The seventeenth century: Religious Life after 1642

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'The seventeenth century: Religious Life after 1642', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 95-97. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "The seventeenth century: Religious Life after 1642", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 95-97. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "The seventeenth century: Religious Life after 1642", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 95-97. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,

Religious Life after 1642

The solid tradition of puritan teaching in the town before 1642 probably bore fruit in the comparative calm which characterized religious affairs during the Civil War and Interregnum, in contrast to the situation in Hull. The minster curate began to preach regularly to the congregation at St. Mary's and the link between his assistant and the grammar school was maintained. On a limited scale, however, there were changes occasioned by local warfare, diversity of opinions, and parliamentary ordinances. Damage had to be made good at St. Mary's and expensive repairs were required at the minster. (fn. 1) The church of St. Nicholas was also in disrepair, partly perhaps because of military action, and in the 1640s the corporation began to press for the parish to be united with the minster or St. Mary's. (fn. 2) There is no indication of local enthusiasm for the sects. George Fox spoke, however, in one of the town churches in 1651, much impressing some of his hearers, and from the 1650s Quakers met in Beverley. (fn. 3)

In addition to issuing occasional Sabbatarian orders and to listing the small number of Roman Catholic recusants in the town, (fn. 4) the corporation remained responsible for the management of parochial funds and the appointment of clergy. In both fields there were notable changes. Following the sequestration of Crown and ecclesiastical revenues, stipends were augmented and funds for the maintenance of clergy and church fabrics were received between 1645 and 1660 from diverted fee-farm rents, the tithes of Molescroft, and the sequestered revenues of several East Riding churches. (fn. 5) Some of the beneficiaries enjoyed the payments only briefly because of changes consequent upon the national upheaval in church affairs. At St. Mary's the vicar Nicholas Osgodby was ejected for his opinions by 1644. He was followed by Joseph Wilson, a Presbyterian highly regarded as a preacher, who was deprived in 1653 and left for the living at Hessle. (fn. 6) Among well known puritan clergy who preached in Beverley during the period were three masters of the grammar school, Christopher Nesse, Francis Sherwood, and Robert Steele, besides the disputatious John Shawe from Hull. (fn. 7) A lecturer at St. Mary's was the distinguished former Oxford don John Oxenbridge, an apparently popular preacher of Independent religious views, who helped to negotiate the surrender of Scarborough castle (Yorks. N.R.). (fn. 8) Two other ministers deserve mention. John Pomroy was assistant at the minster from 1647 until his death in 1658 but had taught and preached in Beverley since the 1620s. James Burney, incumbent at the minster from 1632, proved acceptable to the authorities after 1642: he preached weekly at St. Mary's and certified prospective ministers to the Triers during the 1650s, when in his seventies, and continued in office until he died in 1660. (fn. 9) The ministries of Pomroy and Burney are likely to have contributed to the stable religious life of the town during the Civil War and Interregnum.

The Restoration brought a more dramatic turn of events in church affairs. At St. Mary's Wilson's successor Samuel Ferris lost first his augmentation and then his appointment; he was obliged to make way for Nicholas Osgodby, the pre-war vicar, although there was apparently competition from another candidate, Elias Pawson. (fn. 10) It was Pawson who eventually became the incumbent at the minster, but only after a sharp dispute. Soon after Burney's death the corporation promoted to the incumbency Humphrey Sainthill, who had been chosen as assistant in 1659. Later there was division in the corporation over the future incumbent, some favouring Joseph Wilson and others Pawson. Early in 1662 Wilson preached at the minster and on one occasion his supporters created a disturbance there; his rival was refused admission and the mayor called in the militia to restore order. Before the end of the year, however, Sainthill had been ejected and Pawson confirmed in the living. (fn. 11)

Both churches were by then being restored for Anglican worship. At the minster plate was returned from the mayor's safe keeping, new pews, begun in 1659, were finished and sold, a new pulpit was installed, and orders were given for the interior to be 'beautified', the work including the decoration of the chancel walls with texts and the setting up of royal arms. (fn. 12) During repair to the fabric the tomb of St. John of Beverley was disturbed and then replaced, with a new inscription. (fn. 13) At St. Mary's there were similar embellishments, including the gilding of the eagle, or lectern. The earlier discussions about the future of St. Nicholas's parish were revived and concluded in 1667 with the decision to unite the living with that of St. Mary's. (fn. 14)

