Joanna southcott was born in 1750,the daughter of a Devonshire farmer. She worked for a long time as a shopgirl and then a domestic servant. She was a regular churchgoer but in 1792 she began to write out prophecies which she saw in dreams and hallucinations. She began putting her written out prophecies into envelopes and putting a seal on them. The seal she had found while sweeping out a shop that she worked in. The seal had "I C" on it and one star on top and one below. Some of Joanna's prophecies were fulfilled and people became intrigued with her. One day seven people,including 3 Clergy men came to see her. when they left Joanna gave one of them a box filled with her sealled prophecies which were alegedly the answers to all the worlds problems.
In 1802 she had moved to London and began not only sealing prophecies but sealing people,who would make up the 144,000 who would make it to Heaven to be with the Christ. However one of those sealed was arrested and charged with murder,then later hanged at York. This dishonourable act made Joanna stop the Sealing of people.
Joanna wrote "The Third Book of wonders" and in it she claims she was soon to give birth to Shiloh. this was a reference to Genesis XLIX,where Jacob on his deathbed,addresses his sons and sayes:
"The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah,nor a lawgiver from between his feet,untill Shiloh come:and unto him shall the gathering of the people be"
The manner of Shilohs birth was,according to Joanna,forcast in Revelation XII,1-2:
"And there appeared a great wonder in Heaven; a woman clothed with the sun,and the moon under her feet,and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with a child cried,travailling in birth and pained to be delivered..."
In October 1813,Joanna,now at the age of 64 went into seclusion in preperation for the birth,attended only by members of her own sex. In August 1814 matters had reached a stage where no fewer than 9 doctors had been called. Six of the Doctors said in their opinion Joanna was displaying symptons that in a younger woman would be proof of pregnancy.
Things took a turn for the worse though,and on November 19th,1814 Joanna had a premunition of death and on 27th December Joanna died. A post mortem was carried out on her and revealed not the slightest sign of pregnancy. Her faithfull followers said Shiloh really had been born,but had been taken up to Heaven at once. He would,in due course,reappear on earth to carry out his mission of redemption. Soon "would-be" prophets arose who claimed to be successors of Joanna and interpreters of her word.
Southcottian Sects continued Joanna's work despite her death.
James Rowland White was born in 1840 and was the son of a Warehouse Superintendent. where he was born and whether he had brothers and Sisters he never disclosed. According to one account which he is said to give in later life ,he was an orphan at an early age,and taken care of by a family named White,from whom he took his name. He was also reported to have said on one occasion,that he had held a good position in a Bank in the United States,but had felt impelled to come to england. He had worked his passage as a ships stoker,and on arrival in England had been commanded in a vision to enlist in the army. He joined the second battalion of the 16th foot(the Bedfordshire Regiment),and came to Chatham.
Private White,unlike many of his comrades felt no inclination to spend his leisure hours in pubs and brothels. He came to hear of the existence in Chatham of a small Southcottian sect, which called itself the "New House of Israel" Mr and Mrs Head the leaders of the Sect lived in a house on Chatham hill and on October 13th,1875,Private James White knocked on their door to enquire about the way to salvation. The pleased Mrs Head gave him some literature to study and told him to come back when he had read all the material and had come to a firm decision if to join the sect or not.
James did join the Sect,and the members met regularly at the house of a relative of Mrs Head's in New Brompton. (now part of Gillingham). Then on Christmas Eve,after one of the meetings,one of the members called Mrs Head into another room and broke the news that Private White had set himself up as the "Messenger of the Lord" and had requested all the members of the group to assemble on the morning of Christmas Day to hear him read extracts from his "Fying Roll"
Mr and Mrs Head imediatly expelled him from the sect,but this proved futile as Private James was well liked by the members and had great persuavive powers,even the Head's own relatives decided to follow White.
James adopted the new name of "James Jershom Jezreel" Jershom he took from Exodus XVIII, 2-3.
"Then Jethro,Moses father-in-law,took Zipporah,Moses' wife,after he had sent her back, And her two sons: of which the name of the one was Gershom:for he said ,I have been an alien in a strange land..."
The name was to signify that White (or Jezreel as he was now to be known) was a "Stranger" because they had been set apart by God to do his will. Jezreel changed Gershom to Jershom partly so he could sign his initials JJJ with a continous line at the top,signifying the iron rod of the prophet.
The choise of the name "Jezreel" was derived from Hosea I, 2-5,10-11. part of which read:
" Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together,and appoint themselves one head,and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel..."
One of Jezreels favourite quotations came from Joel II, 1:
"Blow ye the Trumpet in Zion,and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the lord cometh,for it is nigh at hand."
