A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
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There are indications of Brownist activity in Salisbury at the beginning of the 17th century, and dissenters from the city were among the group who migrated to Amsterdam with Francis Johnson. (fn. 1) This connexion with Amsterdam may explain the establishment of a Baptist congregation in Salisbury by as early as 1626. A number of 'Anabaptists' were fined for absence from church between 1630 and 1632, and a little later advocates of Fifth Monarchy and Seventh Day Baptist views appeared. (fn. 2) The latter seem to have had sporadic support in Salisbury over a long period: in 1675 Francis Bampfield was preaching in the city, and there was said to be a 'remnant' of Seventh Day Baptists in 1690. (fn. 3) The General Baptists in Salisbury in the early 18th century may have held similar views, for deeds of 1734 and 1748 suggest that a sect of Baptists was allowed to use the Brown Street Chapel on Saturdays. (fn. 4) A. Flood, who was preaching in Salisbury in 1715 and jointly with John Lane drawing 200 hearers, was probably a General Baptist, (fn. 5) and Salisbury appears in the minutes of the Assembly of General Baptists in the middle of the century. (fn. 6)
Calvinistic or Particular Baptists also gained a hold on the city at an early date: a house was being rented in 1678 for the use of preachers from Porton church, the centre of the Particular Baptists in south Wiltshire, who had held meetings in Salisbury since 1657 and perhaps 1655. (fn. 7) This may have been the house belonging to Thomas Batts which was licensed as a Baptist meeting place in 1672, (fn. 8) but it was more probably another house, because James Wise was licensed to preach at Batts's house, while Walter Penn was the most frequent preacher at the Porton station in Salisbury. Another house licensed in 1672 may have been used by a Baptist group; it belonged to John Tombes who is variously described as a Presbyterian and a Baptist. (fn. 9)
Puritan reformers within the church in Salisbury during the Interregnum were led by John Strickland, who was a member of the 1653 Wiltshire Association of Puritan Ministers. All three Salisbury churches had members of the Westminster Assembly as incumbents. (fn. 10) Only Strickland, however, remained in Salisbury after he was ejected from his living at St. Edmund's Church in 1662. He was joined by William Hunt, previously Master of Salisbury Free School, and a number of ejected ministers from outside Salisbury. (fn. 11) In defiance of the measures taken against them, they continued preaching within the city. Their activities were centred in St. Edmund's parish where about 200 people were said to attend conventicles held in 1669 at Anthony Cooke's house and elsewhere. (fn. 12) In contrast, there were only 11 or 12 suspected frequenters of conventicles in St. Thomas's parish and none in the rest of Salisbury. To some extent this can be attributed to Strickland's personal influence in St. Edmund's parish both before and after he was ejected. Even after his death in 1670, however, nonconformity continued to be stronger in St. Edmund's parish than in the rest of Salisbury: a census of nonconformists made in 1675 showed that out of 3,609 adults in the city 63 were protestant dissenters, of whom 44 lived in St. Edmund's parish. (fn. 13)
Although the numerical strength of the dissenters as shown by the 1675 census appears to have been limited, there can be no doubt of their continued existence and activity. Between the issue of the Declaration of Indulgence and its withdrawal a year later the houses of Thomas Taylor, John Swallowfield, John Haddesley, Anthony Cooke, Stephen Haskett, and John Hulatt were licensed for use as Presbyterian places of worship, and the house of George Whitmarsh for use by Independents or Congregationalists. (fn. 14) The Presbyterians also made applications to use the Guildhall and the Shoemakers' Hall, but licences were refused. After 1673 meetings again became liable to interruption and preachers were imprisoned; it is claimed that John Swallowfield spent a whole year in gaol. (fn. 15)
