An entry in Wilford Woodruff’s missionary journal for February 17th 1840 reads:
Walked to Stoke, from there to Stone in company with Br William Hume and William Momford… to Widow Gilbert’s, Church Street. Widow Gilbert told us we might preach in her house as much as we pleased.
Who was this Widow Gilbert who was so welcoming to the early missionaries? Prudence Gilbert can be seen in census records in Church Street, Stone- a market town on the river Trent in Staffordshire. The 1851 census confirms she is a widow and gives her age as 73. In her last will and testament she refers to her late husband, William Gilbert, and bequeaths two houses in Church Street to a niece and a great nephew. She apparently had no posterity, as six children of her marriage to William are buried in Stone churchyard, none of them surviving beyond age of 7. She is buried there with them.
Wilford Woodruff had been preaching in the Pottery towns of Hanley and Burslem when he came to Stoke. Widow Gilbert not only allowed him to use her house for preaching– this being the first time the restored gospel had been heard in the town- but also provided accommodation for the three missionaries overnight. Woodruff would again preach at her house two weeks later, and shortly thereafter would leave for Herefordshire and his notable missionary success with the United Brethren. But his object, he says, in calling on Mrs Gilbert was “to get a door open to preach the gospel,” and she undeniably provided that. It’s not clear whether he knew her before knocking on her door, or whether she ever became a convert – he never refers to her as ‘Sister’ Gilbert. And so, she joins the list of women from the scriptures who make a brief, but significant, contribution to events of historical and spiritual importance, and return to obscurity – having faithfully served the Lord’s purposes.
1. Wilford Woodruff journal, 1840 January-December; Church History Library, call no. MS 1352, p. 79