Nathaniel Ponder of Rothwell


Fresh Light on the Publisher of “The Pilgrim’s Progress’’”


On October 15th, 1934, a paper was read before the London Bibliographical Society by Dr. Frank Mott Harrison on “Nathaniel Ponder, the publisher of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress.’”The town of Rothwell has been in existence at least a thousand years, for when the Domesday Book was completed, eight hundred and fifty years ago, the town was then a well organised community with two mills and its meadow and ploughed lands all estimated as to extent and owned and let and cultivated according to the then prevailing custom. Yet during the whole time since the founding of the town, of all the thousands born within its boundaries, how few have left behind them any memory of personality or life work done.

Of these few notable Rothwellians, Nathaniel Ponder is certainly one. By accident or design he hitched his business waggon to a star of the first magnitude in the literary firmament and the brilliant radiance which crowned John Bunyan as the writer of “The Pilgrims Progress” was shared in a lesser degree by Ponder and still, all these years after, sheds a mild halo over the name of the man who published the immortal allegory and gave it forth to the world.

The Bibliographical Society concerns itself more with writing about books and their publication than it does about the author’s work within their pages and this special interest of the Society attaches itself naturally more to Ponder than to Bunyan.

Dr. Harrison, a gentleman living at Hove, and an authority on bibliographical matters, has for a long time been keenly interested in the life and work of Nathaniel Ponder. His essay, which has been reprinted since by the Oxford University Press in “The Library,” contains the results of many years labour in time and thought given to his attempt to find out all that could be known about Ponder especially concerning his publication of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and the numerous law proceedings which followed the success of that remarkable work.

Dr. Harrison has made enquiries on the spot at Rothwell and all the other places connected with the object of his search, and has carried out close research in law court and other legal records and in the registers of the Stationers’ Company. This effort has brought to light much fresh information to supplement the scanty personal details of Ponder’s life known before.

But Dr. Harrison is as much interested in the writer of the book as he is in Ponder, the publisher. He is the foremost Bunyan scholar of the present day. From his unique knowledge of both the writing and the printing of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” he was chosen at the Bunyan Tercentenary in 1928 to revise and edit with additions the tercentenary or fifth edition of the late Dr. John Brown’s “John Bunyan, His Life, Times and Work,” which contained the results of forty years’ research on the part of the Bedford minister. To this are now added the conclusions of the new editor, obtained after many years’ devotion to Bunyan literature and lore In this way, Dr. Harrison’s work has secured a permanent place in the literary history of our land.After all the endeavours, however, made to acquaint us with Nathaniel Ponder’’s

The corner of Fleet Street and Chancery Lane in 1656The corner of Fleet Street and Chancery Lane in 1656.

life we are still in the dark regarding many portions of it. It is no easy matter to get a complete view of the life of this man who left Rothwell in 1656 to be apprenticed in London to the publishing trade. A few years later he started in business for himself. Success attended his efforts and by 1672, six years after the Great Fire of London which scorched his abode but did not burn him out, he had obtained a position of both reputation and influence in the great city. This is proved by the fact that people in Rothwell and other towns in Northamptonshire and elsewhere were writing to him in 1672 as to one with power to get them help from State authorities in connection ‘with changes being made in laws relating to religious matters.Ponder’s life in London covered forty three years. It is to enlighten us in regard to this period and the problems arising from it that Dr. Harrison has striven with no small success. The publisher’s earlier years in Rothwell, too, have claimed attention and this first part of his life has interest for those fond of looking into the too often obscure pages of our past local history.

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The Ponder Family


from the Kettering Leader – Friday, August 15, 1924

Glimpses of Rothwell History


The Ponder Family

For two hundred years the family of Ponder evidently played a prominent part in Rothwell affairs.

