After the Corporation of Congleton had removed the Rev Richard Sandbach from office in 1785 they appointed a curate from Childwall in Liverpool, the Rev. Samuel Williamson. The Bishop of Chester was so alarmed at the Corporation`s handling of affairs that he granted a licence to Williamson only on condition that the mayor took out a bond for £2,000 to cover any legal claims Sandbach might raise against the diocese.
However, Williamson soon gained the support of the Corporation, who elected him Alderman. He subsequently was twice elected mayor, a unique achievement among the ministers of the town. He also served three times as one of the Town Justices between 1815 and 1821. In 1811 he found his conduct under scrutiny by a committee of the Corporation: they complained of “his habitual ebriety”, “his coming to divine service from an alehouse, not his own house,” and his failure to “publish the time of divine service”. Not least they questioned his use of money put in his trust for the support of the poor. However, he was elected mayor again in 1812.
Early in Williamson`s forty six year period as minister John Wesley came to Congleton, twice preaching to the minister, mayor, aldermen and leading gentlemen of the town, as the extracts from Wesley`s Journal show.
“Thurs April 3rd 1788: In the evening I preached at Congleton. Part of the congregation were the Minister [Samuel Williamson], the Mayor [Bowyer Leftwich Wynn] with several Aldermen, but they seemed astonished while I opened and strongly applied, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
“Mon 29 th April 1790: In the evening I preached at Congleton. The Minister [Samuel Williamson], the Mayor [Robert Hodgson], and all the heads of the Town were present; so that I might not overshoot them, I preached on Psalm xc 12: and, I believe, God applied it to their hearts.” [Teach us how short our life is, so that we might become wise]
While Wesley appeared not to have a very high opinion of this congregation he was more scathing of Williamson`s predecessor, Richard Sandbach: “Sunday 31st April 1776. I preached at Congleton. The Minister [ Richard Sandbach] here having much disobliged his parishioners most of the gentry came to the preaching, both at two in the afternoon and in the evening; and it was an acceptable time; I believe very few, rich or poor, came in vain.”
The focus on preaching continued to the end of Williamson`s ministry. Two years after infirmity forced him to retire from the Corporation he organised an event which featured the new organ and a sermon. In 1830 under the title “A Selection of Music” (including a voluntary by Haydn, an anthem by Dr Clark and a chorus by Mozart) “A SERMON” was to be preached by the Rev Benjamin Vale from Stoke.
Music like this was new to the chapel. It had been set up in 1742 without any provision for an organ, or musicians or a choir. Forty years after the beginning of Williamson`s ministry Renn and Boston from Manchester built an organ in part of the west gallery for £1200, about half the cost of the new building in 1742.
During Williamson`s ministry he and his wife were responsible for helping to establish a school for poor children on Cowhill Bank. This developed into the National School, in Chapel Street. He also oversaw the rebuilding , in 1814, of the Grammar School, situated in the corner of the churchyard.
As his grave inscription makes clear his life was also hit by tragedy:
ELLEN daughter of the Revd / SAMUEL WILLIAMSON and / MARY his wife was interred /
here the 9th day of Febry 1789 / aged 2 years / Also the said Revd SAMUEL / WILLIAMSON 46
years / incumbent of this chapel of / Congleton who died on the 24th day of July 1831 / aged 82