Nottingham Presbyterian records.
By Mr. J. C. Warren.
To trouble readers of these Transactions with any introductory dissertation on the religious movements and political parties of the period of the Civil War and the Commonwealth -is unnecessary. It will be sufficient to remind them that at this period the Episcopalians, the Independents, and the Presbyterians, formed the three chief politico-religious bodies in the country: that of these, the Presbyterians were, for a considerable time, the dominant party in the State, and that from 1643, when at the famous Assembly of Divines held at Westminster in that year, it was resolved to enforce the Presbyterian system, to 1653, when Cromwell proclaimed toleration within certain limits, Presbyterianism, though never completely organised, may be said to have been the established form of church government in England: that this predominance of course accounts in great degree for the fact that so large a proportion of the church pulpits, vacant through the expulsion of the Episcopalian clergy, were filled by divines of the "Presbyterian way": and that of the 2,500 clergymen (if we accept Oliver Heywood's estimate) who were ousted by the Restoration, or silenced by the Act of Uniformity, the great majority were Presbyterians. It should be added, that, severe as were the penalties imposed by this statute, the Conventicle Act of 1664, and the Five Mile Act of the following year, inflicted still greater hardships upon these ministers, and that from that period until the Toleration Act of 1689, persecution was to a large extent their lot.
Nottingham, as we know, played a prominent part in the drama of the Civil War. Here also, as in so many other parts of England, the Presbyterians were greatly in the ascendant, as is shewn by the fact that the livings of all three parishes in Nottingham itself, and the larger number of those in the immediate neighbourhood, were held by Presbyterian ministers, and that such well-known local names as Pierrepont, Fillingham, Garner, Hawkins, Chadwick, and Richards appear among those of the ruling elders.1
At St. Mary's "the Reverend and worthy Mr. Falkingham" (a Presbyterian) held the living for some years prior to March, 1649. There seems to have been a vacancy from the latter date to the early part of 1651, when the Rev. John Whitlock (a relative of Bulstrode Whitelock, Speaker of the Long Parliament) was presented to the vicarage by the Marquis of Dorchester, and the Rev. William Reynolds (his bosom friend), became lecturer. They at once set about choosing ruling elders and establishing the Presbyterian practice in their congregation, as did Mr. Whitchurch, the incumbent of the parishes of St. Peter and St. Nicholas, in his.
Some years later—beginning of 16562 —they extended their work by forming a Presbyterian classis (voluntary, of course, for Cromwell's declaration of liberty was then in force) with which the ministers already mentioned, Mr. Barrett, who subsequently succeeded Mr. Whitchurch at St. Peter's, and the incumbents of Arnold, Beeston, Clifton, Colwick, Gedling, Greasley, Keyworth, Linby, Rempstone, Selston, West Bridgford, Wilford, and several other adjoining parishes associated themselves.
The earliest Nottingham Presbyterian record we have, is a precious volume containing minutes of the meetings of the Presbytery, and the original agreement3 to form it, signed by most of the ministers named, and by various laymen, among them Gilbert Millington, the regicide, his friend Charles White, of Greasley, William Richards,—a prominent Nottingham man (Mayor in 1640 and 1646) whose name frequently appears in state papers, and to whom the order for the demolition of Nottingham Castle was addressed,—Richard Hawkins, also a well-known citizen, who was shot at his own door in Bridlesmith Gate, in February, 1660, by some of Colonel Hacker's soldiers, in a riot caused by the burning of the rump and the popular demand for the return of the King,4 and John Hough. The last three were Cromwell's "tryers."
The final minute of these classical meetings is dated 6th of June, 1660, when, amongst other business, the Rev. Henry Pitts, the master of the Free School, was approved as ruling elder for St. Mary's parish.
