From: Chapter 10 of Goodbye, Beloved Brethren
by Norman Adams
SUICIDE, BRAINWASHING ....
The young spinster, tears brimming in her eyes, stood with head bowed at the front of the silent assembly. In hushed, broken tones she told the elders and the packed congregation of her ‘terrible sin’; she was pregnant. As her pitiful story was sobbed out, the expressions on the faces of those in the hall varied from shock and sympathy to plain embarrassment. It is not too difficult to imagine the feelings of the poor, distressed girl as she stood alone at her heartless confession which took place in a North-east Scottish town a few years ago.
It is little wonder that Brethren, young and old who were punished, banned or chastised for their ‘sins’ in front of the Assemblies, sometimes committed suicide as a way of escape. There have been a number of cases of suicide among the Brethren in recent years and at least six of these took place in 1964 alone. In Pembrokeshire, a spinster took her own life after the Brethren broke up her romance with a young man who was an unbeliever. A young girl in Ireland drowned herself. A husband took an overdose of sleeping pills because his wife joined the Exclusives and their home life became intolerable. In Bristol a man hanged himself because of his mother’s fanaticism with the Exclusives. There have been many more suicide attempts. In Peterhead I spoke with a Brethren member who told of one family who cut down the father of the house before he could hang himself.
The other tragic cases were spotlighted in the national Sunday newspaper, ‘The People’, in March 1968. The writer, David Burgess, himself a former sect member, told how the harsh Taylorite doctrine drove the unmarried and middle-aged sisters Elsie and Winifred Rhodes to take their lives.
The sisters ran an egg farm at Gailey in Staffordshire. They were kindly, well-liked by their neighbours and they had been members of the Brethren since childhood. Against their upbringing they were obliged to carry out the creed of separatism. This meant they stopped visiting their cousin and her husband in Eccles, Lancashire, after many years of friendship. Brethren priests then put new pressure on the sisters, telling them their dealings with the Egg Marketing Board constituted an ‘impure link’. The Rhodes were even told the little lion stamped on the Marketing Board’s eggs was a ‘sign of the devil’, and that they should sever their link with the Board.
The Brethren priests ordered the dismayed sisters to sell their smallholding. They advised (sic) it was was worth £7,000. In blind obedience, they sold their property for less than £5,000.
Burgess wrote: “The desperation of this situation drove the two sisters to despair. They could see no way out. Finally, at the end of their tether, they walked hand in hand into a pool near their home on the night of June 29th, 1962, and drowned themselves.
“At the inquest a verdict of suicide whilst the balance of their minds was disturbed was recorded. No real explanation for the tragedy was offered. But I have the name and address of one person who was an actual witness to the persecution of the Rhodes sisters and the real reason for their suicide. I will not divulge her identity, but I am prepared to do so to the proper authorities if required.”
In a brief interview the woman witness describes how one night as she came out of the Brethren meeting with the sisters they walked to the other side of the road, followed by two priests. She went on: “The two men were shouting at the sisters and pointing at them. After a few minutes the men walked away and the sisters stood there, crying and shaking with fear.
“I did not hear what was said to them, but I was aware of the pressure that was being brought to bear on them to give up their business. A few weeks later I heard they had committed suicide.”
‘The People’ also cites the case of 21-year old Martin Lawson, a handsome, sensitive young man who had been brought up with the Brethren at Hayling Island, Hants. His father and mother were members, but he was not. In 1960 when Big Jim issued his ‘Separate Tables’ edict this meant that Martin’s parents were forbidden to eat and drink with their own son until he joined the movement himself.
He refused. Then the priests moved in to bring pressure on his poor parents, forcing them to refuse to share the same table at meal-times as their son. But they loved their son and could not continue with separatism. “With rare courage they decided to leave the Brethren, whatever the consequences to themselves”, wrote David Burgess. “What they did not reckon with, however, was the dangerous turmoil within the mind of their own son. One day in a garage in North London he was found gassed.”
ISBN: 0-901311-13-8 / 0901311138
Title: Goodbye, Beloved Brethren
Author: Norman Adams
Publisher: Impulse Publications Ltd, 1972
I remember very well the tragedy of the Miss Rhodes, two years after I left the brethren. They were simple, guileless country folk, who managed to support themselves by keeping about 1500 chickens. They were known among the brethren for their hospitality and few of us ever left their house without some little gift of eggs, flowers or other produce.
For me, the destruction of those harmless innocents ( because the little lion stamped on their eggs by the Egg Marketing Board was said to be 'the mark of the beast', as in Revelation 16 and 20) was one of the very worst deeds of the brethren, even at a time when there were many shocking deeds.
When their car was found near the pool where they drowned themselves, their much-loved, over-fed collie was inside, as was also a little note
saying, 'Be kind to Bruie, our dog.'