A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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PROTESTANT NONCONFORMITY: (fn. 1)
FROM the late 14th century onwards, when the Lollard movement first found support in Coventry, there were numerous instances there of individual resistance to church authority and doctrine, and this latent spirit of revolt found open expression, following the Reformation, in general demonstrations of anti-Catholic feeling in the city at the beginning of the Marian reaction and particularly after the accession of Elizabeth. (fn. 2) Although the city thus showed itself to be strongly in favour of the new Protestant settlement, sympathy with the more extreme Puritan views was confined in the later 16th century to certain elements in the community, notably the council, which was responsible for several attempts to suppress the processions and plays and for the leet orders of the 1580s and 1590s regulating behaviour on Sundays and directing the removal of the maypoles. (fn. 3) By the 1570s, however, there is evidence that Coventry was also the scene of meetings of clergy associated with the Puritan movement for reform of the ministry within the church. (fn. 4) In 1577, during Elizabeth's attempt to suppress these 'prophesyings', the bishop warned the archdeacon of Coventry that since the queen had 'been informed of some matters handled and abused in the exercise at Coventry' the exercises were to be abandoned until 'we may . . . obtain the full use thereof with her good pleasure and full authority'. (fn. 5)
By the 1570s, also, a community of Dutch or Flemish Protestants had been formed in Coventry by refugees from the Netherlands who had taken advantage of the licence issued in 1568 for the manufacture of Flemish cloth in the city. (fn. 6) In 1570 Jacob de Cuninck (or Kuninck), from Geneva, was invited to be their pastor, (fn. 7) but in 1573 went to serve in London. (fn. 8) The community may still have been in existence in 1576, (fn. 9) but was probably dispersed after the failure of this experiment in cloth-making later in the century. (fn. 10)
In 1578 Humphrey Fenn, (fn. 11) who had already been imprisoned for his Puritan tendencies during his first ministry at Northampton, became Vicar of Holy Trinity. (fn. 12) He was suspended in 1584 for his refusal in the previous year to subscribe to Whitgift's three articles, (fn. 13) and although, through Leicester's intervention, he was restored to his benefice in 1585, 'to the great joy of many', he was suspended again in 1590 and finally deprived on account of his association with Thomas Cartwright (then Master of Lord Leicester's Hospital at Warwick) and his membership of the Warwickshire classis. (fn. 14) It is not clear whether the 'provincial synod' of 1588 was held at Warwick (fn. 15) or at Coventry, (fn. 16) but Fenn is said to have subscribed the 'book of discipline' at this synod, (fn. 17) and at his trial in Star Chamber, with Cartwright and others, in 1591 he was accused of holding private conferences with them at Coventry and Warwick in the late 1580s 'about the treatise of discipline, how it might be established by authority'. (fn. 18)
There was a second, notable, instance of subversive activity in the city in 1589. Early in the year the Marprelate printing press was moved from the house of Sir Richard Knightley at Fawsley (Northants.) by way of Norton-by-Daventry to the house of the Whitefriars in Coventry, apparently with the connivance of the owner, John Hales, who was Knightley's nephew by marriage. Three pamphlets were printed at Coventry - the Mineralls, The Supplication, and Hay Any Work for the Cooper (fn. 19) - before the press was moved on to Wolston about midsummer. (fn. 20) Hales was later arrested, and eventually heavily fined for his complicity and imprisoned. (fn. 21)
Humphrey Fenn is thought to have returned to Coventry after his release from prison in 1592 and to have continued to preach there. He was evidently in the city again by about the turn of the century when Julines Herring, (fn. 22) who had earlier attended the Free Grammar School, was studying divinity with Fenn after completing his formal education at Cambridge. Herring himself is said to have preached in Coventry 'with great approbation' before going on to become a Puritan minister in Derbyshire. (fn. 23) In 1608 the dilapidated church of St. John the Baptist, Bablake, which was then the property of the corporation, (fn. 24) was repaired on the orders of the mayor, William Hancox, who established a Saturday lecture there. The first lecturer to be appointed by the corporation, in 1609, was John Oxenbridge, (fn. 25) who had been one of the heads of the 'associations' and a fellow-subscriber with Fenn to the 'book of discipline' in 1588. (fn. 26) Fenn himself was appointed lecturer in 1624. (fn. 27) Sometime after 1626 he joined with the mayor and aldermen and 'some other godly people in Coventry' in inviting Samuel Clarke, (fn. 28) another former pupil of the Free Grammar School, to preach there. Clarke was opposed by Samuel Bugges, the incumbent of both Holy Trinity and St. Michael's, (fn. 29) who refused to allow him into the pulpit of either church. According to Clarke, 'the mayor and aldermen, having another church at an end of the town in their disposal' transferred the lecture to St. John's. Controversy was stirred up within the corporation by Bugges's continued persecution of Clarke, and at last, on the election of a mayor who strongly supported the former, Clarke was forced to leave. (fn. 30) Josiah Slader, who stated in his will that he had been driven from Coventry among other places 'by the bishops', (fn. 31) may have been another of these lecturers. Fenn was still lecturing in Coventry in 1630, (fn. 32) and died there in 1634, leaving in his will a strong profession of his belief in the Presbyterian form of church government. (fn. 33)
The first evidence of a separated church in Coventry dates from the early years of the 17th century. A General Baptist church is thought to have been formed, either in 1614, by Thomas Helwys after he had finally left Holland for England, (fn. 34) or, still earlier, in 1606, as the result of a meeting in or near the city at which Helwys and John Smyth conferred with the leading Coventry Puritans at the house of Sir William Bowes and his wife Isobel. (fn. 35) The Coventry church was certainly in existence by 1626 when it and four other churches, at London, Lincoln, Salisbury, and Tiverton, were corresponding on points of doctrine with members of the Mennonite community of Amsterdam. (fn. 36) The names and numbers of the Coventry congregation are not known and its subsequent history throughout the 17th and 18th centuries is obscure. Hugh Evans of Radnorshire joined the church about 1643, and the baptism of another member is recorded in 1660, (fn. 37) but, surprisingly enough, the church does not seem to have been represented at the conference of midland Baptists (later the Leicestershire Association) in 1651 at which the subscribers for Warwickshire to the confession of 'Faith and Practise' came from Priors Marston and Easenhall. (fn. 38)
