The borough of Warwick: Nonconformity

Pages 536-538

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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section



Ten individuals were reported as 'adversaries of true religion' to the Privy Council in 1564, including Thomas Fisher, the queen's receiver, the recorder, the bailiff, the town clerk, and five burgesses. (fn. 1) Not all can be said to have been Roman Catholics, but may be considered opponents of the religious policy of the government. Three recusants were reported in St. Mary's parish in 1577, (fn. 2) and in 1582 four others, including Thomas Camel, later an assistant burgess, were mentioned as such in a taxation list. (fn. 3) A Roman Catholic priest, William Freeman alias Mason, was executed in Warwick in 1595, and in 1604 another priest, John Sugar, and a sympathizer, Robert Grissold, suffered the same fate there. (fn. 4) In 1603 the churchwardens of St. Nicholas's accounted for 'carrying another bill of presentments for the recusants to Worcester'. (fn. 5) In 1676 eleven papists were reported in the town. (fn. 6) A suspected Roman Catholic, Edward Berry, was in the mayor's custody in 1678. (fn. 7) William Eades, the Vicar of St. Mary's, apparently had Romanist tendencies and was alleged to have laid a stone in a new popish chapel in the Saltisford in 1687; (fn. 8) this may have been the demolished 'Papists' Chapel' near the Saltisford almshouses mentioned in 1737. (fn. 9) A warrant to stay process against eight Roman Catholics in the town was issued in 1687. (fn. 10)

James II's attack on boroughs in 1688 resulted, in Warwick, in the cancellation of the town's charter, and the projected replacement of the corporation. (fn. 11) The recorder and at least nine of the aldermen named in the draft were Roman Catholics, though most of them lived outside the town. Vincent Oakley, alderman and town clerk, and Laurence Standish, alderman, lived in the town, and both were presented at various times as recusants. (fn. 12) By the beginning of the 18th century there was a small but persistent Roman Catholic community. Nineteen were presented at the borough quarter sessions in 1703, eight of them from West Street ward. (fn. 13) Fifteen were presented at the Epiphany sessions of 1712, twelve at Michaelmas 1713 and fourteen at Christmas 1718. (fn. 14)

In 1791 a meeting-place in Cocksparrow Hall (now part of Bowling Green Street) was registered for worship by the priest, Charles Blount. (fn. 15) Roman Catholics are said to have attended the church at Hampton on the Hill (fn. 16) before the Church of ST. MARY IMMACULATE in West Street, Warwick, was erected in 1860. It was built from designs by E. W. Pugin and is constructed of red brick and Bath stone, in the Decorated style; it comprises chancel, nave, and aisles. (fn. 17) The presbytery adjoins the church. Nelson Hall, Wharf Street, is used (1964) as a mission hall. (fn. 18)


The ministry of Thomas Cartwright (d. 1603), the Puritan divine, in the chapel of Lord Leicester's Hospital represents the beginning of nonconformity in Warwick. (fn. 19) Several of the town clergy showed Puritan sympathies, (fn. 20) and Lord Brooke's chaplain at the castle in 1637, George Hughes, was later to be ejected from his living in Plymouth. (fn. 21)

The first mention of a congregation of dissenters in Warwick is in about 1648 when there was said to be 'a Congregational member meeting then in Warwick Castle'. In 1658 members of the Congregational chapel complained that the constable of nearby Hampton on the Hill indicted a member of the chapel for not attending his parish church; the justices were instructed to discourage such proceedings as being 'contrary to the liberty of worship allowed by law'. (fn. 22) A conventicle of a few Independents with James Cooke, a Warwick surgeon, as minister was reported in 1669 as meeting in the house of Thomas Hurd and elsewhere. Hurd's house, together with those of Richard Ange, Stephen Nicholls, and Thomas Smith, was licensed as a meeting-place in 1672. (fn. 23) The early history of this Congregational church is confused with that of the Baptists. It has been claimed that Lord Brooke was, in fact, not a Congregationalist but a Baptist, (fn. 24) and Thomas Hurd may have transferred his allegiance for he devised property to the Baptists in 1681. The Baptists may have had a separate existence from 1655, when John Jones was said to be their minister, but though there were 'some ... Anabaptists' in the town in 1669 they kept no known conventicle, and no meeting-place was licensed in 1672. For a time, and certainly in 1681, the Baptists and Congregationalists met together under James Cooke. The former were a branch of the Particular Baptist church at Hook Norton. The total number of adult nonconformists in 1676 was 139. (fn. 25)

At Cooke's death in 1688 the Independent church seems to have died out and its members may have joined the Presbyterians who were then establishing themselves. John Wilson apparently came to Warwick in 1691, (fn. 26) after the Presbyterian Board had offered £10 a year should a minister be obtained, but he died in 1695. The allowance was first reduced and then, in 1697, stopped altogether and there was no minister until 1700. Joseph Carpenter, however, remained from then until 1742, and in 1715 he is said to have had 250 hearers.

