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The grace of giving – Richard Cory; the Billups family

May 2013 | by Nigel Faithfull

Nigel Faithfull celebrates the lives of some other forgotten benefactors of gospel work (see also the first part in April ET).

Richard Cory was born at Bideford in February 1830. He was about two years younger than his brother John (April ET). His wife Emily was born in 1832 at Gwinear, near Hayle in Cornwall.

In 1881 their address is given as Oscar House, Newport Road, Cardiff, where they lived with their sons, Saxton (25), a merchant clerk, and Theodore (6), and daughter Mable (10), along with a cook and housemaid.

Richard shared in some of John’s philanthropic projects, and also had his own interests. He was a Baptist and founder of Tredegarville Baptist Church (built 1862), which became his home church. W. Johnstone says that he had ‘a burning zeal for the spread of the Christian faith’.

Generous

This belief had a very practical outworking. Richard put personal inconvenience aside and was often to be found ‘in some of the lowest streets in Cardiff, at the bed-side of the poor and the sick, with God’s Word and prayer to comfort, and his purse to show practical sympathy’. He kept most of his charity concealed from the public eye.

Richard supported the Baptist and other denominations, and contributed to Spurgeon’s orphanage and similar institutions, such as Dr Barnardo’s. He had warmly embraced the evangelical faith and entertained many of its leaders, such as Dwight L. Moody.

In 1890, the evangelist Rev. John Pugh of Clifton St Presbyterian Church, Newport Rd, Cardiff, saw criminal gangs outside Cardiff Prison waiting to recruit recently released prisoners. He contacted Richard and John Cory and went with them to meet the prison Governor, Major Howard.

Within a year, their Society for the Aid of Released Prisoners had provided a free breakfast to over 2000, followed by hymns, a gospel message and an appeal to come to Christ for a new life and new start.

Diligent

Richard often took part in stone-laying ceremonies, as new Baptist churches were built or extended, and was known to lay 10 golden sovereigns on the stone as an offering to the cause. He served on the town council for 25 years and was a J.P., so would hear all about people’s problems.

He relieved the needy, fed the hungry and assisted widows and orphans. He was assiduous as a major partner in his firm, Messrs Cory Brothers & Co. Ltd, and visited major ports and cities in many parts of the world to establish business connections.

Richard fell asleep at Llandrindod Wells on 20 September 1914. His wife and children erected a memorial stone in his church recording that he was ‘a pioneer of the Temperance cause. His generosity, benevolence and sympathy were worldwide…

‘His desire to do the will of God, his unwavering fidelity to His Word, and his zeal in all efforts for the extension of Christ’s kingdom were an example to all and an inspiration to many. “Whosoever shall confess me before men him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32)’.

Richard Cory lies buried with his wife in Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff. He directed that one eighth of his estate of £600,000 be put in trust for ten years, with the interest divided among various religious and charitable causes.

Jonathan E. Billups

Jonathan Edwin Billups was born on 21 September 1827, in Charteris, Cambridgeshire. His widowed mother used to send him into the fields to earn 4½ pennies a day, to help support them.

     He came to Cardiff, via Llanelly, in 1856-7, and soon became the principal contractor for the Taff Railway Company. He founded the Llandough brickworks on Penarth Road (later, Billups Brick Co. Ltd), was proprietor of the Cambrian Engine Works at West Bute Dock, and undertook large contracts building railways in Sweden.

He also built the Dowlais ironworks, East Moors, Cardiff, and the dry dock for the Bute Shipbuilding Company. He was described as a man of great energy and considerable force of character, yet in his entire career avoided labour disputes with his workers.

His wife, Susannah Coutts Billups, came from Deptford, Kent. She was two years younger than her husband, predeceasing him in 1883. From before 1861 until 1872 they lived at Cadiz House, Halswell Terrace, Newport Road, Cardiff, with their two daughters, Mary (17) and Susannah (11), and Emma Hutchings, a 13-year-old servant from Taunton. He later built a fine Victorian house at 28, The Parade, in the centre of Cardiff.

