Thursday, September 17, 2015

The nonconformist Newcome

‘I heard today yt a new complaint was gotten to Chester agst mee, wch a freinde hath prevented.’ This is the Rev Henry Newcome, who died all of 320 years ago today, writing in his diary. For a while, he was a very popular non-conformist preacher in Manchester, but he ran foul of new laws designed to shore up the episcopal church, and ostracise those clergy unwilling to follow the strict Church of England rituals. In time, he relaxed his views, and also the state took steps to allow more religious freedom.

Newcome was born at Caldecote, Huntingdonshire, in 1627, the fourth son of the local rector. Orphaned in his teens, he was educated by his elder brothers. From 1644, he studied at St. John’s College, Cambridge. In 1647, he became schoolmaster at Congleton, Cheshire, and, the following year, received Presbyterian ordination at Sandbach. The same year he married Elizabeth Mainwaring, and they had five children. The couple’s first home was with a relation of Elizabeth’s, and it was through her family connections that he was appointed, first, curate at Goosetry in Cheshire and, subsequently, in 1650, minister at Gawsworth where he stayed until 1657. During this period, he sought out other like-minded men who shared with him the ideal of a fully reformed national church; and he became part of a circle which met in the home of his friend and mentor John Machin.

In late 1656, Newcome was elected a preacher at the collegiate church of Manchester (later Manchester Cathedral), and after much hesitation he moved with his family to the city. His ministry was exceedingly popular. In 1660, he welcomed the restoration of the monarchy, but preached against the frivolity of celebrations surrounding the event. Unfortunately, when the constitution of Manchester collegiate church was restored (it having been subverted in 1645), Newcome was not among the elected fellows. He continued to serve as a deputy at the church until the Uniformity Act came into force, two years later, which, among many other things, required episcopal ordination for all ministers - some 2,000 clergymen refused to take the oath and were expelled form the Church of England as a result.

Newcome, having rejected suggestions that he should receive episcopal ordination privately, attended people in a more private capacity; he also preached at funerals, and visited the sick, as if a parish priest. However, even this way of work was prohibited him by the Five Mile Act, which came into force in 1666 further restricting the activities of non-conformists, by forbidding them from living within five miles of a parish from which they had been expelled (unless they swore the appropriate oath). He moved to Ellenbrook, in Worsley parish, Lancashire, but travelled about a good deal, to London several times, and to Dublin even. He returned, as well, to preach in Manchester but was fined for doing so.

In time, Newcome’s non-conformist principles appear to have weakened, drawing criticism from separatists and conformists alike. He tended to blame hardline episcopacy for driving Presbyterianism away from the Church of England, but remained on good terms with conformist friends. Cut adrift from the church, he ran short of money, but was helped by donations and bequests from friends and sympathetic laity. Life became easier after James II’s second declaration of indulgence in 1687, and then, two years later, the Act of Toleration, both steps towards bringing some religious freedom. In 1693, he became a moderator of the general meeting of ministers of the United Brethren in Lancashire; and the next year he preached the first sermon at a newly-built non-conformist meeting-house in Manchester. He died on 17 September 1695. At least two of his sons became Church of England clergymen. Further information can be found from Wikipedia, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or Newcome’s own autobiography (see below).

From 1646 until his death, Newcome is known to have kept a diary. However, only one volume, for the period 1661-1663, has survived in manuscript form. This was edited by Thomas Heywood and printed for the Chetham Society in 1849 as Diary of the Rev. Henry Newcome from September 30, 1661 to September 29, 1663. A copy of the book is freely available online at Internet Archive.

‘The value of the book,’ Heywood writes in his introduction, ‘consists in its having been written as the events it describes occurred, and in its being designed solely for the author’s use. The passages of life are set down to be meditated upon, and as disguise would have been the writer’s own fraud upon himself, it evidently does not exist, eripitur persona, manet res. Whilst we perceive some faults in the full revealment thus afforded, as a want of moral courage and an exaggeration of theological trifles into essentials, yet, tried by this severe test, Newcome deserves the reputation which he has ever enjoyed - of being an earnest Christian.’

Three years later, encouraged by the reception of Newcome’s diary, the Chetham Society published a further work, The Autobiography of Henry Newcome (Volume I and Volume II). This was based on Newcome’s own, and much longer, Abstract - a work he completed in his lifetime for his children, and which he based substantially on his diaries - as edited by Richard Parkinson with modernised spelling. Here, however, are several extracts from the original diary as edited by Heywood (without modernised spelling).

19 March 1663
‘I rose not till after 8, and went to ye library. Studdyed a little on Ps. cxii 7. After dinner I was with Mr Hayhurst at Mr Illingw: a little while, and as wee came back Mr Jackson was preaching. Mr Hayh: came with me & stayed a while. I went after & walk’t with Mr Birch in ye Ch: Yard. & after supp: studdyed ag: My wife is ill in her head. The Lord help mee.’

30 March 1663
‘I rose after 8. Was basely imposed upon by Sathan I beleive in some suggestions to mee in my sleepe ye last night. After secret dutys wee went wth ye children to Nicholas Leigh in Salford. Wn wee returned wee went to dutys and after to ye library I went & read a little about lots. Mr Illingw: was wth mee a little before dinner. After I looked up papers in ye cockloft. My Cozen Davenport & his wife &c were here most of the afternoone. Wee should have met at bowles at 4 but it misst. I dispatched after am: my papers. My wive’s distemper & cozen’s toothach might awaken mee to some seriousnes ye night.’

1 June 1663
‘I rose about 8. Went to looke for a horse, & after some time was glad to accept Mr Page’s, tho a trotter. I went to ye feild for him, & ye warden walked wth mee to ye Broadhulme, wre I took horse & got to Dunham iust at dinner. Mr Weston & his wife dined there, & wee were wth ym in ye bouleinge greene all ye afternoone. I was forced to stay all night, tho’ I obtained freely of my Ld his lre to ye Lady Byron for Mr Taylor of Rochdale.

I was troubled yet I used too free a word to expresse my dislike tow: Dr Br: in wt he delivered, sayinge in iest he was a rascall. Yt word repeated not wth my accent might seeme very strange for mee to utter.

Ye horse I rode of was very fright, yet ye Ld preserved mee from fallinge.’

16 August 1663
‘I rose about 7. Wrot hard all ye forenoone. Wee dined at Mr Buxton’s. I was foolishly vexed wth envey & folly. I heard today yt a new complaint was gotten to Chester agst mee, wch a freinde hath prevented at ye chardge of 12s 6d. Mr Illingworth wth mee a while.’

The Diary Junction

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