Review Number 4 – January 1988

Early Congregationalism in Walsham-le-Willows

Among the l7th century Probate inventories and Wills which survive for the Parish of Walsham-le-Willows are those of John Barrow, husbandman, who died in November 1660. The Probate inventory (1) is ordinary enough, valued in total at £55 11s 4d with a surprisingly high proportion of ready money – £14 3s 10d. The furnishings are meagre in the extreme: a cupboard, a chest, two boxes, a bed and bedding, six stools, and some pewter and brass, valued in all at £5 13s 0d. The listing of coal forks, half a load of coal and debts owed for coal, indicate that John Barrow was also a charcoal burner.

Hand written document in old style writing and are rather indistinct owing to some background ‘smudging’ – very grainy.
Burial register entries: Anne Burrow 1653 and Joseph Witting 1656

His Will (2), on the other hand, is extraordinary in that it includes bequests to beneficiaries in London, Ipswich, Lavenham and Bury St. Edmunds, and that the payment of legacies was to be made at the house of Thomas Cooke in Walsham, and not as was usual at the Church Porch. Another unusual feature of the Will was the provision for the use of the Testator’s horse by John Revans the younger for the delivery of the legacies to London, Ipswich, Lavenham and Bury.

The most interesting feature of the Will, however, is John Barrow’s connection with London and in particular with Catherine and Samuel Chidley. It is surprising to find this Walsham husbandman and Charcoal Burner married to a London woman, and leaving sums of money to the Chidleys, who were well known “Brownists” and who in 1646 brought from London the first Covenant for the Congregational Church in Bury St. Edmunds (3).

The Brownists were the followers of Robert Browne of Northampton who in 1580 set up in Norwich the first Separatist Church. He was imprisoned and on his release in 1582 went to Middleburg in the Netherlands, where he published books putting his case for Separation. It was for distributing Browne’s works that John Copping and Elias Thacker were charged with sedition and were executed in 1583. Their memorial stands outside the United Reform Church in Whiting Street, Bury St. Edmunds. Another Separatist Sect, the Barrowists, was formed by the followers of Henry Barrowe, who was born in Shipdham, Norfolk and was executed in 1593.

The Parish Register (4) of Walsham le Willows reveals nothing of John Barrow himself, but it does include a remarkable entry for the burial of Anne Barrow, his first wife. This entry was made by Thomas Curre, the Curate in Walsham from 1652 until October 1660, who was particularly conscientious in the completion of the Register. The entry reads, “Anne the wife of John Barrow dyed on the Lord’s day January 15 1653 and was put into a hole in Thomas Cooke’s yard on the Tuesday following’. A similar entry is made for Joseph Witting in 1656 but this is amplified – “was putt into a hole in Thomas Cooke’s orchardyard by the bretheren of the Separacion”. No doubt a similar entry would have been made for John Barrow himself, if he had died before, instead of shortly after Thomas Curre ceased to be Curate in Walsham. Thomas Cooke died in 1666 and there is no record of his burial in the Parish Register, but his Will and his Probate Inventory have survived giving proof of the date of his death.

It is clear from this evidence that John Barrow was a member of a group of Separatist Bretheren worshipping in Walsham, in all probability at the house of Thomas Cooke. Barrow was not a Walsham man; he was not baptised or married either to Anne or Margaret in Walsham. The connection between him and the Chidleys and that between them and the Congregational Church in Bury suggests a possible connection between John Barrow and Bury. That there was such a connection is confirmed by the record in the Parish Register of St. James (5), Bury, of the marriage of John Barrow and Ann May in December 1628, and by the earliest records of the Congregational Church in Bury. The Covenant brought from London in 1646 by Catherine Chidley, which first established a Congregational Church in Bury, was signed by John Barrow, John Lanseter and his two sons and daughter, William Wood and his son, Sarah Tompson, Lucrase Potter and her son and daughter, John Thrower and John Revans and the signatures were witnessed by Catherine and Samuel Chidley, who described themselves as Members of the Church of God in London.

The signatories of the second Covenant (6) dated 1648 are all men, and include only three of those who signed in 1646 – John Lanseter, first on the list, William Woods and John Thrower. So John Barrow and his wife were members of the first Congregational Church in Bury, but left that Church and probably moved to Walsham between 1646 and 1648. Also among those who signed the 1646 Covenant but not that of 1648 was John Revans who was no doubt either the elder or the younger John Revans referred to in John Barrow’s Will.