Jonathan Billups was completely trustworthy in his dealings, and trusted others to act likewise. Some proved false, which reduced his fortune but did not lessen his generous nature.

He was a member of the Charles Street Congregational Church in Cardiff, which opened 5 July 1855, and merged with the Wood Street Chapel in 1971 and with Windsor Place Presbyterian Church in 1976.

The Booths

The Billups called on General Booth and his family in 1863, the day before they left Cardiff, and they immediately became friends. Jonathan supported their work personally and financially, and Mrs Billups later enlisted as a Salvation Army soldier.

Susannah was to die on 19 November 1883. General Booth wrote in All the world that his wife Catherine Booth was kneeling on one side of her deathbed while Mr Billups was on the other side.

The two women had shared each other’s joys and anxieties over many years. Billups’ big, warm heart was broken at the thought of losing his dear wife, who had been a tower of strength over many years and through every crisis.

The Salvation Army corps had assembled in The Parade, outside her window, as they did every night after their meetings, to cheer with her favourite songs the one who had been such a comfort to them.

     Mary Billups, the elder daughter, became skilled in music. She was quite a woman of the world and antagonistic to the gospel. She wanted to add a proficiency in languages to her attainments, so when she heard about a linguist the Booths had engaged to tutor Bramwell their eldest son, she went to stay with them in London.

Curiosity led her to attend the meetings of the Christian Mission in Whitechapel. There on the stage of the East London theatre which the mission was using, she became broken-hearted and went to kneel at the ‘penitent form’.

The course of her life was changed from that hour, and she laboured with the Booths amongst the poor.

She became one of their first officers in the Salvation Army, and continued for several years as an effective leader and speaker, until she married Rev. J. E. Irvine, an evangelistic preacher and minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States, who was connected with Moody and Sankey.

Ready

When he had become an elderly man, Jonathan Billups said to Booth, ‘General, I am waiting for His call, and when it comes I am ready to go’.

He died of heart failure at 1, Purton Road, Bishopston, Bristol, on 25 November 1896, aged 76. His body was returned to his house on The Parade, from which a large procession left on Monday 30 November, for the interment at Cardiff cemetery.

There were about 70 members of the Salvation Army in attendance and the service was conducted by his minister from Charles Street, Rev. J. Williamson, and W. Bramwell Booth.

General Booth commented on Billups’ life, ‘When it comes to us, may it find us doing our Master’s business, and doing it with our might.’

Nigel Faithfull

The author thanks the staff of Cardiff Central Library for their great help in finding files relating to John Cory and Jonathan Billups.

Sources:

Booth, William; ‘Mr Billups’, All the world; Salvation Army, 1897, pp. 33-36.

‘John Cory’, Dictionary of National Biography; 2nd Supplement, pp. 423-4.

Fielder, Geraint; Grace, grit & gumption — spiritual revival in South Wales; Christian Focus, 2000.

‘Funeral of Mr J. E. Billups’, South Wales daily news; Tuesday, 1 December 1896.

‘John Cory, Esq., J.P.’, The record [of the Cardiff YMCA]; No. 12, December 1894.

‘The silent philanthropist’, The shipping world; 2 February 1910, pp. 155-157.

Johnstone, W., Notable men of Cardiff, Richard Cory Esq., J.P.; pp. 47-54 (1903).

Johnstone, W., The Welsh at home, John Cory, Esq., J.P., D.L., A prince and a great man; Vol. 1, 201-211, 1904.

‘Mr John Cory, An appreciation’, The maritime review; 22 June 1906.

‘Obituary: death of Mr J. E. Phillips’, Cardiff, Cardiff Times and South Wales weekly news; Saturday, 28 November 1896.

‘Obituary: death of Mr Jonathan Billups’, Weekly mail (Cardiff), 28 November 1896.

The unveiling of the John Cory statue’, The shipping world; p. 660, 27 June 1906.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Historical