You are in [Themes] [Non-conformity in Hungerford]

For an excellent paper on non-conformity in Hungerford, see "The 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its implications for Hungerford's Churches", by Rev David Bunney, Oct 2013.

What is "Non-conformity"?

Nonconformity is the refusal to "conform", or follow the governance and usages of the Church of England by the Protestant Christians of England and Wales.

One thousand years of Catholicism: The established Church in England had been the Roman Catholic church for almost one thousand years from the time Augustine of Canterbury brought Benedictine monasticism to England in 597.

Religious turmoil during the Tudor period: Under King Henry VIII, a series of legislative acts between 1533 and 1536 resulted in the separation of the church in England from the broader Catholic Church, and a new ecclesiastical entity, the Church of England, was created with Henry as its 'supreme governor'.

Under his son, Edward VI, the Church of England became more influenced by the European Protestant movement. Written by Thomas Cranmer, and published following the break with Rome, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was the first Prayer Book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. It contained Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion and also the occasional services in full: the orders for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, 'prayers to be said with the sick' and a Funeral service. There was a further edition (again by Cranmer) published in 1552.

Within a few months, however, Edward VI had died, and during the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58) England rejoined the Catholic Church.

However, shortly after Mary's sister Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, she re-established the Church of England's independence from Rome in a 1559 settlement and reformulated its teaching and practice in the Act of Uniformity. Elizabeth was finally excommunicated in 1570.

There was a further edition of the Book of Common Prayer under James I in 1604.

The Catholic Church (along with other non-established churches) continued in England, although it was at times subject to various forms of persecution, with most recusant members (except those of the aristocracy) going underground for all practical purposes until 1832 when the Catholic Emancipation Act came into force.

The development of non-comformity in the 17th century:

Following the execution of King Charles I in January 1649, and the widespread disruption of the Civil War, a large number of small groups developed, often with particular religious views. Cromwell, with his Puritanical views, managed to suppress them for a while, but the tide of nonconformity and dissent gradually spread through England.

When Charles II was restored to the monarchy in 1660, he set about the task of trying to organise the church into a standard countrywide form. The Act of Uniformity (1662) prescribed the form of public prayers, administration of sacraments, and other rites of the Established Church of England, following all the rites and ceremonies in the new 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It also required episcopal ordination for all ministers, which was reintroduced after the Puritans had abolished many features of the Church during the Civil War.

After the Act of Uniformity (1662), a Nonconformist was an English subject belonging to a non-Christian religion or any non-Anglican church. A person who also advocated religious liberty may also be more narrowly considered as such. English Dissenters (such as Puritans and Presbyterians) who violated the Act of Uniformity (1559) may be considered Nonconformists, typically by practising or advocating radical, sometimes separatist, dissent with respect to the Established Church.

Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers (founded in 1648), and those less organised, were considered Nonconformists at the time of the 1662 Act of Uniformity. Later, as other groups formed, they were also considered Nonconformists. These included Methodists, Unitarians, and members of the Salvation Army.

The religious census of 1851 revealed that total Nonconformist attendance was very close to that of Anglicans.

Nowadays, churches independent of the Anglican Church of England or the Presbyterian Church of Scotland are often called Free Churches. In Scotland, the Anglican Scottish Episcopal Church is considered nonconformist (despite its English counterpart's status) and in England, the Presbyterian United Reformed Church is in a similar position.

The term "dissenter" came into use, particularly after the Act of Toleration (1689), which exempted Nonconformists who had taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy from penalties for non-attendance at the services of the Church of England.

English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell. King James I of England, VI of Scotland had said "no bishop, no king"; Cromwell capitalised on that phrase, abolishing both upon founding the Commonwealth of England. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the episcopacy was reinstalled and the rights of the Dissenters were limited: the Act of Uniformity 1662 required Anglican ordination for all clergy, and many instead withdrew from the state church. These ministers and their followers came to be known as Nonconformists, though originally this term referred to refusal to use certain vestments and ceremonies of the Church of England, rather than separation from it.

Dissenters opposed state interference in religious matters, and founded their own churches, educational establishments, and communities; some emigrated to the New World.

In the eighteenth century, one group of Dissenters became known as "Rational Dissenters". In many respects they were closer to the Anglicanism of their day than other Dissenting sects; however, they believed that state religions impinged on the freedom of conscience. They were fiercely opposed to the hierarchical structure of the Established Church and the financial ties between it and the government. Like moderate Anglicans, they desired an educated ministry and an orderly church, but they based their opinions on reason and the Bible rather than on appeals to tradition and authority. They rejected doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin, arguing that they were irrational. Rational Dissenters believed that Christianity and faith could be dissected and evaluated using the newly emerging discipline of science, and that a stronger belief in God would be the result.

