Chapter XXVI.

The Congregational or Independent Church Society

First Congregational Place of Worship in Sutton-in-Ashfield.
First Congregational Place of Worship in Sutton-in-Ashfield.

A history of this Church was published by the Rev. John Stephenson, with the title " The Story of Independency in Sutton-in-Ashfield.''

Since then much additional information has come to light, new facts have been discovered, and some inaccuracies corrected. Another Article also appeared in the ' Nottinghamshire Free Press ' by Mr. A. I. Proctor giving an account of its spiritual life. In this account no attempt will be made to enter into or explain this side of Independency, but so far as material matters are concerned it is hoped that all the facts of its history are here set forth.

The ' Story ' states that " the Society was in existence in 1651, and that it had a settled Pastor." Although no authority is given for this statement, it seems probable, as members of the principal family in Sutton at that time (the Langfords) as well as that at Skegby (the Lindleys) were Independents. The name of this Pastor has not been preserved nor its early history. The first authentic date is from the Domestic State Papers of a.d. 1672 when a Licence was granted at the request of Owen Davies for Samuel Nowell to preach in the house of Jonathan Everard at Sutton-in-Ashfield, as well as at the house of John Richardson, at Newton.

With regard to the first Meeting House it is stated that it appears ("where" ?) "that a place of Worship existed in 1691 " and that " this was a house owned by a Mr. Lockyer, fitted up and made suitable for worship." The rental was 12/- per year. This house stands at the N.W. corner of Market Street and turned into dwelling houses. Of two stories, it was well built of bricks, with mullioned windows and door jambs of stone, and facing Market Street. In the Court Rolls of the Manor of Mansfield,it is described in 1789, as having been " formerly used as a Chapel." The house of Jonathan Everard, who died in 1672, cannot be identified, and it may be this property sold by him to Lockyer.

In the Will of Sarah Holmes of Hucknall Huthwaite, proved in 1692 she leaves to her nephew John Lockyer " all her fourth part of a Water Corn Mill on the Forest of Sherwood, and Five Pounds to the Independent Chapel at Sutton," and names John Wright, George Oldfield, Thomas and John Potter, three daughters of Nathan Everard, of Kirkby, Robert (sic) Dickenson and his wife, Katherin ; Samuel and Sarah Bell, of H. Huthwaite, Sarah Sutton, Margaret Gregory, and John Richardson, and it may fairly be assumed that they were members of the Congregation.

The next place of Worship was erected 1743-5, in King Street, on a site presented by Mr. John Greenwood. In a Report made to Archbishop Herring, of York, A.D. 1743, the following was from Sutton-in-Ashfield, made by the Rev. John Green, the Incumbent. " There are 248 families in this parish of whom are Dissenters 57, part Dissenters 9. There is one Meeting House which I am told is Licens'd. Sort, A mixture of Independents and Presbyterians. Both denominations content themselves with one House and one Teacher. They usually assemble twice three Sundays in the month (but for this year or more, wch their Teacher has spent mostly in collecting money for a new Meeting House now erecting). Most of 'em usually come to Church, and sometimes their teacher. In what numbers they assemble I cannot tell . . . . One Samuel Wilson is their Teacher . . . .  My Dissenting Churchwarden told me he has had the Undertaker of their new Meeting House to view the Church Steeple, who says it is better to defer mending it till the rest of the lime falls out . . . . Of persons above the age of 16 there are 706 whence deduct 197 Dissenters."

It does not appear when John Allwood erected his place of Worship. In his Will made 16 February, 1739, he describes himself as ' Clerk,' late of Sutton-in-Ashfield, but now of Chesterfield. He mentions " the Presbyterian Meeting House, or a building known as such," and later on " Also I give and bequeath the said Presbyterian Meeting House unto my said wife, her heirs and assigns for ever." This place of Worship stood at the top of the hill in Forest Street, adjoining the Free Library. If, as it has been told the writer, that Mr. Samuel Unwin, of Sutton Hall, was taken with a fatal illness in 1799, Service was still being held there, and it is possible that it was of Unitarian denomination. The building was visited in 1865-6 by the writer when the pulpit and pews were standing. From the Report of the Incumbent, John Green, in 1743, v. ante, the Rev. Samuel Wilson may have ministered to both congregations.