The first Ponder of which a note exists is one Nicholas Ponder, who died about 1527, but whose will is unfortunately missing from the Northampton Registry. The will of Nicholas Ponder, who died in 1573, is there, however, and it is not unreasonable to suppose he was the son of the first-named Nicholas. This will •was made on 18th August, 1573, and as there is no mention of children it is presumed Nicholas had no issue. He is there described as a husbandman, and proceeds: “I give and bequeath my soule to almigtie God my maker and redeamer and my bodie to be buried in the church of Rothwell. . . I give to the Churche of Rothwell vis. viijd. Item I give to the Schole-house xxd. I give to the Abbey bridge five theaves and to the three other bridges vs. I give and bequeath to be given to the poore in Rothwell on my buriall daye viijs. ivd. I give yearlie for so longe as my yeares last in this ferme to the poore one stryke of malte when they mend the high waies. And I give yearlie also so longe as the lease of my farme endureth iijs. iiijd. to be bestowed on Rogation Mondaie of them that goe about to sett meare stones betwixt meare and meare and neighbour and neighbour.” To his brother William he gives xxs. and to his children vs. each and a shepe apece. To his brother in law William Ley of Thorpe xs. and to his sister his (Ley’s) wife xxs. To his brother John £3 6s. 8d. Other curious bequests are the following:— “To my brother William Ponder my best coate my best doublett my best shirte my best hoose and my best Jerkyn. I give to my brother Ley my second doublett my second shirt.” To his sister Ley he gave his “best hatte to Marie Ley one brass pott that I left bought of my cousin Wall.” He makes his wife Margarie his ful texecutrix and gives her the residue. She proved the will 26th November, 1573.

Coming now to William Ponder, the brother of Nicholas, we find that he made his will on 6th November, 1579. He is described as a yeoman, and proceeds: “I give and bequeath my soule unto almightie God my Maker and Redeemer in whom I rnust be saved by his precious bloode sheddinge and my bodie to be buried in the Church of Rothwell.” To such church he gives vis. viiid. He gave “unto the mendinge of the hygh wayes yearlie one strike of malt unto the end and term of xxi years.”

Then he goes on: “Item I give iiis. iiijd., to be given amongst the people which doe goe about a fields in Rogation weeke commonly called Crossa weeke and that iijs. iiijd. to be payd yearlie for ever by hym or them that shall have the farme in occupation wherein I now dwell.” To Marie Ponder his wife and to John Ponder his brother he gave all lands which he bought of Mr. Udall during their natural lives then to Thomas Ponder his son except a cottage called the Chauntrey House adjoining the Churchyard and that he gave to Owen Ponder his son with another house in Nassington after the deaths of his wife and brother. He refers to the lease of a house and six arable lands at Thorpe Malsor, which he ultimately gave to another son, John, and gives £20 each on their marriage to his daughters Constance and Agnes and further sums of £5. He further willed that bis executors should “give unto Owen my sonne some £5 yearlie to keep him at the Universitie so long as he doth apply his books and shall bave need of the exhibition. To his son Thomas Ponder he gave a Cupboard “that standeth in the wall, the formes, and tables with all the sealinge in the hall and parlour.”

The residue of his estate he gave his wife Marie and his brother John and he made them executors. The will was proved on 3rd June, 1580.

John. Ponder, William’s brother, made his will on 3rd June, 1601. Ha does not appear to have been married, as there is no reference to children or a wife. Ha gave unto his Parish Church xxs. “when they doe begin to build the Steeple,” Legacies were given to the children of his nephews Thomas and Owen and to his sister Margery, who presumably was the wife of William Ley There was also a bequest to Elizabeth Ponder tha daughter of his nephew Thomas of his bedstead in the greate chamber and feather bed with all that belongeth thereto and one paire of sheetes. The residue went to Thomas his nephew, and tha will was proved 7th October, 1601.

Thomas Ponder, the son, of William, made his will 22nd October, 1630. He desires to be buried in the Parish Church of Rothwell neare unto his predecessors, and refers to his sons Thomas and Owen, his daughters Elizabeth, Susan, Annie and Sara. He also refers to Thomas and Mary the children of his son William and also to his brother Owen and sister Agnes Harrison. His cousins John and Elizabeth are also mentioned, The nesidue went to his son William, who as executor proved the will 26th February, 1630.