Of the Anglican clergy after the Restoration, Pawson was sufficiently effective to earn the esteem of the corporation, and the assistant at the minster, Joseph Lambert, became a highly influential master at the grammar school. (fn. 15) There was, however, determined competition from nonconformist ministers who preached at first openly, later clandestinely, among them John Shawe and Joseph Wilson. Four of the governors displaced in 1662 refused to take the Anglican oaths and two of them, William Coulson and Timothy Grey, were ringleaders in the attempt to secure the minster incumbency for Wilson; more than 30 townspeople were, moreover, involved in the disturbance there. The ecclesiastical visitations disclosed increasing numbers of non-attenders at the churches, despite the apparent reluc tance of churchwardens to present nonconformist absentees. Only one nonconformist preacher and one meeting place were licensed in 1673, but by 1676 it was estimated that there were 122 protestant dissenters in Beverley and the outlying townships, a figure higher than the numbers presented at visitations, and the conventicles were sufficiently well organized to have their own clerk, (fn. 16) Nonconformist sympathies were again evident during the Exclusion Crisis. Secret meetings of townsmen and nonconformist ministers were held, there was agitation against popery, and magistrates were reluctant to enforce the laws against protestant dissenters. At least four capital burgesses were dismissed in 1680 and 1683 for not receiving the sacrament and several nonconformist sympathizers were removed from office by the new charter of 1685, notably the governors William Coulson and William Wilberforce and the recorder Sir Edward Barnard, all of whom had been regularly presented for absence from church. (fn. 17)

When James II's government replaced members of the corporation in 1688 in pursuit of dissenting support for its religious policy, two of the nominated aldermen, Thomas Milner and John Sugden, seem to have been nonconformists. The new recorder Thomas Alured, moreover, came of a strongly nonconformist family and three of the new capital burgesses had been presented for nonconformist offences, including, in John Gorwood's case, deliberate irreverence in church. Royal favour, however, was matched by local opposition; (fn. 18) there is no evidence of support for the king's romanizing policy and Catholic recusants remained a small, quiet community in later Stuart Beverley. The attitude of the Anglican clergy to both James II's measures and the Glorious Revolution was similarly undemonstrative. The vicar of St. Mary's, John Brereton, who gave plate, the Book of Common Prayer, and coats of arms for the guildhall to the corporation in 1684, was obliged to resign in 1689, not because of doctrinal disagreements but for the embezzlement of funds. (fn. 19) The incumbent at the minster, Stephen Clark, continued his ministry undisturbed from 1678 to 1703, (fn. 20) and neither there nor at St. Mary's did any of the clergy refuse to accept the new order in Church and State. It was left to the nonconformists to take advantage of it: the Quakers built their own meeting house, and another congregation, probably Presbyterian, assembled openly with its own minister. (fn. 21) The hostile comments about the latter congregation recorded by the assistant curate at the minster bear further witness to the vitality of dissent in the town's irretrievably divided religious life. (fn. 22)


  • 1. Ibid. BC/II/6/58; BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 91v.-92; E. Hope, Guide to Ch. of St. Mary, Beverley (1927), 10-11.
  • 2. Below, Churches.
  • 3. Below, Prot. Nonconf
  • 4. H.R.O., BC/II/6/65; BC/II/7/4/1, f. 95v.
  • 5. Bodl. MS. 322. ff. 36-9; 324, ff. 245, 275; 328, f. 268; 329, ff. 541-2; W. A. Shaw, Hist. of Eng. Ch. 1640-60, ii. 506, 563, 598; below, Churches; Outlying Townships (Molescroft, Manors).
  • 6. Walker Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, 396; Calamy Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, 537.
  • 7. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 100; Yorks. Diaries & Autobiographies, i (Sur. Soc. lxv), 136; J, Lawson, Town Grammar Sch. through Six Cent. 86; below, Education.
  • 8. Below, Churches.
  • 9. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 88; ibid. PE/129/3; Calamy Revised, 394; Walker Revised, 390; Boro. Rec. 118, 121; Lawson, Town Grammar Sch. 82-3.
  • 10. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 101 and v.; Boro. Rec. 125; Walker Revised, 125, 396; Restoration Exhibit Bks. and Northern Clergy, 1662-4, ed. W. J. Sheils, 81; Marchant, Puritans and Ch. Cts. 267; A. Gordon, Freedom after Ejection, 214.
  • 11. Boro. Rec. 121, 127; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1661-2, 379; Restoration Exhibit Bks. 79; Calamy Revised, 537.
  • 12. H.R.O., BC/II/6/70; BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 100v., 101v.; Boro. Rec. 119-20, 124-5, 128-9.
  • 13. Boro. Rec. 135, 141.
  • 14. Poulson, Beverlac, 746-7; below. Churches.
  • 15. Boro. Rec. 143, 158; below, Education.
  • 16. R. M. Faithorn, 'Nonconf. in later 17th Cent.' (Leeds Univ. M.Phil, thesis, 1982), 85-6, 118, 186, 195, 204-6, 241, 243, 291, 693, 885-6; below, Prot. Nonconf.
  • 17. Cal. S.P. Dom. July-Sept. 1683, 173, 199, 219; Boro. Rec. 166, 171; Faithorn, op. cit. 291-3, 304, 397, 412, 887; below (Chart. and Town Govt.).
  • 18. Faithorn, op. cit. 311, 315; below (Chart. and Town Govt.).
  • 19. Below, Churches; Rom. Cath.
  • 20. Boro. Rec. 163, 191.
  • 21. Below, Prot. Nonconf.
  • 22. Poulson, Beverlac, 710-11.