Introductory Notes: The Reverend William Garrard, Mary Challis, Bruce Garrard, and the Family Bible

This family history is a work in gradual progress. It is pieced together from historical family notes originally written on the flysheet or tucked inside the cover of the family Bible, together with biographical details from the Reverend William Garrard’s writings and some help from family history websites. With thanks also to Jill Adams, researcher into the Ordish family, for details of the life of William Garrard of Ticknall (son of The Reverend William by his first marriage) and additional material concerning Mary’s sons by her first marriage, the three Challis brothers Nathan, David and Eliezer. I would welcome communication with descendants of any of these ancestors who are themselves interested in family history work.

William Garrard was the son of a nineteenth century Norfolk weaver, who became a well known Baptist minister in Leicester. His posthumously published book, Reminiscences of the late William Garrard, is a spiritual autobiography. It includes an intriguing mixture of powerful spiritual experience and details of life in rural East Anglia in the 1820s and ’30s, and then in Leicester in the 1840s to ’70s. There are also signifigicant gaps in his account – which says practically nothing about his son William, his second wife Mary, his three stepsons, or his life in London around the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation. Nevertheless I have found his story sufficiently interesting that all but the last part of the account that follows took place during his lifetime.

Mary Garrard was the daughter of an Essex postman who, at the age of twenty, married James Challis, a sixty-five-year-old farmer and Baptist community leader in Great Dunmow, near Braintree, Essex. Widowed at twenty-five with three young sons, she was supported ‘in her widowhood’, but not beyond, by a trust fund set up by her late husband’s Will; she then married William Garrard at a time of great uncertainty in his life. After several difficult years the family eventually settled in Leicester, where she supported William in his ministry for about thirty years. Soon after the end of her life, her grand-daughter Annie Mary Challis married William’s grandson, Norman Garrard. 

Bruce Garrard is a great-grandson of Annie Mary and Norman. He inherited the family Bible that was originally purchased by James Challis, Mary Garrard’s first husband, and bequeathed to his youngest son Eliezer Challis. With the Bible came family notes and genealogical details, gathered over seven generations. To this Bruce has added substantially, with the help of family history researchers and websites. He has also included material from William Garrard’s Reminiscences, and he is seeking a way to give an authentic voice to Mary, whose thoughts and experiences – although almost entirely unrecorded – are central to this story.

The Bible is a copy of the Evangelical Family Bible, prepared and annotated by the Reverend Timothy Priestley and published in 1791. James Challis wrote out on the flysheet a ‘family register’ going back to the year 1700. It passed to his youngest son Eliezer, born only six weeks before his father’s death; then from him to his elder brother David Challis, from him to his daughter and eldest child Annie Mary Garrard née Challis, from her to her youngest son the Reverend Oswald Norman Garrard, from him to his youngest son Ian Garrard, and from him to his eldest son Bruce.

With it came a 1599 copy of the ‘Genevan Bible’, translated in Geneva by English protestant exiles during the reign of Queen Mary and originally published in 1560, two years after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I; and a Victorian ‘Imperial Family Bible’, published in 1847 and given to Oswald Garrard on his christening in 1892. Deciding who these treasures should pass to next is a strange and interesting responsibility laid upon me by my ancestral line. With this in mind, I have taken the oportunity to have all three volumes repaired and refurbished, in the hope that they will last a further several generations.

Bruce Garrard, October 2018/February 2023

The family Bible that has been passed down through the Challises and then the Garrards for more than two hundred years.