Nottingham had a part to play in the founding of two remarkable non-conformist movements - the Society of Friends and the Salvation Army. They appeared two centuries apart, very different in character but with striking parallels. Both defied the social conventions of the day and encountered bitter hostility, even from fellow Christians; both gave a prominent place to women, and adopted characteristic dress, and both sought to minister to the poor and disadvantaged. Here the similarities end. After their initial birthpangs, the Friends became pacifist, meditative - almost mystical - and dedicated to philanthropy. They would have been uncomfortable with the brash extroversion of William Booth's Army, with their military titles and brass bands, but would have applauded their commitment to the poor.
George Fox (1624-1691) was here in 1649, at the beginning of his preaching career and still groping for the truth. He entered a church, interrupting the service and denouncing the minister. Not surprisingly, he was arrested and sentenced to a spell in prison - the first of many. A similar incident at Derby a year later led to his appearance before Justice Gervase Bennett, whom he commanded to "tremble at the name of the Lord"! This gave Fox's movement its familiar nickname, the Quakers, which it has borne honourably ever since.
William Booth (1829-1912) was born at 12 Notintone Place, a secluded courtyard just off Sneinton Road, not far from the city centre. The house, together with the two adjoining terraced properties, now form the three-storey red brick William Booth Birthplace Museum (NG2 4QG) (see www.salvationarmy.org.uk/william-booth-birthplace-museum). A statue of the full-bearded General, arm raised in preaching, stands outside. The museum can be visited by appointment. Arranged on three floors, the exhibits include some of Booth's personal possessions, photographs of his life and work and items illustrating the history of the Salvation Army over nearly 150 years. In the entrance hall is the door of Francis Eames' pawnbrokers shop where Booth began his working life and, on the first floor, the room where Booth was born is furnished in contemporary style.
A few days after his birth young William was baptised at St Stephens Church, on the other side of Sneinton Road, but the present building, a forbidding stone pile, dates from about ten years later. He also attended the church for two years as a young teenager.
William's father enrolled his only son at Samson Biddulph's Academy, the building which now houses the Lace Market Theatre (NG1 1QN), in Halifax Place off Pilcher Gate. Booth received a rudimentary education but, due to his father's financial problems, he had to leave and at thirteen was apprenticed to Francis Eames, a pawnbroker, whose shop stood where there is now a clump of trees opposite the Ice Stadium in Bellar Gate. His experience of the pawnshop, where women would sometimes surrender their most precious possessions to provide liquor for their drunken menfolk, determined the course of his life. In 1842, Booth saw the rise of the Chartist Movement in Nottingham, and was attracted by the fervent oratory of its leader, Feargus O'Connor.
Influenced by the Biddulph family, Booth started to attend the Broad Street Wesleyan Chapel and it was here in 1844 that he was converted under the preaching of Isaac Marsden. From now on it was Methodism rather than Chartism that provided the focus for his zeal. The chapel has now been replaced by the modern Broadway Cinema Complex (NG1 3AL) with its mosaic tiled columns; a bronze plaque in the foyer with a relief portrait commemorates Booth's conversion. As an eager young layman, he would round up children from the poorer parts of the city and march them up Stoney Street to the chapel for Sunday services. Their unwashed presence did not meet with the approval of the church dignitaries and this prompted Booth to move to London.
The work of the Salvation Army continues in Nottingham with a modern men's hostel at Sneinton House in Brook Street. This is close to where Booth preached his first sermon - a house in Kid Street. Both house and street have gone - they stood adjacent to the Byron Works factory in busy Lower Parliament Street. At the junction of King Edward Street and Beck Street are the William Booth Memorial Halls and Citadel, erected in 1915. Here, too, a tablet in the foyer celebrates Booth's conversion.
Nottingham also played host to William Carey (1761-1834), when he preached a celebrated sermon on 30th May 1792, calling on the church to "use means" to preach the gospel to the heathen, rather than rely on the passive forces of history to extend the boundaries of the Christian church. His efforts led to the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society and the beginnings of the modern missionary movement. The Friar Lane chapel where the sermon was delivered has long since disappeared.
The remarkable story of the Pilgrim Fathers began amid the flat, dull lowlands that straddle the borders of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The tale is a complex one, and it takes us from these counties to Holland, thence to Southampton and Plymouth, and finally to the hazardous coast of New England.
Babworth is a tiny village just west of Retford, but is as good a place to start as any. Details of the early life of Richard Clifton (1553-1616) are obscure, but it is known that he was inducted as vicar of All Saints, Babworth on 11th July 1586. At Scrooby, a few miles to the north, lived William Brewster (1566-1644), a man of some status and position, who was Master of the Post. Austerfield, just across the border in Yorkshire, was the home of William Bradford (1589-1657). These were three key players in a drama that would change history.
