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A Brief History of the Baptist Churches in the
North of England, From 1648 to 1845

By David Douglas [1653 - 1659]


Partiality to a particular theme - Ours - The North - Its former state - Its present - The difference - The Baptists - Broughion. - Cromwell's officer – Newcastle - Mr. Gower – Hexham - Mr. Tillam.

      THERE is a tendency in writers of every class to over estimate the theme on. which they have chosen to dwell. The philosopher is apt to magnify that portion of nature to which his studies are more particularly directed; the novelist, the poet, and the biographer are in danger of imputing qualities to their heroes, at least in point of degree, that never belonged to them; and the historian is disposed, for the sake of effect, not only unduly to exalt the principal but even the subordinate characters of his narrative; and with respect to that region of earth which he wishes to illustrate, no portion of the globe, in his esteem, can possibly be so interesting.

The North of England is the theme of our story, together with casting a side glance at what has transpired, a little way, at least, to the north and the south. Were we disposed to magnify the soil, to which our tale has a reference, we should be inclined to say, that few spots, in Britain, are so truly classical as the debatable land lying on the borders of England and Scotland. From Neville's Cross, near the banks of the Wear, to Bannock Burn, on the banks of the Forth, scarcely Greece itself can present such themes for the historic muse, or even the enchanting pen of the novelist. This portion of our country was anciently the scourge of, not only the warrior, but the moss-trooper and the freebooter. Alternately in, the hand of one party or another, the inhabitant scarcely could say he had a country or a home. The Scot, with all the ferocity, not only of a feudal, but of a barbaric, or even a savage age either as the dupe of a distant foreign ally, or under the instigation of private revenge, crossed his river or his mountain boundary, to gratify his furtive and his bloody passions. His neighbour also, the stern and muscular and equally furious Saxon, the sentinel of the border, was not a whit behind him in his thirst for blood and rapine.

      But we have lived to see other days. The descendants of the ferocious Scot and of the furious Saxon of the debatable land, can now meet as brothers. The peaceful scenery of descriptive prophecy is fulfilled in them. Their agricultural societies on either border the useful rivalry they exhibit in the increased value of their soil and stock, prove, that the trade in war has gone by, and that the deeds of their forefathers, if not forgotten, are not imitated. The sword, according to the beautiful language of prophetic poetry, has now given way to the more useful ploughshare, and the spear is converted into a pruning hook. They learn the art of war no more

It is the object of the following pages to exhibit something, on a small scale, which has, in part, contributed to this. Its design is to shew what the peaceful Gospel of the Son of God has done, for at least a portion of the sons of the north, leading them to hate the feuds of their ancestors, and to pursue those arts and employments which are adapted to make a world happy. It is, however, not the object of the narrative to affirm, that all that has been accomplished in this way, has been effected by the Baptists. No; far from this; other Christian parties have had their share, as well as they. But still, there can be nothing immodest in affirming, that the Baptists have attempted, and, in some degree, accomplished their part, along with others, in this holy and useful revolution.

      In pursuing the first period of our history, our object is to trace, as far as we can ascertain it, either from tradition or authentic narrative, the origin of the three oldest of the Baptist Churches in the North of England, namely Broughton, Newcastle, and Hexham.

      1648. Broughton is a village lying about three miles to the west of Cockermouth, in Cumberland. It lies also at nearly an equal distance from Maryport, on the Irish Channel. It is situated in a beautifully level, yet slightly undulating and fertile country, haying the sea on the one hand, and the bold and splendid scenery of the lofty Cumberland and Westmorland mountains on the other the land of the lakes the lake poets, of Skiddaw and Helvellyn

      The origin of the Baptist Church in this village is now hid in obscurity. Tradition, however, according to the account of its late minister, (Mr. S. Huston,) places it in the year 1648. This year, the second civil war was at its height. The Scotch army had entered England, on the western border, under the Duke of Hamilton. In the southern part of the kingdom, that

new war had been already suppressed, and Cromwell, hastening northward, totally defeated Hamilton at Preston, retook Berwick and Carlisle, and placed garrisons in them. Cockermouth castle, is said to have been also besieged at this time, and would, in consequence, share the fate of other places; it would be taken and garrisoned. An officer of Cromwell's army, probably in the garrison, as was the custom of that time, spoke, it is supposed, to the people in that neighbourhood, on the subject of religion, and became useful to some of them. The result, according to tradition, is, that a small religious society was established at Broughton. It is not said to what party the officer belonged. It is probable he was a Baptist, although the Baptists did not become numerous in the army till the following year. At all events, the religious efforts of this officer are, traditionally, said to be the origin of the Baptist cause in this place, and this is, at present, all we know of the matter. Farther reference will be made to this cause in the next chapter. In the mean time, we must repair east- ward, to the banks of the Tyne.