During the Civil War Coventry, as a parliamentary stronghold, attracted a number of Presbyterian ministers who came, in some cases from a considerable distance, to escape Royalist persecution. One of these was Richard Baxter who took refuge from Kidderminster, at the end of 1642, in the house of his friend, Simon King, then curate at Holy Trinity. (fn. 39) On Baxter's testimony there were, at one time, 'about thirty worthy ministers in the city, who fled thither for safety from soldiers and popular fury'. (fn. 40) Of these he mentions by name Oliver Brumskill, earlier curate at Sheriff Hales (Salop.), (fn. 41) Anthony Burgesse, Vicar of Sutton Coldfield, (fn. 42) Thomas Byrdall, (fn. 43) Tristram Diamond, Vicar of Foleshill, (fn. 44) Robert Morton, of Bewdley (Worcs.), (fn. 45) Valentine Overton, Rector of Bedworth, (fn. 46) Nathaniel Stephens, curate of Fenny Drayton (Leics.), (fn. 47) and Richard Vines, Rector of Caldecote and Weddington, afterwards Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. (fn. 48) The 'Mr. Craddock' also named by Baxter may perhaps be identified with the 'Dr. Cradock' whom George Fox visited at Coventry in 1643. (fn. 49)
Like his fellow ministers in the city, Baxter preached regularly during his stay, 'once a week to the soldiers, and once on the Lord's Day to the people', (fn. 50) probably in St. Michael's Church, where, with the parishioners, he took the covenant at the end of 1643. (fn. 51) The Royalist vicar, William Panting, had been dispossessed of the living earlier in the year, and, after an attempt to bestow it on Richard Vines had failed, it was offered by the corporation in 1644 to Obadiah Grew, one of the 'refugee' ministers in Coventry and an important figure in the later history of dissent in the city. Another eminent Presbyterian, John Bryan, Rector of Barford, (fn. 52) became Vicar of Holy Trinity in the same year, after the death of Robert Proctor. (fn. 53) Bryan, however, was appointed 'by the power of the Parliament', following an unsuccessful effort by the parishioners to secure the living for their own nominee, (fn. 54) and, probably for this reason, does not seem to have been at first as popular as Grew.
Baxter wrote eloquently of the 'quietness and safety, and sober, wise, religious company' which he enjoyed in Coventry, and of the prevailing moderation in religious and political opinions there. The calm was temporarily disturbed, however, about the end of 1643, by events which seem to have resulted in the formation of a Calvinistic or Particular Baptist church within the predominantly Presbyterian community. This development was first detected by Baxter in the attempts made by sectarians returning from New England, and 'one anabaptist Taylor', to disseminate among the garrison the views which he was later to find rampant in Cromwell's army, (fn. 55) and it seems to have been partly responsible for the current ill-feeling between the Earl of Denbigh, the local parliamentary commander, and the Coventry committee. (fn. 56) When Baxter and others opposed this incursion of 'separatists, anabaptists, and antinomians' the anabaptists invited the Baptist minister, Benjamin Cox, to Coventry, to help to establish a church there. On his arrival Baxter engaged him in public debate and was apparently instrumental in having him imprisoned for disobeying the committee's order to leave the city. (fn. 57) 'In conclusion', Baxter noted with satisfaction, 'a few poor townsmen only were carried away, about a dozen men and women; but the soldiers and the rest of the city kept sound from all infection of sectaries and dividers'. (fn. 58) However small, this church is known to have survived, though, like the General Baptist church founded earlier, it remains in comparative obscurity for the rest of the 17th century and was not represented at the Midland Association meeting of 1655. (fn. 59) It was probably while on a visit to this church that Hanserd Knollys in 1646 conducted a public disputation on infant baptism with Bryan and Grew in Holy Trinity Church. The Hobson family were later members of the church: Thomas Hobson, who was chosen as mayor for 1661-2, was removed, on the advice of the Earl of Northampton (the Lieutenant of the County) and Secretary Nicholas, for being an 'anabaptist' and a supporter of the Fifth Monarchy men. (fn. 60)
Although Presbyterianism remained the strongest force in Coventry's religious life during the period of the Commonwealth, two other sects gained adherents there at this time. In 1650, when several early Quaker congregations were being formed in Warwickshire, George Fox visited 'a people who were in prison at Coventry for their religion'. John Whitehead was there in 1654 and Fox again in 1655, and in spite of the sustained persecution of the Friends which began generally in the county about 1656, (fn. 61) Friends at Coventry were described in that year as 'pretty faithful' and increasing in number. (fn. 62) In 1660 Richard Hubberthorne, while travelling for a month in the neighbourhood of Coventry, Kenilworth, and Warwick, 'did gather many to the truth' and the establishment of several meetings in the area was apparently later ascribed to his activity. (fn. 63) By the end of the year, following the imprisonment of large numbers of Friends after the Restoration, there were said to be about 100 in prison at Coventry and another place in the county, and one of the duties of the Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting, which was organised in the 1660s, was the care of the many Friends in Coventry and Warwick gaols. (fn. 64) Despite continued persecution there was a meeting in existence at Coventry in 1670 and a meetinghouse by 1687 and possibly earlier. (fn. 65)
In 1653 Samuel Basnett, a native of Coventry who had attended the Free Grammar School, was appointed to preach two weekly lectures, one at St. Michael's Church and one at Holy Trinity, and is said to have ministered at the same time to a small number of Congregationalists 'apart from the communicants at St. Michael's and Trinity'. (fn. 66) In 1658 a 'gathered church', which was then meeting at a private house in Coventry under his care, was given permission to worship in the vacant church of St. John the Baptist. (fn. 67) In the same year Basnett wrote as 'teacher of a church, in Coventry' to acknowledge notice of the Conference of Congregationalist pastors at the Savoy in London. He was ejected from his lectureship in 1662, and was forced by the Five Mile Act to move from Coventry to Atherstone where he died at an unknown date. (fn. 68)
