At this point the spotlight swings across Somerset to the little town of Chard. A notable figure in the story of that town and indirectly in the story of Halsway was the Minister of the Independent Chapel there in the difficult years following the Napoleonic Wars.
John Gunn could trace his ancestry back to the Norse Earls of Orkney. He was born in Caithness, the son of a carpenter, and was educated in Edinburgh and at Homerton College in London. He preached at Glastonbury for a year and then, in 1816, took over the ministry of the chapel in Chard from his brother Daniel. His vigorous enthusiasm and his pleasing style of preaching brought a rapid growth in attendance and three new galleries were built in the chapel. Tireless in his work among the youth of the town, he encouraged young men to study at a time when little education was available. His Sunday School became the largest in Chard and remained so for many years after his death.
His ministry had begun in the years of the severe post-war trade depression. This, combined with the effect of the Corn Laws which kept the price of bread unduly high, caused great hardship and poverty among working people. He was very active in community affairs and encouraged his congregation’s support of many Christian societies. In his support for the many public movements of the time for civil and religious liberties his positive attitude was a steadying effect and his influence did much to reduce civil disorder in the town during this time of national unrest. He organised work for the unemployed and was instrumental in the building of Hope Terrace in Combe Street, still standing in Chard today.
The sudden death of this popular minister at the age of forty-seven deeply affected the whole town. Many went into mourning and most shops were closed until after his burial. Within six months a memorial had been raised in his honour and years later his picture could still be found in many parlours in Chard. When the old chapel was demolished in 1986 his memorial was moved to the churchyard of St Mary’s, Chard.
His widow, Rebecca, who died in 1864, was left at the age of forty-four with eight children whose ages ranged from two to nineteen years. The eldest son, Henry, then at college, subsequently became a Congregational minister in Chard. He married Isabella Wills, daughter of the tobacco manufacturer. Two sons emigrated to America where the elder, John Thaddeus, became a lawyer. His brother,Jabez Howard, became a doctor and it is with his granddaughter, Tryphena, that the story of Halsway is resumed. She came to England and met William Mitchell of the Imperial Tobacco Company. They married and in 1924 they bought the manor.