Nathaniel Ponder of Rothwell


In April, 1665, the father, John Ponder, in Rothwell, died. He seems to have been taken ill rather suddenly and seriously as he could write no will but had to deliver it by word of mouth. The next month, May, the widow, Dorothy Ponder, died. In her will she left £45 to her son John but no mention is made of Nathaniel.

These two deaths of John Ponder and his wife occurring so near together in 1665 make us wonder a little if they were due to the Great Plague which was spreading about England in that year preparatory to its hideous onslaught on the ill-fated and grossly insanitary Metropolis. Both Kettering and Rothwell suffered severely from plague ravages but mainly at a time a little later than the Ponder deaths.If Nathaniel Ponder suffered in any way in health or business during 1665, when the Great Plague caused grass to grow in London streets, he was certainly lucky the next year when the Great Fire, after its devastating march westward, was beaten out almost literally on his doorstep with its expiring flames licking the houses in Chancery Lane where his business lay. Amid all the commercial difficulties which followed such a huge catastrophe he was left with confidence and in circumstances good enough to get married In October, 1666, a licence was granted for his marriage with Mary Guy, daughter of Robert Guy, Gentleman, of Isham, at the church of St. Dunstan’s in the West, which stood at the end of Chancery Lane and like that street narrowly escaped destruction.


Mary Guy was baptised in Kettering Church in 1645 and so would be 21 and her husband 26 on their marriage. The names of several of their children have been preserved. There was a daughter, Elizabeth, who came down to Rothwell and died and was buried there in October, 1687. Another daughter, Sarah, was buried at St. Gregory-by-Paul in 1696. A son Robert, with his mother Mary, appeared before the Court in 1693 as plaintiffs on behalf of other children—daughters—who were minors. The case concerned a legacy left by the grandfather, Robert Guy, of Isham, to his daughter Mary (Nathaniel’s wife) and her children. Judgment was given for the plaintiffs. The defendants—one of whom was Nathaniel’s brother-in-law— were ordered to pay the legacy over for the benefit of the wife and children.

It is pleasant to learn of the son Robert winning his law case in this way, for his father lost most of his.


Twice in his life, at any rate, Nathaniel Ponder suffered imprisonment in regard to matters connected with his business but in each of these cases he seemed to be a victim of unfortunate circumstances.

His first imprisonment was in 1672, rather early in his London life, when he was sent for a short term to the Gate-house prison for publishing an unlicensed book.

This book, called “The Rehearsal Transpros’d” (which title has no meaning apart from topical matters quite familiar to the smart folks of that day) was written by Andrew Marvell, the witty M.P. for Hull. He was a friend of John Milton and a good poet often quoted in the present day. Marvell’s book was a satirical and bantering reply to a serious treatise written by Dr. Samuel Parker who afterwards became Bishop of Oxford. In Cromwell’s time Parker had been a Puritan, but under Charles II had joined the opposite side, and, as often happens, he became very intolerant towards his former friends and laid down the law against them in most rigorous fashion. He asserted in his treatise that civil magistrates and princes had authority over the consciences of their subjects in religious matters. This claim, of course, the Puritans denied and even in the town of Rothwell there were a number of men who chose rather to be summoned and fined than submit to it. Dr. Parker’s intemperate statement of the King’s rights in religious matters verged on the ludicrous seeing that the reigning ~ prince was Charles II, probably the most shameless and immoral sovereign who ever occupied the English throne. Marvell’s reply showed up the absurdity of the clergyman’s contention and his mocking raillery held up Dr. Parker to such ridicule and made such burlesque of his arguments that he had to retire from the field sadly discomfited. Friends and foes were set laughing at him together, which was perhaps the best way of knocking the support from such senseless claims.

No charge seems to have been made against Marvell for writing the book. Very likely the Merry Monarch enjoyed the jest against himself as much as anyone.