John Bryan and Obadiah Grew (fn. 69) also resigned their livings in 1662, because of their inability to comply with the terms of the Act of Uniformity. They had come to be greatly liked and respected in Coventry, which was 'fond of good ministers, and unwilling that they should be forced to conform to ceremonies', (fn. 70) and the bishop himself allowed both to preach in the city for a month beyond the stipulated time, having unsuccessfully urged them to conform. (fn. 71) Although deprived of formal office both continued to reside and preach in the city; the corporation was still paying them allowances in 1664, (fn. 72) and Bryan, who in particular seems to have suffered from poverty, also received gifts from Presbyterian meetings outside Coventry. (fn. 73) About 1665, at the time of the plague, Grew, at least, began to hold meetings for worship, but he and Bryan were driven from Coventry in the following year by the enforcement of the Five Mile Act and took refuge at one time at Eastcote. (fn. 74) Bryan was later at Coleshill, where he was said to be 'a very strict and ceremonious observer of the church', and 'a constant frequenter of service'. He returned to Coventry in the summer of 1667, having apparently resolved by then to take the oath enjoined by the Five Mile Act, a decision which was partly attributed by an unsympathetic observer to the fact that his followers in Coventry had found it difficult to support him at a distance. (fn. 75)
This same observer, Ralph Hope, a baker of Coventry who acted as a local informant (fn. 76) to Sir Joseph Williamson, Arlington's secretary, provides, in a series of letters written to Williamson between 1666 and 1670, evidence of the numbers and persistence of conventicles in Coventry at this period. At first it appears that a few only were discovered, which were resolutely suppressed, and at the end of 1667, after the expiry in October of the Conventicle Act of 1664, it was reported that there were 'neither Quakers nor any others in prison for religion'. (fn. 77) However, by early 1668 frequent meetings were being held, 'without much control', (fn. 78) and throughout 1669 and 1670 constant reference is made to the crowded meetings held chiefly at Leather Hall, between West Orchard and Smithford Street, where Joseph Eccleshall (fn. 79) was one of the principal preachers. In March 1669 two meetings took place there on Sundays, attended by 'a great confluence, to the depopulating of the churches', and when the holding of conventicles was forbidden by proclamation later in the year (fn. 80) 'several large meetings' were held 'in other places in town'. (fn. 81) According to the official return of 1669, Grew, who was by then 'constantly residing' in Coventry, kept a conventicle twice every Sunday in Much Park Street, and four more conventicles, with an attendance of about 700, were held at Leather Hall by four other ejected ministers. (fn. 82) Besides Eccleshall, these included Bryan's second son, Samuel, (fn. 83) Thomas Evans, (fn. 84) and Richard Steele. (fn. 85) In fact neither the proclamation of 1669 nor the Conventicle Act of 1670 seems to have had any immediate effect in preventing the holding of private, if not public, conventicles, which toward the end of 1670 were still as numerous and as uncontrolled as ever. (fn. 86) This absence of official restraint was clearly due to - and indeed the general strength of nonconformity in Coventry after the Restoration is shown in - the high percentage of dissenters, particularly of Presbyterians, among members of the corporation and those holding posts of public importance. (fn. 87) Such efforts as were made to eradicate dissent, between 1660 and 1687, seem to be in most cases traceable to the activity of a few determined individuals, notably Thomas King, (fn. 88) whose election as mayor in 1670 caused a general expectation that 'a more careful suppression' of conventicles would soon take place. (fn. 89) By contrast, the bishop, in 1669, forwarding to the archbishop (with perhaps exaggeratedly anxious comments) (fn. 90) the return of conventicles made to him by the incumbents of Holy Trinity and St. Michael's, complained that he had written to the mayor, presumably to urge restrictive measures, 'but he says he does not know how to help it'. (fn. 91)
As a result of the second Declaration of Indulgence six Presbyterian meetings were licensed in and near Coventry in 1672: three were conducted by Grew in private houses, (fn. 92) one by Samuel Wills, a native of Coventry who had been ejected from Birmingham, at his residence, Whitley House, (fn. 93) and one by John Bryan in part of Leather Hall. (fn. 94) A sixth house was licensed in 1673. (fn. 95) Grew and Wills remained active in the city until 1682, when popular enthusiasm for Monmouth (fn. 96) led the authorities to suppress all public meetings. Wills thereupon left Coventry and died in Shropshire two years later; (fn. 97) Grew was also compelled to leave, after he had been convicted, at the instigation of Thomas King, of breach of the Five Mile Act and had undergone six months' imprisonment. In spite of age and blindness he contrived to keep in touch with his followers, while in exile, by dictating weekly sermons which were copied and read to as many as twenty meetings. (fn. 98)
Bryan continued, regardless of the withdrawal of the Indulgence in 1673, to act as pastor from 1672 until his death in 1676; he may have had the assistance for a time of Richard Musson, or Muston, an ejected minister from Church Langton (Leics.). (fn. 99) There was in fact no break in continuity between this congregation, to which Gervase Bryan came as pastor on his brother's death, and the congregation later known as the Presbyterian Great Meeting. On the Declaration of Indulgence of 1687 Leather Hall was converted into a regular meeting-place, and in the same year Grew finally returned to officiate there as co-pastor with Gervase Bryan for the last two years of his life. Fittingly enough these two survivors of the long era of persecution preceding the Toleration Act died within a few weeks of each other at the end of 1689. (fn. 100)
Any account of nonconformity in Coventry after the passing of the Toleration Act must naturally be chiefly concerned with the individual histories of the sects that took root there before and after 1689, and of the buildings in which they worshipped. It is possible, however, to discern certain patterns of development in the subsequent fluctuations of their fortunes. Up to about 1765, five years after the first regular nonconformist congregation (the Baptist church at Longford) had been formed in the neighbourhood of Coventry, and before Methodism had taken a hold on any part of the area, the five dissenting communities known to have existed in Coventry by the end of the 17th century were still represented only by the Quaker and Congregational meetings in Vicar Lane, the Presbyterian meeting in Smithford Street, the Particular Baptist chapel in Jordan Well, and the General Baptist church. Of the five, the Particular Baptist church was only beginning to emerge from a period of weakness and disorganization, and the General Baptist church was on the point of dispersing completely. (fn. 101) The Quaker and Presbyterian (subsequently Unitarian) meetings, on the other hand, remained vigorous and active for the greater part of the 18th century, and did not begin noticeably to decline in influence until the 19th and 20th centuries.