A couple of years after the last classical meeting, came the Act of Uniformity—and this drove Whitlock, Reynolds and Barrett (Mr. Whitchurch had died some years before) from their pulpits, the two former to be hospitably entertained at Colwick by Sir John Musters, until the Five Mile Act sent them further afield to Mansfield,—the last to take up his abode at Sandiacre, where he was assisted by the Charltons (of the family of Charlton of Chilwell), some of whom were zealous Presbyterians.5 Meanwhile their faithful flocks appear to have followed them from out the churches, and were looked after by their old pastors as best they might. They are recorded to have met in the vaults under the house on the Low Pavement at the corner of Drury Hill, formerly occupied by Dr. Ransom, and at one time called Vout (or Vault) Hall, (convenient of access by more than one private passage from the Meadows or the Marsh) and to have been ministered to there by Whitlock and Reynolds on one Sunday, and by Barrett and some other friendly minister on the next. When persecution grew too hot, or the watch was too strict, these ministers would make notes of their sermons and send them by some trusty messenger to their orphaned people.
One cannot help thinking, however, that they must have had many influential supporters in the town—for their meetings could scarcely have been kept quite secret, and when the Toleration Act gave them liberty to worship openly, we find some of the leading citizens among the earliest adherents. Moreover, when Charles published his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, and applications were made to the authorities to license rooms for preaching, the Presbyterians applied for such public places as the Towne Hall, the King's Hall or Shire Hall, and "the Spice Chambers, with the room under it" (part of the Corporation property) in Smithy Row, and though on the docket in the Record Office these are marked "not app:" (presumably not approved) still that they should have attempted to obtain them, points to their being influentially supported. One Presbyterian (Mr. Coates, of West Bridgford) possibly did obtain a licence for the Free School.6 Licences were also sought and granted for private houses,—Mr. Barrett received one for the house of Margery Derry, Mr. Reynolds for the houses of Joseph James and John Walker, and Mr. Whitlock for the abode of Thomas Lupton. It shews the eagerness with which these licences were welcomed, that Mr. Whitlock travelled all the way from Mansfield to Whitehall—a distance of nearly 140 miles—to receive them, no light feat in those days, when men made their wills before they set out on even a short journey! Their freedom, however, was shortlived. A few months afterwards Charles was compelled by the Commons to withdraw the Indulgence, and the dissenters were thrown back on their old methods of private worship. If one may judge, however, from a work called "Some Remarkable Passages in the Holy Life and Death of Gervase Disney, Esq.," there can have been at this time but little in the way of direct persecution of the dissenters,—certainly not of the Presbyterians,—for Disney narrates that he came to Nottingham from Lincoln, in September, 1672, to have the advantage of "the comfortable ordinances there to be enjoy'd, not only on Sabbath days but week-days too. Mr. Whitlock, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Barrett being the ministers of that Society there that I and my dear wife entred our selves unworthy members of (blessed be God for that;)" and he adds "they carried on the work for the most part on Lord's Days, and every Wednesday there was a lecture carried on by all, or most, of the Non-conforming ministers thereabouts, in the counties round." It is not indeed, until 1682, that he complained that the "spirit of persecution grew hot in Nottingham." Between that time and the Declaration of Indulgence of James II. in 1687, however, dissenters underwent great hardships and privations, and Whitlock and Reynolds both suffered imprisonment for several months.
The following year saw the flight of James, and the landing of William of Orange, and in 1689 the Toleration Act gave to Protestant Dissenters (except such as denied the doctrine of the Trinity) free liberty of public worship.
Straightway Whitlock, Reynolds and Barrett, in conjunction with Mr. Ryther, the Independent, registered preaching places in Nottingham—Mrs. Gamble's in Bridlesmith Gate—it was here Gervase Disney lodged when he first came to Nottingham—and some rooms in the Middle Pavement belonging to Mr. Johnson. It would appear from Deering, that the Presbyterians had also a separate meeting place at the north-east corner of St. Mary's Gate and Pilcher Gate, which was known as "Little St. Mary's."
In 1690, or 1691, (the exact date of the building cannot be fixed) the first place of worship on the High Pavement was erected for the followers of Whitlock, Reynolds, and Barrett.