The only other reference to John Barrow so far traced is a letter to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, dated l9th May 1653 (7), recommending certain people as suitable to be Members of Parliament. This letter was sent in response to a request from Cromwell for such recommendations from every County, and was signed by 51 men of Suffolk. Among them were John Lanseter, George Stannard, Thomas Caley, James Granery and John Burrow. As the first four of these were signatories to one or other of the 1646 and 1648 Covenants, it is reasonable to assume that John Burrow was in fact John Barrow. If this assumption is correct, then he, despite being a Charcoal Burner, was an influential person in the community.

Our knowledge of John Barrow is very limited. We have not traced his baptism and cannot say where he lived before marrying Ann May in Bury in 1628. We know he was in Bury in 1646, and was connected there with the Chidleys and the Congregational Church, and that he was in Walsham, where he was a member of the Separatist Brethren, at least from 1653 until his death in 1660. He either travelled to other parts of Suffolk and London, perhaps to preach, or he was visited by the friends from Ipswich, Lavenham, Bury and London who were beneficiaries in his Will. This indicates that he was a man of wider horizons than were usual for a Suffolk husbandman of the l7th century.

One wonders whether there was any significance in the fact that John Barrow’s signature was the first on the Bury Covenant. This might imply that he was the Leader of the Congregation, but had he been, it is likely that he would have been the subject of attack by Thomas Edwards, an anti-separatist Presbyterian, who vilified all women preachers and particularly Catherine Chidley. In his pamphlet “Gangraena” Edwards attacked John Lanseter and the Chidleys for their part in forming the Bury Congregational Church in 1646. Lanseter who was a Mercer with a shop in Cooks Row, Bury St. Edmunds (8) – now Abbeygate Street – was described by Edwards as a Pedlar. He published a pamphlet in reply to Edward’s attack called “Lanseter’s Lance (9)” but it has been suggested that this was in fact written by the Chidleys, authors of a number of such pamphlets. Edwards does not mention John Barrow.

Possibly John Barrow signed first because it was he who had been responsible for bringing the Chidleys from London. Perhaps he had come from London originally, he certainly maintained contact with London, as evidenced by the fact that his second wife came from there, and that he was aware that Catherine Chidley was still alive in 1660 when he made his Will. He may even have been a relative of Henry Barrowe, of Shipdam, but it has not been possible to trace such a connection, and it seems unlikely that Edwards would have overlooked it if indeed there was one.

Some of the questions raised by Congregational Church historians about what happened to John Barrow after 1646 have now been answered. Something of a picture of John Barrow has emerged to satisfy the curiosity aroused by the unusual provisions of his Will. Unfortunately, and inevitably the picture remains no more than a bare outline, and for every question answered, many more are raised.