Certainly the period of prosperity for the Friends in Coventry was the first half of the 18th century. Although their refusal to contribute to tithes or to church rates and levies naturally resulted in clashes with the ecclesiastical authorities (fn. 102) they were no longer regarded with any general hostility: when John Love preached at the Cross in 1706 to an 'abundance of people' he had a 'very good meeting without any opposition', but was not so well received in the meeting-house. (fn. 103) At the end of the 17th century the Coventry meeting seems to have compared unfavourably in strength with other meetings in Warwickshire, (fn. 104) but by 1730 it was the largest in the county, numbering probably some 250 to 300 members and 'long favoured with a lively ministry'; in 1735 its contribution to the expenses of the Yearly Meeting was exceeded only by that of Birmingham. (fn. 105) In 1700 Coventry was included, with Meriden, Southam, Stratford, and Warwick (and probably Harbury), in the Warwick Monthly Meeting, which is then mentioned for the first time. (fn. 106) From the late 17th century onwards the city was from time to time the meeting-place of the Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting, (fn. 107) and in 1749 the Yearly Meeting for the western counties was held in St. Mary's Hall, attended by a 'great collection' of Friends; about 1,500 were accommodated in the hall and more in the meeting-house. (fn. 108) One of these visitors commented favourably on the city's interest in the meeting and treatment of the Friends. (fn. 109)
The Coventry meeting, like others at this period, (fn. 110) was assiduous in providing for the poor: (fn. 111) among other gifts £30 was left to the meeting for charitable purposes by William Cockbill in 1709, (fn. 112) and in 1727 the Exhall Trust was established when land at Exhall was bought with a legacy of Robert Astbury for the relief of poor Friends. In 1731 the Monthly Meeting paid the Coventry Friends £5 for 'their overcharge of their poor'. (fn. 113) There was concern also for the education and general welfare of the young: in 1710 it was decided that there should be a weekly meeting held in Coventry throughout the summer 'for the good of servants, apprentices, and others of the younger sort'. (fn. 114) By 1713 there was a Friends' school in Coventry; (fn. 115) Josiah Forster opened another there in 1723, which was in 'a flourishing condition' in 1734, and there was a Friends' boarding school in the city about 1754. (fn. 116) Property was left by Bridget Southern in 1731 in trust for the education of children from poor families; in the 19th century the income, augmented by a legacy in 1791, was spent on the salaries of two of the staff at the girls' Lancasterian school and on clothing for 35 of the children. (fn. 117)
Many members of the Coventry meeting, (fn. 118) however, were affected by the decline of the clothmaking trade in the city towards the end of the 18th century, and several moved their businesses to the manufacturing districts of Lancashire, although the Gulson and Cash families remained strong supporters. (fn. 119) Membership began to fall off in the 1750s, when Coventry was still one of the more active constituents of the Middle Monthly Meeting. (fn. 120) There was a rapid decrease in numbers after 1820, and in 1837 the Middle Monthly Meeting, which by then consisted only of the Coventry and Warwick meetings, (fn. 121) was united with the North Monthly Meeting. (fn. 122) By about 1950 numbers at the Coventry meeting had improved a little on those of the mid 19th century, (fn. 123) but here, as elsewhere in Warwickshire, apart from Birmingham, (fn. 124) the Society of Friends never regained its lost ground.
