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Dorchester

The Old Dissenters Meeting House
Pease Lane



Extract from
"A History of the Presbyterian & General Baptist Churches in the West of England"

Memoirs of Some of their Pastors by Jerome Murch Minister of Trim St Chapel Bath
Published London 1835 - pages 266-274 inc.

Link to its Register of Baptisms 1750-1835


In 1662, two ministers were ejected from Dorchester, and one from Fordington, -- a populous parish adjoining. The former were Mr. BENN, of Allhallows, and Mr Hammond, of Trinity and St Peters; the latter was Mr CHURCHILL(8). Mr HAMMOND afterwards became the minister of a large Dissenting congregation at Taunton, in conjunction with Mr NEWTON, and remained there till the cruelties which followed the Monmouth Rebellion drove him to London. Mr Benn continued among his own adherents and preached to them as he had opportunity, till his death, which occurred in 1680. He was then succeeded by his neighbour and fellow sufferer Mr Churchill, who had previously assisted him in the Ministry (1).

These excellent men appear not only to have organised a church of Nonconformists, but to have (illegible) by the Divine assistance, on a permanent basis. it grew, like many others, amidst the storms of persecution: Mr. BENN, was often brought into trouble and sometimes imprisoned for preaching to his flock: and pastors and people were subject to a long series of trials. Five years after this good mans death, the infamous Jefferies visited the town, and if there were any among the Dissenters who could be deterred by "the fear of the man" from maintaining their principles, such persons must have trembled at the atrocities committed by his order. It was here he ordered the court to be hung with scarlet on the morning of the trial, -- a horrid omen of the sanguinary proceedings which ensued, -- the execution of so many victims for their alleged share in an insurrection which no enlightened friend to liberty can safely reprobate (2).

This tragedy was performed during the ministry of Mr. CHURCHILL(8), and his congregation was, doubtless, in some degree affected by it. No records of the church having been preserved, it is uncertain how long this pastor lived; but it is said that Mr. Baruch NOWELL, who was probably his successor, came to Dorchester in 1689 (3).

Mr NOWELL is mentioned by Mr John FOX, in the interesting "Memoirs of himself" published in the Monthly Repository, and quoted in my account of the Plymouth congregation (4). The following passage refers to a tour he had made with Mr Gilling NEWTON, that Gentleman having been obliged to leave home in disguise in consequence of a process out against him for keeping a Latin school, contrary to the Schism Act, and young FOX having been ordered by his father to accompany him to London, for the double purpose of seeing the world and being made orthodox:

"I knew nothing of the bargain at first, and therefore I set out highly delighted with the prospect of an agreeable ramble, and of seeing new things and new places. We left Plymouth in the beginning of March 1712. We got to Tavistock the first day, and the next day a farmer's house near Tiverton. From thence we skulked through by the cross roads to Honiton, and so on till we got clear of the county of Devon and the bailiffs who were in pursuit of us. The first halt we made was at Dorchester, where Mr Gilling was acquainted with one Mr Howell (i.e. Nowell see footnote 4) , minister of the Dissenters in that place. Here we spent two to three days very agreeably, for he was a man of good sense and of generous principles. He was easy and genteel in his conservation, well acquainted with mankind and the world, and was well known and respected, and yet the most disagreeable preacher I ever heard in my life. He seemed to think much the same way I did about creeds, articles, and high priests, and seemed very far from offering arguments in favour of ministry. I remember Mr Gilling preached for him one Sunday, and on Monday appeared in the public Coffee in his lay habit and long wig, to the very great diversion of many who had seen him in a different dress and character the day before (5).

Mr NOWELL was minister at Dorchester fifty years. He died in 1739 of the small pox(6)., with symptoms of which he was taken ill in the pulpit, where he fell back while preaching. His friends carried him home, and in a few days the disease proved fatal. He was succeeded by Mr KETTLE, a native of Evesham, who after officiating six or seven years, removed to Worcester, where he spent the greater part of his life. At Dorchester he was intimate with a neighbouring gentleman, who among various marks of regard, offered him a good preferment in the Church of England, provided he would conform. Mr KETTLE's refusal was the more praiseworthy, as his tastes. manners, and attainments would have rendered the advantages of such a situation peculiarly valuable to him. After his removal, the congregation were left for some time dependent on occasional supplies, owing, it is supposed, to doctrinal differences among the members.

