Elizabeth Ash Hopkins


Elizabeth Ash Hopkins (1752-1829) was born on 13 July 1752, her birth (but apparently not a christening) duly recorded in the parish records for Pershore. What makes that unusual was that she was the eldest daughter of John Ash (1724-79), Baptist minister at Pershore (1751-79). Her mother was formerly Elizabeth Goddard of Bristol; her sister, Martha Goddard, became the second wife of William Steele IV of Broughton in 1768. Elizabeth Ash was thus a cousin by marriage to the poet Mary Steele (1753-1813) and her half-sisters, Anne and Martha. She visited them often at Broughton House (she spend about three months there in 1773) and saw them during their visits to Pershore in the 1770s and '80s. John Ash, William Steele III, and Caleb Evans, minister at Broadmead in Bristol and a leader of the Bristol Baptist Academy, were all close friends from the 1760s onward. For Eliza Ash's appearances in the correspondence of Mary Steele and her connections with these families, as well as the text of Mary Steele's poem "To the Revd Dr Ash," see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, 8 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 107, 222-25, 241, 253-54, 279-86, and 318. 

Besides his work as a Baptist minister,  John Ash operated a school in Pershore and was a noted lexicographer and grammarian.  Concerning his daughter, he was surprisingly progressive about her education, allowing her to study alongside the young male scholars and thus gain an excellent classical education during her youth. John Ash published The Easiest Introduction to Dr. Lowth’s English Grammar in 1760, which John Collett Ryland, Baptist minister and educator at Northampton, noted “was originally designed for the Use of his Daughter, who was then but five Years of Age.” See John Collett Ryland, “Advertisement,” in his unauthorized edition of the 5th edition of Ash’s Easiest Introduction (London: E. and C. Dilly, 1768), 7. 

Eliza Ash has long been confused with the first wife of Joshua Hopkins of Alcester, who daugthe, Sarah Hopkins Pearce, became the wife of the Baptist minister Samuel Pearce (1766-99) of Birmingham. S. Pearce Carey in his Samuel Pearce M.A., the Baptist Brainerd (1913), states that Anna Head Hopkins, Joshua Hopkins’s first wife, was the oldest daughter of John Ash, but this is simply not true (p. 119). Others have continued this error—see Arthur S. Langley, Birmingham Baptists Past and Present (London: Kingsgate, 1939), p. 34, and Ernest A. Payne, “Some Samuel Pearce Documents,” Baptist Quarterly 18.1 (January 1959), 26-34; and Payne, The Diaries of Joseph Ash,” Baptist Quarterly 22.7 (July 1986), 352-59, where he writes that John Ash's eldest daughter, Anne — our Joseph's sister — married Joshau Hopkins (died 1798), of Alcester, and their daughter, Sarah, became in 1791 wife of Samuel Pearce . . .” (353). In reality, Samuel Hopkins's first wife, Anna Head Hopkins, died in July 1782, aged 40 (see Jacqui Snowdon, The Alcester Baptist Story 1640-1990 [Alcester, 1990], 21).  They had married on 18 March 1766, and she, not Eliza Ash, was the mother of Sarah Hopkins Pearce.

On 29 January 1789. Elizabeth Ash became the second wife of Joshua Hopkins of Alcester (1738-1798); the marriage took place at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, and was witnessed by Caleb Evans, Selina Bompas (a member at Broadmead in Bristol where Caleb Evans was the minister), Sarah Ash, and Joseph Ash (the latter two both younger siblings of Elizabeth).  The following year the Alcester Church Book notes: “Mrs Eliza Hopkins received by letter from the Baptist Church at Pershore April 10th 1790.” Joshua and Eliza had at least one child, a son, John Ash Hopkins, born on 27 July 1791 and entered into the birth record by James Smith, minister at that time at the Baptist chapel in Alcester. After her marriage, Eliza’s youngest brother, Joseph Ash, came to Birmingham, most likely to serve an apprenticeship with a member of the Baptist congregation in Cannon Street (possibly John Harwood). He relocated to Bristol in 1794 and eventually joined the Baptist congregation at Broadmead under John Ryland, jun. His 7-volume diary and a volume of letters can be found in the Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford.