There is no record of the registration of the Presbyterian meeting-place, and it was perhaps a subsidiary meeting which was registered in 1738 at William Carter's house in Church Street. The first meeting-place is known, however, to have been a converted house which in 1780 was absorbed into the castle grounds. The church received a site in High Street in exchange, and a meeting-house was built and registered in the name of Samuel Clements in 1781. The congregation has been Unitarian since the mid 18th century, apparently following the doctrines of James Kettle, minister 1746-85. (fn. 27) The chapel was enlarged in 1863. It is in the Gothic style with gable-ends of stone ashlar.

In 1755 Susanna Gill of Coventry bequeathed £1 a year to the minister of this chapel; in 1932-3 the annual income was over £2. In 1870 Richard Greaves bequeathed £500 to the chapel's endowment fund and £500 to provide an annual payment to the then minister, after whose death it was to fall to the fund. In 1933 this gift was represented by £934 stock; part was used for the repair of the chapel in 1934 and £768 remained in 1939. The endowment fund also included, in 1939, £976 stock, part of it arising from the sale of the Kenilworth Unitarian chapel c. 1900. Three houses in High Street also formed part of the endowment; in 1947 £300 from Greaves's Charity was used to repair the houses, and in 1951 and 1954 part of the property was sold for £1,575. (fn. 28)

As a result of the Presbyterian minister's Arianism, a small Congregational element separated from the parent church about the middle of the 18th century. It met first in a room in High Street and then in a chapel built about 1758 in Cow Lane, now Brook Street. It was perhaps for this group also that the house of Henry Collins was registered for worship by Independents in 1760. (fn. 29) Thomas Collins gave a room to be used as a vestry for the chapel in 1784. (fn. 30) The chapel was several times enlarged and the existing, still larger, chapel was built on the site in 1826. (fn. 31) It contains a gallery on three sides, supported on slender pillars, and there is some Regency wall decoration. The principal elevation was designed by Thomas Stedman Whitwell. (fn. 32) A second Congregational chapel, a small red-brick building, was erected in Humphris Street, in the Emscote district, in 1837; (fn. 33) it was used as a mission hall from 1896 (fn. 34) and was still so used in 1963. The house in Warwick licensed as a meeting-place by Thomas Smith of Leamington in 1848 may be identified as the Independent chapel in Bridge Row which was still in existence in 1851. (fn. 35)

In 1779 Thomas Ashby bequeathed £200 for the benefit of the then minister of the Brook Street chapel, and two houses in High Street were bought with the money in 1784. One house was sold in 1922, and in 1928 income of £20 was received from £575 stock; the second house was sold in 1962 for £1,100. (fn. 36)

The Baptists, after meeting for a time with the Congregationalists, in 1688 received a minister, Paul Frewen, who had been ejected from his living in Gloucestershire. (fn. 37) The meeting-place was in the property on the Back Hills left by Thomas Hurd in 1681. John Bowyer, who succeeded Frewen in 1692, lived in a part of Hurd's property called Stone House, and he either converted the rest or built a new meeting-house on the north side. In addition, the houses of William Fowkes, in 1691, (fn. 38) and Joseph Sharp, in 1722, were licensed as meetingplaces, and meetings are known to have been held in other houses at this period. The chapel is said to have been replaced by a new building in about 1744. (fn. 39)

The church had 15 male members in 1702, and there were said to be 200 hearers in 1715. The membership reached 97 in 1726-34 but subsequently declined to 66 in 1734-9, 30 in 1740-6, and 54 in 1746-59. A building in St. Nicholas's parish was registered in the names of Timothy Lattimer and others in 1836, (fn. 40) and the chapel was repaired in 1840. In 1854 the membership was about 40, after members living in Leamington had formed their own church. The chapel was demolished in 1866 and a new one built on the site. It is in the Gothic style, of red brick with blue-brick and stone dressings. A Sunday school was begun in 1799 and the building adjoins the chapel.