At length they chose Mr Benjamin SPENCER, who was probably educated at one of the London Academies, and settled at no other place than Dorchester where he died of dropsy in 1755 at the early age of 28 (7). Nearly as short was the career of his successor, Mr Samuel PHILLIPS, whose father was at the same time minister at Poole, and who was taken off, by a fever in 1761, in the thirty second year of his age. The writer of the sketch already quoted says that on more than one occasion he heard the names of Spencer and Phillips mentioned in terms of respect by some of the old members of the society. In the year 1762 Mr Timothy LAMB became pastoral he also died before he had arrived at the meridian of life, having for some years been greatly afflicted by hereditary gout. Mr LAMB was succeeded by Mr. Abel EDWARDS, who had been his assistant two years previously. In 1771, this Gentleman removed from Dorchester to Nailsworth, to supply a congregation in that neighbourhood for six months. About the time of Mr LAMB's death, Mr EDWARDS received unanimous invitations from both places. He preferred going to Dorchester, was ordained there in 1772, resigned his office in 1813, and died at the age of seventy eight in 1826. He was succeeded by Mr TREVEAVEN, who spent four years as minister of this congregation. Mr EDWARDS left directions writing that no memorial of him should be recorded. The sketch in which this modest injunction is communicated is thus concealed: " The present minister is the Rev. LEWIS LEWIS, who pursues his labours amongst an affectionate people with great acceptableness, and it is their earnest wish that his connection with them extend to a period as protracted as was the ministry and life of his highly and universally respected predecessor".

Of the meeting house Mr EDWARDS has given the following account: This is a decent building, measuring fifty feet long and forty broad. It was erected in or about the year 1720. There was before that time a meeting-house in what was then, and still is, termed the Friary, whence the congregation removed to Pease Lane. The edifice here when first raised, had a double roof, tiled and supported by two large and heavy looking pillars, in which state it remained for many years. At length, however, the the year 1808, the timbers of every description, notwithstanding several previous repairs, were found to be so much decayed, that it became necessary to take down the whole roof and put up another. The new roof is single, covered with lead. and nearly flat, having a sky-light dome in the centre, which has a pleasing effect. At the same time massy pillars, being no longer wanted, were removed, and sashes were substituted for casements, besides various other alterations and improvements, made at a considerable expense, so as to render this place of worship upon the whole both neat and convenient. It is accommodated with a vestry, a vestry library, a small gallery, and an organ." There is a small burial ground attached to the chapel, and several persons were formerly buried in it; but it is now seldom used for that purpose. Three of the Ministers Mr SPENCER, Mr PHILLIPS. and MR LAMB, are interred in the aisle opposite the pulpit. They rest in the same grave,over which is a plain stone, merely recording their names, the time of death, and their respective ages.

We have little information respecting the opinions of this society. Mr BENN's published works were "A Vindication of the Christian Sabbath against the Jewish" and " Sermons concerning Soul-prosperity"(8). The latter was published after his death by his assistant and successor Mr CHURCHILL(9) of whom nothing further is recorded. From Mr John FOX's notice of Mr NOWELL's liberality, we may infer that the congregation were by no means "highly Orthodox" during his protracted ministry. He seemed to think (says the writer) much the same way as I did about creeds, articles, and high priests, and seemed very far from offering arguments in favour of the ministry", that is Fox's engaging in it with his views on the subject of subscription. The declension, as many would call the gradual adoption of milder and more rational views of the Gospel, continued under the services of Mr NOWELL's successors. In the time of Mr EDWARDS both pastor and people proceeded from moderate Calvinism to low Arianism. The congregation have since become decidedly Unitarian.

The institutions supported by this society are a Sunday school of boys and girls, and a chapel library. The latter was formed soon after Mr LEWIS's settlement at Dorchester, and now contains nearly four hundred volumes.

MINISTERS:

Rev. William BENN MA      (1662-1680)
Rev. Joshua CHURCHILL      (1662-1689)
Rev Baruch NOWELL     (1689-1739)
Rev. James KETTLE      (1739-1746) (13)
Rev. Benjamin SPENCER      (1748-1755) (7)
Rev Samuel PHILLIPS      (1755-1761) (14)
Rev. Timothy LAMB      (1762-1772) (12)
Rev. Abel EDWARDS      (1772-1813)
Rev. Benjamin TREVEAVEN      (1813-1817)
Rev. Lewis LEWIS     (1817- 1836)

The Rev William BENN, MA of Queens college Oxford was an eminent divine, famous in all the West of England . He was some time preacher at Oakingham (10)., in Berkshire and afterwards chaplain to the Marchioness of Northampton. From this situation he was removed by the interest of the celebrated Mr. John WHITE, called the Patriarch of Dorchester, where he continued, in great reputation, Rector of All Hallows, till he was ejected. He was not satisfied with constantly labouring at the church but preached on a week-day to the prisoners in the jail, which was in his parish, and caused a chapel to be built within the prison walls, principally at his own expenses. He was richly furnished with all ministerial abilities; his perseverance in prayer was unparalleled; he prayed in his study seven times a day: and it was his custom at stated seasons to give God thanks for certain deliverance's from danger which befell him. He died in 1680, having been a faithful and successful labourer in the Christian vineyard more than fifty years.