In 1689 the Presbyterian meeting at Leather Hall was numerically by far the strongest of the dissenting congregations: the number of 'hearers' was estimated in 1690 at 1,500, and though the meeting was temporarily without a competent pastor after the deaths of Grew and Gervase Bryan, its strength was maintained by the advent of William Tong in 1690 and John Warren in 1700 (fn. 125) and by the continued support of members of the corporation. A visitor to Coventry in 1697 commented on the fact that most of the important public positions were then occupied by 'the sober men', which caused it to be 'esteem'd a fanatick town'. (fn. 126) It was probably the backing of the corporation as well as the conjunction of two such forceful personalities as Warren and Tong, that made possible the building of the new meetinghouse in Smithford Street in 1700. The site was granted to the mayor and commonalty, who were, in their turn, to enfeoff 20 trustees. (fn. 127) These included the mayor, one of the sheriffs, an alderman, four city councillors, and nine who were elected to the house within the next few years. Joseph Olds, also a councillor, was to be treasurer and keeper of the records. (fn. 128)
As leading members of the Great Meeting (as it came to be called), Richard Poole, the mayor of 1723, and several of the aldermen, including apparently John Moore, who helped to found the Vicar Lane Independent Chapel, supported Philip Doddridge, one of the unsuccessful candidates in the controversy over the assistant pastorship of the Great Meeting in 1724. (fn. 129) Doddridge was promised a salary of £150 a year as assistant, and Moore seems later to have proposed that he should become the first pastor at Vicar Lane, but Doddridge was strongminded enough to refuse both offers. (fn. 130)
In spite of the split which thus occurred in the congregation, and in spite of later secessions to Vicar Lane, caused by the movement towards Unitarianism at Smithford Street after Warren's departure in 1742, (fn. 131) the meeting remained a strong force in the affairs of the city for much of the 18th century: of the seventeen feoffees in 1735 at least eleven were aldermen or councillors, and the majority of feoffees in 1755 and 1771 were still either aldermen and city councillors already or were soon to be elected. Members of the Fox, Cater, and Bird families, who were influential in the congregation, also played an important part in local government. (fn. 132) The numbers at the Great Meeting did not in fact seriously decline until the second half of the 19th century, when its solidarity may perhaps have been weakened by the earlier disagreements over administration or by the transformation of the congregation, by the middle of the century, into one no longer 'united by any subscription to Unitarian opinion'. (fn. 133)
In contrast with the Quakers and Presbyterians the Congregationalist and Baptist churches in Coventry remained comparatively weak or at least unremarkable throughout much of the 18th century. The early Arminian or General Baptist church indeed never entirely emerged from the obscurity in which it had passed the 17th century, although by 1715 it was said to have 200 adherents in the care of Samuel Essex, (fn. 134) and the General Baptist Assembly met in the city in 1718 (fn. 135) which suggests that it was recognized as the centre of a fairly strong local community. There is no evidence of a regular place of worship other than the registration of two houses - Samuel Welton's in West Orchard and John Neale's at Radford - in 1718 (fn. 136) and an isolated reference to the 'church of West Orchard' in 1730. Members of the Welton family were appointed elders in 1726 and about 1731 and Samuel Welton was active in the Assembly in 1733. The Coventry church was still strong enough to provide an elder for the church at Southwark about 1741 and a general superintendent for the west midlands in 1747, but the church is not mentioned after 1763 and it seems to have disappeared altogether some time before 1776. (fn. 137) Some members may have joined the Particular Baptist church then meeting in Jordan Well, but they are perhaps more likely to have been absorbed by the vigorous community of Baptists of the New Connexion which had grown up at Longford in Foleshill since 1760. (fn. 138) In 1777 the latter unsuccessfully attempted to re-establish a congregation in Coventry, (fn. 139) but this was not achieved until the 1820s; a chapel was then opened in Whitefriars Lane, which was replaced by one in Gosford Street in 1869. (fn. 140)
Little is known in the 17th century of the Calvinistic or Particular Baptist church which had developed during the Civil War. About 1700 it still formed part of a group of churches of which the centre lay outside the county, but it apparently gained independence in 1710. In 1715 its minister was said to be Robert Bryan, possibly the same Robert Bryan, who in 1684 was fined, with two others, for absence from their parish church. (fn. 141) Several houses were also registered for Particular Baptist worship at this period: the first in 1694, two more in 1719, and three between 1726 and 1728 (fn. 142) by which date the main body of worshippers was established in a chapel at Jordan Well. The chapel did not begin to thrive, however, before the arrival in 1753 of John Butterworth, (fn. 143) one of four brothers from Lancashire who together did much to promote the Baptist cause in the west midlands. (fn. 144)
Butterworth succeeded in nearly trebling the size of the congregation, which in consequence moved to a new chapel, in Cow Lane, in 1793. He was followed by Francis Franklin, (fn. 145) who was greatly respected throughout the city, (fn. 146) and played a large part in strengthening the smaller Baptist churches in the surrounding districts. Nevertheless, during his long ministry, which covered the first half of the 19th century, a serious rift appeared in the church, as in others throughout this period, between the adherents to the old form of rigid Calvinism and those who reacted strongly from it. While Franklin was still minister there was only one, small, secession, in 1850, to found a Brethren's meeting, but some of the more liberal members broke away under his successor, William Rosevear, in 1856 to found a separate church in Hay Lane, while another group of Calvinists is said to have joined the Strict Baptists in Lower Ford Street in 1858. (fn. 147) From about 1870 onwards, however, the parent church (which moved to Queen's Road in 1884) began to recover from the effects of this prolonged crisis, and it was described at one point in the 20th century as the 'largest and most liberal in the county'. Branch chapels were also opened, at Queensland Avenue, Hearsall, and further afield. (fn. 148)
The followers of the Congregationalist pastor, Samuel Basnett, may have been temporarily disorganized after his departure from Coventry in 1662, (fn. 149) but clearly they were not entirely dispersed: in 1672 Congregational meetings were licensed at four houses in the city, including that of John Boun (or Bunn), (fn. 150) and by 1687 a congregation had reestablished itself. In 1690 it was described as 'an ancient small people' (and they 'very poor and few') and was then in danger of dissolution owing to the infirmity of its pastor, John Bunn, who was confined to his house at Finham. John Singleton, pastor at Stretton-under-Fosse, who preached in Coventry from 1688 onwards, (fn. 151) succeeded Bunn there later in 1690 but moved to London in 1698. During the next twenty years the Coventry congregation, which met in a house in Much Park Street, was largely dependent for its continued existence on the Presbyterian church at Bedworth, which Julius Saunders had helped to found in 1686, (fn. 152) and on the visits of the Saunders family. In 1707 the congregation was united with Bedworth, and although in 1720 the 36 regular members, of which it was composed, regained their formal independence, Thomas Saunders. who then became their pastor, left within a year. (fn. 153) After a further period of uncertainty the congregation was joined by those who seceded from the Great Meeting in 1724, and a new chapel in Vicar Lane, accommodating 700, was registered and opened towards the end of the year. During the early years of the chapel's history there was some cooperation with the Great Meeting, but as the latter's congregation gradually adopted Unitarian views there were further secessions from Smithford Street to Vicar Lane. (fn. 154) These perhaps helped the Vicar Lane church to withstand the shock of its own schism in 1776, over the appointment of a new minister, which led to the founding of the church in West Orchard. The consequent decline in the congregation at Vicar Lane was arrested first by the coming in 1812 of John Eagleton as minister, who brought with him his following of fellow Calvinists, and after 1820 by the work of his successor, John Sibree, who was also responsible for the founding of the Well Street chapel in 1822, to serve a poor quarter of the city, (fn. 155) and for a considerable amount of mission work carried out in the country districts with varying success.