The historical Dissenting groups in existence during the English Interregnum (1649–1660) included Adamites, Anabaptists, Barrowists, Behmenists, Brownists, Early Congregationalists, Diggers, Enthusiasts, Familists, Fifth Monarchists, Grindletonians, Muggletonians, Puritans, Philadelphians, Ranters, Sabbatarians, Seekers, Socinians.

Present-day Dissenting groups include Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers and Unitarians.

In England, Nonconformists were restricted from many spheres of public life and were ineligible for many forms of public educational and social benefits, until the repeal in 1828 of the Test and Corporation Acts in the nineteenth century and associated toleration. For example, attendance at an English university had required conformity to the Church of England before University College London (UCL) was founded, compelling Nonconformists to fund their own Dissenting Academies privately. UCL was founded in 1826, and was the first university institution to be founded in London, the first university institution in the United Kingdom to be established on an entirely secular basis and admit students regardless of their religion, and the first to admit women on equal terms with men.

Non-conformity in Hungerford:

[From Norman Hidden's notes, WH Summers, Rev Theophillus Davies, and Rev David Bunney]

Hungerford appears to have become a significant centre for nonconformity. On 30th March 1851 the only "Census of Religious Worship" was held. Returns were sent in from almost all places of worship, including Anglican, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant dissenting congregations. It is thought that the purpose of this census was to quantify the decline in church attendance, especially the Established Church. The overall data shows that about 57% of the population attended Anglican Churches, 43.6% Methodist (including Congregational, Baptist and Quakers). This census of 1851 shows the highest Methodist (nonconformist) attendance in Berkshire.

Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the Act of Uniformity was passed in 1662 - 2,000 clergymen refused to take the oath and were expelled from the Church of England. The Vicar of Hungerford since 1641/2, John Clarke, was one such clergyman - expelled from his living in 1662. He seems to have had Presbyterian leanings, and to have been put in post by the Cromwellian party. (See Vicars of Hungerford 1641-81).

It might be assumed that the United Reformed Church in Hungerford is a 1662 church, but records show that it was not actually registered until 1806!

Even earlier than this, WH Summers points to Lollard activity in the late 15th century. Thomas Boughton, a shoemaker and wool-winder, made what he describes as "an exceedingly clever recantation" in 1499, implying an even longer history of dissent.

The two Conventicle Acts of 1664 and 1670 gave authority for Dissenters to be hunted out. The entry for Hungerford in the Lambeth returns for 1669 said that Hungerford's conventicles were "uncertaine", but numberered about a hundred, including Robert Rogers, a nonconformist minister of unproven origins.

It is known that some visited Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke for legal advice. Whitelocke had been Cromwell's ambassador to Sweden and also Richard Cromwell's Keeper of the Great Seal; he lived at Chilton Lodge from 1663 to 1675 and was sympathetic to the ideas of dissent. He attended the parish church on Sundays, but also held independent services in his house, which was licensed as a Congregational place of worship in May 1672.

Many aristocratic families kept their own chapels, and ejected ministers could often find support and accommodation in such places. The little chapel at Littlecote is an example, and in October last year (2012) a Cromwell-style service was held there.

Summers also refers to an entry in the Constable's accounts for 1683, which contains a note of £2 15s 9d as being the expenses of a presentation at the Assizes "concerning dissenters", again without giving more specific details. He writes that the authorities may have been unwilling to prosecute.

Little is known for certain about those early days; even Hidden's authoritative history admits that our knowledge is only "fragmentary". Also in June 1672 a licence was granted to Daniel Read, saddler, to hold services in his house, most likely led by ministers visiting from elsewhere. Meetings were already established in Marlborough, Ramsbury and Lambourne Woodlands. The support given by Whitelocke is again acknowledged. The first service in his home included people from both Hungerford and Ramsbury; a later one, in 1674, is said to have attracted over 300 worshippers. This all ended with his death in 1676. John Clarke, the ejected vicar, associated himself with what Whitelocke had tried to achieve, and was thus thought to have been a "Presbyterian" himself Hidden's article on "Vicars of Hungerford" also refers to Clarke's having taken himself to his farm at Shalboume. Presbyterian activity in that village cannot be confirmed, but if it took place in a private house it would not have been a matter of public record. Many of those ejected took up the cause by preaching in their own houses, after the edict of 1672 made this possible by special licence.