Then we have the will of Owen Ponder, presumably the son of William Ponder, which was proved 30th April, 1661. He refers to his eldest son Ralph his .second son John, and his youngest son Thomas, and to his wife Dorothy, to whom he gave all his goods and chattels and all his houses for life and towards the bringing up of his children and the finding of such trades as their dispositions stand to. This Owen is probably the Owen Ponder who at the Church Survey of 14th September, 1637 did “confess that sometymes he doth not stand up at the gospell And doth not bow when the blessed name of Jesus is mentioned” and he “being admonished to conform therein for the tyme to come” answered obstinately “that he would not tell whether he would reform or noe.”

There is, too, the will of Ralph Ponder of Rowell Labourer dated 28th March 1663 (proved at Kettering 7th April 1671) who refers to his wife Anne and his daughters Elizabeth, Dorothy and Anne. Also the will of Thomas Ponder of Rowell Gentleman dated 4th March, 1730, in which he mentions his late brother-in-law the. Lord Chief Baron Ward, and his grandchildren, the daughters of his late son-in-law John York, who was Vicar of Rothwell 1690—94, and Rector of Stoke Doyle 1717—30. The will was proved 24th April, 1752, and the inventory was sworn at £408 0s. 1 1/2 d.

Which Ponder was the founder of Ponder’s Charity does not appear from any will. The Commissioners in their report of 1830 state that “six small tenements which were erected in or about the year 1714 by T. Ponder Gentleman were appropriated by him, together with three roods of land adjoining, for the use of the poor widows of Rothwell,” and it seems just possibly that the Ponder in question was the one just mentioned as having died in 1732. Paul Cypher states that in the Lady Chapel is a monumental inscription, scarcely legible, to the memory of Thomas Ponder, the founder of the Almshouses. This stone is still in existence, but the inscription is now indecipherable.

These wills are interesting, as are numerous entries in the Church registers, but it is most difficult to construct a pedigree from them.

John Ponder was a notable member of the family. Exactly what relation he was, however, to the Ponders already mentioned it is at present impossible to say. He was quite a sturdy Puritan. In 1634 or thereabouts he was charged with divers offences connected with religious exercises and opinions which did not accord with the views then current. He was one of the founders of the Independent Church at Rothwell, and was the first elder. He was apparently in a good way of business as a chandler, and issued two tokens, one dated 1655 and the other 1664. These are illustrated, being reproduced from a plate, in Bridge’s “Northants” of the Dash Collection of Tokens. He made a nuncupative will on 7th April, 1665. He is there described as a chaundler, and he thereby gave Dorothy Ponder his wife all his messuage at Rothwell and goods for the purpose of portions for his children, that is to say. his son John £5, son Nathaniel 5s., and to the rest of his children, Susanna, Elizabeth, Mary, Martha, Dorothy, Sarah, and Thomas to each of them £50 to be paid on days of marriage. His wife was appointed executrix. Dorothy Ponder died soon after, however. She made her will on 22nd May, 1665, in which, after referring to her husband’s will and desiring that its provisions should be carried out and the por¬tions paid, directed that her son John was to receive £45 more.

The burial entries are:—”1665, 10 April John Ponder Chaundler.” “1665 28 May Dorothy Ponder widdow.” It will be noted that Nathaniel Ponder is only left 5s. He was probably well provided for, however, as he is believed to be the London publisher of many of John Bunyan’s works, though the publisher in question is described as the son of John Ponder, of Rothwell, mercer, and was apprenticed to Robert Gibbs, Bookseller, of London, on 2nd June, 1656. He it was who first published the “Pilgrim’s Progress” in 1678 at the sign of the Peacock, in the Poultry, near the Church. The eleventh edition was the last which came out in his name. The twelfth, issued in 1689, bore the name of Robert Ponder. Nathaniel Ponder was, says Dr. Brown, in his “Life of Bunyan,” “knewn among his brother craftsmen of the Stationer’s Company as ‘Bunyan Ponder.’ He was an agreeable man to have dealings with. He had ‘sweetness and enterprise in his air which plead and anticipate in his favour.'” Nathaniel was “also the publisher in 1679 of “A Treatise of the Fear of God”; and “The Life and Death of Mr. Badman” in 1680. He did not escape trouble in respect of some of his religious publications, but he was quite an active Independent, and took steps to obtain licences for several local Nonconformists in 1672.