The church in West Orchard was initially built up by George Burder, who was minister there from 1783 to 1803. It was Burder who in 1785 introduced the idea of establishing Sunday schools in Coventry to be supported by public subscription. An interdenominational committee was formed to organize the project, but later the individual Anglican and dissenting congregations assumed the responsibility for their own schools, of which the first to be built were those attached to the West Orchard chapel, in 1799. (fn. 156) Burder also provided meeting-places on the outskirts of the city, in Gosford Street and later at Spon End, where he preached regularly, and he was an indefatigable participant, with James Moody of Warwick, in similar work in various towns and villages outside Coventry. (fn. 157) Besides undertaking such mission work in the rural areas, the West Orchard church established, in 1825, a Sunday school in Radford Road, nearer the city centre, where a chapel was built in 1864, and was also in charge, for most of the 19th century, of the chapel built in Junction Street (later Vine Street) in 1836, in the developing suburb of Hillfields. (fn. 158)
Methodism arrived in Coventry towards the end of the 18th century, with the visits paid by Wesley (fn. 159) in 1779 and 1782, but clearly did not make the same impact there as it did in the weaving districts to the north of the city. Wesley's earliest followers in Coventry, a 'poor, little flock' as he described them in 1786, (fn. 160) worshipped in a succession of borrowed rooms and disused chapels until their own chapel in Warwick Lane was completed in 1836. Wesleyans were holding preaching services in the suburbs at Radford and Spon End for a time in the mid 19th century; they later established missions out at Earlsdon and in Thomas Street, and a chapel was opened in Berkeley Road South, Earlsdon, in 1884, which was replaced by one in Albany Road in 1923. A Primitive Methodist community was formed in Coventry about 1820 and a chapel was opened in Grove Street, Harnall, in 1836, from which the congregation moved to Ford Street in 1895. Wesleyan Reformers had a meeting place in Thomas Street in the 1850s (fn. 161) and another in the city in 1872, with sittings for 125, but their 'cause' seems to have been extinguished by 1881. (fn. 162) This sporadic activity in central Coventry and the paucity of permanent chapels founded there are in striking contrast with the progress made by the various Methodist branches, particularly in Foleshill, from the early 19th century onwards. Indeed after the founding of the Baptist church at Longford in the 1760s, the initiation of mission work in the country districts by the West Orchard Congregational church in the 1780s, and the growth of Methodism, interest begins to shift from Coventry itself to the districts round it, where the three denominations expanded steadily throughout most of the 19th century.
Before the last quarter of the 18th century nonconformity had made little impression in these outlying areas. The first nonconformist meeting known to have existed there was a Presbyterian one licensed at Ansty in 1672. (fn. 163) No nonconformists were reported there in 1676, but the same return recorded the presence of a number of nonconformists in other districts in the Coventry area. The largest group, in Foleshill, (fn. 164) numbered ten; there were also six nonconformists in Exhall, three in Sowe and in Stivichall, and one in Wyken. (fn. 165) Between 1683 and 1685 two inhabitants of Willenhall were presented six times for non-attendance at divine service, although the precise nature of their recusancy was not specified. (fn. 166)
There is some evidence in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (apart from that of the Ansty meeting already referred to) of the spread of Presbyterian and Quaker sympathies in the area lying between Coventry itself and Bedworth where there was also a strong nonconformist element. (fn. 167) Of the twelve original members of the Presbyterian church founded at Bedworth in 1686 two came from Keresley, one from Longford, and one from Exhall, and in 1689 inhabitants of Keresley and Foleshill were among the members of the Quaker meeting in Coventry. (fn. 168) There was a Quaker - Moses Baker - in Keresley in 1705, (fn. 169) and in 1724 William Proud, a Quaker, was excommunicated for non-payment of tithes to the Vicar of Foleshill. (fn. 170) In the latter year Presbyterian major meetings were registered in Foleshill in the houses of John Griswold and Richard Maidlin, (fn. 171) and two years later Thomas Bosworth, husbandman of Foleshill and a Quaker, gave evidence during a tithe dispute. (fn. 172) Neither sect, however, gained a permanent hold in the districts outside Coventry.