Following the 1689 Act of Toleration, the first settled Presbyterian Minister in Hungerford was Henry Chandler. The family moved to Bath in 1693, and there is no record that they ever returned to Hungerford. Henry's son was Samuel Chandler. He was educated at Bridgewater, Gloucester and Leyden, and in 1716 was minister of a Presbyterian Congregation at Peckham. He was an important Non-conformist theologian, and wrote extensively. His sister, Mary Chandler, was a successful poet and is written up by her brother in Gibber's "Lives of the Poets".

At the head of this page is a reproduction of an engraving of Dr Chandler from the Bonham Carter Scrap Book at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading. The portrait itself is in the possession of the Royal Society. [Sources: History of Berks, S Oxford & S Bucks Congregational Churches; Dictionary of National Biography].

The earliest official confirmation of there being an active Independent Church in Hungerford itself dates only from 1693. This is the date given in a report published in the London Christian Instructor which states that "there appears to have been, in the year 1693, a Congregation of Protestant Dissenters in this place, of which the Revd Benjamin Robinson was invited to become the pastor". He presumably replaced the Revd Henry Chandler, thought to have been the first Congregational minister here. Robinson was a Presbyterian minister who had served for seven years in Findern, Derbyshire. There he had opened a school, which brought him into conflict with the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. This prompted his move to Hungerford, where he set up what is described as "a private academy". (Many such establishments had sprung up as other academies were closed to nonconformists). This in turn aroused the anger of Bishop Gilbert Burnet of Salisbury. Being in Hungerford on a visitation, the Bishop sent for Robinson and was impressed, satisfied to such an extent with his nonconformity that they established an enduring relationship.

Not much more is known about the progress of these early years, except that Edward Godwin, who had studied under the learned Samuel Jones of Tewkesbury, became Robinson's assistant in the late 1690s; Robinson is described as Pastor and Tutor, but he moved on in 1700 to London. This resulted in the academy being closed, but Godwin continued as Pastor until 1722. The great Philip Doddridge had some engagement with Godwin, whose scholarship was respected. The manuscript of his Family Expositor, a six-volume version and paraphrase of the New Testament, was submitted to Godwin for evaluation and comment; some of his criticism was incorporated in the published work. The first volume was published in 1739, the sixth and last, posthumously, in 1756, and had an immediate academic currency of at least sixty years. Doddridge himself was the grandson of another minister, John Doddridge, ejected from the parish of Shepperton.

Robinson rejoined Godwin for a while after having served with success at Little St Helens, close by the ancient church in Bishopsgate in the City of London, badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992; there he became one of the Merchants' Lecturers.

The known history of Hungerford's Independents then leaves a gap of some 78 years until 1800 when the recorded account of the Congregational church as we know today begins. Where exactly the story of these missing years unfolded is uncertain.

Skinner's presentation of 6th January 1870 quoted "that in the memory of old men now living there used to be some old houses standing where Mr May's garden and lawn now is, in front of the tannery and opposite to the Bear Hotel, and at the back of these houses there was a place called Chapel Barn". No precise information is available as to whether it was their building, or whether the name was retained from a former chapel long since gone. One difficulty is that in those days the word chapel was not in common use for dissenting places of worship, and use of the word, or lack of it, can be misleading.

It's also likely that meetings took place in private houses throughout the 1700s. In the closing years of the century dissenting worship may have taken place in a house which stood where the United Reformed church still stands. An interesting picture is drawn of the situation which obtained at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Congregational Church at Newbury was flourishing and, like many other such institutions, was engaged in setting up mission outreach in many local communities. In 1800 the Revd J Winter, minister at Newbury (Summers writes) "resolved, in view of the notorious ungodliness and awfully destitute state of the town of Hungerford, to commence services there". This of course implies that nothing was organised at the time. The house, once a workshop, was refurbished as a place of worship and opened in 1801. If it was where today's church stands, then it's likely that the site was obtained at a discount because of its irregular shape. Behind the church is a small graveyard.

According to Charles Camburn (quoted by Summers) "in 1817 it was altered and enlarged and is now used as a schoolroom. The first Pastor was appointed in 1805." This is said to have been W Paxton or Laxon. This property was entered in the town quit rent roll for 1805; Hidden has adequately defined the progress of establishing the building as the Church. The date of 1817 derives from the foundation stone in the facade, laid by the Revd Richard Frost in 1840. It contains Hungerford's most public spelling mistake. The work in those early years proved difficult; Mr Winters resigned, believing that "no saving result had followed from his ministry". The worshippers, Summers reports, "were hooted and pelted with mud, and their lanterns broken". They persevered, and a Sunday school started in 1805. The only reference he makes to the formal constitution of the church in 1806 is that the covenant was signed by nine women and one man, and that the first service was held on Christmas Day.

