Gloucester, 1640-60: Religious and cultural life

Pages 100-101

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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Religious and Cultural Life

The driving force behind Gloucester's commitment to the parliamentary cause during the English Revolution was a vision, shared by a substantial number of the aldermen, of the city as a godly, staunchly Calvinist stronghold. In 1643 the town clerk John Dorney declared that Gloucester was 'a free city … free from Popery and … free from tyranny … a famous city, famous … for constancy in the cause of God and of the commonwealth'. (fn. 1) Eight years later he lauded it as 'a city saved by the Lord, a maiden city'. (fn. 2) Shortly after the meeting of the Long Parliament Gloucester petitioned for the new modelling of its many small parishes to provide livings for learned preachers (fn. 3) and at the end of the siege it renewed its call. (fn. 4) In April 1648 parliament passed an Ordinance creating from ten of the eleven city parishes four enlarged parishes each with a godly divine; some dean and chapter lands were assigned to support the preachers. (fn. 5) Though the corporation probably exercised de facto control over the cathedral precincts from the late 1640s, it obtained official jurisdiction over them in 1657. (fn. 6)

In 1646 Dorney observed how 'instead of episcopacy (which seems to lie in the dust) a Presbytery is expected … and a spiritual instead of a formal and pompous service'. (fn. 7) Most of the ministers in the period were Presbyterians but there was no formal classis: congregational Presbyterianism was the rule. After 1648 the corporation appointed new ministers on the initiative of parishes. (fn. 8) As well as the four city preachers there were several parish lectureships, both civic and privately financed. (fn. 9) Parochial reform made possible the demolition or conversion to other uses of several churches, including those damaged by the siege. All Saints' church was incorporated in a new Tolsey to replace the old building which had been hit during the bombardment, (fn. 10) and St. Mary de Grace, St. Catherine, and St. Aldate were taken down in the mid 1650s; St. Owen had been demolished at the start of the siege. (fn. 11)

During the 1630s the magistracy had clashed with Laud over the grammar schools. After 1642 the masters of the College school as well as the Crypt school generally supported the corporation's puritan stance. (fn. 12) In 1648 the city approved the establishment of an English school in Trinity church. (fn. 13) The same year Thomas Pury the younger and other puritans re-established Bishop Goodman's library in the cathedral chapter house. (fn. 14) In 1657 the corporation took charge and began to equip it as a public library. In addition to books purchased by the chamber, donations of works came from leading citizens. (fn. 15) Moral reform had been a preoccupation of the magistracy since the start of the 17th century. During the Revolution controls were tightened. Action was taken against those disturbing the sanctity of the sabbath and against gamesters, players, and alehouse keepers. (fn. 16)

Though previously insignificant, separatism gained ground in the early 1640s, encouraged by the influx of outsiders. (fn. 17) Two preachers from Herefordshire, Robert Hart and a Mr. Vaughan, were among the first to gain a following for separatist views, and the sectary Robert Bacon later came from Bristol and, according to Richard Baxter, gained many adherents to his antinomian doctrines. In 1644 Bacon preached a sermon on the public fast day which provoked an outcry from the Presbyterian clergy. Bacon was examined by the governor, Massey, and urged to depart the city by the mayor but refused. After a disputation in the cathedral with Massey's chaplain Corbet, Bacon was expelled, (fn. 18) Hart and other clergy disassociating themselves from the expulsion. By then anti-Trinitarian views had also reached Gloucester: the master of the Crypt school, John Biddle, was accused before the magistrates of Socinianism, and in 1645 he was imprisoned and removed from the school. (fn. 19) John Knowles, a lay preacher who shared Biddle's views, was active in and around the city in 1646, and the following year another Socinian, John Cooper, became master of the Crypt school. (fn. 20) In 1647 John Dorney warned of the dangers of intolerance towards the sects and there may have been more religious dissension two years later. (fn. 21) Only a little is known about the separatists' activity in the 1650s and the impression is that their following was small. (fn. 22) In 1654 a Quaker disrupted a city sermon and the movement won some support. (fn. 23) Early in 1660 George Fox attended a meeting of Friends at Gloucester. (fn. 24) Over all, however, what is striking is the success of the city fathers in stamping their own broadly Presbyterian vision of a godly commonwealth on Gloucester during the Interregnum.


  • 1. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 2.
  • 2. Ibid. 71.
  • 3. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 172; cf. Glos. Colln. JF 4. 13.
  • 4. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 321.
  • 5. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 359–66.
  • 6. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 45; Bibliotheca Glos. ii, p. cxxviii.
  • 7. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 20.
  • 8. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 455, 466.
  • 9. Ibid. p. 504; 3, p. 32; F 4/6, pp. 194, 256.
  • 10. Ibid. B 3/2, p. 459.
  • 11. Below, Churches and Chapels.
  • 12. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 327–30, 348–9.
  • 13. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 453, 801.
  • 14. S. M. Eward, Cat. of Glouc. Cath. Libr. (1972), p. vii; B.L. Add. MS. 33538, f. 61.
  • 15. Eward, Cat. of Glouc. Cath. Libr. pp. vii–viii; G.B.R., B 3/3, pp. 65–6, 97.
  • 16. G.B.R., G 3/SIb 1, p. 86; SO 2, ff. 64, 66, 80v.; SO 5; F 4/5, f. 411.
  • 17. Bibliotheca Glos. ii, pp. xci–ii.
  • 18. R. Bacon, Spirit of Prelacie Yet Working (Lond. 1646); J. Corbet, A Vindication of the Magistrates (Lond. 1646): copies in Glos. Colln. (H) B.1 (2–3); W. Lloyd, Hist of Barton Street Meeting Ho. (priv. print. 1899), 35–8.
  • 19. G.B.R., G 3/SO 2, f. 38; V.C.H. Glos. ii. 349; H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in 17th-Cent. Eng. (1951), 167–72.
  • 20. McLachlan, Socinianism, 255–7, 263–7.
  • 21. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 56.
  • 22. Life and Death of Ralph Wallis the Cobler of Glouc. (Lond. 1670), 5.
  • 23. G.B.R., G 3/SIb 2, f. 24; SO 6, ff. 55, 65.
  • 24. Fox's Jnl. ed. Penney, 352.