Quakers were not active in Salisbury until near the end of Charles II's reign. Two isolated incidents in 1657 met with quick repression and imprisonment: Francis Taylor interrupted a service at the cathedral, (fn. 16) and Katharine Evans tried to call upon bystanders in the Market Place to repent. (fn. 17) The next Quaker to be recorded in Salisbury was George Harris of the Close, who was prosecuted for refusing to take the oath in 1678 or 1679. (fn. 18) In 1684 six men were fined for attending a Quaker meeting, (fn. 19) and a number of levies made on Quakers two years later (fn. 20) add to the evidence that the movement was gathering strength at this period. A regular monthly meeting was established in Salisbury before 1697; and in 1703 the houses of Robert Shergold and John Moore were set apart as Quaker meeting houses. A new house in Gigant Street licensed in 1712/13 for the use of 'Protestant Dissenters' was certified by Robert Shergold, James Lansdale, and James Wilkens, and was used by the Quakers. (fn. 21) The Salisbury monthly meeting was abandoned, however, in 1717, (fn. 22) although preparative meetings were held until 1827. (fn. 23)
The early groups of both Particular Baptists and Presbyterians or Independents formed churches which have had a continuous history from the 17th to the 20th century. In 1690 the Baptists organized from Porton broke away from their mother church and became independent with Walter Penn as their first minister. (fn. 24) The Brown Street Particular Baptist Church originated with this secession: the first chapel in Brown Street was erected shortly before June 1719, (fn. 25) and was apparently rebuilt in 1750 when 'the new house built for worship' in Brown Street was registered. (fn. 26) The chapel was supported by both local farmers and tradespeople: the 1734 list of trustees includes 3 yeomen, a 'gentleman' and a cork-cutter, a mercer, a lacedealer, and a weaver. (fn. 27)
Two outstanding ministers of the early Brown Street chapel were Henry Phillips, pastor from 1766 to 1779, and his successor John Saffery, who was pastor for over 50 years. The former opened a free school and at one time was teaching over 150 children to read, write, and do accounts. (fn. 28) During his ministry the congregation increased to between 200 and 300 persons, and this expansion continued under Saffery until it became necessary in 1829 to erect a larger chapel. (fn. 29) It was built in what was later described as 'debased classical style', (fn. 30) and had 250 free sittings and 550 others. Soon after it was opened there were said to be 210 church members and a congregation of 600, (fn. 31) but in 1851 on the day of the ecclesiastical census there were only 336 people at the evening service. (fn. 32) Although the chapel was substantially modified in 1882 the sittings were not again increased. (fn. 33) A small part of the cost of the 1882 alterations was met by a loan from the Baptist Building Fund, but it was soon repaid and the congregation seems to have been a fairly wealthy one. (fn. 34) The church has also been helped by Thomas Attwater's gift of £200 in 1752 for the future repairs of the chapel. (fn. 35) It is known that this gift brought in £8 a year from 1837 until the beginning of the 20th century. The capital sum was re-invested some time before 1933 and the annual income has since been paid into the general fund of the chapel. (fn. 36) A little assistance has also been received from Richard Earlsman's charity: this was a gift of £1,180, in support of Salisbury nonconformity in general. In 1905 the annual income was £29 10s.: the St. Edmund's Church Street Methodists received £19 for their poor, the Congregationalists received £7 0s. 8d., and the Brown Street Baptists received £3 9s. 4d. for general maintenance. (fn. 37)
The 1882 alterations increased the number of classrooms to 24, and in 1889 there were 440 Sunday School pupils, (fn. 38) a big increase from 1851. (fn. 39) The numbers declined steeply in the last decade of the 19th century and the first three decades of the twentieth. (fn. 40) The number of church members, on the other hand, has remained fairly constant at between 230 and 285. (fn. 41) Since at least the early 19th century the Brown Street Church has been responsible for a number of village stations: there were 5 of these in 1836–7, (fn. 42) 2 in 1889, (fn. 43) and 4 in 1957 (Bodenham, Coombe Bissett, Porton, and Winterslow). (fn. 44)