The builder of the new place of Congregational Worship in King Street was John Oscroft, and it was enlarged in 1815 during the ministry of the Rev. Thomas Roome, during that of the Rev. Charles Wilson in 1865 it was restored. On the extension of the Market Place in 1905 it was sold to the Urban District Council for £2,000, and on 24 May, 1905, the foundation stone was laid of the new chapel in Victoria Street and opened for worship 4 April, 1906.

With regard to the Ministry, Mr. Samuel Nowell was licensed in 1672. At that time the Rev. or Mr. John James, of Exeter College, Oxford, lived at Flintham occupying a Farm. In 1672 he was licensed to preach at the house of Elizabeth Read, Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham, Congregational. In a Report made by the Vicar of Flintham to the Archdeacon of Nottingham, at that time, it states that " in that parish they had Ana—Baptists and Independents in numbers, among the principal being Mr. John James."

The Rev. A. R. Henderson in his history of the Castle Gate Congregational Church, Nottingham, tells how members of that Church flocked to Flintham to hear him preach. It is probable that he also visited Sutton-in-Ashfield after the death of Samuel Nowell, but that he was Pastor is improbable. On Mr. James leaving for London it is stated in Mr. Stephenson's ' Story ' that a Captain Wright preached at Sutton.

Dr. Calamy in his account of the ejection of Ministers by the Act of Uniformity, states that the Rev. Lemuel Tuke, a Congregationalist, was ejected from the Living of Sutton-in-Ashfield. The Rev. Jacobus Haynes was Incumbent from 1659 to 1717, and as the Rev. Lemuel Tuke was at one time Vicar of Greasley in 1628 and duly ordained, had he been Incumbent of Sutton the Act of Uniformity would not have applied to him. It is clear that Dr. Calamy was misinformed.

The Rev. Richard Dickinson (Mr. Stephenson's ' Story ' says ' Robert ') succeeded, and died in 1703. In his Will he is described as ' Clerk,' leaving also a considerable estate in Yorkshire. After his death no settled Minister is mentioned, the names of Messrs. Wood, Mault and Allwood appear, the latter receiving a salary of £16 per annum. But it is clear that Mr. Allwood was a Presbyterian, and on his leaving Sutton c. 1737 he was followed by the Rev. Samuel Wilson, a man of great organizing ability who threw himself into the work of building the new Chapel in King Street. He died suddenly and was buried 5 October, 1771, his Will proved 5 November, 1771, describes him as a Yeoman, and it is noteworthy that his father Christopher Wilson also died suddenly the following month, and was buried 9 November. In the Will of Elizabeth Bradford dated August, 1716, she leaves " 20/- for a funeral sermon desiring Mr. Wilson shall preach it " ; from which it would seem that he (Christopher) should preach although the Rev. John Allwood was her son-in-law.

Another benefactor of the church was Samuel Clay, Hosier and farmer of Fulwood, who by his will dated 12 March, 1737 instructed his nephew John Clay to " pay yearly and every year to Master John Allwood, Minister of the Gospel to the Congregation of Dissenters at Sutton-in-Ashfield aforesaid, and to his successors in the Ministry the sum of ten shillings upon condition that he shall preach a sermon every year about the time of my decease to give some good and profitable advice to young people."

The Rev. John Barrett commenced his Ministry in 1775, and married Miss Sarah Butcher at Sutton 20 September, 1780, leaving for Kidderminster in 1782. A sermon of his preached at Sutton on the occasion of the death of Matthew Butcher, entitled ' The Dying Christian ' is still extant.

