A NEW exhibition could see Pickering established as an important pilgrimage site for Methodists from across the world.

The display, at Beck Isle Museum, focuses on one of Pickering’s largely forgotten but influential sons, the Rev George Piercy who became a leading international missionary in the 19th century.

Rev Piercy’s great-granddaughter Jane Ashby said the family had been working towards a permanent exhibition in Pickering for a number of years.

“It is believed Rev Piercy was born in Lockton or Levisham and was a bit of a maverick, leaving his parents and six siblings at the age of 21 to travel to China as a missionary,” she said.

“His father gave him £100, which was quite a lot of money in those days, and he travelled to Hong Kong where he set up a missionary for servicemen.”

Mrs Ashby said Rev Piercy had left within a year, moving to Canton in China where he carried on his missionary work.

“My great-grandmother, Jane, who originally came from Nunnington, went to join him and they married in 1852,” she said.

“They went on to have five children, one of whom died, and Jane later also died of TB and is buried in Canton.”

Mrs Ashby said Rev Piercy had spent about 30 years in China before returning with his second wife, Annie, to London, where they opened a mission for Chinese seamen who frequently suffered from opium addiction.

Rev Piercy ran the mission until he was 84. He died on July 16, 1913, and is buried in a private garden behind the Kirk Theatre in Pickering.

“It was his wish to come back to Pickering which is why the family wanted something in the town which would remember him and is work,” said Mrs Ashby.

Working with Beck Isle Museum, Mrs Ashby had researched Rev Piercy’s history both in Hong Kong and England.

“I was spurred on by the Chinese interest in him and their strong affection for him,” she said.

“With financial contributions, including a donation from the Methodists in Hong Kong, we decided we wanted to do more than just put up a plaque which led to the exhibition and leaflets in both English and Chinese.”

Mrs Ashby said they now planned to keep the momentum going and focus more on Rev Piercy’s remarkable life.

“From time to time there comes a character who deserves to be known about and Rev Piercy was very much regarded as a hero of his time,” she added.

Rodge Dowson, manager of Beck Isle Museum, said it had been a pleasure to work with many people to start the exhibition on Rev Piercy.

“The museum has been helped by Ryedale District Council, the Piercy family, the local Methodist Church circuit, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and many individuals and museum volunteers to research and finance the exhibition and leaflet about the life of George Piercy,” he said.

“Last month the first 50 Chinese visitors on a Methodist Church Pilgrimage visited Pickering, led by Prof Lo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Rev Law from Newcastle.”

Rodge said Beck Isle Museum was now working to establish Pickering as a worldwide destination on the map of important pilgrimage sites for Methodists.

“I hope this is the first of many dedicated visits from China and elsewhere to Pickering to learn about another piece of our wonderful and important heritage,” he said.

“The group that came to spend time with us, the Methodist Church and the parish church in Pickering, were lovely, it was a great experience for everyone involved.

“We are going to be working with other parties and the Piercy family to help establish the ‘Pickering George Piercy’ tour, which we hope will grow and benefit the town as a whole.”