The charity estate arising from Thomas Hurd's gift in 1681 included, in addition to the chapel and burial ground, a house which was sold in 1919. In 1945 the charity had £1,147 in stock with an annual income of £22. A house for a manse was devised to the chapel in 1951 by Elizabeth Davis, together with £4,895. The house was sold and another bought in the same year; this in turn was sold in 1961 when the total assets of the charity were £6,030. (fn. 41) A house in the Packmores district of the town was devised in 1937 by Jane Davies to be used by the chapel as a mission. It was sold in 1938, and in 1939 the endowment of £609 was directed to be used for the chapel until a mission could be established. (fn. 42)

A Meeting of Quakers was probably founded as the result of visits to Warwick by George Fox in 1655 and 1656. One Quaker was imprisoned there in 1658. (fn. 43) The property of several who opened their shops on Christmas Day 1660 was attacked. In 1666 and 1667 Fox visited Quakers imprisoned in the gaol; his last visit was in 1680. There were 140 in the gaol in 1661 and between 20 and 40 in 1666. (fn. 44).

The Quakers in the town in 1669 kept no known conventicle, but in 1671 a house in High Pavement was bought and a meeting-house later built there. (fn. 45) This building was destroyed in the fire of 1694 and the present meeting-house was built on the site in the following year. In 1689 there were at least 86 members who came from Warwick itself and from villages round about. The membership is said to have soon become 'probably not much inferior' to that of Coventry (250-300); it declined in the 18th century but remained substantial until the beginning of the 19th, when it fell rapidly. The meeting-house was closed in 1909 but was reopened in 1949 for use during the summer by the Leamington Meeting. From 1954 the Warwick Meeting has again used it for regular worship all the year round. It is a simple red-brick building with a few stone dressings.

Methodism (fn. 46) is said to have been introduced into Warwick in 1801 when a lay preacher from Yorkshire settled there. It was perhaps for Methodist meetings that the house of Henry Chlist in Castle Street was licensed for worship in 1804 by Chlist and eight others; six of those eight men had licence for a malthouse in Gaol Hall Lane in 1805. (fn. 47) In 1810 a room there was still used for meetings. A Wesleyan chapel was built in Chapel Street in about 1830 but, with a decline in membership, it was sold in 1834 and became the Borough National School. (fn. 48) The congregation met in a room in Priory Road until 1839 when a chapel was built on land called Lower Fryers in Stand Street. (fn. 49) It cost £700, and was of brick with a cemented front. (fn. 50) Another Wesleyan chapel was built in Avon Street, in the Emscote district, in about 1840. (fn. 51) This was rebuilt in 1863 (fn. 52) and was still used in 1965; it is of red brick with yellow-brick and stone dressings. The Stand Street chapel was used by the Wesleyans until 1863, when it was replaced by a chapel built in Market Street. (fn. 53) Two years later another chapel was licensed in Bowling Green Street. (fn. 54) Both were replaced by a new building, in Northgate, in 1893, and they were used as Sunday schools and for other chapel activities. (fn. 55) The Northgate chapel is a large Gothic building of red and yellow brick with stone dressings; behind it are chapel rooms built in 1960-1.

A congregation of Primitive Methodists was formed about 1850. It met in a mission room in the Market Place until 1864 when it moved into the Stand Street chapel on the removal of the Wesleyan congregation. (fn. 56) The chapel was closed in 1935. (fn. 57)

The Plymouth Brethren opened a meeting-room in Leycester Place in 1886 (fn. 58) which was licensed in 1906. (fn. 59) It was still used in 1936 (fn. 60) but not by 1963. A Gospel Hall in Cherry Street was used by the Brethren by 1888; (fn. 61) the congregation moved to a hall in the Market Place in 1910, (fn. 62) and transferred to temporary accommodation in Market Street in 1965.

The annexe to the Exhibition Buildings in Coventry Road was licensed for use by the Salvation Army from 1887 until 1896. (fn. 63) The Army was at Cherry Street from 1899 until 1902, (fn. 64) when the premises were taken over by the Latter Day Saints, who remained there until 1904. (fn. 65)

Two rooms at 4 New Street, known as Kingdom Hall, were licensed for use by the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1957. (fn. 66)