After Mr. Barrett's departure a time of great trouble ensued. A Mr. Rhodes accepted the Ministry, but left on embracing Uniterianism and was followed by a Mr. Jacob Bretell, who having entered into possession of the legal rights adopted Unitarianism, and legal proceedings had to be taken to oust him. In the ' Story ' Mr. Stephenson writes " Some left with him but soon returned and from that day to this (1901) there has been no trace of Arianism in the Church." It necessitated a Licence being applied for the house of Sarah and William Butcher 27 January, 1791, signed by them and Natl. Bacon, Jos. Beardsmore and others for Congregational Worship while Bretell held possession of the Chapel.

The Rev. John Kirkpatrick succeeded, and eleven years of happy and successful ministry followed. A sermon of his preached on the death of Mrs. Sarah Butcher 17 October, 1796 being still extant. He was followed by the Rev. Thomas Roome in 1802, marrying September, 1807 Miss Mary Downing, of an old family in Church Street, Sutton. He lived in the house on High Pavement given by Miss S. Bacon where he kept also a well known School. His advert, in the Nottingham Journal, 28 June, 1816 being as follows : "T. Roome continues to receive into his house a select number of young gentlemen who are educated in the various branches of useful learning." Mr. Roome also wrote a small book giving an account of the " Self instructed Philosopher Joseph Whitehead of Sutton," published 1817. Mr. Roome resigned his pastorate in 1839, and died 18 July, 1849. It was during his Ministry that Schools were built on High Pavement, assisted by a Grant of £125 from the Government and opened in 1836. These Schools were closed in 1870 when the Educational Act of 1870 became law.

Mr. Roome was followed by the Rev. Charles Wilson in 1842. He married Miss Eliza Gates, and died in 1868 his Ministry being marked by a complete restoration of the Chapel. The Rev. Edward Pringle succeeded him in 1869 was elected a member of the first School Board, acting for a time as the honorary Clerk. Resigning in 1873, the Rev. Robert Jackson, a stirring and moving preacher, came, and in 1880 was followed by the Rev. Edwin Baker. A time of much agitation in the parish followed. Mr. Baker being a militant politician but leaving in 1885, the Rev. W. H. Meir succeeded, resigning in 1894.

The Rev. J. Q. Christian followed and being elected to the School Board was made Chairman in 1898, but resigned the Pastorate the same year. In 1899 the Rev. John Stephenson came, a man of forceful personality. He became Vice- Chairman of the School Board. During his Ministry the new place of Worship in Victoria Street was founded, the first stone being laid in 1905, resigning in 1921 he was succeeded by the Rev. W. H. Tame, followed in 1930 by the Rev. J. T. Jones.

Something may be said of prominent families in Sutton connected with Independency. The Langfords in the seventeenth century were of an old Derbyshire family, an account of whom will be found in a previous chapter.

The Greenwoods, name is preserved in the fields near Huthwaite known as Greenwood's Falls, John Greenwood presenting the site for the King Street Chapel. The Butchers were Silk Mercers supplying the silk thread used by the inhabitants for making stockings. They built the houses on the S. side of the Market Place.

The Bacons family was one of the oldest in Sutton, appearing as early as 1582, their name occurs in most of the transactions of the Society. The Millers came in the early eighteenth century, Benjamin building the house at the corner of Low and Club Street, later carrying on a business in the Market Place. The Gates' came from Hartshay, Mr. William Gates being Agent for many years of the Unwin Estate.

Mr. Richard Needham came from Tibshelf, establishing a business and a family, still honoured in the town in 1934. Mr. R. Littlewood came from Selston, his nephew Samuel, a Chemist, serving his generation faithfully.

Mr. Charles Plumbe, a Printer and Stationer, became Postmaster. He established the Midland Gazette, the first Newspaper in the town. A man of much poetical genius, he published a volume of Poems in 1884.

Mr. T. B. Adin, of an old Linby family had a business on the Upper Green, and for many years kept a well-known School on High Pavement.

Mr. Geo. Allsop came from Hucknall Huthwaite, his son John George doing good service as Member of and Chairman of the Local Board in 1888, and member of the first Urban District Council in 1894.