4. The Rise of Nonconformity

I have runne through all sects, yet finde no rest in any

Sir Thomas Browne 1605-82; Physician of Norwich

The XVIIth & XVIIIth centuries; the incumbencies of the Paynells

If the Act of Supremacy ended the political struggle between the King & the Pope, it ushered in a period of religious conflict which was not ultimately resolved until the end of the XIXth century. The XVIIth century saw the struggle between the Stuart kings and the firmly Protestant Parliament. Though heads of the Anglican Church, royalty favoured Catholic practices and died as members of that faith. This led to civil war, the proclamation of a republic by Oliver Cromwell, the restoration of the monarchy, the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 and the 1715 & 1745 Jacobite rebellions.

The same period saw the rise of nonconformity: this led to parliamentary struggles for religious tolerance, the emergence of the Baptist & Methodist churches and the Quakers. These events had a major impact on Stambourne where nonconformity was first overtly proclaimed by the two Paynell Rectors, father & son, who held the cure from 1570-1651. They were of a large family of minor local landowners, perhaps even owning land in that part of the present parish then called Ridgewell Norton. John signed the Essex Testimony of 1648 though not the Watchword of the following year; this distinction suggests that they were of the Presbyterian tendency but not deeply radical. The word Puritan appears not to have been used locally & there are no records of any emigrants to the colonies of New England.

The Influence of the Reverend Henry Havers BA

The decisive time in this as in many villages was 1660-65. The Restoration of the Monarchy did not lead here to a parallel restoration of Anglican religious supremacy; indeed it could be claimed that the village has a nonconformist majority to this day. Havers, rector since 1651, was a presbyterian who had signed the Watchword but stopped short of taking the Engagement. He continued, even after 1662, both to preach to & to hold sway over his parishioners. As he had full legal tenure under the authority of the Great Seal, no action could be taken against him; despite the litigious times he did not offend against the laws then existing.

This period of uneasy calm came to an end on St Bartholomew’s day 1662 when, in common with a thousand or so others, he refused to swear the oath required by the Act of Uniformity passed by the Government of the newly restored King Charles II (reigned 16601685). He was now ejected & formally deprived of the living. He did not however leave the parish and the Hearth Tax records imply that he still occupied the Rectory @ Michaelmas 1664. He had however founded a nonconformist group known as the Stambourne Meeting which survives as the Congregational Church to this day. Several persons were prosecuted for housing the conventicles.

Havers moved his domicile only half a mile down the Rectory Lane where he had purchased, or more probably built, New House Farm, within a moat. It was for this address that he obtained his Presbyterian licence to preach in 1672. Though he was from now on often in the courts & did for some short times leave the village he continued preaching here until he died @ the ripe old age of 84. The battle between him & the Church of England for the spiritual care of the parish continued all this time & he decidedly had the best of it. Brown says that in 1700 no one could be found to act as Churchwarden: in a census of 1676 Stambourne was the only Essex parish to show nonconformists outnumbering their Church counterparts (by 65 to 60); the numbers would not be greatly dissimilar today.

Havers is an ancient Essex family. Henry had money of his own, as well as by marriage. The records of Newhouse farm begin only in 1813 and it was pulled down during the last war. The chimney bore a date in diaper, possibly I.P.1678. He seems to have disregarded the Five Mile Act of 1665 but did seek & obtain two licences to preach. There is a legend of his being sought by soldiers of the King in the village but escaped by hiding in a kiln which had cobwebs across the opening. The XVIIIth century antiquarian Bishop White Kennett, who in 1745 married Dorcas, the widow of Clopton Havers Henry’s 2nd son, notes that the Meetings were well attended while the parish church was in a state of neglect. Absenteeism of the Rector, Mark le Pla, may well account both for this & the absence of a warden.

This Clopton Havers was our most famous son. His birth in 1657 is recorded in a bold hand in the register, but, I deduce, not until after the Restoration. He grew up during the exciting times when his father was establishing the Meeting. After leaving his father’s college, Catherine Hall, without taking a degree he subsequently achieved renown in the medical world. He was elected in 1686 an early Fellow of the Royal Society in the presidency of Samuel Pepys. His name is till in current use in the eponymous Haversian systems which conduct blood to the long bones though he thought they had a different function. It is known that he did revisit his birthplace latterly to attend his father in a serious illness when he stayed here for three weeks.

