the Great War. Before leaving for France, he spoke in sacrament meeting and gave a glowing account of life in Utah.


Wilfred Bradley
Wilfred Bradley Wilfred Bradley

The war ended in November 1918. In contrast with World War II, the American missionaries had not all been withdrawn from Britain, and they continued to play significant roles in the leadership of the Church. Farewell socials were the norm for missionaries who happened to be serving in Derby when their missions ended, or even if they were transferred to another area. The missionaries were so integrated into the activity of the branch – as branch presidents, counselors or clerks, Sunday School and MIA superintendents, etc. that the branch could hardly function without them. For example, George Bradley, son of Wilfred, was married to his wife Isabelle in 1950– and the marriage ceremony was performed by one of the local missionary Elders.

When the war ended people attempted to return their lives to ‘normal’. It was difficult, however, because of the huge losses caused by the war and the Spanish Flu. The Bradleys were not the only family in the branch suffering loss. On the other side of the world John and Ellen Lomax Belliston lost their daughter Velma, aged eighteen, to the pandemic. John had served in the British Mission, where he met Ellen in Derby. In addition, Brother Frank and Sister Charlotte Orme’s son Louis died while serving in the navy in June 1919. Louis served in the submarine service. Frank and Charlotte had seven children, two of whom died as children. At the time of Louis’ loss, they had only recently bidden farewell to another son, Harold, who with his wife Martha, and one-year old daughter Florence, had emigrated the previous month. Frank and his wife had joined the Church in 1908, and along with the Bradleys they became pillars of the Derby branch.

In April 1924, Branch President Wilfred Bradley, who had served since shortly after the death of his brother in 1918, was released and Elder Ianthus L. Richards was sustained as the new branch president. The leadership of the branch had once again reverted into the hands of missionaries serving from the United States. This pattern of the branch being led by missionary elders was destined to continue for the next several decades as capable local leaders heeded the call to emigrate, and as a result the branch tended to be populated by relatively new members.

In August 1925 Wilfred Bradley was sustained for a second term as branch president. At a branch conference the following month, among the leaders sustained were:

Wilfred Bradley, Branch President

Elizabeth Bradley, Relief Society President

Emma Bradley (Wilfred’s wife), First Assistant to Sunday School Superintendent

Missionary activity continued in strength. In October 1927, a conference was held in Derby at which it was reported that:

Sunday was a special day for the members of the Latterday (sic) Saints, popularly known as “Mormons” residing in the Derby area, the occasion being the semi-annual conference of the church in this section. Large assemblies characterised each session, the gatherings comprising resident members of the Church, their friends, and an unusual number of investigators and interested listeners curious to learn more of these strange people... Each session of the conference was presided over by Mr. Frank Orme, vice president of the Derby Branch. Musical selections were of pleasing variety, a vocal duet by Mrs. Wilfred Bradley and Mrs. Frank Orme being a special feature.

Wilfred Bradley served until released in December 1928. The cause is unclear, but he died only a month later, January 26, 1929. He was only 35 years old.

In consequence the leadership of the branch reverted to the missionary elders. In contrast to the activity of the previous few years the Manuscript History of the Branch in 1929 records:

No meetings had been held for some time as a result of no active participants and change in conditions in branch (sic), but on this date a Priesthood meeting was held at #56 St. Giles Road, Derby. Pres. Kendall H. Curtis presiding. Five were present.

Brother George Bradley, husband of Elizabeth and a long-time stalwart of the branch, passed away at the age of seventy-five a month earlier on September 27. Since the Bradleys were such a strength to the branch, it is possible their mourning, for George Jnr., for Wilfred, as well as for George Snr. was the reason for the inactivity.

In 1935 The Derby branch celebrated a Jubilee – marking both the twenty-fifth year of the reign of George V, and twenty-five-years Elizabeth Bradley had served as Relief Society President.

Twenty-five years ago, on the 28th of February last, their society was organized, and commenced its work of love and mercy among the people of Derby. But that was not all. The occasion marked still another jubilee. Sister Elizabeth Bradley, set apart as president of the Derby Relief Society on that day in 1910 when it was organized, is still its president. February 28th was a silver jubilee date for her as well—twenty-five years as a Relief Society president. Throughout its entire existence as an organization, she has stood at its head.

One would think that this were enough to observe in one celebration—and celebrate the Derby sisters did! But no—for still another reason the last day in February was a festive day in Derby. It was the 78th birthday anniversary of the oldest Relief Society president in the British mission—who is none other than Sister Elizabeth Bradley herself!

Sister Bradley holds this distinction with becoming grace. Her fellow workers in Derby have cause for nothing but respect and reverence for her in the able way she discharges the duties that devolve upon her. Her life reveals a splendid example of what a Relief Society president and a Latter-day Saint should be.

She bears a deep and convincing testimony that her life in the Church has been rich with blessings and happiness, and many are the men and women who are better for the influence of her good life on theirs.

In 1946, Elizabeth Bradley was finally released from her position as the president of the Branch Relief Society. She was eighty-nine years old. Her grandson, George Bradley wrote:


Elizabeth Bradley
Elizabeth Bradley


During her presidency she had many opportunities to serve the sisters that she loved. Saints attending the October 1946 District Conference were thrilled to hear her appeal to keep the commandments of the Lord and by doing so earn for themselves a place in the Celestial Glory. She was 90 years old. All who knew her have the memory of her kindness, generosity, and love as she set a wonderful example to all future Relief Society presidents and members of the Church.

This dear lady had a hard life losing two of her four sons as young men, her only daughter and later her husband, but she always had a great testimony of the gospel. She leaves a wonderful memory for all of us who knew her and left a great example for us to follow.

Following the war, the devastation in Britain was such that the USA was an even more attractive emigration destination for the British – especially for members of the Church, many of whom already had relatives and friends in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. The challenges of the war had led some members to become inactive, and many more travelled to Zion. In the first half of the 1950s these included several of the Bradleys, and as a result membership dwindled to a point lower than it had been since the 1840s. But in good times and lean for the branch, through wars, hardship and loss, the Bradley family – along with others – had played their part in keeping the restored gospel alive in the Derby branch.