The series of books published by Whitchurch History and Archaeology Group is continued with the story of Whitchurch parish as it divided into two distinct congregations of church goers. When Henry VIII was on the point of meeting Anne Boleyn Whitchurch people had their first glimpse of the New Testament in English. None of them knew of the dramatic consequences for the nation, and for Whitchurch, which followed from these events of the 1520s.
The principal actions in Whitchurch came just over a century later when Puritanism had taken a firm hold in the English church nationally, and when Charles I fell out with his Parliament over who had the last word in government. His budget deficit left him unable to finance the armies he wanted to raise for wars in Scotland and some of his English subjects then took up arms against him. Whitchurch stood in the centre of a whirlpool of military forces fighting viciously for control of a nation sharply divided politically and religiously.
Whitchurch underwent its own revolution when Thomas Porter arrived in 1646, and Paul Anderton’s book traces the consequences of his work in the parish. Puritans like prosperous Daniel Benyon of Ash and John Hotchkis, a successful mercer in the town, anticipated Porter but the chief witness to the serious persecutions of Presbyterians in the parish in the reign of Charles II was Philip Henry. Paul Anderton weaves their stories into a narrative of actions involving excommunications and imprisonments, property confiscations and ultimately devastating riots in 1715.
St. Alkmund’s church was the symbol of the domination of the Church of England throughout the period and successive rectors such as Thomas and Matthew Fowler and Clement Sankey figure largely in the unfolding account of life as Whitchurch people knew it in the seventeenth century. One episode enacted in the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield’s Consistory Court in 1704 is found to be intriguingly revealing about the fears and suspicions of Whitchurch people about their rector and his servants. Equally the family connections between the Henrys, the Yates, and the Hotchkis, Eddowes and Benyon families who clustered around the Presbyterian meeting places in the parish and its neighbourhood form a marked feature of the book.