The Rev. H. Isham Longden, M.A., to whom thanks are due for his assistance, states that on 15th October. 1666, a licence was issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury for “Nathaniel Ponder of St. Dunstans West Citizen and Stationer bachelor about 26 to marry Mary Guy of Isham Spinster about 20, with the consent of her Father.” There is moreover, says Mr. Longden, an entry in the Kettering register of the baptism on 14th May, 1645, of Mary, daughter of Robert Guy Gentleman; while on the 17th October, 1687, there is an entry in the Rothwell register of the burial of Elizabeth Ponder, daughter of Mr. Nathaniel Ponder of London.

Mr. Longden mentions two other Ponders First, Samuel Ponder, who was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, matriculated 1655 and took his B.A. 1659-60. He is spoken of in Calamy as a Northampton man eminent for piety and humility. A Samuel Ponder buried at Rothwell 4th December, 1662, may have been the Samuel in question. Secondly, there is William Ponder, of Clare Hall, Cambridge, B.A., 1629-30, M.A. 1633, who intruded as Rector of Courteenhall 6th May, 1648, and was buried there 18th December, 1660. Whether he was a Rothwell man cannot be stated.


The Tradesmen’s Tokens here illustrated are three out of the five issued by Rothwell tradesmen. They are shown about double the actual size. The centre of the obverse in Ponder’s earlier Token represents a row of candles, while in the centre of the reverse in the 1664 one are the letters “O.B.,” an abbreviation for “obulus”—a halfpenny. The obverse of the Bebee Token has a wheatsheaf.

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Prayer Call of 1784


as presented by John Sutcliff to the Baptist Association assembled on 2-3 June 1784.

Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottingham, respecting meeting for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion, and earnestly implore a revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer, and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of His Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously RESOLVED, to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday in every calendar month.

We solemnly exhort all the churches in our connexion, to engage heartily and perseveringly in the prosecution of this plan. And thus it may be well to endeavour to keep the same hour, as a token of our unity therein, it is supposed the following scheme may suit many congregations, viz, to meet on the first Monday evening in May, June and July from 8 to 9. In Aug. from 7 to 8; Sept. and Oct. from 6 to 7; Nov. Dec. Jan. and Feb. from 5 to 6; March from 6 to 7; and April from 7 to 8. Nevertheless if this hour, or even the particular evening, should not suit in particular places, we wish our brethren to fix on one more convenient to themselves.

We hope also that as many of our brethren who live at a distance from our places of worship may riot be able to attend there, that as many as are conveniently situated in a village or neighbourhood, will unite in small societies at the same time. And if any single individual should be so situated as not to be able to attend to this duty in society with others, let him retire at the appointed hour, to unite the breath of prayer in private with those who are thus engaged in a more public manner.

The grand object in prayer is to be, that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the Name of God glorified. And at the same time remember, we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies, or to your own immediate Connection; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the Gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests.

We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own and other denominations will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequence of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His Word, which relate to the future success of His Gospel.

He has said:

“I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock” Ezek 36 v 37.

Surely we have love enough to Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare.


In October 1744 a number of evangelical ministers in Scotland had committed themselves, together with their congregations, to pray regularly and corporately for revival. Regular times were spent in prayer to God for “abundant effusion of his Holy Spirit” so as to “revive true religion in all parts of Christendom” to “deliver all nations from their great and manifold spiritual calamities and miseries” and to “fill the earth with His Glory”. These ‘Concerts of Prayer’ ran for several years.

Jonathan Edwards, the great revivalist of Northampton, Massachusetts, sought to implement similar prayer gatherings in the New England colonies. In a sermon he gave in February 1747 on Zechariah 8:20-22 Edwards demonstrated how the text supported his call for a union of praying Christians. He followed this up by writing his famous paper “An Humble Attempt to promote Explicit Agreement of God’s people in Extraordinary Prayer for the revival of real religion and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, pursuant to Scripture promises and prophecies concerning the last Time.” Edwards adopted the Scottish practice of calling for a quarterly united effort, and where possible for ministers, for a definite period each week.