But for the man who published the work things turned out differently. Although the book was not licensed, Ponder, thinking it would help the Dissenting Cause, did not hesitate to risk getting it printed and put on sale so that all interested could buy and read it for themselves. Ponder thus brought himself within reach of the law which forbade unlicensed printing. Though this illegality took place in 1672 and though no attempt was made to hide Ponder’s main share in the action, it is curious that as far as can be found no accusation was brought against him until four years after.

What then happened is shown by quotations which Dr. Harrison has unearthed from the Minutes of the Privy Council for 1676. The first of these reads:”May 10. A warrant to committ Nathaniell Ponder to the Gatehouse for carrying to the Presse to be printed an unlicensed Pamphlett tending to Sedition and Defamation of the Christian Religion.”

Title page of the first edition of "The Pilgrim’s Progress."

Title page of the first edition of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

To such a strait had Ponder’s enthusiasm for Nonconformity now brought him. How many during the last two thousand years in the long struggle against religious intolerance have been punished in the same or worse ways! Not a few men of the Ponder type in Germany to-day are staring blankly at prison walls or, filled with righteous indignation, passing weary days in concentration camps for daring to do in 1935 what Nathaniel Ponder did in 1672.Ponder was in prison sixteen days. During that time he thought the matter out. No good would seem to be gained by his staying in durance if freedom could be had. His business was suffering from his absence and he had a wife and children to think about. He could help the cause he had at heart much more if free outside than in confinement. Besides the object aimed at had been gained by giving to all people who mattered a chance to read what Marvell had to say of the Parker dogmatisms. The way to freedom was offered and though some humiliation was attached Ponder wisely accepted the terms as explained in this second quotation from the Privy Council Minutes of 1676:”May 26. Upon paying the due fees, Nathaniel Ponder, stationer, upon his humble petition to his Majesty setting forth his hearty sorrow for his said offence and promising never to offend in like manner for the future, His Majesty was thereupon graciously pleased to order that the said Nathaniel Ponder – entering into £500 bond with two sufficient sureties – is hereby discharged from his imprisonment.”

So ended that chapter in the life of this Rothwell man struggling with the destinies which beset his career.

In the same year, 1676, in which Ponder suffered this short imprisonment, John Bunyan was set free from his six months’ confinement in the Bedford Town Gaol, during which time he probably wrote most of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” The book, at any rate, was finished and ready for publication soon after. Ponder was asked by Bunyan to be his publisher and on December 22nd, 1677, Ponder, as is duly recorded, paid sixpence fee to the Stationers’ Company to get “The Pilgrim’s Progress” properly licensed ready for publication in February, 1678.

Dr. Harrison discusses the question why Ponder was chosen by Bunyan now as his publisher, seeing that previously they had had no business relations. It seems certain that before this they must have been known to each other.

Ponder had connection in several ways with Bunyan’s native Bedford region, and he could not have missed knowledge of the conspicuous preacher and writer whose resolute Nonconformity had brought him first twelve years’ imprisonment in the County Gaol, which stood in Bedford, where the cinema now stands at the corner of High-street and Silver-street, and again three years later, six months in the Town Gaol, which stood on Bedford Bridge.

Ponder must have known much of such a man, but it seems likely that Dr. Owen, the Puritan divine already mentioned, was the means of bringing the two together for business purposes. Ponder had already published many religious works for Dr. Owen, who did what he could to encourage the young publisher in his early career. Dr. Owen, too, had much to do with securing Bunyan’s release from his second imprisonment. It is thus quite easy to see how Ponder and Bunyan might become intimately acquainted through their common friendship with Dr. Owen. However it came about Ponder was chosen by Bunyan to be the publisher of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.’ We give here a copy of the title page of what claims to be an exact facsimile of the first edition. ‘

The title page bears the words “Printed for Nath. Ponder at the Peacock in the Poultrey, near Cornhil, 1678.”

It is also marked:

“Licensed and entred according to order.”