One small charity for the relief of the poor is administered by the minister of the chapel: by his will proved in 1787 Richard Spraggs left £50 to be used to give 10 poor members of the meeting 2s. 6d. each on New Year's day. The rest of the income was to be used to buy bread for the poor living in Castle Street, regardless of their sect or religion. (fn. 45) No payments were made until after 1860, when the money and accumulated interest were re-invested. In 1905 the income of £3 4s. 8d. was spent on grocery vouchers for 13 poor persons. In 1953 it appeared that another investment of £88 belonged to this charity, and the total income was distributed among the poor by the minister. (fn. 46)
After the Toleration Act of 1689 the Presbyterian congregation became even stronger than before. They were able to provide John Haddesley, minister in 1690, with about £40 a year—an ample living. (fn. 47) In 1715 a Mr. Sloane, almost certainly a Presbyterian or Independent, had 500 hearers. (fn. 48) The building of a meeting house in Salt Lane took place probably early in the 18th century, (fn. 49) and is yet further evidence that the congregation was flourishing and prosperous at that date. Their children benefited from the gift of Edmund Mack who bequeathed £200 by his will of 1699 to buy apprenticeships each year for two boys of the Presbyterian congregation who lived in St. Martin's parish. (fn. 50)
The history of the church during the remainder of the 18th century is obscure and is a story of decline. It seems doubtful whether the congregation had more than a nominal existence by as early as 1773, because there were then said to be only three nonconformist churches in Salisbury (fn. 51) and these were certainly the Brown Street Baptist Church, the Wesleyan Methodist Church in St. Edmund's Church Street, and the Congregational Church in Scots Lane. The disintegration of the church is also indicated by the fact that the accounts of Edmund Mack's charity were not properly kept during the last quarter of the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries, and the funds were sometimes misapplied. One of the difficulties about this charity, however, may have been a lack of suitable candidates: between 1722 and 1789 58 boys were apprenticed at a cost of nearly £300, but in 1808 the charity had to be extended to boys in other parishes, or, failing that, to girls. (fn. 52) By 1815 at all events the congregation had ceased to exist, for the Salt Lane premises were then said to be abandoned and ruinous and were sold to the Wesleyan Methodists for use as schoolrooms and a minister's residence. (fn. 53) Edmund Mack's charity passed into the hands of the Methodists at the same time.
One cause of the decline of the Presbyterian cause in Salisbury may have been a secession to the Congregational church in the middle of the 18th century. A group of people with Congregational views began meetings in 1757, and in 1766 William Warne endowed the then minister, John Wheeler, with 2 houses in Scots Lane. (fn. 54) A chapel was erected at the rear of one of the houses; it was registered for worship in 1767, (fn. 55) and enlarged in 1791, (fn. 56) and again in 1829 by the addition of schoolrooms and vestries. (fn. 57) There seems to have been no link between the congregation established in 1757 and those early Congregationalists meeting at George Whitmarsh's house. The registration in 1796 of a room in Milford for use by Independents (fn. 58) probably shows the existence of another separate group, but no more is heard of it. A secession from the Scots Lane church in 1806, (fn. 59) however, led to the erection of a chapel in Endless Street, which was registered 4 years later. (fn. 60)