“An Humble Attempt” fired the zeal of the Baptist Pastor in Olney, John Sutcliff, who undertook a reprint. This proved a tremendous encouragement to the Baptist churches of the Northamptonshire Association in the whole matter of praying for revival, and led to issuing ‘The Prayer Call of 1784’. This Prayer Call saw the launch of monthly gatherings for prayer throughout the Association which carried on well in to the following century. They also served as the foundation stone for the forming of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 and the launching of the ‘modem mission movement’ which has led to the transformation of societies and nations.

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The Puritan Influence in Northants 1540 – 1610


“Puritans were the hotter sort of Protestants” Percival Wibum

This was a local vicar’s comment about his friends who included wealthy farmers, schoolteachers and other churchmen. These friends were committed to applying biblical, evangelical teaching to the life of their communities, in order to establish godliness of thought and lifestyle. They wanted to root out ‘Romanist superstition and heresy’ for they desired a purity of faith and life, as preached by John Calvin in Geneva -to bring the Kingdom of God to their country.

Men like Dr Dod of Fawsley, who, with the strong support of wealthy neighbours, the Knightley family of Fawsley near Daventry, preached and wrote ‘tracts’ that had national influence, upsetting bishops and Queen Elizabeth herself.

Thomas Brown, founder of the Brownists [unfavourably commented upon by Shakespeare in “Twelfth Night”] is commemorated in St Giles’ churchyard, Northampton. Brown’s influence on those who emigrated to America encouraged them to keep their religious freedom; these emigrants we remember as the Pilgrim Fathers.

However, there were dozens of less well known men who preached reforming sermons, especially on market days in local market towns like Northampton, Oundle and Kettering. They spread the gospel of godliness in local communities, much to the concern of the Bishop of Peterborough and some local leaders.

Northamptonshire’s closeness to the hotbeds of reforming groups – the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and the Inns of Court in London – meant local landowners could appoint likeminded men to local parish churches and as tutors arid schoolteachers. These men drew together in the main towns to encourage one another, disciple each other and keep pushing forward their views at ‘prophesyings’. The authorities viewed this as having a church within a church and saw these men as a threat; especially when there were proposals to have lay elders and deacons to promote godly teaching and life in some parishes. Some Roman Catholic landowners, like the Treshams of Rothwell, reacted strongly and became involved in the Gunpowder Plot [1605]. Most of the populace though, were little Influenced by these ‘hotter Protestants’ unless they had experienced the impact of Puritan teaching in their local parish.

Bishop Scrambler was initially sympathetic and encouraged them but later tried to curb the disturbances that the doctrinal teachings of these reformers caused. On some occasions, Puritan politicians, like the Earl of Leicester, would intervene. The Bishop’s problems increased in times of crisis -bad harvests and even an earthquake prompted the Puritans to call for repentance, prayer and fasting at their market day services. When Puritan clergy were deprived of their appointments they often remained in the locality or moved to an area nearby as schoolteachers. Local Puritans used such men as teachers of their children, to bring them up in the fear and nurture of God’s word. One thing the Bishop did have to acknowledge was that the Puritan parishes were outstanding for pastoral care, standards of behaviour and diligence of preaching and teaching.

Northampton was at the heart of these activities with several Puritan clergy in the town, including at All Saints and St Giles. Close at hand in Weston Favell, Hardingstone and Collingtree were more like-minded brethren who met for the ‘prophesyings’ at All Saints. Along the Nene valley at Earls Barton, Whiston and Doddington were more Puritan leaders and Whiston was a focus of activity [and concern for opponents] because Isabel Catesby, a local landowner, promoted meetings. Puritans who were in parishes with ‘superstitious clergy’ would ride over to Whiston to receive communion and teaching from Percival Wibum. Eleven out of the fifteen market towns had Puritan preachers who used their strategic position to preach biblical truth and lifestyle. There were also dozens of parishes across the county where godly clergy and landowners promoted these doctrines. Even though there were internal disagreements between different Puritans who held varying understandings of scripture, all united to emphasise the need for real change based upon an evangelical Interpretation. This love for gospel truth and godliness of life enriched the local churches and meant that families were brought up to value what the Puritans had grasped and struggled to establish. The Independents, the ‘children of Puritanism’, are evidence of this when at Castle Hill Chapel In Northampton, 1695, the following covenant was made –

‘We, this church of Christ, whose names are underwritten, having given up ourselves to the Lord and to one another according to the will of God, do promise and covenant, in the presence of God, to walk together in all the laws and ordinances of Christ, according to the rules of his gospel”.