There is a close connection between the Havers and the much grander Clopton family of Long Melford; it is attested by a beautiful finely wrought & engraved silver porringer of 1672 bearing their arms; this was used for the next two and a half centuries as a communion cup by the chapel but is now safely lodged in a bank. Henry’s third marriage to Dorithy (sic) Clopton was discovered by Boyd. There was a contemporary son in holy orders, likewise a nonconformist, and a Pannell married a Susanna Clopton. Clopton Havers called his own son Clopton and there was a Clopton Pannell who was probably the son of Havers’ predecessor, John Paynell.

The first Chapel built in 1715/16

The legal right to hold Meetings at Newhouse Farm granted to Henry Havers (whom we will call HHI) under the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 was exercised by him for the rest of his life but the congregation had to wait some 45 years before the first actual chapel building was erected by his firstborn son Henry (HHII). The deed granting him ‘a parcel of the Wast ‘ was written in 1710. An affidavit preserved on film with the Congregational records in the Essex Record Office, dated 17 February 1837 says …founded about the year 1716 : …and continues, in brackets, (not depolared) whatever that may have meant. A manuscript note by James Spurgeon (q.v.) written in 1810 says it was built about 1717. The present leaders of the chapel have inherited a tradition of celebrating their anniversary on the 3rd Sunday in July; which they do ‘whatever be its date’ and give it the number of years elapsing since 1662. Henry Havers was buried in our God’s acre on 25 October 1707 as had been a Mrs Judith Havers in 1701. There is no record of the burial of Dorithy. HHII was buried in The Meeting Yard in 1724. He was succeeded by the grandson, also Henry, of HHI’s second son, Philip: he too was buried at the Meeting, in 1748, and shares a stone with his uncle.

There can be no doubt that construction took place in 1711-1717. It was a small building and would not have taken many man-hours but money and labour may well have been short. Any elder of the chapel who was 70 y.o. in 1810 would have been 10 y.o. in 1750; such a man would have heard the story of the actual building from those who did it and could have handed down oral tradition to Spurgeon at only one remove. The most likely date seems to me to be 1715/16.

It was a solid rectangular building with a porch and pent roof. I illustrate a simple outline of a pencil sketch made by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. When a boy in 1846. Leslie R Fitch, who says erroneously that it was built by HHI, describes it as having a gallery on three sides and seating 200. It was doubled in size by HHIII who put double doors on the east side.

The three clerics all named Henry Havers had a continuous pastorate of 86 years. A detailed chronology appears in chapter 8 with the biography of the Rector.

The Spurgeon Influence

Another well known Stambourne nonconformist was James Spurgeon. He was born in Clare in 1776 and, after a probable spell at the chapel there moved here in 1810 where he stayed until his death in 1864 at the age of 88. His grandson Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) achieved national fame for his sermons of which 50 million copies are said to have been printed. He frequently visited his grandfather as a boy and later wrote a chatty guide called Welcome to Stambourne. He published this as an introduction to the Memoir ‘Memories of Stambourne‘ of 1863 by Benjamin Beddowes, grandson of the XVIIIc pastor who was James’ predecessor. Beddowes says the very old man was ‘suffering decay & dissolution’ and did a sermon for him.

This strongly nonconformist family, whose earliest record is in 1465 first achieved a pastorate in about 1740 in Halstead Independent Church. From then until 1900 there were at least 10 priests and one lecturer.

Present History of the Chapel

It was continuously supplied with regular priests until Wilfred Potts died in 1988. It first lady pastor was Mrs L Williams (1966-1974). It is now efficiently and energetically run by lay persons with a panel of ministers from a local circuit. The Revd Michael Wallace H.C., who was ordained in S Laurence, Ridgewell 21 Sep 1977, often attends.

A second chapel was built in 1865, though this seems an early date for its corrugated iron construction. An old dim photograph of it appears in the pictorial record of DRJ. Fitch says it incorporated much of the old timber in the doorway. This was still standing in 1963 but was demolished and rebuilt in brick in 1966.

This third building on the site is the present chapel. At the time of its building Leslie A Fitch wrote a cyclostyled history called 300 Years of History. It appears to have been made up from an article by P G M Dickinson in the Haverhill Gazette of 1947 and from the Baddow/Spurgeon book, Memories of Stambourne. I have been unable to trace any other material he may have used. The Drew Family of Tom Drew, bus driver and later our organist, Arthur Drew, who sought entry to our Church in c. 1990 but sadly died on the eve of his confirmation and their unmarried sister, the aged Alice, all say they think there were no papers of significance.