During her time in Alcester, Elizabeth Ash Hopkins developed a close relationship with Samuel Pearce, the Baptist minister at Cannon Street, and his wife Sarah, the daughter of Joshua Hopkins from his first wife and thus Elizabeth Hopkins's stepdaughter. For an interesting collection of letters by Elizabeth Ash Hopkins after her marriage, including a remarkable eyewitness account by her of the Priestley Riots in Birmingham in 1791 and references to the Pearces, see the Pearce Family MSS Collection, F.P.C. D55, Angus Library, Oxford; for transcriptions of these letters, click here

A second child may have been born to Joshua and Eliza Hopkins, for an entry in the Alcester Church Book notes, “Removed by death . . . Eliz. Hopkins March 1794” (this was incorrectly noted as the death date of Elizabeth Ash Hopkins in my volume on Mary Steele in Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, 3.426-27, n. 60). Since no age is given in the entry, it is also possible that this Elizabeth Hopkins may have been a child of Joshua Hopkins from his first marriage, for an Eliza Hopkins had been received into the Alcester congregation in 1786. 

Elizabeth Ash Hopkins was noted as Joshua Hopkins's surviving widow in Samuel Pearce's obituary in the Baptist Annual Register in 1798. An entry in the Alcester church book under a “List of Members 7th Jan 1795” headed by Joshua Hopkins was followed by “Eliza Hopkins (now Hemming) 1803.”  Eliza Ash Hopkins married William Hemming of Alcester on 11 March 1802 at St. Paul's Church, Portland Square, Bristol, officiated by a Rev. Day (a relation of Susanna Ash, wife of Elizabeth's brother Joseph) and witnessed by Eliza's younger siblings Sarah, Samuel, and Joseph Ash.  William Hemming may be the same Mr. Hemming who appears in Samuel Pearce's letter to Sarah Pearce dated 1 April 1791 (click here to read that letter).  It appears that she had returned to Bristol for a time after the death of Joshua Hopins, for her marriage to Hemming, but afterwards they returned to Alcester, where Eliza lived out the rest of her life, remaining a constant member, along with the remaining members of the Hopkins and Hemming families, in the Baptist congregation at Alcester. She died there on 15 July 1829. 

Below are five of the key documents pertaining to Joshua and Eliza Ash Hopkins: (1) Worcestershire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812, Parish Records for Pershore [with Pinvin, Wick, and Birlingham], 1742-1812, n.p., christening for 1752);  (2) the marriage record of Joshua Hopkins and Elizabeth Ash on 29 January 1789 (Gloucestershire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1938, St. Mary Parish, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, p. 56; another entry can be found in Gloucestershire, England, Church of England Baptists, Marriages, and Burials, 1538-1813: Tewkesbury, 1570-1812); (3) the birth record of John Ash Hopkins, son of Joshua and Eliza Hopkins, born 27 July 1791 (England and Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1936, RG4: Register of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, Worcestershire, Baptists, piece 2016: Feckenham, Astwood Chapel, Worcestershire, and Alcester, Warwickshire [Baptist], 1788-1837, p. 4); and (4) the marriage record of Eliza Ash Hopkins and William Hemming at Bristol, on 11 March 1802 (Bristol, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1938, Parish Records for Bristol, Portland Square, St. Paul, 1794-1805, p. 1968); and (5) the death account of Eliza Hemming from the records of the Baptist chapel in Alcester for 1829 (England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1936, RG4, Register of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, Worcestershire, Baptists, Piece 2067, Feckenham, Astwood Chapel, Worcestershire, and Alcester, Warwickshire [Baptist], 1800-1837, n.p.).