Shiels [1] records that it was to this congregation that Philip Doddndge, who was encouraged in his youth by Hugh Clarke, a grandson of the Puritan minister of Oundle, was called in 1729. Doddridge personified the continuation and development of the evangelical! biblical tradition and life within Northamptonshire.

We owe a great debt to these men and women who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, seeking truth and applying it to lifestyle, built on the influence of Wycliffe’s Lollard preachers and became increasingly influential in Northamptonshire. This influence was also felt in London and then over in America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Puritans left ‘ a good deposit in many towns and villages where people searched the scriptures, listened to biblical preaching, catechised their families and were willing to be called to account for their commitment. The influence and inheritance of these men and women was notable and prepared the way for later evangelical Anglican and Non-Conformist preachers, evangelists and missionaries.

The preaching, personal discipling and calls for repentance with prayer and fasting of the Puritans are of timeless significance and remain a challenge in the 21st century.

The Puritans’ dream was to overturn the government of the bishops and rebuild the Church of England on the Presbyterian model of Calvin’s Geneva or John Knox’s Scotland.

The movement was strong in Northamptonshire: it has been said that “there was no county in England where Puritanism gained such a stronghold, or made such an open demonstration of Its objects and methods”.

In 1571, Puritan influence was strong in Northampton with regular religious exercises known as “prophesyings”, and for a century the town was a Puritan hotbed. This may well have been because there was an old strain of opposition to religious orthodoxy which went back to the Lollards. It certainly had a lot to do with the connection between the spread of new religious ideas and the growth of trade; the great fairs in London and the provincial towns were ideal settings for the dissemination of ideas from the continent.

Puritanism was encouraged by Sir William Cecil, Bishop Edmund Scrambler of Peterborough, George Carleton of Overstone and Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley.

Northampton became a nursery of “Independency” or Congregationalism (the religion of Oliver Cromwell). Archbishop Laud remarked, “In no other county In England was there probably the same extreme defiance of rubrics, order and doctrine, as was the case of some of the parishes in Northants”. Greenall comments that this was especially the case in All Saints, Northampton.

John Lawes


Extracts and summaries from the book “A History of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough”. R.L.Greenall 1979

[1] For further details refer to a Northamptonshire Record Society Book ‘Puritans In the Diocese of Peterborough’ by W.J.Shiels [Northampton 1979] ISBN 0 901275 409

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Thank God for the Moravians! ……Who? ……Why?

Carey…   Doddridge…   Arnold… all men that God used to extend His Kingdom in Northampton and beyond and who had been influenced by a group of believers based in Germany, led by Count Zinzendorf.

As a community, they committed themselves to pray twenty-four hours a day for every day of the year for the evangelisation of the world and this continued for over 100 years. To reach slaves, two became slaves so that “the Lamb might receive the reward of His sufferings.”

No wonder Carey quoted from their reports to reinforce his case for modern missions to be initiated, in the meeting at Kettering in 1792.

Doddridge corresponded with the Moravians regularly. When his daughter was seriously ill a member of the Moravians came and prayed for her healing and the Lord restored her to Doddridge’s delight. He had seen members of his church joining the Moravian congregation because of the ‘life’ there. Thomas Arnold of Castle Hill was born into a Moravian family and was noted for his ministry to deaf mutes in the town, as well as his preaching.

The Moravians exerted an influence out of all proportion to their numbers and were ‘salt and light’ in Northampton. They preached to the prisoners in the County gaol in the town, where up to 200 prisoners were kept and there are records of 1,500 hearing the gospel in the yard of the gaol (total population of Northampton at

that time, the 1780’s, was about 10,000). They found acceptance because of their charitable work and the influential citizens of the town, such as Mr Thursby of Abington (Thursby Road) invited them into their homes.

