Following on from the last post about the Minors School, it seems that its founder was no stranger to controversy either. Here’s the original extract from the Victoria County History someone sent to me which unexpectedly ignited my interest in Presbyterian places of worship with mention of a meeting house in the city being burned down during riots in 1715 and a chapel at Longdon Green.
The Presbyterians remained powerful in the city after the Restoration. Bishop Hacket complained that ‘the Presbyterians of the city do what they list, come not to the holy communion, baptize in hugger-mugger, are presented for their faults but no order taken with them’, and Dean Wood allotted prominent seats in the cathedral to Thomas Minors and his brother-in-law William Jesson. Presbyterian influence extended in 1667 to the election as M.P. of Richard Dyott, who Hacket believed was completely under their control. In July 1669 Minors and Jesson were summoned before the Privy Council for holding a conventicle in Minors’s house. They moved the meeting to a farmhouse at Elmhurst, where a conventicle later the same month lasted most of the day. According to Hacket it was attended by some 80 people, of whom the ringleader was a Lichfield carrier named James Rixam (or Rixom), a man ‘no way fit for that trust, being a transcendent schismatic’. Minors and Jesson subsequently appeared before the Council but were discharged.
Five houses in Lichfield were licensed for Presbyterian worship in 1672; they included Minors’s house and that of John Barker, another mercer who was later one of the trustees of the English school in Bore Street established under Minors’s will. By 1695 a Presbyterian minister, Robert Travers, was working in the area, with a chapel at Longdon Green. He baptized at Lichfield in 1700, and there was a meeting house in the city by 1707. It was burnt down during riots in 1715 but had been rebuilt by 1718. In 1720 Travers was living in the house of Elizabeth Jesson, possibly in Saddler Street. In 1738 his own house in Lichfield was licensed for worship. He may still have been active in 1747, but by April 1748 the congregation was served by Samuel Stubbs. The Lichfield chapel was closed in 1753, but the congregation continued to meet at Longdon Green.
I’ve wandered around Longdon a fair few times, and news of a 17th century chapel was new to me . Local historian J W Jackson went for a wander around there in the glorious summer of 1876 and described in his Lichfield Mercury column how he stumbled upon the chapel:
‘On this occasion, we decided on following the Stafford Road, via Lyncroft and taking the lower road to Longdon Green, then turning to the right by Lysways Hall….As we stood feasting our eyes on the beauty around us, our attention was attracted to a solitary building in front of us. At first, we took it to be a cottage but as we got nearer we saw that the windows were much like those of a church, deep and arched, and as we had to pass near it on our way we decided to examine it closer. As we came near it we heard voices singing a hymn and at once concluded it was a small chapel. Crossing over a tiny stream we entered the small graveyard and walked quietly to the open door, when the hymn had ended, we quietly entered and took our seats on the nearest vacant bench and a grey-haired old caretaker handed us books. The singing had not been led by a trained choir and organ but the small congregation sang as if from the heart, and fairly well in tune…At the time we little thought we were in the first Lichfield Congregational Church which like a great wide spreading tree had sent its branches over the district’.
In the glorious summer of 2018, local nosey parker K L Gomez decided on following the road from the Red Lion pub down Lysways Lane, looking for the site of the small chapel. I knew it had been demolished from the description on Pastscape but, as ever, I was curious to see if some trace remained.
The name of the nearby house on the opposite side of a tiny stream (the Bilson Brook) confirmed that I was more or less in the right place. The sweet singing of the choir has been replaced by the noise from the road which the chapel was demolished to make way for in 1966 and the holly and the ivy (and hawthorn bushes and nettles) are both so full grown that the public path running alongside is inaccessible. Further exploration to try and find traces of the lost chapel and its graveyard will need to wait until winter when some of the Longdon greenery has died off a bit.
In the meantime, I want to know more about those incendiary events of 1715. Where was the meeting house which was burned down and is its replacement still standing?
Lichfield Mercury Archive
Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 155-159. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp155-159