      1650. On the north side of the river Tyne, and within eight miles of the German ocean, stands the metropolis of the north the interesting town of Newcastle. This town has long been distinguished by its commercial importance, being reckoned the third maritime station in England. The extensive coal fields in its immediate neighbourhood, and the equally extensive mines of lead, &c., in the inland mountainous regions of Durham and Northumberland, make its yearly exports very considerable. Such has been its condition for centuries.

      Lying on the great north road between Scotland and England, Newcastle holds also a distinguished place in the military annals of the country. Having a strong fortification, and, from the extent and strength of its walls, being capable of being stoutly defended, there were few

war-like movements, between the inhabitants of the northern and southern parts of the island, in which it did not participate. This was the case, particularly, during the civil war between Charles the First and the Parliament. It was to Newcastle that the monarch was conducted by the Scotch army, under General Lesley, to whom he had surrendered himself, at Newark, after the fatal battle of Naseby, in 1645. On the departure of the northern army, early in 1647, after having surrendered the king into the hands of the Parliament, the town was garrisoned by the troops of the Parliamentary army.

      It was sometime between this period and the year 1652, that the Baptist Church in Newcastle was formed. As however it is affirmed, on good authority, that there were few Baptists in the army before the king's death,* it is a likely circumstance that its formation took place sometime after that event; probably somewhere about the year 1650 or 1651. The Baptist church, at Hexham, was formed in the year 1652; and in one of the letters sent by it to the church in Coleman-street, London, referring to the church in Newcastle, it is mentioned that it was, "the only church in these parts in the possession of the faith before us." It is also farther asserted in the manuscript church-book, of the society at Hexham, that "on the 16 of the 6 m. (1652) Captain Simpson and Captain Mason, with Brother Blenkinsop, came to visit us, by orders from the London and Newcastle churches; they hearing of
* The following extracts of a letter from Captain B. Deane, in his letter to Dr. Barlow of Lincoln, evince the truth of this: "In that year (1649) did this opinion (believers' baptism, &c.) spread itself into some of the regiments of horse and foot in the army; and in 1650, some professing it, were called from their private employments, and promoted to command at sea. Among others, Captain Mildmay, to command the Admiral flag ship, under the late Duke of Albernarle, when he was one of the Generals at sea:

our constitution and condition, sweetly and lovingly, owned us as their brethren." This is the only authentic date, so far as is known, of the Baptist church, now meeting at Tuthill-stairs, Newcastle.

      From the mention of the names of the above officers, it seems a likely circumstance that the chief promoters of the cause in this town were officers in the army. This we know, with certainty, was the case at that time, with many of the towns in the three kingdoms. This will hereafter be seen to have been the case with the Baptist Churches in Scotland. Major, or Colonel, Hobson was closely connected with the Church at Newcastle. There is a strong probability, that this was the Mr. Paul Hobson, who was one of the founders of the Baptist Church at Crutched Friars, London, and who is affirmed to have preached at Moorfields, after being released from prison. A marriage record, hereafter
Captain Park, to command the flag ship under Sir Geo. Ascue, rear Admiral: and Sir John Harman, to command the Admiral flag ship, under his Royal Highness the Duke of York. But notwithstanding this sect had that countenance given them, yet, in general, as they published in apologies, they were the least of any sort of people that were concerned in any vicissitudes of government that happened amongst us. And although after 1649 there numbers did increase, insomuch that the principal officers in different regiments of horse and foot became Baptists, particularly in Oliver Cromwell's own regiment, when he was General of all the Parliament's forces, and in the Duke of Albemarle's, when he was General of all the English forces in Scotland; yet, by the best information I could have, there were not before that time, twenty Baptists in any sort of command in the whole army. And until the year 1648, there were no more than two: namely, Mr. Lauranee and Mr. John Fiennes, son of Lord Say, who made profession of this opinion, chosen into the House of Commons, and both of these did that year, in the life-time of king Charles 1st, as I have been credibly informed, voluntarily depart from that parliament, as not approving of their proceedings against the person of the king."

introduced, as connected with the church at Hexham, has for its first witness, the signature of P. Hohson.

