We believe that, per head of population, Sturton le Steeple in Nottinghamshire must qualify as one of the most influential villages in Christian history (excluding Nazareth etc….). If you don’t believe us, read on!
Most of the attention has been on Sturton as the home village of John Robinson, the ‘pastor of the Pilgrims’, who actually played a secondary role until after they had migrated to the Netherlands in 1608. Just before then, Robinson famously preached illegally in the village church and many people from Retford were charged with ‘gadding’ – illegally going to another parish!
So how does this make Sturton one of the most influential villages in Christian history, when it is less famous than, say, Scrooby? Because historians have concentrated on the ‘Mayflower’ era, they have missed the significance of this. This is because it reflects the radical tradition of the village (and the area) long before Robinson. One of the most important Protestant martyrs in England came from here – John Lassells, who was burnt in 1546 along with the much more famous Anne Askew (Ayscough) for rejecting trans-substantiation; had he lived a couple of more years, Archbishop Cranmer’s beliefs on this might have caught up with Lassells’ – and he might not have been executed. Professor Dickens referred to Lassells as the most important reformer within the Royal palaces. Lassells’ origins in Sturton reflect the impact of his guardian Sir John Hercy of Grove, an ardent local reformer, some of whose descendants from Retford were present at Robinson’s illegal sermon. The Lassells family is a fascinating tale in its own right….including their role in the execution of Queen Katherine Howard.
Barely forty years later the village sent John Smyth off to Cambridge, from which he returned as a radical nonconformist who was a leader in local separatism. He was perhaps the greatest influence on the move to the Netherlands in 1608, where he made the monumental decision to become a Baptist; his erstwhile friend Thomas Helwys then brought Baptists beliefs back to England. So we can say that Sturton is the origin of English-speaking Baptist congregations worldwide.
A few years after Smyth, John Robinson also left Sturton for Cambridge, and also followed a radical route. Coincidence? Unlikely, but we can only speculate at the local puritan gentry who handpicked bright young men to be the next generation of preachers. Smyth’s links to the Wray family we now know of, Robinson’s we are less sure of.
Robinson returned to Sturton briefly to find a bride in the White family, and of course his sister in law married John Carver and carried her Sturton memories to the New World. Intriguingly, no one knows where John Carver was from – but there were Carvers in Sturton and Robinson must have trusted him to choose him as leader….sadly the parish records have been lost. In New England they established ‘reformed’ churches on the Congregational model.
So we can probably argue that the foundation of the Congregational and Baptist traditions (refounding in the latter case, by some arguments, since Jesus was clearly a baptist) started here – but as to memorials we have a road sign (pictured), a church that was rebuilt after a fire in the 1800s, a famous Foxe print of Lassells’ execution, and for Robinson we have a house that is ‘believed’ to have been his – and a memorial in Leiden. Perhaps you can see why we say that Sturton may be one of the most influential villages in Christian history!
If you’d like to visit Sturton le Steeple, Pilgrims & Prophets are the only community tour operator who have researched the full Christian heritage of this village. While here, we also recommend going two miles down the road to Littleborough – where the first Christian baptisms ever in our local ‘kingdom’ took place in the River Trent in the 7th century. It makes the area a brilliant centre for Christian history.
See our suggested tour here: https://www.pilgrimsandprophets.co.uk/tours/mayflower-pilgrims-full-day-tour/
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