Rev Timothy LAMB (1732-1771) (See Genealogical Note 12 below for additional information)
The Rev Timothy LAMB was born at Wimborne, in Dorsetshire. His academical studies were pursued in London under Dr. Marryatt (11). Soon after they were finished, he accepted an unanimous invitation from the congregation in Deadman's Place. There he was ordained, and there for some years, he discharged the duties of the pastoral office with general acceptance. He removed to Dorchester, by the advice of his friends, with the hope that country air would improve his health, which had suffered much from attacks of gout. In this respect he was disappointed: yet his afflictions were not without a useful tendency. Few persons could have a larger share of bodily suffering than he had, and few could be more [patient under them. His sermons were supposed to be peculiarly adapted to meet the cases of the afflicted. Mr Lamb's ministerial endowments were respectable; and though obliged to sit constantly in the pulpit, there was an earnestness in his strain of preaching which served to engage attention and to enforce what he delivered. His integrity was unquestionable; he was generous to the full proportion of his limited means; a kind husband, an affectionate father, a sincere and steady friend. Mr Lamb's only publication besides contributions to the Christian Magazine, and a poetical effusion composed at the age of fifteen, was a sermon entitled "The words of Knowledge".


Original Foot Notes (Unless otherwise stated):-

(1). Newton mem. Vol i page 450

(2). On this painful subject my limits will not allow me to dilate: but neither can I be altogether silent. That the earliest members of the churches whose history I am relating were deeply concerned in the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth, there can, I think, ne no doubt. Notices will be found in various parts of this work, and particularly in the account of the congregation at Taunton, which show that this class largely contributed to the attempt and bitterly suffered from the defeat. And UI confess I cannot conceive how their conduct can be harshly censured by those who call themselves their descendants, and who are acquainted both with the principles on which the insurrectionists refused to conform to the Church of England, and with the series of irritating circumstances which they had hitherto patiently endured. We may grant that the motives of Monmouth were not so high as they ought to have been, -- we may admit that his title was questionable, his projects crude, his capacity unequal to the undertaking and his professions occasionally insincere: but still we should remember that the party whom he opposed had always been the greatest foes of religious liberty, and that the Dissenters had every thing to hope from the removal of that party from power. While considering the history of this period, it is impossible to attribute the conduct of men in general to motives of a secular nature; their motives, if we may be allowed to judge, were almost invariably religious. " The truly orthodox members of our church (says Charles James Fox, in his valuable fragment) regarded monarchy not as a human, but as a divine institution, and passive obedience and nonresistance, not as political maxims, but as articles of religion." -- All the grievances of which the Dissenters complained and from which they hoped to be freed by a new government, had their source in, or were intimately connected with, designs to crush every body or religionists which did not avow High Church principles. Witness some of the most prominent events of the reign of Charles the second -- the passing of the Act of Uniformity -- the proceedings in reference to the extended Popish plots -- the famous decree of the University of Oxford on the day of the Execution of Lord Russell, followed by the expulsion of Mr LOCKE. Witness also the conduct of james the second on the eve of Monmouth's invasion -- his hypocrisy in pretending to uphold the Church of England while secretly endeavouring to bring back Popery -- his attempt to force episcopacy upon the people of Scotland at the expense of the blood of thousands of upright and conscientious men- and his sanction of the iniquitous persecutions carried out against the Dissenters at every assizes, at every court in the kingdom. Those who censure the early Nonconformists for joining the standard of Monmouth should particularly remember the treatment which Baxter, their learned, exemplary, and eminent teacher, experienced at the hands of Jeffreys; they should remember how this venerable man was convicted against evidence by a packed jury-- how a judge in the confidence of the king loaded him with the coarsest reproaches called him sometimes in derision a saint, and sometimes in (illegible) terms an old rogue, classed him with the infamous Oates, who had been lately convicted of perjury, and charged him with being the principle incendiary in a design to ruin the king and nation. For my own part, when I reflect on these things, I feel that I should be ashamed of my ancestors--of the founders of the Dissenting Churches in the West Of England, if they had not, with such insufferable provocations, acted upon the righteous maxim --rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.

(3). This information was derived from the report of two or three old members who were living in 1773, and recorded by the Rev. A. EDWARDS one of the later ministers. See an account found among his papers and sent after his death to the Mon.Rep., O.S., Vol.xxi page 629

(4). In Mr. FOX's papers the name HOWELL. The first letter may be easily mistaken in illegible writing. That the two writers, Fox and Edwards, alluded to the same person, is evident from the agreement of their account in all other particulars.