  • 1. '... Letters from the bishops to the Privy Council ...1564', Camden Misc. ix. 8.
  • 2. Misc. XII (Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii), 65. For the examination of a recusant in 1582, see Bk. of John Fisher, 114-15.
  • 3. Bk. of John Fisher, 190.
  • 4. Eng. Martyrs, 1584-1603 (Cath. Rec. Soc. v), 345-60.
  • 5. Chwdns.' Accts. St. Nicholas, ed. R. Savage, 124.
  • 6. Warws. Co. Recs. vii, p. lxxxvi.
  • 7. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1678, 520.
  • 8. WA 1/23.
  • 9. 17th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 426, p. 549 (1826-7), x.
  • 10. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1128.
  • 11. See p. 498.
  • 12. Warws. Co. Recs. viii. 8; ix. 23.
  • 13. Quarter sessions rolls (WA 1/top of box 9).
  • 14. Grand Jury presentments (WA 1/17).
  • 15. General Register Office, Worship Returns, vol. vii,no. 167.
  • 16. Ex inf. Mr. E. G. Tibbits.
  • 17. Kemp, Hist. Warw. 163.
  • 18. Cath. Dir. Archdioc. Birmingham, 133.
  • 19. Unless otherwise stated, this account is based on arecent detailed study by J. H. Hodson of nonconformityin Warwickshire between 1660 and 1750, contained inWarws. Co. Recs. viii, pp. lxix-cxxxviii.
  • 20. See pp. 524, 531.
  • 21. Calamy Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, 281.
  • 22. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1658-9, 28, 31.
  • 23. Ibid. 1672, 679.
  • 24. It was presumably on the basis of this claim that thedate 1640 was placed on the chapel demolished in 1866:see below.
  • 25. Warws. Co. Recs. vii, p. lxxxvi.
  • 26. G. E. Evans, Midland Churches, 222-23.
  • 27. J. Sibree and M. Caston, Independency in Warws. 131.Copies of lectures and letters by William Field (minister1789-1843), and of a reply to his letters, are in BirminghamRef. Libr. 67681, 73023, 73120, 136662, 189297, 344004,462899, 462900.
  • 28. Char. Com. file 115158.
  • 29. G.R.O. Worship Returns, vol. vii, no. 119.
  • 30. Kemp, Hist. Warw. 169.
  • 31. A collection of memoirs and letters by J. Moody(minister 1781-1806) is in Birmingham Ref. Libr. 516405.
  • 32. H. M. Colvin, Biog. Dict. Eng. Architects, 667.
  • 33. H.O. 129/16/403.
  • 34. Char. Com. file 58595.
  • 35. G.R.O. Worship Returns, vol. v, no. 772; 1851 map
  • 36. Char. Com. file 101250.
  • 37. See Calamy Revised, 214; V.C.H. Wilts. vii. 157.
  • 38. G.R.O., Worship Returns, vol. vii, no. 35; Warws. Co.Recs. ix. 26, where Benjamin Bowyer was to be preacheror teacher.
  • 39. Kemp, Hist. Warw. 165.
  • 40. G.R.O., Worship Returns, vol. v, no. 556.
  • 41. Char. Com. file 13088.
  • 42. Ibid. 40735.
  • 43. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1658-9, 156.
  • 44. Ibid. 1666-7, 94, 260, 270, 386; Warws. Co. Recs. vii,p. cvi.
  • 45. White, Dir. Warws. (1850), 457, says it was built onground given by Edward Tustin. Several burials hadtaken place in his garden since 1660: W.R.O., Z108/5.
  • 46. This paragraph is based largely on Kemp, Hist. Warw.172.
  • 47. G.R.O., Worship Returns, vol. vii, nos. 185, 190.
  • 48. See pp. 539-40.
  • 49. Warw. Advertiser, 13 Apr. 1839; Char. Com. file11698; H.O. 129/16/403.
  • 50. White, Dir. Warws. (1850), 457.
  • 51. H.O. 129/16/403.
  • 52. Stone in building. G.R.O., Worship Reg. 15801.
  • 53. In 1863 the chapel received in trust 12 houses inBowling Green St.: Char. Com. file 131503.
  • 54. Worship Reg. 16865.
  • 55. Kelly's Dir. Warws. (1900, 1936).
  • 56. Kemp, Hist. Warw. 173; Char. Com. files G.5.6, 11698.
  • 57. Worship Reg. 22789.
  • 58. Town council minute, 14 Sept. 1886.
  • 59. Worship Reg. 42064.
  • 60. Kelly's Dir. Warws. (1936).
  • 61. Ibid. (1888).
  • 62. Worship Reg. 44164.
  • 63. Ibid. 29946.
  • 64. Ibid. 37073.
  • 65. Ibid. 39093.
  • 66. Ibid. 66471.