And now we come to our registers:—in the volume which contains the minutes of the Presbyterian Classis we find various later entries of ordinations according to the Presbyterian method, a complete list of the members of the High Pavement, or, as it was then and for long afterwards called, the Presbyterian congregation, extending from 1691 to 1735, or thereabouts, and particulars of the recipients of the gifts of Bibles and Catechisms which were presented to the congregation for distribution by Lord Wharton (a zealous Nonconformist, and a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, who was a warm friend of Mr. Whitlock), a practice continued after his death by means of money left by him for that purpose. We may dismiss this list of recipients very briefly. It is chiefly interesting as showing what was expected of young children in those days. The gifts of Bibles were mainly dependent on ability to repeat the Catechism. Poor little Samuel Richards, aged between five and six, had a Catechism and a Bible, and John Twells, aged between seven and eight, "could say all . . .," the entry runs, and had Catechism and Bible also—and so on. One amusing personal entry is as follows: After the name of a little girl Elizabeth Wood, who had both Catechism and Bible, appears the note, "daughter of Mrs. Elizabeth Wood now living in the High Pavement, wife to Mr. Wood, dancing master, a good wife of a very bad husband."
The congregational list, which is made out alphabetically, and with great care, contains many interesting entries. Particularly is it valuable as showing the unbroken continuity of the congregation. In addition to the names of Whitlock and Barrett, we come across those of "old widdow" Fillingham, (widow of John Fillingham, one of the ruling elders appointed for St. Mary's forty years before, and a signatory of the agreement to form the Presbyterian classis); of Samuel Fillingham, and Stephen Gardner (sic),—others of the ruling elders;—of Mrs. Kendall, the widow of the Rev. Samuel Kendall, incumbent of Widmerpool, whose signature comes first in this agreement; of "Widdow Derry," that staunch old Presbyterian dame whose dwelling was licensed for preaching in 1672; and of Mrs. Gamble, whose house was registered for worship under the Toleration Act; while the names of Cooper, Coates, Cook, Hawkins, James, Chadwick, Roos and Richards, which occur in St. Mary's registers, and also in the minutes of the Presbyterian classis, and again among the earliest entries of 1691, are clearly representative of the families which were associated with Nottingham Presbyterianism in Cromwell's day.
The list is valuable, too, as shewing how careful the ministers were in matters of church discipline and membership, and as illustrating the strictness of the Presbyterian practice. No mere attendance at the services or money payment sufficed. To become a member, one must become a communicant, and in addition, bear scrutiny into one's past life and examination of one's present faith: whilst membership once gained might be lost again if one were guilty of moral misconduct, or failed in due attendance at the "ordinances." We find numerous entries of examination and admission to the sacrament, and of admissions on the certificate of Presbyterian ministers in other places. In some cases even that was not sufficient, and the applicant had to undergo a fresh examination. We come across one instance shewing the importance attached to baptism—the entry relating to the admission of Elizabeth Orston of Stoke and her husband—the latter "baptized by Mr. Hardy (then minister) and so admitted to the Lord's Supper."
The book is full of names familiar to Nottingham ears. We find entries of "Mr. Foljamb of Attenborough and his wife," and John Foljamb of Stoke—members of the well-known family of Foljambe of North Notts.; of "Widdow" Rolleston: of the Seagraves, for two generations Town Clerks of Nottingham in the early part of the 18th century; of members of the Hallowes family, who lived in the house on whose site the Judges' Lodgings now stand; of Thomas Langford, who rose to great influence in Nottingham—Mayor three times, and in his second mayoralty High Sheriff of the county; of members of the Sherwin family; and under date 1708 a name that will at all events be interesting to the Hon. Secretary of the Society—Samuel Fellows—the first member of the family to settle in Nottingham, to whom several letters of Dr. Doddridge are addressed.