Jezreel claimed to be "The Sixth Trumpeter" who had sounded the alarm,the others who had proceeded him being Richard Brothers,Joanna Southcott,george Turner,william Shaw,and John wroe.
The Flying Roll and Trumpet Emblem.
The name "The Flying roll" was Jezreels message. This name he took from Jeremiah XXXVI,which relates to how the Lord commanded the prophet Jeremiah to take a roll of a book,write in it all the words the Lord had spoken unto him.when the roll was read to King Jehoiakim of Judah the king was so displeased that he cast it into a fire. Thereupon the Lord commanded Jeremiah:
"Take thee again another roll,and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll ,which the King Jehoiakim the King of Judah hath burned"
The other source of Inspiration for the name "Flying Roll" was Zechariah V,1-2
"Then i turned and lifted mine eyes ,and looked,and behold a flying roll. And he (an Angel) said unto me,"what seest thou?" And i answered,"I see a flying roll: the length is twenty cubits,and the breadth thereof ten cubits."
The message contained in the Flying Roll was directed at the scattered tribes of Isreal. The favoured few,numbering 144,000 in all,who would achieve true immortality and would not suffer death. Patriotically,Jezreels flying roll declared that the part of the remnant in England would be saved first.
Jezreel wrote the first part of "The Flying Roll" in a house in Trafalgar Street,Gillingham. Alegedy the blinds of the room where he wrote were closed,and for 12 days and nights no-one was allowed to enter or have any contact with him while he laboured away. Food had to be left outside the door and dirty dishes left outside again to be taken away.
Before Jezreel could finish The Flying Roll he learned that his battalian was to be posted to India in February 1876. This was a blow to his followers who now called themselves "The New and Latter House of Israel" but Jezreel told them he would maintain regular contact and transmit further instalments of his message in the Flying Roll to them.
Eventually,on November 4th 1881 he said goodbye to India and the army and set sail from Calicut to return to England and his followers.
While Private White had been away in India he had kept up regular correspondence with Clarrisa Rogers,one of his most ardent disciples. It must be asumed that they grew very close,for only a few weeks after he had returned to England Private White married Clarrisa at Medway Registery Office in chatham on December 17th,1881. Clarissa who now became Mrs Jezreel also changed her Christian name to Esther.
The address the pair gave for both the bride and groom was 2 Copenhagen Road,Gillingham,here they both resided for a short time. From there they planned their grand campaign which was to bring converts and cash steadily trickling in for the "New and Latter House of Israel".
At first Jezreel had thoughts of carrying out John Wroe's (a previous prophet) work in Ashton-under-Lyne. He appeared there one day after his return to England and handed the trustees of the "Christian Israelites" a copy of the flying roll to read,but to his amazement they not only rejected it but burned it as a sign of their disgust.
After his rebuff at Ashton Jezreel returned to Gillingham,which he now determined to make his Headquarters. He baly needed converts to swell numbers and he made a bold decision to go to America on a Missionary tour. In fact while Jezreel had been in India Clarissa had herself gone to Ameica,a country where John Wroe's Christian Israelites had obtained a footing,particularly in Michigan and other area's adjacent to the Great Lakes.
Mr and Mrs Jezreel aranged to meet up with Noah Drew,a Michigan farmer who Clarrisa had previously met in the US. They planned an Envangelistic tour,however this to was unsuccesfull and they met much hostillity and even fell out with Noah Drew so they returned back to England.
Jezreel spent much time in 1882 and 1883 visiting towns in England and Scotland in a search for converts,but this also wasnt too succeful.
In May 1883 Jezreel departed for Australia,another country John Wroe had established a number of Chtistian Israelite communities. This time he was more succesful and gained a number of converts. However he soon returned to England determined to establish a central Headquarters for the sect. A Meeting Hall was opened at the junction of Nelson and Napier Roads and services were held there every sunday evening and in the afternoons for members of the general public. The Open services became very popular and they had music accomppliment of Harps,Violins,Piccolo's and Harmonium.
Jezreels financies began to swell and James and Esther were able to move into "Woodlands" a pleasant country house in Woodlands Lane,Gillingham,which at that time had open fields either side. Here Jezreel established "Israel's International College" where children of members of the sect could be sent for education. In the summer months Jezreel decided to hold a series of open air services in the meadow in Woodlands Lane which lay opposite "Woodlands" A pavillion was erected in the Meadow to accomodate preachers,choir and Orchestra. The services were lavishly advertised and attracted many curious citizens to watch the Sunday services.