This secession was more probably caused by personal than by important doctrinal differences, for in 1860 the two churches were re-united. (fn. 61) The Endless Street chapel with 150 free and 650 other sittings was chosen as the meeting place in preference to the Scots Lane chapel, which had only 150 free sittings and 380 others. (fn. 62) It was necessary to choose the larger building because the total congregation at evening service in the two chapels sometimes exceeded 800. (fn. 63) The Scots Lane premises were used as schoolrooms for the British School until it closed in 1888 (fn. 64) and for the Sunday School until 1890. (fn. 65) In 1879 the present church was built in Fisherton Street. It is a stone building in Early Decorated Gothic style with a tall spire, and seats 650. (fn. 66) The total cost was £11,000, and the Endless Street chapel was sold to help to raise this amount. (fn. 67) Schoolrooms were later added to the Fisherton Street chapel and the Scots Lane chapel was sold. This congregation benefits from the receipts of two charities: John Wheeler by his will proved in 1870 left £400 to Endless Street chapel, from which £10 10s. a year is now paid into the general fund. A similar sum is received from Warne and Perry's charity, although the origin of this charity is not known. (fn. 68)
Methodism made its first impact on Salisbury when Westley Hall, a pupil and connexion by marriage of Wesley, went to Fisherton Anger as curate in 1736. (fn. 69) A meeting was established in the coach-house of the 'Green Dragon', Fisherton. Ten years later Hall broke with John and Charles Wesley, and Methodism was weakened in Salisbury. John Wesley visited the city frequently, and with his encouragement a small group opened a meeting room in a shop in Greencroft Street in 1750. (fn. 70) A chapel was built in St. Edmund's Church Street in 1759, (fn. 71) which Wesley described as 'the most complete in England'. (fn. 72) After preaching there ten years later Wesley paid the church a great tribute: 'the congregation was alive, and much more the society. How pleasing it would be to be always with such!'. (fn. 73) Enthusiasm for the Methodist cause was increased by the preaching of John Webb in 1782. (fn. 74) The number of church members between this date and the end of the 18th century fluctuated violently: there were 380 members in 1785, 636 in 1789, 238 in 1791, and 360 in 1798. (fn. 75) The chapel was re-built in 1810 with 280 free sittings and 780 other sittings. (fn. 76) Five years later the old Presbyterian Meeting Place in Salt Lane (see above) was bought for use as schoolrooms. There was no longer a Sunday School, however, by 1851, although the average congregation for evening service at that date was said to be 900. (fn. 77) New schoolrooms were erected in Greencroft Street in 1879: they were used for a Sunday School and in the week for meetings and classes connected with the chapel. (fn. 78) In 1958 the church was still thriving and had 410 members. (fn. 79)
The administration of Edmund Mack's charity passed into the hands of the St. Edmund's Church Street Methodists when they bought the Salt Lane chapel in 1815, and since that date the funds have been used to apprentice children of their congregation, with preference for those living in St. Martin's parish, or failing that, children of other Wesleyan Methodist congregations within a 4-mile radius of Salisbury. In 1905 the usual premium paid was £20 and there was no lack of applicants. (fn. 80) In 1932 the annual income of this charity was about £183. (fn. 81) It was re-organized in 1937 and its benefits extended to children entering a trade or other occupation. (fn. 82)
A Methodist Reform Church congregation opened a chapel in Milford Street in 1852. (fn. 83) This church became a member of the United Methodist Free Churches. The list of trustees shows clearly the social group which supported this church: there were 3 gardeners, 2 boot and shoe makers, 2 bakers, 3 grocers, a miller, a saddler, a butcher, an umbrella maker, a draper, a tailor, a painter, a cornfactor, a music seller, a picture dealer, a librarian, a solicitor's clerk, and a yeoman. (fn. 84) In 1878 a schoolroom was built, (fn. 85) and 2 years later the church was said to hold 800. (fn. 86) Acoustics, light, and ventilation were poor, however, and in 1896 a new building was begun and was opened a year later. (fn. 87) It is a brick building with stone facings, designed by W. H. Dinsley, (fn. 88) and had 450 sittings, a school hall, and 7 other rooms. (fn. 89) After the Second World War the congregation declined and in the early part of 1958 there were only 81 members, (fn. 90) so the chapel was closed later in the year and the congregation transferred to St. Edmund's Church Street.