Congregational records give 1806 as the date of the building of the Church on a site "at the back of the present Chapel". It soon became overcrowded, and it was resolved to "take down the house in front and erect a new church on the site. This was carried out in 1810. After the enlargement to create the Church building as it stands today (in 1840) the old one was used as the Sunday School. The deed enrolled in Chancery shows that the site did not fully or legally pass to the Church until 1818, following its purchase by Graham and Barfield, presumably acting as agents of the Congregational Church, who sold their 'rights' to a group of Congregationalist trustees in 1818.

It seems clear that a permanent Meeting House for Congregationalists underwent three stages of development: firstly, a building obtained or erected in or about 1801; secondly, one which was altered and enlarged in 1817 (the building to the rear); and finally, the present building, erected in 1840. I've mentioned that there may have been a Presbyterian conventicle in the village of Shalbourne, linked with one version of the origins of the organ in the east gallery. This conventicle closed in 1838, which fits nicely with the understanding that the organ in the Church was moved there in 1840 when the building was enlarged. The parish church was of course suffering difficulties of its own at this time, the tower having collapsed in 1811 and much of the rest of the building in 1814. Rebuilding was undertaken, and St Lawrence's was effectively functioning again by 1816. There is no evidence of any cooperation between the two churches at that time.

The following comes from an article in The Newbury Weekly News of 6th Jan 1870:

The History of Independancy in Hungerford:

A paper on the rise and progress of Independency in Hungerford was read at a recent entertainment in the Independent School-room, by Mr G Skinner, who stated, by way of preface, that for much of the information within his reach he had to thank the Rev Theophillus Davies, who, when he was pastor here, went to a great deal of trouble in gathering information on the subject.

Nonconformity in Hungerford is supposed to date from the year 1662, August 24th, when 2000 ministers were ejected from the established Church, the Rev John Clarke, rector of Hungerford, being among the number. He, it is generally believed, formed an Independent Church soon after, but there is no authentic record of a Church of Protestant dissenters until thirty-one years later.

Dr Calamy, speaking of Mr Clarke and his ejectment, describes him as a grave, serious, and zealous preacher, of a solid understanding, peaceable spirit, and blameless life, as a sworn enemy both to error and profaneness, dearly beloved among his people.

The following extract from the "London Christian Instructor" gives the earliest authentic information on Nonconformity in this town. "There appears (says the writer in this work) to have been, in the year 1593, a congregation of Protestant dissenters in this place, of which the Rev Benjamin Robinson was invited to become the pastor. He removed from his former residence, Findern, in Derbyshire, for that purpose. Mr Robinson exercised his ministry with great acceptance for seven years, and instituted, in the year 1696, a private academy". This measure, says Dr Toulman, awakened enmity against him with the eminent prelate, Bishop Burnet, who sent for him as he passed through Hungerford in the progress of his visitation; to whom he gave such satisfaction, both as to his understanding and his own Nonconformity, as paved the way for a kind intimacy ever afterwards.

Mr Edward Godwin, who had been educated under the learned Samuel Jones, of Tewkesbury, became assistant to Mr Robinson, in his double charge of pastor and tutor, about a year or two before Mr Robinson removed to London in 1700.

On Mr Robinson's removal the academy was dissolved, but Mr Godwin continued pastor of his church until 1722, when he again became co-pastor with Mr Robinson, then at Little St Helens. Dr Doddridge is said to have submitted the manuscript of his Family Expositor to the judgement of Mr Godwin, who made several alterations and improvements, and assisted the Doctor to carry it through the press.

Hungerford was also the birthplace of the celebrated Dr Chandler, who was born there in 1693.

Where these Protestant dissenters worshipped, or what is become of the building in which they usually assembled, there appears to be now no means of ascertaining. The only information throwing any light upon the subject which can now be gathered is "that in the memory of old men now living there used to be some old houses standing where Mr May's garden and lawn now is, in front of the Tannery and opposite to the Bear Hotel, and at the back of these houses there was a place called Chapel Barn." Whether it was in this place the Independents worshipped, or whether the barn was so named from a chapel which formerly stood in its vicinity cannot now be ascertained. [Chapel Barn was related to the medieval Priory of St John, and probably nothing to do with Nonconformist worship - HLP]

From 1722, the time of Mr Godwin's departure from Hungerford, there is a gap in the Nonconformist history of the place of seventy-eight years – that is, from 1722 to 1800, when the history of the present church commences. The late J H Hopkins, who died in 1859, at the age of 75, was the first stationed minister.