Then there are quaint notes relating to different individuals. To the name of "Saml Beeby, shoemaker" are added the ominous words "gone off." Mr. John Berry, evidently a very old member, is labelled as "gone to the church," but the word "church " has been crossed out and "publick" substituted, and the entry reads "gone to the publick." However, it must not be supposed that any charge is intended against Mr. Berry's morals. The minister who made the entry (it seems to be in Mr. Reynolds' handwriting) reflecting probably, that the word "church" ought to be applied to the whole Church of Christ, and not to any section of it, substituted the word "publick," meaning "public worship." This was the old phrase for the services of the Established Church during the times of the persecution, in contradistinction to the private worship in which alone dissenters could then venture to take part. To another name is the note "now a true penitent." Whether time rather belied this confident statement, or not, we cannot tell, but the word "now" was subsequently crossed out, and the more modest expression, "I hope a true penitent," took its place. Then there is one old lady, Mrs. Dobson, who appears as "an ancient maiden gentlewoman." "Mrs." in those days was applied to unmarried as well as married women,—of which practice numerous instances are to be found in the book,—and we also have Elizabeth Taylour "an ancient maid at Clifton." We come, too, across the quaint but expressive old phrase for the modern "paying guest," when one Mary Low is spoken of as "now tabling" at John Mansfield's. Gervase Disney uses the same expression, and also the word " tabler " for boarder.
We find, too, an entry relating to a "fisherman's wife in Worser Gate," from which we may infer that one, at all events, of the inhabitants of the town made a living by catching fresh water fish for the tables of the burgesses.
In speaking of our domestic helps as "maids," instead of " servants," we are only going back to the practice of upwards of two centuries ago,—when most of the members of the congregation who occupied that position, (though the word "servant" is also used) are spoken of as "the maiden to Mrs. Danbord," or whomsoever it may be, " Mr. Hallowes' cookmaid," and "Margaret Hancock, maiden," of which last there is a tale to tell. The list contains one very interesting entry;—here it is in extenso:—"Mrs. Mary Rotheram, servt to the new Baptist preacher in Town, Mr. Richardson, and sister to the Rev. Mr. Rotheram, pastor at Kendal in Westmoreland." This is the first known reference to a Baptist minister in Nottingham—and is equally interesting as illustrating the opinion then generally held that it was a high honour, and gave a special standing, to any one to be servant in a minister's household. Mary Rotheram's brother (the Rev. Caleb Rotheram), was a well-known man of his day, and kept one of the most notable of the Dissenters' academies which were frequented by those young men whose entry into the old Universities was barred by the Test Act.
"Mrs. Mary Hallowes" is daughter "to ye Esqre," and here let it be pointed out that social position is carefully noted in these church lists. "Esquire," is strictly confined to people of a considerable degree of social standing, and the families of Hallowes, Sherwin and Waters alone are dignified by the appellation either in this list or in the baptismal register to be mentioned shortly. "Mr" was limited to what one might now-a-days call the leading townsmen, and below that degree plain "Joseph Wood" or "Jonathan Sympson" must suffice. Even Thomas Langford, of whom mention has already been made, and who became High Sheriff in 1740, is plain Thomas Langford only, at the baptism of his first son a comparatively few years before. Where one might have thought all would be "equal before the Lord" we find, in a list of "persons admitted to the Lord's table in the Presbyterian congregation at Nottingham," along with many names undistinguished by any title, or else by plain "Mr" or "Mrs" only, the delightful entry in this connection, "William Hallowes Esquire and Grace his lady."
The congregation also included two Frenchmen, probably Huguenot refugees, driven to England by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685,—Monsieur de Frayse and Monsieur Francis de Malerai, the latter described as a "French protestant." From the point of view of education it is interesting to find a number of schoolmasters, including writing-masters, singing-masters and dancing-masters, and we meet also with such quaint entries as "William Fenby an ancient professor of the Ch. at Boston" and the names of Joseph Hallum, whitesmith, to which is appended the phrase "a knowing man," and of Edward Millward, cooper in Brewhouse Yard, who appears as "an understanding man." But it must not be supposed that "knowing" has any bad meaning. It was technically used in those days as meaning a man well-read in the Scriptures, and with good knowledge of the catechism and the grounds of faith. The earliest reference given in Murray's New English Dictionary, is under date 1737, when Chamberlayne, in his "State of Great Britain," writes, "adults are not catechised when they are found sufficiently knowing." As the date against Hallum's name is 1695 we have thus a very much earlier instance of the use of the word. "Understanding" has a similar meaning.
