Nathaniel Ponder of Rothwell


Nathaniel Ponder was born in Rothwell in 1640 five years before the battle of Naseby was fought. His father was John Ponder, who was in business in Rothwell as a chandler or general dealer. Copper trade tokens stamped with a row of candles and his name and date still exist. He was a man of thoughtful and independent mind and with other Puritans in Rothwell was many times summoned before the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for refusing to obey the religious laws then in force. John Ponder, with his friends, took a leading part in founding the Rothwell Independent Church and his name stands on the church roll as the first appointed elder following the name of John Beverly, the first minister of the church.

The Ponders held an important place in Rothwell life through several generations at least. The name occurs again and again, though often we are ignorant of the relationship existing between those who bear it. Our knowledge in this direction has been much increased by the family records brought to light through the interest and research of Mr. F. W. Bull.

One notable bearer of the name was a certain T. Ponder who, about 1714, left six small tenements together with three roods of land adjoining for the use of the poor widows of Rothwell. This Ponder, at any rate, was a man of some means. He was probably the same person as a Thomas Ponder, gentleman, who died in 1732, and whose social position was such that his sister married the Lord Chief Baron Ward and his daughter, Mary, became the wife of John York, who was Vicar of Rothwell from 1690 to 1694.

From this date we must go back about forty years to pick up again what threads we can of Nathaniel Ponder’s early life. He was sixteen years of age in 1656 when his father, John Ponder, with his friends. John Cooper, John Fox, Thomas Wells and others, were forming the Rothwell Independent Church.

As a boy, Nathaniel may have been educated in the Grammar School at Roth-well, or possibly, as Dr. Harrison suggests, he may have gone to Oundle School where, a little earlier than this one of the ushers was named John Ponder. However Nathaniel spent his boyhood, from what we know of him in later life, we may be pretty certain, in his sixteenth year, he would be very interested in what was going on at the opposite side of the town to Ponder’s End. There a big six bayed barn was being turned into a Meeting House and being fitted up with pulpit and seats for the preaching of a simple New Testament gospel now permitted by the toleration granted under Cromwell’s rule. We think young Nathaniel often went to see the changes being made down the lane which soon came to be called Meeting Lane, a suitable and pleasant name, which for long years perpetuated a real and interesting development in the changing religious life of the town in Stuart times. This fitting name has more recently in some curiously unaccountable and unjustifiable way been changed into Gas Street, a term dismal and forbidding enough to blight the future outlook on life, and bring a feeling of woeful despair into the hearts of all dwelling within its bounds. Amenity lovers who are arming for the “War on Ugliness” ought to mark down for early attack the whole foul brood of Gas Streets scattered throughout King Edward’s realm.


During 1656, in which year the Independent Church was founded, Nathaniel Ponder left Rothwell for London where, on June 2nd, he was apprenticed to one Robert Gibbs, a publisher of religious and serious books at the address of the Golden Ball in Chancery Lane. In the century preceding this time Dr. Harrison has discovered the names of several Ponders who were living in the Chancery Lane district, some of whom were pretty well-to-do. Their presence and relationship may have determined Nathaniel going there to live, and it seems likely that some of this London Ponder property came to him and helped to start him in business, his father, too, John Ponder in Rothwell, may have helped him with money. This is probable, for when the father died in Rothwell nine years after, in 1665, he left by will £50 to his son Thomas; £5 to his son John, £50 each to each of six daughters, but to Nathaniel only five shillings. Apparently the son in London had received his share before or his father thought he was getting sufficient from London relatives.

It is uncertain how long Nathaniel stayed as apprentice and assistant with Robert Gibbs, but he was in business for himself and brought out the first book bearing his name in 1668. This volume on “The Epistle to the Hebrews” was written by Dr. John Owen, who had been chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.

Ponder had set up in business in Chancery Lane taking as his sign the Peacock with outspread plumage. This rather vainglorious trade mark was printed in one only of his books and a picture of it is shown with this article. Chancery Lane is of no great length so that Ponder’s Peacock sign would not be far from his former master Gibbs’ shop adorned with the Golden Ball. As they were both bringing out the same kind of books there was doubtless more or less of rivalry between them.In 1676 Ponder opened a second shop with the same Peacock sign in the Poultry.

Ponder’s device from "The Unreasonableness of Atheism." (1669)Ponder’s device from “The Unreasonableness of Atheism.” (1669).

For a few months he had two business addresses. But in 1677 he seems to have left Chancery Lane for good as from that year all his books were issued from the Peacock in the Poultry. The next eleven years form the busiest and most important period of his life as a publisher. During this time he became connected with Bunyan and brought out a number of his books, including the first and ten following editions of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”Dr. Harrison gives a list of over one hundred books brought out by Ponder after 1668. But the list would be longer probably if we had details of all he did.

Like his father in Rothwell, Nathaniel Ponder, when he started in London, was strongly imbued with Puritanism and the books he published were many of them written by Nonconformists and were such as appealed to them. He did not, however, confine himself to religious works, but published school books on grammar, writing, arithmetic, history, Latin, and also volumes on medicine, Protestantism, and other subjects.

In the porch of Irthlingborough parish church hangs, or did hang till recently, a printed list of incumbents. Under date 1670 we read “Simon Wastell, Incumbent, wrote or translated ‘The Divine Art of Memory,’ published by Nath. Ponder 1683 in London.”