Foleshill Lodge, then in the tenure of John Liggins, was registered for nonconformist worship in 1744, (fn. 173) and, in 1749, the house of William Tinsley, at Wyken, for worship by Independents, (fn. 174) but the earliest continuous record of a dissenting meeting in the districts near Coventry does not begin before the founding of the General Baptist congregation at Longford in 1760. This began to meet in that year under the leadership of Robert Sheffield, of Diseworth (Leics.), who lived in Exhall from 1759, and for a time belonged, with his family, to the General Baptist church at Hinckley. The first chapel, Salem, was built in 1765 in Lady Lane (later Canal Road), after a cottage had been registered for worship for the five preceding years. Many early baptisms took place in the nearby Coventry Canal, sometimes to the accompaniment of public ribaldry and violence; by 1773 there were 112 church members, and 142 in 1775. The new church was at first in close connexion with a group of churches centred on Barton (Leics.), then, from 1766, with Hinckley alone, until, in 1773, the Longford meeting secured a full-time minister and independence. (fn. 175) About this time there was a daughter cause at Harbury, near Southam, where a chapel was built in 1775, but this became extinct in 1783. (fn. 176) Apart from one short period the Longford church was without a pastor from 1784 to 1791, and its strength seems to have diminished again in the early 19th century, but by 1816 membership had risen to 180. (fn. 177) In 1826, 'in consequence of some unpleasant circumstances', (fn. 178) William Warner led a secession from Salem which resulted in the opening, the following year, of a second General Baptist chapel at Longford. (fn. 179) An unsuccessful attempt was also made in 1777 to recruit a congregation in Coventry itself, (fn. 180) but at this period Foleshill was the chief area of nonconformist activity, carried on by members of the Baptist church and also by Wesleyan Methodists and Independents who were in evidence there before the end of the 18th century.
From about 1782 Jonathan Evans of the West Orchard Congregational Chapel was teaching at Sunday schools and preaching in houses at Foleshill; the congregation's first regular chapel, acquired in 1784, was a building by the canal that had formerly been used by the canal company for storing boats. A permanent meeting place, of which Evans was the first minister, was built at Little Heath in 1795. (fn. 181)
The records of the Northampton Circuit show that by 1791 there were fourteen members of a Wesleyan church meeting at Hall Green in Foleshill, and six of another that met elsewhere in the parish. (fn. 182) Wesley is known to have visited Foleshill in 1779, (fn. 183) but the first record of a permanent congregation does not occur until 1809, when services began to be held in a weaver's shop near the street that subsequently became known as Lime Terrace. For the first two years the congregation was served by a minister from Hinckley. The first chapel was built in Lockhurst Lane in 1825. (fn. 184) A second Wesleyan congregation was gathered at Bell Green, Foleshill, by cottage meetings, and a chapel erected in Old Church Road in 1813. (fn. 185) Other places of worship were opened in Brickkiln Lane (later Broad Street) in 1839, and in Alderman's Green Road in 1840, (fn. 186) bringing the number of Wesleyan chapels in Foleshill by mid century to four. In 1891 the Warwick Lane and Broad Street churches together founded a school chapel in Stoney Stanton Road, which was replaced by a new chapel on a nearby site in 1898. Besides these a Primitive Methodist Society was formed in the Paradise district of Foleshill in 1823, the members of which opened a chapel in Stoney Stanton Road in 1828. (fn. 187) A second Primitive Methodist chapel was opened in Foleshill in 1847, and a third two years later. (fn. 188) A Wesleyan Association church developed as the result of a secession, in 1832, of the greater part of the members from Lockhurst Lane, and a chapel was built in 1837 in Carpenters' Lane (later Station Street West). (fn. 189) In 1858 a body of Wesleyan Reformers formed a church, and built a chapel in Alderman's Green Road. (fn. 190)
In the early 19th century activity spread from Coventry and from Foleshill into the neighbouring parishes of Sowe and Stoke. In 1807 members of Salem General Baptist church began mission work at Sowe, but this was soon given up (fn. 191) and not effectively revived until 1837, under the inspiration of Jabez Tunnicliffe, (fn. 192) who also inaugurated successful work at Bedworth about the same time. As a result Baptist chapels were opened in Sowe in 1840, (fn. 193) Hawkesbury in 1845, (fn. 194) and at Bedworth in 1848. (fn. 195) Stoke was missioned in 1813 by members of Vicar Lane Independent Chapel, who founded a Sunday school in Stoke Row. A 'small neat chapel' was opened in 1836 in Walsgrave Road, as a branch of Vicar Lane. (fn. 196) Another member of the Vicar Lane church who visited Sowe in the summer of 1816, to distribute tracts, found the place 'in almost a heathenish state'. He founded a Sunday school, and in the next few years extended the work to include public preaching. Eventually a chapel was opened at Potters Green, in 1820, also as a branch of Vicar Lane. (fn. 197) The Primitive Methodists, however, were less successful in this area than they were in Foleshill: John Garner, one of Hugh Bourne's 'boys' sent out from the Tunstall Primitive Methodist circuit, was preaching at Sowe in 1819, but he met with a hostile response, (fn. 198) and no church was formed then or later. In Stoke there was a Primitive Methodist 'preaching house' at Barras Green by 1860, (fn. 199) and a chapel was built there in 1866. (fn. 200)
Work was also begun in the early part of the 19th century in the outlying districts to the north-west of Coventry. In Coundon a house at Brownshill Green was registered for worship by a Wesleyan minister in 1813, (fn. 201) and in Keresley there was, in 1850, a 'very small' chapel on the heath supplied by circuit preachers; (fn. 202) neither of these congregations, however, seems to have long survived. Through the influence of John Sibree, minister of Vicar Lane chapel from 1819, cottage services were held at Keresley for several years, and a small chapel existed at Keresley Heath at the end of 1838, (fn. 203) but this had been closed for some time by about 1855. (fn. 204) Work in Keresley was not restarted until later in the century: a church was formed in 1890 in association with another that had been founded in 1879 at Brownshill Green, Coundon, (fn. 205) by the efforts of the Vicar Lane church. (fn. 206)
Sibree had also attempted, unsuccessfully, to extend his work to the still more remote parish of Ansty, to the north-east, where services were held for a short time after October 1829 in a barn fitted up for preaching. (fn. 207) This attempt was strongly opposed by the Vicar of Ansty, T. C. Adams, who claimed that it had received no encouragement from his parishioners. (fn. 208) A similar attempt, made later in the century by the Wesleyans, to establish a congregation in the rural area of Willenhall, where a church was on the circuit books from 1880 to 1886, met with a similar lack of response. (fn. 209)
By the close of the 19th century, therefore, the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists were firmly rooted in Foleshill, and to a lesser extent in Sowe and Stoke. Further progress in the 20th century was, on the whole, limited to those areas in which causes had already been established, though, after the boundary extensions of 1928 and 1931, chapel building also followed the spread of new housing estates on the outskirts of the modern city.