In one or two instances other than those already mentioned, are to be found references to the Established Church. "Miss Hannah Broom daughter of Widdow Broom" an original member, appears as a backslider, and is marked, "turned to the Ch.," while against the names of Mr. Lander and his wife, formerly admitted from the congregation at Alfreton, is the note, "he has left us and gone to the Established Ch. or High Ch., & she is dead." This expression "High Church" at this period is worthy of note. A high churchman was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries applied to those who were opposed to toleration, demanded strict enforcement of the laws against dissenters, and adhered to the doctrine of the divine right of kings. It practically was equivalent to Tory, and was originally a hostile nickname. The earliest reference to "High Churchman" given in Murray's monumental work is 1687, and "High Church" is used by De Foe in 1704; so we have here again a very early instance of the phrase.
Before leaving the congregational list, let us note some old-time designations that frequently occur. Thus we have Goodman Crompton, Goodman Clark and "Old Goodman Saunders," Goodwife Rolleston and Goodwife Beeston, and in a humbler form Goody Bennett and Goody Bingo. We also meet the unusual word "aldermaness" in the contracted form "aldress." It appears in the entry "Mrs. Aldress Trig." As it comes amongst such names as Alice Tutin, Mrs. Eliz. Turpin, and the like, it might be taken to be a woman's Christian name, but we do not meet with its use in this way, while Mrs. Trig was certainly the wife of an Alderman,—her husband Thomas Trigge was Mayor in 1693,—and the word is clearly used in this sense in the Castle Gate registers when applied to the wife of Alderman Green. The wives of the Mayor and Aldermen of Nottingham had by "ancient custom" an official dress (it is spoken of in the Borough records). On one occasion (1654 is the date) these ladies ask for a "liverie cloak for Maister Homfrey Greaves that waits on them," and the Corporation kindly granted it them, "so that the trimming be not gaudy but civell."7
(1) The numerical superiority of the Presbyterians over other dissenters in Nottinghamshire, is further illustrated by the Episcopal Returns for 1669, (seven years after the Act of Uniformity), which show that in Nottinghamshire the Presbyterians had sixteen ministers, fourteen conventicles, and 900 communicants, as compared with the five ministers, six conventicles, and 380 communicants of the Independents. Among the Baptists the numbers were twelve, six, and 300, and among the Quakers seven, eleven, and 415 respectively. It may be of interest to add that in the town of Nottingham itself at this date there were two Presbyterian meeting places with from 400 to 500 attenders, one Anabaptist with twenty or thirty; one Quaker with 100; one Independent with 200; one of "Jewes" with "but fewe"; and one of Familists, with about forty adherents.
(2) The first meeting of members of the classis was held on the 4th of June, 1656.
(3) This agreement, and the chief portion of the minutes contained in this volume, are set out in full in the Rev. Benjamin Carpenter's Early Presbyterianism in Nottingham.
(4) In St. Mary's burial register is the entry, under date the 29th February, ''Mr. Richard Hawkins an Elder yt were slaine by ye Soldiers in a tumulte hee standinge at his owne doore."
(5) Barrett's "Christian Temper," published in Nottingham in 1678, is dedicated to "the honoured Maris Anne Charlton of S. in the County of D."
(6) The application is not endorsed, and it is difficult to say if this means that it was granted, or that it was thought so extravagant as to be ignored.
(7) Civil = Sober, not gay or showy. In 1606 Dekker speaks of a man "in looks grave, in attire civil," and in a song of the period of our story we have the expression " pretty maids in civil dress."