In 1801 or 1802, a workshop, where the school-room now stands, was taken and fitted up as a chapel. The pulpit was supplied for a considerable time by ministers from Newbury, and the necessary expenses were chiefly defrayed by Newbury friends. Application having been made to Hoxton Academy for a student to come and occupy the pulpit, the Rev J H Hopkins was sent down. After a pastorate of four of five years, Mr Hopkins resigned his charge, feeling discouraged by the apparent want of results from his ministry. It was afterwards found, however, that his labours had been productive of good to the souls of some of his hearers. For three months after his departure the pulpit was supplied by Mr Barnes, Mr Brooks, and Mr Spurgeon.

In 1805 the Rev Wm Laxon accepted an invitation to become the settled pastor. A Sunday school was commenced the same year, and the Church was formed on the 25th December, 1806. The following is the record of the event given in the Church book, viz: - "Record of the Formation and Proceedings of the Church of Christ of the Independent denomination at Hungerford: The friends of the gospel at Newbury, knowing the wretched state of the inhabitants of Hungerford, were moved with compassion, and obtained a place for preaching; and a Christian Church was at length formed on the 25th day of December, 1806." The names of the parties signing the Church covenant were – Sophie Faulkner, Caroline Newman, Sarah Cadman, Jane Wright, Sarah Chidwick, Sarah Palmer, Frances Bailey, Hannah Sheppard, Sarah Farmer, and Edward farmer. How long Mr Laxon ministered to the church there is no record to show, as there is no further record in the church book until 1813. Sophia Faulkner was the maternal grandmother of Messrs John and Joseph Dredge, the latter of whom married the daughter of the Rev Theo Davies, and is still connected with the cause here. Mrs Faulkner died in 1844. Her husband came here from Newbury, was successful in business, and formerly gave out the hymns in public worship. In the names of Sheppard and Cadman we have still among us representatives of the original founders of this church.

The Rev Richard Brackstone commenced his pastorate in 1813, and remained about three years.

In 1817 the little chapel was altered and enlarged.

The next minister was the Rev Richard Frost, who was ordained here in August, 1818. He now became very popular, and was much followed. The chapel became crowded to overflowing.

The old chapel having become too small, it was resolved to take down the house in front and erect a new chapel on the site. This was carried out in 1840, on the 25th of May, in which year the corner stone was laid by Mr Frost. The Rev Dr Leifchild preached at the opening. By the spirited liberality of the people, the whole debt incurred was soon paid off.

Mr Frost, having sustained the pastorate for thirty-two years, died on the 15th December, 1850; and was succeeded by the Rev J Alsop, a man of extraordinary preaching talent, when resigned his charge December 27th, 1852.

The Rev G Wallis of Foxbury, assumed the pastorate in August, 1853; but unable to come to live among his people, and finding it inconvenient to come and return so great a distance, he resigned in December, 1853.

The Rev J Moreland succeeded Mr Wallis, and became the minister on the 7th of January, 1855. Having received a call from the church at Faringdon, he accepted it, and closed his ministry here on the last Sunday in 1856.

The next minister was the Rev Theophillus Davies, who terminated his pastorate in June, 1865, having completed his eighth year among his people.

We then come to the settlement of the Rev G T Wallace, formerly of Aspatria, and who commenced his pastorate the first Sunday in October, 1865. After a pastorate of four years, he resigned his charge on the first Sabbath of October, 1869, and left for Stokesley, in Yorkshire.

From account we find that Independency had its birth here more than two centuries ago; it still lives, and we have faith that it will live and flourish. The principles of Voluntaryism have made rapid stride of late, and we believe the time is not far distant when all religious bodies will be placed on an equal footing. Then there will be no reason for petty jealousy one with the other, but each will in its own strive to the utmost to advance the kingdom of Christ, and hasten that happy time when His reign shall be universal throughout the entire world."

Photo Gallery:

dr samuel chand...
dr samuel chandler 1693-1766 dr samuel chandler 1693-1766

- Dr Samuel Chandler, Presbyterian Minister, 1693-1766. His father, Henry Chandler, was the first Presbyterian Minister in Hungerford, 1689-1693. [Print supplied by Institute of Agricultural History and Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading]

See also:

- John Welsey's visits to Hungerford, 1735-1790

- Methodist Church, Bridge Street

- 9 Bridge Street

- Ebenezer Chapel in Church Street

- Primitive Methodist Church in Oxford Street, Eddington

- Wesleyan Methodist Church in Charnham Street

- United Reform Church, High Street

- "History of Independency in Hungerford" (from Newbury Journal c1870)

- "The 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its implications for Hungerford's Churches", by Rev David Bunney, Oct Rev David Bunney, Oct 2013.