The Particular Baptists penetrated into Foleshill in 1907, when the Coventry Baptists and the West Midland Baptist Association began joint mission work in a temporary building in Webster Street, from which the congregation moved to a new chapel in Broad Street in 1924. (fn. 210) A 'People's Mission' founded in Harnall in 1917 later established itself in Jesmond Road, (fn. 211) and another chapel was opened in Radford in 1932. (fn. 212) The latest Baptist chapel to be built in Coventry was in the new suburb of Tile Hill in 1956. (fn. 213)
The Methodists continued to be active in Foleshill in the 20th as in the 19th century. In 1917 a temporary building in Holbrooks Lane was opened by the Wesleyan Home Mission Committee for the use of munitions workers, but this had ceased to be used by 1925. (fn. 214) In 1923 an independent group of Free Methodists, led by G. H. Brown, a former Wesleyan Reform minister, formed a church in Durbar Avenue. (fn. 215) The Primitive Methodists opened a fourth chapel in the area of Foleshill in 1929, in Wheelwright Lane, Exhall. (fn. 216) Methodist Church union in 1932, from which only the three Free Methodist churches in Alderman's Green Road, Durbar Avenue, and Station Street West remained apart, was followed by renewed expansion in the suburbs. Causes were established in the 1930s in the outlying districts of Green Lane on the south, and Lime Tree Park on the west, and in 1942 at Canley. (fn. 217) In 1938 services began to be held at Coundon Council School in Southbank Road, and in 1946 a temporary, wooden building was opened in Dallington Road, Coundon, which was replaced by a permanent chapel in 1952. (fn. 218) A church was formed in Radford in 1945, and a chapel was opened in 1948. (fn. 219)
The steady growth of Methodism throughout its history in the Coventry area may be judged from the gradual expansion of its local circuit system. Coventry seems originally to have been in the Northamptonshire Circuit, until 1791, then for a short time in the Birmingham Circuit, then, from 1792, (fn. 220) in the Leicester Circuit and later the Hinckley Circuit. The Coventry Circuit, including Kenilworth, Leamington, Warwick, and some neighbouring villages, was formed in 1811, and from that time it supported two ministers. (fn. 221) By 1936 there were three circuits for Coventry: the Warwick Lane Circuit, comprising the Central Hall, Warwick Lane (which had recently replaced the old Warwick Lane chapel), Earlsdon, Stoney Stanton Road (Harnall), Lockhurst Lane, Broad Street, Bell Green Road, Alderman's Green Road, and Lime Tree Park chapels, and supporting seven ministers; the Ford Street (formerly Grove Street) Circuit, comprising Ford Street, Heath Road, and Green Lane chapels, and supporting two ministers; and the Paradise Circuit, comprising Paradise (fn. 222) (Stoney Stanton Road), Alderman's Green Road, and Wheelwright Lane chapels, and supporting one minister. (fn. 223) In 1946 the chapels were redivided between the Coventry Circuit and the Coventry Mission Circuit, (fn. 224) and Central Hall was placed at the head of the latter. From 1953 the mission also maintained an 'industrial chaplain', whose 'parish' included Dunlop's factory and the Coventry Gauge and Tool Company. In 1957 the mission was responsible for the spiritual care of the inmates of the Charterhouse aged men's home, where regular services were held, and through the church in Stoney Stanton Road the Mission Circuit pioneered work among West Indian and other coloured immigrants. (fn. 225)
New Congregational chapels were also built, in the 1930s, in Foleshill and Wyken, by the Foleshill Road and Stoke churches respectively. (fn. 226) The destruction of West Orchard chapel in the Second World War was accepted by its members as an opportunity to move the centre of gravity of their church into the expanding suburbs, and a temporary chapel (replaced by a new permanent building in 1952) was opened in Stivichall in 1947. (fn. 227)
The bombing of central Coventry in fact resulted in the dispersal of several more churches to new chapels in the suburbs. After the destruction of the Baptist chapel in Hay Lane in 1940 its congregation joined that of the Gosford Street chapel which was in its turn closed in 1951. Members were transferred to other chapels, including those built in Stoke in 1950, (fn. 228) and in Quinton Park, Cheylesmore, where work had begun in 1948. Well Street Independent Chapel was also destroyed and in 1953 its congregation, united with that from Vine Street, was reaccommodated in a new chapel further out in Holyhead Road. (fn. 229) Similarly the former Primitive Methodist chapel in Ford Street, which was badly damaged, was replaced by a chapel in Wyken. (fn. 230)