Will of John Barrow

Upon the Nynth day of October in the twelveth yeare of the Reigne of our Soveraigne Lorde Charles the second of England, Scotland, Fraunce & Ireland, King in the Yeare of our Lorde Christe accordinge to the Computacion of the Church of England 1660. I John Barrow of Walsham lee Willowes in the County of Suffolke, Husbandman doe revokeing all willes by me formerly made and declared either by word or wrytinge make and declare this to be my last will and none other in manner & forme following First I give and bequeathe unto Margarett Barrow my wife the summe of Ten pounds of good and lawfull money of England to be paid unto her by my Executours hereafter named within three moneths next after my decease. Alsoe I give unto my wife aforesayd foure pounds more of like lawfull money of England to be paid within one halfe yeare next after my decease Alsoe I give and bequeathe unto William Wilson of Tower parish in Ipswitch in this county the summe of Twentie shillings of like lawfull money of England to be payd within three moneths after my decease Alsoe I give and bequeathe unto old Greenleafe Lavenham in this Countie Sayweaver the summe of Twenty shillings of like lawfull money of England to be payd within three moneths next after my decease Also I give unto Master Samuel Chidley of London five shillings and unto Mistris Catherine Chidley his mother the summe of Twenty shillings of like lawfull money of England Alsoe unto Margarett my wife I give all her apparell and every such peeces of household stuffs as were broughte from London with her Alsoe I give unto my eldest sisters daughter Sarah Cornewell my best paire of sheets Alsoe I give more to William Wilson aforesaid my best sute of apparell and my greatcoate Alsoe I give unto old Greenleafe aforesaide more my next sute of apparell Alsoe I give to Thomas Cooke my fowling peece Alsoe I give unto Elizabeth Smyth sometime my servant my brasson Ladle and all my okcume (10) or pewter spoones Also unto Lydia Revans the daughter of Revans the younger my byble Alsoe I give and bequeathe to John Revans the elder five shillings Alsoe I give and bequeathe unto my Cousin Greene of Bury five shillings Also unto William Cocke sometime my servant I give my best boots, my iron cole shovells, rakes and coke rakes all which severall summes of money and peeces or parcells of household stuffe I will shal be faithfully payd and delivered to the parties to whom the same are bequeathed by my executors or theire deputies hereafter named Moreover my mynd and will is that the aforesaid Legacies given to William Wilson and unto oId Greenleafe, Samuel Chidley and Catherine Chidley and my Cousin Greene with the apparell given to the said Wilson and Greenleafe shal be delivered by my Executors or one of them into the hands of John Revans the younger to deliver them to the parties abovesayd. Moreover for his better accomplishing it my mynd and will is he shall have my horse with his charges allowed him for the journeys thereabouts and for his paines herein the summe of Twentie shillings and all payments to be made at the now dwellinghouse of Thomas Cooke of Walsham aforesayd All the rest of my moveable goods whatsoever together with all my debts oweing me, ready money I give and bequeathe to my Executors to this intent only that they pay all my debts pay all my Funerall charqes prove my will & the over plus money remainings in theire or one of theire hands my mynd and will is they shall pay to Margarett my wife for the use of it the yearely summe of Eighteen pence in the pound all the time shee the sayd Margarett keeps herselfe single Alsoe I make and-ordaine Edmund Barrow my brother and Samuel Barrow his sonne Executors of this my last will with aIl desireing my freind Thomas Cooke aforesaide to be ayding and assistant to my Executors for the just executing of this my last will. In witness whereof I haveing heard the same deliberately read the Daye and yeare abovesaid have hereunto sett my hand and seale 1660.

Signed John Barrow
Proved l4th November 1660

Jean and Ray Lock
  1. West Suffolk Record Office (Bury St. Edmunds) 1C 500/3/5/118
  2. West Suffolk Record Office (Bury St. Edmunds) Wills Rex Redux 88
  3. Congregational Historical Society Transactions Vol. 2. 1905-6 p332
  4. West Suffolk Record Office (Bury St. Edmunds) FL 646/4/1 Walsham Parish Register
  5. West Suffolk Record Office (Bury St. Edmunds) FL 541/4/1 St. James Parish Register
  6. Covenants held by United Reform Church, Whiting Street, Bury St. Edmunds
  7. Original letters and Papers of State addressed to Oliver Cromwell by John Nickolls 1743. 94 p51.
  8. John Lanseter of Bury by A.L. Norton. Volume XXVIII P. S. I. A. H.
  9. Lanseter’s Lance British Museum Catalogue E 354/17 & 368/5
  10. Okcume; this is obviously an attempt at occame – Chambers 20th Century Dictionary describes occame as a silvery alloy (Alchemy)

This article was first published in “Occasional Papers on 17th Century Studies” Series 1 No. 2 (1987).

A true and perfect inventory of all the moveables, goodes and chatles late John Barrows of Walsham le Willows late deceased, prised by Thomas Cooke & Arthur Hill November l3th 1660.
All his Aparell £1 15s 0d
All his Hay £5 0s 0d
His two Bullockes £4 10s 0d
His Mare, bridle & Sadle £2 15s 0d
His cupbord £0 18s 0d
His great cheest & two boxes £0 8s 6d
His Cart & Furniture £1 10s 0d
His wood £1 10s 0d
His one bedstead £0 5s 0d
His puter & Brasse £1 4s 0d
One paire of sheets £0 6s 0d
For all his beding £1 4s 6d
For six stooles & other things £0 5s 0d
For beere vesseis, one tub, one hagsaw with other things £0 16s 0d
One burding peece £0 8s 0d
His cole furkes and other things £3 1s 6d
For halfe a loade of cole £1 5s 0d
In his house ready money £14 3s 10d
Oweing him for coale £6 16s 0d
Taken for one load of coale £3 15s 0d
Oweing him more for coale £3 15s 0d
Made up 13th November 1660 Somme £55 11s 4d

A New Document for Walsham

Whilst sorting out some papers following the death of his father, Barry Clarke came across a hand-written document dated 1733. Although folded in half and torn at the fold, it is quite legible. It is written in English.