      A person of the name of Thomas Gower, or Goare, is represented as the first minister of the church at Newcastle. Of him we know nothing previously, unless he is the individual of the same name, - whose signature is attached to the Baptist confession of faith, of the seven churches in London, formerly referred to. "It is probable though no military title is ever, appended to his name, that he was in some way or other connected with the army stationed at Newcastle. Of his character, so far as "We know it, we shall have occasion hereafter to speak. Meantime, we shall turn our attention to the rise of the church at Hexham.

      1651. The town of Hexham, so interesting in the historic records of the Baptist denomination in the North of England, lies about twenty miles west of Newcastle, and about a mile below the confluence of the North and South Tyne. The vale of Hexham is said to be peculiarly striking and beautiful, the air mild, and the nurseries, gardens, shrubberies, and woods, numerous and flourishing. The exertions of industry keep pace with the encouragement afforded by nature, and it is justly said, that in the vale of Hexham, its harvests are the earliest, its trees have the richest foliage, and its landscape is the most diversified and interesting of any in Northumberland.

      Hexham is also distinguished for the antiquity and beauty of its Abbey, or Cathedral. This was erected in 673, by St. Wilfred, Archbishop of York. Two other churches, St. Mary's and St. Peter's, were erected by him about the same time. St. Mary's was the parish church, but its remains are nearly completely obliterated; St. Peter's are entirely so. In 1130, the cure of the parish returned to the Abbey. The living is a perpetual curacy. A lectureship was established in the

church, in 1628, by the Mercers' company of London, pursuant to the will and bequest of Mr. Richard Fishborne, dated March 30, 1625.

      We have given these minute particulars of this interesting town, owing to the circumstance that the first Baptist minister in it held the lectureship belonging to the Abbey; the duties of which he performed, and the salary of which he received. The messuage and the orchard, purchased by Mr. Fishborne's legacies, would likewise be possessed by him.

      The name of this individual was Mr. Thomas Tillam; "a messenger," as he styles himself, "of one of the seven churches in London."* He appears to have been originally a Catholic, and had travelled on the continent, but afterwards seems to have been converted to the Protest- ant faith, and to have united himself with the Baptists. He was selected by the church to which he belonged, to be a minister of the gospel, as he gives himself the designation of "minister." The nature of his work may be known from what is said of another individual, who lived at the same period in Ireland, namely, Mr. Thomas Patient. Of him, it is affirmed, that he had, by the Baptist church in Dublin, "been appointed an Evangelist, to preach up and down in the country." Such appears to have been the work of Mr. Tillam.
* The places where these seven churches met are not specified. The following is the nearest approximation the writer can make, selected from references to the London churches at that time, by Crosby and Ivimey, namely, Wapping, formed 1633; Mr. Spilsbury: Crutched Friars, 1639; Messrs. Green, Paul Hobson and Captain Spencer: Fleet-street, 1641; Mr. Praise God Barbone: Spittle, Bishopgate-street; Mr. Edward Barter: Coleman-street, 1645; Mr. Lamb: Great St. Helen's, 1645; Mr. H. Knollys: Southwart, Deadman's Lane, 1621; Mr. Howe, John Canne: French, church, Dennis-le-Berbice.

We are not informed to what church Mr. Tillam originally belonged, or by what church he was first appointed to ministerial labour; but when he came to Hexham, he was married, and Mrs. Tillam is said to have been a member of the church in Cheshire, probably Hill Cliffe, as afterwards noticed; and we find also, that Mr. Tillam soon after he came to Hexham, went to Cheshire to itinerate for a short time. From these considerations, it seems probable that Mrs. Tillam was a native of Cheshire, and that he himself had, before his coming to Hexham, been a resident in that county, and had preached the gospel there.

      It was the church in Coleman-street, London, then under the care of Messrs. Hanserd Knollys, John Perry, and William Howard, that sent Mr. Tillam, as their Messenger, to Hexham. This they were induced to do, in consequence of the appointment of a Parliamentary Commission, in order to the propagation of the gospel in the four northern counties. Who these commissioners were, we are not told, but Mr. Yavasor Powell, a Baptist minister, was commissioned along with others, by parliament, to make inquiries respecting the state of religion in Wales. The effects of this "Welsh Commission proving beneficial, similar commissions were appointed for other parts of the kingdom, where religious destitution was particularly felt. An application appears to have been made on behalf of the north, and as there was an endowed lectureship at Hexham, adapted to the sup- port of a minister, the Commission resolved to send one thither. The endowment, as already stated, was in the gift of the Mercers' company of London; and, as it is not improbable, that some both of the Commissioners and of the Mercers' company were Baptists, so, Mr. Tillam, as the Messenger of the church in London to which he belonged, was sent, on the important errand, of attempting

to enlighten a part of the North of England, in the knowledge of the principles of the New Testament.