All Saints Church (DN22 8HE) lies hidden behind trees up a narrow lane but its part in the Pilgrims' story has not been forgotten. A plaque in the porch records the main events and one of the church bells is dedicated to Clifton's memory. Among Clifton's congregation were Brewster and the youthful William Bradford, who at the age of twelve or thirteen would walk twelve miles from Austerfield to church each Sunday.
A 20th century vicar also served as chaplain at the nearby Ranby Prison and some items made by the prisoners are displayed in the church. These include an oil painting of soberly dressed pilgrims walking to church through a woodland setting, and a model of the Mayflower made from several thoudand matchsticks. Clifton's rectory was the large, white multi-gabled manor house between the road and the church, now called Haygarth House and privately owned. Unfortunately, the church has to be kept locked for security reasons, but details of keyholders can be obtained on the website of the local diocese (see www.southwell.anglican.org)
Clifton was influenced by the Separatist views of Robert Browne and, early in the 17th century, his preaching began to attract the unwelcome attention of the church authorities. Probably for this reason, the congregation moved to Scrooby, meeting in Brewster's house from about 1606. In 1608, they moved again to Amsterdam and thence to Leyden in 1609, where they remained for about ten years before the final transatlantic adventure.
This is an unexciting name for an unexciting place, but the story it has to tell is full of drama. The grey stone church of St Wilfrid dates from the thirteenth century, but it was extensively restored in 1864, with many of the furnishings removed, apart from some original pews. The church windows have blue glass, giving an unusual effect inside and making the world seem pink as you emerge into the daylight. A brass plaque records that William Brewster was baptised here in about 1566, but the original font went to America. An information board by the churchyard tells Brewster's story.
Brewster's father was Master of the Posts, an important position on this stretch of the Great North Road, and lived in the Manor House, a former palace of the Archbishops of York, where Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII had both spent time. Brewster himself attended Cambridge University and entered the service of Sir William Davison, a diplomat in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He later succeeded his father in both the job and the impressive residence that went with it. It was here that Richard Clifton's congregation began to meet when it moved from Babworth. Clifton was later joined by John Robinson (1575-1625), who shared his separatist views and is more generally recognised as pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers.
There is no trace of the Manor House, but it probably stood near the present Manor Farm, close to the railway line. Adjoining the churchyard is a house called The Old Vicarage, also known locally as "Brewster's Cottage". The timbers look old enough for the period, but the link with Brewster is entirely speculative. The pub on the main road is called the Pilgrim Fathers (DN10 6AT), but those worthy gentlemen might not have appreciated that kind of immortality.
A new Pilgrim Fathers Vistors Centre for the village has been proposed and currently under consideration. For organized tours relating to the Pilgrim Fathers, see www.pilgrimsandprophets.co.uk.
STURTON LE STEEPLE
This little village was the probable birthplace of two pioneers of Separatism - John Smyth (1554-1612) and John Robinson (1576-1625). Both attended Cambridge University and were ordained in the Church of England, but later led independent congregations, which formed the nucleus of the Mayflower pilgrims.
Smyth became convinced that infant baptism was invalid, so - unable to find anyone to baptise him by immersion - baptised himself and became known as the "se-baptist"! He led a church in Gainsborough, which later moved to Holland. Robinson supported Smyth in Gainsborough, but later joined William Brewster's conregation at Scrooby. Also moving with his church to Holland, Robinson was effectively the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, although he himself did not travel on the historic voyage.
A display outside the church describes the village's role in the Pilgrims' story. John Robinson is believed to have been born in a house nearby, now much altered and restored. The old photograph shown here give an impression of what the house may have looked like at the time.
This village was the birthplace of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and he has certainly not been forgotten. The local pub is the Cranmer Arms and a new signboard gives biographical information and details of a walking trail to relevant locations. The 19th century church of St Thomas (NG13 9AL) has a new extension called the Thomas Cranmer Centre and its east window commemorates his great legacy to the Church of England - the Book of Common Prayer. Just opposite the church is a private residence called Cranmer House, rather hidden behind a hedge and fence, which stands on the presumed site of his birthplace. The footpath beside the church is called Cranmer's Walk and it leads to a system of earthworks in a field with a hillock called Cranmer's Mound. This may have been the "motte" of a Norman motte and bailey castle. The depressions were probably medieval fishponds. It is said that Cranmer used to sit here and listen to the church bells at Whatton a mile or so away.
Cranmer left the village at fourteen and his path took him to Jesus College, Cambridge, then to Canterbury as Henry VIII's archbishop, and finally to Oxford, where he died at the stake under Henry's daughter, Mary Tudor.
The village lies about halfway between Nottingham and Retford. William Mompesson (1639-1709), hero of the plague village of Eyam in Derbyshire, came here as rector of St Andrew's Church (NG22 0DB) in 1670 and remained until his death nearly forty years later. He is buried within the church and there are three stained-glass windows and a brass plate to his memory in the chancel. It is said that when he arrived, the villagers thought he might still be carrying the infection and barred him from the church and parsonage. Undeterred, for a time he continued to preach in the open air on the edge of the village, as he had during the plague months at Eyam.