They sought to be self-supporting; creating businesses that not only supported them but brought them into intimate contact with people. If the circumstances did not allow this then other Moravian communal settlements with their crafts and industries would support them out of their profits.

Local Moravians were helped financially by the large Moravian Community in Bedford which also sent over preachers who helped found churches in Woodford Halse, Culworth and Eydon in the west of the county. Their lively singing attracted people to their meetings which were held, from 1769, in their church building at 11 St Giles Street (now under the Town Hall extension). They also had a school.

Their mission was evangelism across the world — “we do not wish to draw people away from their own churches but to preach with the divine promised presence the common salvation of lost sinners through the blood of the Son of God”. It was rooted in prayer and evidenced in ‘doing good’ without regard to denomination.

It is little wonder that God used them in challenging Wesley — who was going to evangelise in America before being converted himself. “I went to America to convert the Indians but oh! who shall convert me?” In 1738 the gospel was preached to John Wesley at the Moravian Church in Fetter Lane, London. The famous entry in his journal records: ‘/

felt my heart strangely warmed, / felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

The Countess of Huntingdon, another prominent Christian who financed preachers and churches in the eighteenth century was also brought to Christ through Moravians. What is the significance of these people who received public thanks, from the mayor and other prominent people for their works in the town?

  • They were rooted in prayer.

  • Christ was their focus and goal.

  • They recognised God’s heart for the world and were therefore mission minded.

  • They showed the gospel went hand in hand with ‘doing good’.

  • Young people were taught the Bible systematically.

  • They sought fellowship with all who loved the Lord and His Word.

  • They demonstrated life in their worship.

They were just one group of Christians in late eighteenth century Northampton that acted as a catalyst for change.

God’s principles do not change, though congregations come and go.

He honours dependency on Himself!

The Moravian Church

Led by Count Zinzendorf [1700-1760], began in 1734 a mission work that was to have profound effects throughout the Christian world. They were noted for their prayerful, patient approach as ‘assistants to the Holy Spirit’.

Their German home base was called Herrnhut [the Lord’s watch], famous for being the centre for over 100 years of ‘Prayer Wall’; 24 hour, 7 day a week prayer.

Sixty years before Carey went to India and over 100 years before Hudson Taylor went to China, two Moravian missionaries landed in the Caribbean. Twenty years later in 1752, Moravians were in Algeria, Sri Lanka, China, Iran, Ethiopia and Labrador.

The Moravians were weak in developing leaders, planting churches and their missionaries short on adequate preparation. They had some ‘different’ theological perspectives. If you met them today you might choose to write them off but perhaps this quote sums up what we can team from them:

“The Moravian Church was the first among Protestant churches to treat this (missionary) work as the responsibility of the church as a whole instead of leaving It to societies or specially interested people.” J.R.Weinlick.

Moravian missionaries were purposely sent to the most despised and neglected people and like many missionaries since, faced disease and possible death. In Guyana, 75 out of the first 160 missionaries died from tropical disease. A line from a hymn written by a Greenland missionary expressed their heart:

“Lo through ice and snow, one poor lost soul for Christ to gain; Glad we bear want and distress to set forth the Lamb once slain”.

Their missionary obedience was essentially glad and spontaneous, motivated by a deep passion and love for Christ. This led them to face the most incredible difficulties and dangers with remarkable courage.

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Philip Doddridge


When Philip Doddridge was born on 26 June 1702 he appeared stillborn. Already out of his 19 brothers and sisters only one, a sister, had survived infancy. Yet a slight movement of the body indicated a breath of life and he survived. Born somewhere in London, Doddridge was taught by a devout mother, so that he was familiar with Bible stories depicted on the glazed Delft tiles of the fireplace long before he could read.

The death of his mother when he was only eight followed by his father four years later left him an orphan. Even his dear uncle Philip from whom his name was derived died in 1715. Taken under the care of a guardian who squandered his inheritance, Doddridge was eventually cared for by the Rev Samuel Clark, a Presbyterian minister from St Albans, who helped him secure a place in the Dissenting Academy at Kibworth in Leicestershire. Doddridge had joined Clark’s church at the age of sixteen.