      The state of religion in the North at this time, and especially in the neighhourhood of Hexham, may he understood from the following petition sent to parliament, by Mr. George Lilburne, Mayor of Sunderland. "To all Christian people, to whom these presents shall come, know that we are a people in that our parish of Mugleswicke who have been destitute of a preaching minister; yea, ever since any of us, that now are breathing, were borne, to our souls griefe and dreadful hazard of destruction: neither is it our case alone, but also ten or twelve parishes all adjoining, are, in like manner, void of the means of salvation." They then refer to the death of their minister, in 1640, and their earnestly beseeching the prebends of Durham that they might, once more, have the "fruition of a faithful minister." Being told that one John Duery would be their minister, they affirm, when we heard this "We besought, with all our souls, to be exempted of that Duery, because we knew him to be no preacher, and his life and conversation scandalous." "Seeing us unwilling to accept of him, he gave over." The place then became vacant for twelve months, and they found a minister for themselves; supposed to be Mr. William Boyce, a Presbyterian. "And no sooner," they continue, "found we one to whom our minds affected, but immediately those prebends doe impose one Braidley upon us, a bird brought out of the nest of their own bosomes, who (we may say, without sinne,) is one of the most deboist among the sonnes of men, for he will neither preach himself nor permit others." They then go on to say, that "he locked the church door, so, that on the Sabbath, their minister had to preach to them in the cold frost and snow." "At other times," say they, "before he comes into the church, whilst our minister was in his exhortation, and stood up

beside him, reading "with a loud voyce in a book to overtop the sound of his words: afterwards pulled him by the coate, when hee was in the pulpit: but when neither of these would cause him to desist from duty, he goes and rings the bels all aloud: neither is this all, but out of malice cals a communion and enters upon, the sacred action, without any preparation sermon, before the day."

      Hexham, in all probability, was one of the ten or twelve adjoining parishes referred to, in the above petition, that were void of the means of salvation. This appears to be the case, from what is said in the letter from the Baptist church in that town to the church in Coleman- street, London. Referring to the coming of Mr. Tillam among them, and the effects produced by it, they say, "And now was the time determined by the Father for the revealing of his will to us poor creatures; and the dawnings of the glory of the Lord arose upon us; even upon us did light brake, who were a people sitting under gross darkness, even under the shadow of death." It was on the 27th December, 1651, that Mr. Tillam took up his abode at Hexham, and such was the effect of his coming, that in seven months a church was formed, consisting of sixteen members. This took place on the 21st July, 1652, and on the 25th of the same month, they, to use Mr. Tillam's own words, "Joyfully celebrated the Lord's Supper, John Thirlwell being desired (for proofe) to supply the place of deacon, and the church began a stock, putting it into his hands."*


The following is Mr. Tillam's first entry:
In the name of the Lord Christ,

      I came to Hexham the 27th day of ye 10 month 1651 and so wonderfully hath God appeared, in this dark corner, that upon the 2lst day of the fifth month (that is the seventh month following) after serious consideration, and some gospel preparation, a living temple began of these living stones.
The church of Christ
Thomas Tillam, Minister and Messenger of one of the seven churches in London, did administer the holy ordinance of Baptisme in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Under 4th principle (Hebrews vi. 2. laying on of hands)

     5 m. 21st John Thirlwell 1              Susanna Thirwell 1 
Richard Orde 2                          Marye Carre 2 
   &c. &c. down to 11                      &c. &c. down to 5 
      These solemnly giving up themselves to the Lord and one another, to walke in communion together, with submission to all the ordinances of the gospel, I, Thos. Tillam, espoused to one husband, hoping I shall present them as a chaste virgin to Christ, with all, that in sincerity of heart, have, through the mighty power of God, or, shall be, joyned to them.

[From David Douglas, History of the Baptist Churches in the North of England, From 1648 to 1845, London, 1846, chapter 1, pp. 1-12; via Internet Archive. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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