The sects members put money into a central fund administered by Jezreel and they opened a number of shops and business's in Chatham and Gillingham. They also opened up a Dairy farm close to Woodlands.
Profits soon mounted up from the shops and members from all over the World. By the end of 1884 Jezreel decided that the Sects financial position was strong enough to move onto his most cherished project,the building of a stone tower,which would serve as both Sancuary and Headquarters for the faithful.
Architects drawing of how the tower would of looked if completed.
Jezreel bought six and a quarter acres of land from the Rock Freehold Land Society. (hence Rock Avenue) He paid £2,700 for it. He engaged Messrs,Margetts of Chatham,a well known firm of architects to draw up plans of the tower. His desire was a perfect cube type structure,but after much argument the architects convinced him that this design was impracticable,both for technical reasons and on grounds of cost. Jezreel accepted a modified design. The structure was to be built of steel and concrete with yellow brick walls and eight castellated towers. On each side of the outer walls were to be emblems and symbles of the Trumpet,flying Roll,Crossed Swords of the spirit and the Prince of Wales feathers,signifying the Trinity.
A large Basement was to be constructed for storage purposes and machinery. Above the Basement the entire ground floor was to be used for twelve large printing presses to turn out thousands of copies of the Flying Roll and other literature of the Sect.
Above the ground floor was to be the Assembly room. It was to be circular in shape like an amphitheatre and was to almost reach the top of the building,and was to accomodate 5,000 people. In the Roof was to be a glass dome,94 feet in diameter and invisable from the outside of the building. The dome was to be supported by twelve massive steel ribs,was to rise 100 feet above the floor,and in the dome a revolving electric Lantern 45 feet in diameter,as there was to be no windows in the Assembly room. Under the dome there was to be three circular galleries or balconies. The curved space between the dome and the outer walls was to be used for offices,reading rooms and other rooms. In the centre of the Assembly room was to be a platform,24 feet in diameter and capable of being raised by hydraulic pressure to a height of 30 feet. It was to accomodate the Choir and preachers. It would revolve slowly so that each part of the congregation could be faced in turn. From the outside of the building the Assembly room was to be approached by eight flights of steps,each pair leading to a main door in the centre of each side of the building.
Jezreel planned to lay out the land around the tower as gardens and construct statly avenues from the tower to Nelson Road and another one to the junction of Canterbury street and Watling Street. Also around the perimeter was to be a number of Jezreel shops and new accomodation for "Israel's Internation College" and a small meeting hall. the cost of these ambitious plans was estimated at £25,000. The contractors who got the contract for the construction work was a local firm,Messrs. Honey and Nye.
Work began in 1885 but James Jezreel fell ill and burst a blood vessel,he did recover slightly but not long after he burst another blood vessel and died. He was buried at Grange Road cemetary,Gillingham,with an unmarked gravestone. At the funeral the sect's member appeared to show indifference to Jezreels death,but this was part of their custom that to show any sign of grief would be tantemount to expressing a fear that the future of the departed "Messenger" was not assured.
Mrs Jezreel took over the running of the sect and became known as "Queen Esther" Virgin and Mother of Israel.
She was often seen being driven around the Medway towns in style in her horse drawn carrage. sometimes she even took the reigns herself. On one occasion she collided with the tailboard of a van in Chatham high street which forced a horse through a shop window,smashing the glass and injuring the horse. Queen Esther's horses and trap were unijured though.
Queen Esther became a dinamic new leader for the sect but at the end of May 1888 she fell ill and then on June 30th she died of Peritonitus and she was buried in her husbands grave at Grange Road Cemetary.
After her death funds ran low for the sect and members declined. An American member of the sect who called himself Prince Michael tried to become the new leader but failed.Eventually he founded his own group called "The New Eveites"
The Tower was never finished and remained standing for many years derelict as a local Landmark. The Jezreelite sect continued for a number of years with several members in Gillingham and others scattered all over England,but most were in the London area.
The whole of the property was purchased in 1920 by the Gillingham Co-operative Society,who converted the buildings in Canterbury street partly into shops and used the remaining buildings as a shoe repairing factory. The tower itself could not be put to a useful purpose,but in WWII it was used as fire plotting point and as a local broadcasting station.
It was eventually demolished in 1961 and during demolition a worker was killed. Only easily recognisable associated buildings of the tower in Canterbury Street remain,and a Road named after the sect nearby. The site of the tower is now owned by Jubilee Clips who have a factory there.
1906 Photograph of the tower.
A photograph of the tower in 1936.
These were the existing Jezreel buildings at the top of Canterbury Street,Gillingham,but unfortunatly in December 2008 these buildings were demolished.