Since the Great Ejectment from their posts of Puritan ministers, university dons and schoolmasters in 1662, many had established schools. These Dissenting Academies brought about a flowering of education with a broad and exciting curriculum. The Kibworth Academy was of high quality and Doddridge relished his life as a student, reading widely and enthusiastically. He established the practice of rising early at 5am to begin the day which he occupied with varied and useful activity; it was a habit which he continued throughout his life.

Once training for ministry was completed in 1723 Doddridge accepted the pastorate in Kibworth then moved to Market Harborough. In an age when death from illnesses such as tuberculosis and smallpox was common Doddridge was soon called upon to undertake the principalship of the Academy itself, as its young principal had died. Agreeing to this and preparing to set up the Academy in Market Harborough Doddridge astounded everyone by announcing his move to the Castle Hill Church in Northampton.

He duly arrived in the town on Christmas Eve 1729 and set up home in the manse in Marefair at the comer of Pike Lane. The academy students were to live in the house with him. Thus began an energetic ministry, ambitious in its scope and remarkable in its effectiveness. Doddridge’s ministry had many facets. His work in the Academy later moved to Sheep Street (part of the building still survives) and produced many able ministers, lecturers and others from all denominations.

The rules of the Northampton Academy were copied by the developing universities such as Yale and Princeton in the United States. Students were taught to write in shorthand which itself influenced the development of Pitman shorthand. Doddridge encouraged a school for boys in Bridge Street and had plans for developing education for girls. He was greatly exercised in bringing Scripture into the home, making parents responsible for spiritual teaching, and influencing children and young people to build up the church of the future.

The Castle Hill meeting house saw him in action as a minister who taught with passion and tenderness. Illustrating his sermons with hymns Doddridge became an important influence upon the development of hymnody as a vehicle for the social implications of the Gospel. Influenced by his friend Isaac Watts, Doddridge helped in establishing congregational hymn singing as an acceptable part of worship. Doddridge also published sermons at his own expense in order to influence society more widely.

His daughter died in infancy and he published his funeral sermon for her in order to help other parents who were similarly suffering.

In publishing a pamphlet written by one of his own students who had died of smallpox Doddridge succeeded in changing public opinion in favour of inoculation against disease. It is to Doddridge that Northampton owes the foundation of the General Hospital as well as its defence against the invasion by the Jacobites in 1745. He was a defender of religious liberty and became nationally famous for his defence of the rights of Dissenters to have schools. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Aberdeen University in 1736.

In the time between getting up at 5am and having his breakfast Doddridge pursued a literary career, writing influential books. Considered one of the greatest works of the 18th century his Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (still in print) influenced many people. One such was the antislavery campaigner William Wilberforce. Another of Doddridge’s great writings was The Family Expositor, a translation of the New Testament with commentaries and devotional exercises, the first work of its kind, remained popular for over a century. William Carey made use of it when translating the New Testament into Bengali. Carey himself had been baptised in the River Nene, having made use of Doddridge’s vestry at Castle Hill because of its proximity to the river. Carey was undoubtedly influenced by Doddridge’s passion for overseas mission.

A generation before Carey, Doddridge had preached on The Evil and Danger of Neglecting the Souls of Men; such passion was to re-emerge in Carey’s famous Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathens and the formation of the BMS in 1792.

Carey by single-minded determination brought Protestant missionary endeavour to global dimensions, yet it was men like Doddridge who prepared the soil and first sowed the little grain of future enterprises.

Doddridge died at the early age of 49 years. Yet he had packed into those years a multitude of service that served as a burning and shining light to all. The Evangelical Movement owes much to his quiet yet far-reaching influence through his writings, teaching and hymns thus reaching all classes and sections of provincial society and transforming Dissent and even the Church of England. His influence lives on. The tercentenary of his birth will be celebrated in 2002.

Malcolm Deacon
Minister, Castle Hill Church


Philip Doddridge of Northampton by Malcolm Deacon. Published by Northamptonshire Libraries. 1980. The Church on Castle Hill by Malcolm Deacon. Published by Park Lane Publishing 1995.

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