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Towcester Independent Church


The Independent Church in Towcester officially started in 1794, although Independents had previously worshipped in the town, sharing a place of worship with the Baptists. The records of the Independent part of this congregation can be found in the records of the Potterspury Independent Church, which started in 1690. The history of the Independents in the 18th century is largely concerned with John Heywood. He was an eccentric and remarkable man, described as tall and thin with a mean and slovenly appearance, mostly due to the neglect of his imprudent wife who remained outside the church for the first 28 years of their marriage. However, he was held in high esteem by many including the Duke of Grafton, who allowed him to use his library.

The first preacher as a proper church was Mr Thomas Slattery from the Hoxton Academy on 6 Apr 1794. Eleven people formed the first Independent church on 5 May 1794, with Mr Hillyard from Olney presiding, although the first chapel had been erected in 1785. Mr William Gunn, a student from Hoxton academy, was ordained as pastor on 16 Oct 1796. The charge was Col 4 v 17, and the address 2 Cor 4 v15.  Married in 1797 at Royston to Obedience Luke, the young minister moved on a couple of years later to Aylesbury.


The first members of the chapel were:

George C. Claridge, Eliana Clark, Simon Corey, Sarah Cosby, Joseph Frost, Sarah Gibbs, Elizabeth Middleton, Mary Middleton, Joseph Miles, Henry Simco, Rebecca Simco

Deacons : George C. Claridge, John Middleton, Henry Simco

Many of these were respected figures in the town.


Joshua Denham was appointed as William Gunn’s successor in 1799, and started his ministry on 9 Feb 1800. He had previously pastored churches in Bakewell, Derbyshire and Atherstone, and had a young family. Judging by the increased numbers of families with children being baptised, the congregation grew considerably at this time. It is not known where he went when he left Towcester in 1811, but he is found in Walsall in 1841, aged 67.


In 1800, the following had also been admitted as members:

Members admitted 30 May 1800

Ann Adams, William Basford, John Gardiner, Elizabeth Gibbs, Richard Jeffrey, Ann Phipps, Susanna Ratledge, Mary Sheppard, Sarah Vernon, Abigail Wass, Daniel Wass.


Ann Phipps was the wife of the brewer, Pickering Phipps (later Mayor of Northampton), whose grandson became MP for Northampton. Further information on the family can be found here.


Despite the presence of such locally prominent people in the congregation, there must have been difficulties with the Vicar. The Baptism registers of nearly all Non-conformist chapels were handed over to the Registrar General after 1837, and on the form William Hawkins, the pastor at the time, stated that they would have preferred not to give up their registers as they were used :-

1)  To furnish the clergyman of the parish with Certificates of Baptism when he refuses to bury the Children of dissenters who have been baptised by their own Ministers.

2)  When legal applications are made respecting the Orphans of dissenters, where property depends.

3)  In cases of Militia Draughts to prove in some instances that young men are not of age.


The first of these reasons must have been productive of much increased grief among parents. All burial services were conducted by the vicar in any case, Non-Conformist ministers not being allowed to participate.


On the resignation of Joshua Denham, Joseph Gravestock from Newport Pagnell Academy was ordained in August 1814. He moved to Wold, and was succeeded in 1822 by Thomas Hitchin, who settled the following year at Hockliffe, Bedfordshire. His successor, William Hawkins, was appointed in 1823, and in 1832 married one of his congregation, Mary daughter of Thomas Vernon, Wine and Spirit Merchant. Under him, the Independent Chapel in Paulerspury was built in 1826, and eventually formed a separate church in 1844. He then turned his attention to the Towcester chapel, and a new chapel there was opened in 1846.


An article in the Evangelical Magazine July 1846 says:

“On the 8th of October 1846, a neat and substantial Independent chapel was opened for Divine Worship, when the Rev J Watson, of Newport Pagnell College, preached in the morning; the Rev F A Cox DD, in the afternoon; the Rev John Leifchild DD of Craven chapel, in the evening. The congregations were large, and deeply interested with the services of the day and the collections amounted to £120 1s 10½d


The old chapel had become completely unfit for religious worship, and the situation was so extremely bad as at times to be inaccessible, consequently the friends of the cause obtained an eligible site in the centre of the town, on which the new chapel and schoolroom have been erected, at a cost of £1150.”

Bakers History states, “The meeting-house stands in a yard at the east end of the principal street. It is 33ft. 2in. long by 24ft. 4in. wide. It is pewed, and galleried on three sides.”


From 1794 to 1853, 146 people were welcomed into membership and in 1853 there were 50 members, 110 scholars and 24 teachers.


William Hawkins died in 1854. As the whereabouts of all records of the church are currently unknown, it is not possible to pursue the history any further. If anyone knows of their whereabouts, please get in touch.


The chapel built by this congregation still stands, being now in use as a Catholic church, in Meeting Lane in Towcester. The congregation itself, by then affiliated to the United Reform Church, was disbanded in the late 20th century.