Bro. Rev. Samuel George Potter

The person most responsible for the revival of Orangeism in Sheffield during the later part of the nineteenth century was Bro.Rev.Samuel George Potter who served as District Master from 1870 to 1886. He was born in Ireland, in 1822, one of his ancestors being a Dutch officer in the service of William III. His father and grandfather both served as agent and sequestrator to Lord Decies, Archbishop of Tuam, serving in this office himself for a time. Potter was educated for the ministry at Trinity College, Dublin, and was appointed to the incumbency of Cushendun. Afterwards he moved to Stratford-on-Slaney, and when he moved again, after ten years, it was to become Rector of Duncormick.
 
He visited Sheffield in 1868 to lecture in defence of the established status of the Church of Ireland, Gladstone having made disestablishment a major issue in the General Election of that year. Lecturing throughout April and May, Potter rallied support for the Irish Church and in June formed the Sheffield Protestant Defence League. The League sponsored one of the Conservative candidates, but at the subsequent election a Liberal government was returned and Gladstone was able to disestablish the Church of Ireland. The money raised from this Gladstone gave to the Roman Catholic Church to establish a college at Maynooth for the training up of priests.

Potter stayed on in Sheffield and arranged an exchange of livings with the vicar of St.Luke’s in the City, whom he had converted from Ritualism. The Parish was a small one with some of the worst slums in the town. Three-quarters of the inhabitants were Irish papists. When Potter took over he found a church heavily in debt with scarcely any congregation, the previous vicar’s ritualistic services being unpopular with the local Protestants. His fervent evangelism gradually drew people to the church, the debts were cleared and a church school raised.
 
The Liberation Society sought to repeat its success in Ireland by achieving the disestablishment of the Church of England. In the early 1870’s many speakers from the society visited Sheffield and Potter was to the fore in replying to them. Local meeting halls were packed again and again, and the correspondence columns of the newspapers were fully occupied. He was a prolific author and many of the pamphlets he had published can still be found in the local history section of the City Library. Examples are:- “The Irish Difficulty : It’s Cause and Cure”, “Ritualism Exposed Through All The Moods and Tenses”, “Disestablishment - What Is It”, “Is Mr.Gladstone Worthy Of The Confidence of Englishmen”, and “Luther and The Reformation : A Reply To The Defamatory Tract by the Rev.W.H.Anderton (Jesuit)”.
 
Sheffield was a stronghold of the evangelical party in the Anglican Church, but in 1882, Rev.G.C.Ommaney was appointed to St.Matthew’s, Calver Street. His pronounced Ritualism caused an uproar in what had been an evangelical Parish. There were frequent rowdy scenes at the church as the people’s warden, Walter Wynn, attempted to prevent the introduction of Romish practices and ornaments. The Protestants withdrew to the schoolrooms and, in October 1882, Potter went there to speak on their behalf. His life was threatened as the Ritualists attempted to pack the meetings by bringing supporters in from as far away as Derby. The Sheffield Orangemen heard of this and turned out in strength; Potter received a tumultuous reception and several overspill meetings had to be held His lecture on “Ritualism Exposed” was one of his most powerful, and he repeated it several days afterwards to a capacity audience in Sheffield’s Albert Hall. He lectured ceaselessly around the town and was sponsor of the Sheffield Young Churchmen’s Protestant Association.
 
He was elected Grand Chaplain of the Loyal Orange Institution of England from union in 1876 to 1891. In 1870 he attended the first meeting of the Imperial Grand Orange Council of the World in Toronto as part of the Grand Lodge of England delegation.

Potter retired in 1888, and there was controversy in his Parish when it was learned that the successor was to be a Ritualist. Such was the uproar that this plan was thwarted, and he was eventually replaced by W.J.Hillier, who, before taking Anglican orders, had been a Baptist minister and a friend of C.H.Spurgeon. On retirement, Potter moved to Exmouth where he died on the 18th of September 1904. He left a son, Beresford Potter, who became Archdeacon of Cyprus.
 
Potter made the following report to Grand Lodge in 1871 on his return from the sessions of the Imperial Grand Orange Council about the situation in Canada:
“The contrast between the sluggish, standstill life of papal Eastern Canada and the busy hum and stir, and commercial activity of Protestant Western Upper Canada, was very remarkable and quite on a par with similar uniform contrasts throughout Europe and the world. We found all the Western Dominion of Canada teeming with Orangemen, whose loyalty to the Crown of England was, if possible, more intense than at home, the Order itself highly organized and so politically powerful that most of the public offices were obtained by or for Orange Brethren. We found that our crafty and hereditary foe, Popery, had seen the secret of our strength- compact organization-and had done and was doing its very best to divide the brethren and thus play off Orangeism against itself. This was lamentably furthered in the policy of fusing the two Canadas into one Dominion, by which the Roman Catholics of the East were threatening to overbear the political action of the Protestants of the West.
 
The influence of Statesmen and the Romanist Heirarchy, as with us at home, was keenly felt, and the appointments to place were made latterly in a direction which appealed to the selfishness of human nature, and induced many to take up compromising sentiments, and to support the tactics of Popery. Yet, notwithstanding this, we found the great mass of our Brethren unflinching and single-eyed; and we conclude Orangeism to be a great power, withstanding nobly the Fenian raid from the United States border and carrying on the march of constitutional loyalty, and the love of civil and religious liberty, to the newly established territory of Manitoba where the audacious murder, under legal forms, of an intrepid Orangeman called Scott, has brought matters to a climax, and the Jesuit emissary, the Republican rebel Riel, has had to fly and order has been restored. Woe to England in the hour she forgets past gallantry and deserts a noble band of loyal colonists who will command the sympathy of the world.”