The puritans of Treswell

Treswell is another of the tiny villages (pop about 220) to be found in ‘Mayflower Pilgrims Country’, just a few miles from Sturton which was the birthplace of John Robinson, John Smyth and Robinson’s sister in law Mrs Carver who died in the first winter in America. Tiny though it still is, the puritans of Treswell have quite a significant history!

Treswell church separatists
Treswell had one church but was two parishes!

It was thus in the centre of an area which had many radical, puritan parishes. It was also a little odd in being one church with two rectors! In 1603 the wardens reported that their minister was an Oxford MA and a ‘preacher’- a good sign of a puritan. Nonetheless it clearly had people who sympathised with the nonconformists in the early 1600s as in 1608 a Mr Edwards preached here without a licence, as did none other than John Robinson. The departure of the leading ‘separatists’ to the Netherlands in 1608 did not remove all the rebels from the parishes of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. In 1610 27 parishioners of Treswell refused to attend the sermons of a new rector and were fined 1s each, which I would assume to have been the ‘East’ rector.

The West Rector appointed from 1610 was clearly of a puritan inclination. Henry Langley had been one of the successors as curate at Epworth to the famous puritan writer Richard Bernard, and was probably another Christ’s College Cambridge man, like Bernard and John Smyth. He enjoyed the support of Sir John Stanhope of Melwood Park – who left him a legacy in about 1627. Langley moved to better livings Belton in 1606 and then Treswell in 1610. In 1612 the wardens reported that ‘our parson Mr Langley does all things fitting for God’s glory and his place.’

Langley appears twice in interesting documents. In a famous exorcism case involving the charismatic preacher Richard Rothwell and a ‘possessed’ man named Fox, Rothwell sought advice by letter from Langley and Richard Bernard, vicar of Worksop, but later in Somerset. We read that:
‘…many prayers were put up to God for him [Fox], and great resort, especially of godly Ministers, to him: amongst the rest Master Bernard of Batcombe, then of Worksop; and Master Langley of Truswel, betwixt whom and John Fox, I have seen divers passages in writing, he relating by pen his temptations, and they giving answers when he was stricken dumb.’

Before the Archdeaconry Court in 1613, the churchwardens’ evidence reflected the existence of the two ministers of whom Langley was clearly the most ‘godly’:
‘We cannot tell that the canons have been read according to the first article; we have no service on Wednesdays and Fridays; he [minister] does not ordinarily wear the surplice, but he does sometimes; he omits the litany because he preaches twice every Sunday; he uses the words of the sign of the cross; Willm Lincolne, parson, is not resident with us, but is in Lincolnshire; one Mr Edwardes preached on a workday, Mr Langley knew his name; he [Langley] does not read christenings and burials in the church; our minister is a preacher……. Originall Gilbie is our schoolmaster, he came from Worksope [Worksop] and has a licence to help Mr Langley to read…. John Stirtiuant has entertained a separatist for one night or so, but he himself is a very honest man and comes duly to the church.’

Of exceptional interest here is the visit of a ‘separatist’ (and indeed the use of that word) five years after the migration of Smyth, Robinson etc to the Netherlands. ‘Gilby’ had been a member of Bernard’s congregation but even more remarkable is that Treswell had a school!

Treswell graves puritans
The Denmans were a radical puritan family in the 1550s – and some were still being buried in Treswell quite recently!

Langley and Gilby must have known the young John Viccars (1604-60) who was born in Treswell. ‘Vicars’ was mentioned in correspondence between Edward Reyner (a puritan in Lincoln) to John Cotton in 1627, along with Langley, but the actual issues have been lost. Langley died in about 1636. Viccars became vicar of St Mary’s Stamford in 1627, where he attracted huge attention by forming a separate congregation within his parish and denouncing his enemies from the pulpit – causing a major legal case as the weight of Church powers was brought down upon him to make an example of the radical puritans. Then he set out on a massive project to examine manuscript versions of the Psalms in as many eastern languages as he could find, including spending many weeks in libraries across Italy – including the Vatican. On his return he and his brother Samuel funded the printing of ‘Decapta In Psalmos’ which looked at ten languages and for which he had to pay to have Arabic and Syriac typeface created.

Treswell puritan book
John Viccars of Treswell was author of this book

Viccars was related by his sister Helen’s marriage to William Sampson, a writer born nearby in South Leverton who wrote a play with Gervase Markham. Sampson’s widow then married Obadiah Grew, an Anglican on the puritan wing who debated with Hanserd Knollys – the famous Lincolnshire Baptist leader who travelled to New England and back again. Grew spent six months in prison for nonconformity and their only son Nehemiah became a famous botanist. William Sampson and Helen had two sons; William became an academic (he refused the Mastership of Pembroke College) and rector of nearby Clayworth as well as a famous diarist whilst Henry, himself a clergyman until unable to accept the strictures of the Reformation Church, became a nonconformist minister in Suffolk and later a famous physician. He was buried at Clayworth.

The last person of interest is referenced in Calamy’s account of a persecuted godly minister seemingly brought down by his wife’s desire for a comfortable life:
‘Mr Rainbow, of Triswell, in this county, upon the Restoration, was vehemently urged by his wife to conform; but he told her it was against his conscience. When the Act took place, the clerk of the parish brought the Common Prayer Book to his house, at which he was troubled, and shook his head, saying, “Hast thou brought this gear?” He was very thoughtful about reading it, and his wife was very pressing: but he fell ill on the very Lord’s day morning, when he was obliged to read it, if he kept his living; and he died in a few days after, saying to his wife, “If thou couldst have trusted God, thou mightiest have had a living husband, and a livelihood for thyself and children; but now art like to lose both.”

Calamy Rainbow Treswell deprivation
Calamy’s account of the moral dilemma of Rev Rainbow of Treswell

Thomas Rainbow of Treswell is known to have died around 1661, which does not exactly accord with this account. It is tempting to conclude that this is the same Rainbow who had served at Blyton and then Winteringham until 1650, both of which were presented to him by the great puritan family the Wrays, and that the conforming wife in this account is in fact the redoubtable Rebecca Allen of Ludborough – the daughter of a very radical minister who was brought up to speak several languages. If so, they are the parents of Edward Rainbow who made his own journey from nonconformity to being bishop of Carlisle. And yet Calamy refers to the Rainbows having children, which this Thomas surely did not as most of his were married in the 1620s! The coincidence of surnames is strong (Blyton to Treswell is only ten miles) but I must regretfully doubt it is the same Thomas – but perhaps a relative.

Meanwhile the radical tradition continued as in 1676 there were four ‘dissenters who obstinately refuse & absent themselves from the Communion of the Church of England’. The puritans of Treswell were clearly not going to give up easily…..

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