(5). Mon Repros., Vol. xvi. p. 1132

(6). Additional note by M Russell OPC for Dorchester :- The Rev Baruch Nowell was buried at St Peters Church Dorchester on 10 Sep 1739 He left a will which can be found at the National Archives PROB 10 Sep 1739

(7). Additional note by M Russell OPC for Dorchester :- Charles Surman card index states Benjamin SPENCER (1727-1755). Educated in London at Plaisterers Hall, studied under Zephaniah Marryatt; was Minister at Dorchester 1748-1755; died of Dropsy in 1755 aged 28. Having died Intestate his father who was a fork maker living in Sheffield appointed John JACOB the younger of Dorchester to administer his estate. A letter of renunciation in favour of John Jacob is dated 23td Aug 1755 and a Letter of Administration granted to John by Joseph SPENCER on 10th Sep 1755 also bound was John Doe Gentleman of Dorchester witnessed by John Hubbock and Edward Shepherd.

(8). Noncon. mem., Vol. i. p. 450

(9). Additional note by M Russell OPC for Dorchester :- Rev. Joshua CHURCHILL (1627-1693/4)

(10). Additional note by M Russell OPC for Dorchester :- this should refer to Wokingham not Oakingham via link above.

(11). Such is the statement in the Monthly Repository. Mr Wilson represents Mr Lamb as placed first under the care of the Rev S Reader at Wareham and afterwards at the Academy in London conducted by Dr.Jennings and Dr Savage. Wilsons Hist Vol iv p 204

(12). Additional notes by M Russell OPC for Dorchester:-
Rev Timothy LAMB (1732-1771) As stated in the above extract he was born at Wimborne in Dorset on 21st March 1732 and his education initially placed under the care of the Rev S Reader at Wareham. From there he attended the Acadamy at Wellclose Square in London run by Dr D. Jennings and Dr Savage before completing his academical studies in London under Dr Zephaniah Marryatt. He initially returned in 1753 to Wimborne, his parish of birth, where he was invited to settle and first began to preach but in 1754 he accepted a unanimous invitation from the congregation in Deadman's Place at Thrale Street, Southwark, in London. On 3rd July 1755, described as being a bachelor from Shadwell in Middlesex in London, he returned briefly to Wareham to marry by licence (issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury) at Lady St Mary's Church to Ann CRIBB. She was a minor who therefore required the consent of her parents to marry. They had a son they named Joseph LAMB

From 1755 to 1762 Timothy Lamb held the pastorate at Deadman's Place, and he was one of the ministers who waited upon George III. with the address of the Dissenters upon his accession to the throne. His health failed and suffering badly from gout he retired to Dorchester, where he continued to preach with great acceptance till his death, August 21, 1771, at the age of thirty-nine years See the Wills index for the Will of Timothy LAMB, Minister of the Gospel of Dorchester , Dorset proved 26 October 1771 and held at the National Archives.

Sources:- Charles Surman (1901-86) gave his card index to Dr Williams's Library in 1960. A second copy was given to the Congregational Library and is now housed at Bedford. The index was originally sponsored by the Congregational Historical Society, but was the work largely of Surman himself. This Index at http://surman.english.qmul.ac.uk/displaycards.php?id=17471 gives the following source information for Timothy Lamb :- Wilsons Hist Vol iv p 204ff ; Murch, pp271/274f; D&O pp 120, 392; Waddington Surrey p292; Cleal p11; CHRST ii 57, 205; vii 170; Other Sources include:- Publication Monthly Reposiitory; Wareham Parish Lady St Mary marriage register; His Will PROB 11/971

(13). Additional notes by M Russell OPC for Dorchester:- Charles Surman card index states James KETTLE (d 1806) born son of William Kettle at Evesham Worcestershire; educated at Stratford upon avon Acadamy under J Fleming; graduate of Glasgow University where he matriculated in 1735; Minister Dorchester 1739-1746; Minister Protestant Chapel High Street Warwick 1746-1785, Died April 1806.

(14) Additional notes by M Russell OPC for Dorchester:- Charles Surman card index states Samuel PHILLIPS (1729-1761) was the son of Samuel PHILLIPS Minister of Poole who died 1775

(15) Additional notes by M Russell OPC for Dorchester:- Rev Lewis Lewis resigned his post as Minister in January 1836 since which time there has been no settled Ministry- Source Return of Register to Commissioner now at National Archives - Acting Minister was Thomas Fisher

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