The Tunstall and Scotter circuits of the Primitive Methodist connexion undertook an extensive mission in the west of England in 1823. (fn. 91) It seems probable that the 'Tent Methodists' who in the autumn of that year registered as places of worship Horsepits Field in Milford, a large room in 'Canal Street', and the Freemasons' Hall in George Yard, High Street, were inspired by, or part of, this mission. Their minister was William Sanger. (fn. 92) There is no evidence that these 'Tent Methodists' continued to meet in Salisbury and in 1827 a new Primitive Methodist mission began. (fn. 93) A room in a dwelling house in New Street was lent for services, (fn. 94) and a small society of 7 or 8 members was formed. By 1833 Salisbury was at the head of a circuit with 2 preachers and 250 members. (fn. 95) The first chapel was built in Fisherton Street and its later history is dealt with below. (fn. 96) Another Primitive Methodist chapel was opened in St. Mark's Road in 1890. (fn. 97) Both these chapels were brick buildings and in 1940 had 360 and 214 sittings respectively. (fn. 98)
Since the union of the Methodist Church in 1932 two new chapels have been opened: that in Roman Road, Bemerton, was opened later in 1932 and that in Saxon Road, West Harnham, was opened in 1955. (fn. 99) The Methodist churches in the city in 1956 had a combined membership of nearly 2,000. (fn. 100)
The religious life of dissenters in Salisbury in the 19th century was not confined to the older nonconformist churches. Some houses and public rooms were registered for worship by groups who did not state their denomination. (fn. 101) They may have been connected with the various chapels or they may have been forerunners of the new denominations which were established in the city in the 19th and 20th centuries. The earliest of these was the New Jerusalem or Swedenborgian Church which first registered the Freemasons' Hall in George Yard in 1825, with John Harbin as minister. (fn. 102) A chapel in Crane Street was registered in 1828, and a house in St. Edmund's parish in 1834. A congregation founded in 1831 with David Tom Dyke as its leader was said to have met in Endless Street and later in George Yard. (fn. 103) There may, therefore, have been more than one group of Swedenborgians in the thirties. Ten years later a congregation began to meet in Castle Street; in 1851 there were 100 free sittings and the average congregation was about 50. (fn. 104) A New Jerusalem congregation met in Antelope Yard, Catherine Street, in 1878, probably the congregation previously meeting in Fisherton Street but the church had vanished by 1894. (fn. 105)
The Catholic Apostolic Church met in the Temperance Hall, Catherine Street, from 1862 to 1876. (fn. 106)
The Salvation Army opened fire in Salisbury in 1880 or early in 1881. Meetings met with considerable resistance for the next two years: in February 1881 the mayor and justices forbade meetings because of disturbances, and opposition to them was organized by a 'Society for the Suppression of Street Parading'. (fn. 107) Two years later a crowd of 1,000 is said to have pelted them with eggs and tomatoes, (fn. 108) and 60 special constables were appointed to deal with these riots. Colonel G. N. Pepper of the Salvation Army claimed that they were organized by youths with the connivance of the city's innkeepers. The meeting was able to open a hall in Salt Lane later in 1883 (fn. 109) and the riots seem to have died down. In 1930 the meetings were attracting large congregations. (fn. 110)
The Open Christian Brethren re-opened the old Congregational chapel in Scots Lane as City Hall in 1895; there were 250 sittings. (fn. 111) This hall was disused by 1925 but in 1929 the Barnard's Cross Gospel Hall was erected, (fn. 112) and is still (1957) used by the Open Brethren. Christian Brethren were also meeting in Brown Street about 1930. (fn. 113)
Christian Science services were held in private homes from 1915 to 1922, when a room was leased in Avon Chambers, Castle Street, and public services began. In March 1929 the congregation moved to 24 Milford Street and the following April the society received recognition from the Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Boston. (fn. 114)
The foundation stone of the Emmanuel Mission Hall at 63 Devizes Road was laid in 1906. (fn. 117) It was used by the Railway Mission in 1927 but was re-registered in 1954 as the Emmanuel (Free Evangelical) Church. (fn. 118)
In 1930 the Elim Four-Square Gospel Alliance took over the City Hall (see above) for their meetings. (fn. 119) Four years later the Quakers resumed meetings in Salisbury at the Rechabite Hall, and a preparative meeting was established in 1946. (fn. 120) The Jehovah's Witnesses are the most recent congregation to be established in Salisbury: their church, Kingdom Hall, in Alexander Road, Bemerton, war opened in 1950. (fn. 121)