Religion

Early history:  an early church as the centre of the town, with a stone cross outside.  The Almshouses built about 1450.

15C-16C:  reformed religions possibly brought in by Flemish weavers escaping persecution on the continent.

17C:  puritanism developing locally, led by John Southmead of Wray and his son-in-law Francis Whiddon; evidence of support for Parliament during the Civil War.
Ejection of puritan Rector in 1662, non-conformists meeting privately until 1689, then Presbyterian and Anabaptist congregations established.

18C:  strong congregations of Presbyterians in Cross Street and Anabaptists in Fore Street (north side)

19C:  building of new Unitarian / Presbyterian chapel, addition of a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, both in Cross Street; also several other groups (see Former Chapels);  by the end of the century there were a Calvinistic Baptist chapel on the south of Fore Street and a Congregational Chapel in Station Road but the Anabaptists or General Baptists were coming close to the Unitarians.  The Census of Places in Worship in 1851 shows several smaller groups.

These religious divisions have important implications for genealogists.  The new sects were carrying out baptisms, which were recorded in their own records (not all available) but not in the Parish records, but for a long time marriage could only legally be carried out in the Parish Church.  Burial in the Unitarian churchyard only started in 1802 when the chapel was rebuilt, and non-conformist burials were not usually entered in the parish register, but the Unitarian Chapel has good memorials. The General Baptist chapel had a very small burial ground; we have few  records for these. 

Education was linked to religion; several of the clergy of different denominations ran day schools as well as Sunday schools, and there were charitable foundations for education linked to the church (see Education page).

 

 

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