The document is an article of agreement regarding the payment of small tithes ie: hay, milk, calves, pigs, lambs, geese, hen and duck eggs, firewood and fruit from orchards. By this period money was paid in lieu of goods. This was payable by landowners to the owner of the rectory or parsonage, in this case, Elizabeth Hunt. Great tithes were paid on corn (a tithe being a tenth part). In 1733 certain landowners and occupiers ie: Rowland Holt esq. Samuel Fisher esq. William Cropley gent. Dorothy Canham widow, Thomas Youngman, Simeon Daynes, Robert Garnham, John Sparke gent. Ezekiel Sparke gent. John Sparke the younger, Thomas Rainbird, Henry Bullen, Ellis Pett gent. John Baker, Simon Spendlove, Robert Mayes, John Freeman gent. Martha Rainbird widow, William Scarpe, John Amys, Jeremy Willson, John Mason, Peter Ling, Edward Grimwood, Thomas Rice, Robert Pearson and William Death queried the payments which had been drawn up at a Court of Survey in 1577. The article of agreement is a clarification of the customs laid down in 1577.

One interesting point – “And that for clovergrass or hay is a sort of new species not known in this part of the county in former days. Therefore the defendant insisted that all such hay as was sold out of the said parish of Walsham and not spent there, tithes ought to be paid in kind.” Turnips and clover had only fairly recently been introduced.

This document has now been placed in Suffolk Record Office at Bury St. Edmunds on long-term loan for safe keeping. It has been given the reference number HD 2308.

What the Papers Said

Bury Post 15 April 1789 “To be sold at auction. On Monday 27 April 1789 between the hours of four and six o clock in the afternoon at The Boar in Walsham le Willows in the county of Suffolk. A copyhold messuage or tenement situated in Walsham aforesaid, now in the occupation of Widow Burgamy and her undertenant, together with the outbuildings, yards, garden and a piece of exceedingly rich land containing by estimation one acre more or less. The above premises have an unlimited right of commonage on a very extensive common. Further particulars may be held by applying to Zachariah Crabb of Wattisfield in the said county or Mr. William Bethel of Walsham aforesaid”.

On the 20th May 1789 notice was given in the Bury Post that some land was to be let in Walsham. “To be let to the highest bidder for a term of years from the lOth October next, at the Black Swan [now Cygnet House] in Walsham in the Willows on Saturday next the 23rd instant between four and six o’clock in the afternoon in the following lots.

Lot I

All those six inclosures of rich arable, meadow or pasture land containing by estimation 27 acres more or less lying in Walsham in the Willows aforesaid, now in the occupation of Mr. Robert Tricker [his grave is in the churchyard; he died in 1807 aged 60].

Lot II

All that piece of rich meadow land containing by estimation 7 acres more or less, lying in Walsham aforesaid and now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Bryant or his undertenants.


All that piece of arable land containing by estimation 7 acres more or less, lying in Walsham aforesaid and now in the occupation of Mr. Joseph Herne.

Lot IV

All that piece of arable land called or known by the name of Dolls Grove [on the bend near Bribery Cottage] containing by estimation 3 acres more or less, lying in Walsham aforesaid and now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Bryant or his undertenant.”

In the Bury Post of 12 August 1789 there is an item on a cricket match in the village. “Cricketing. On Saturday next, the l5th instant, will be played at Walsham in the Willows a match of cricket between the gentlemen of the Mellis and Finningham Club and the gentlemen of the Woolpit and Thurston club, for one guinea each man, when and where the company of all gentlemen, cricketers and others will be esteemed a favour by their humble servant, William Wright, Chequers Inn. Stumps to be pitched at 10 o’clock precisely. Dinner at 2 o’clock. [Perhaps the match was played on the land behind the Chequers Inn, which was the thatched house at the top of the hill from Badwell Ash, or maybe it was played on the flatter field across the road. Whether this was the first cricket match to be played in Walsham is unknown, but it certainly proves that the game has taken place in the village for over 200 years.]

James Turner
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