Church of St Mary Pirton
Acres, 2,560 ; pop., 1,125; value, £275
As Ickleford was connected with Pirton, the same vicar served both cures. But the records of the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon show that Pirton had often a curate of its own. While in 1576 John Butterfield was at Ickleford, “JOHN DUNNE, curate, B.A., ad concionundum habilis,” is named at Pirton.1 In 1610 JOHN SMITH, vicar, signs the transcript register, and about the same year we find this report, “Pirton, no recusants; communicants, eleven score; patron, Mr Thos. Docwra, a lawman; value £100; curate’s allowance, £17; Samuel Harding, curate.” In 1610, May 9th, Elizabeth Ansell, of Pirton, was presented for not receiving the Sacrament, and on December 8th Wm. Perkins, of Pirton, was admonished” that he do use his minister reverently.” In 1616 NATHANAEL LAWRENCE signs as “curate”; Wm Honeycomb and Thos. Arnold, churchwardens; and Lawrence still signs in 1626 as “minister”. In 1624 “SAMUEL MALE, curate of Pirton,” signs the transcript; John Fletcher, Michael Hammond, churchwardens. In 1631 “HENRY DENNE, curate,” appears; Thomas Hanscomb, Thos. Prior, churchwardens. In that year there were ten baptisms; in 1633 there were five, one of which is “John, the son of Henry Denne, baptize May 29th.” Henry Denne still signs in 1640, in which year twelve baptisms are recorded.1 In 1636, in a ship-money return, Thomas A. Rotheram is assessed in Ickleford for £1 6s. 8d., and Mr Denne, of Pirton, paid nothing.2 It is evident that Pirton was not in those days so neglected as we find it afterwards, when “down to the year 1851 the village was in a most deplorable state,” i.e. as regards the State-provided ministry, “for there being no patronage-house the duties were entrusted to a curate, who was frequently absent from his charge.”1
HENRY DENNE had been educated at Cambridge University, and was ordained by the Bishop of St. David’s in 1630. He enjoyed the living of Pirton about ten years, and being a more frequent, eccentric, and lively preacher than most of the clergy of those times, he was greatly beloved and respected by his parishioners. In 1641 there was a visitation held at Baldock, and Mr. Denne was fixed upon to preach the sermon. He entertained them with an uncommon discourse, exposing the sin of persecution, the vices of the clergy and the corruption in doctrine and worship of the Established Church. The vices of the clergy denounced are their pride, their covetousness, their pluralities, their non-residence. In 1643 he professed himself a Baptist, was baptized by immersion in London and joined Mr. Lamb’s church in Coleman Street. He wrote (as we have seen) in defence of John Bunyan a reply to Dr. Smith, of Cambridge.
1 All the above are from the Acta of the Archd. Of Huntingdon at Hitchin.
2 Cussons Hitchin p. 22; S. P. O. Dom. Chas. I, vol. cocli., No. 84. See also vol. cclxxxvi., No. 1 F. fol. 13,
3 Cussons, Hitchin, p. 22 “Upon thus changing his opinion, he was, in the year 1644, apprehended in Cambridgeshire by the Committee of that county, and sent to jail for preaching against infant baptism and presuming to baptize those again who had received no other. After he had been confined some time, through the intervention of his friends his case was referred to a Committee of Parliament, and he was sent up to London and kept prisoner in Peterhouse Prison in Aldersgate Street till the Committee heard his case and released him. In 1645 he obtained the parish of Elsly, in Cambridgeshire, where he preached publicly in the church, and enjoyed the means belonging to it for some time. He was apprehended a second time in 1646 at Spalding, in Lincolnshire, and soon after, quitting his living, he went into the army and took upon him the profession of the soldier as well as the divine. His dispute with Dr. Gunning in St. Clement’s, Temple Bar, 1658, was printed. He died soon after the Restoration, and upon his grave was put, by a clergyman of his acquaintance, this epitaph:-
“To tell his wisdom, learning, goodness, unto men, I need to say no more, but here lies Henry Denne.” 1
1 Neal’s History of the Puritans, 134: Crosby’s History of the English Baptists. i. 221, 297-307. Here may be seen an extract from his Baldock sermon and a list of his works. His son, JOHN DENNE, followed the Remonstrants with regard to the doctrine of universal redemption, but was like his father in his zeal for what he believed to be the mind of Christ. His ministry was chiefly in the counties of Huntingdon and Cambridge; and to those to whom he ministered in those counties he dedicated in 1699 a discourse, entitled Glad Tidings of Peace” – Crosby, iii. 114. The above statement regarding HENRY DENNE’S imprisonment needs qualification. He was frequenting apprehended and brought before the justices but he was never long in jail. He was most active in preaching in various places. Edwards (Gangrama, I, 76) says:-
“There is one, Mr. Henry Denne, a great Sectary, who lives at Elsly, Cams, of late years an Anabaptist, a great Antinomian, a desperate Arminian….. He was re-baptised by a mechanic, and made member of Lamb’s church, which meets in Bell Alley, Coleman Street. He was sent forth by Lamb’s church into Beds, Cams, and those parts to preach universal grace, and to re-baptize; and he did much mischief in those parts, for which he was committed by the Com’s of Cambridge, but by means of one Mr. Disborough, a sequestrator, the business was put over to a Committee of Parliament ; and being by them committed to Peterhouse, after a while he was dismissed, and went down to Elsly, where he preached openly in the parish church, having the power of that church, and the means belonging to it….. This Denne preached much against Tithes, whereby he draws the people after him. He hath put down all singing of psalms in his church, etc.” “In December last (1645) came down Mr. Den, with Lamb, to Rochester….. Den preached to about eight score; then he went to Canterbury ; in his travels also he dipped many, one of which being of the town of Chatham fell desperately sick upon it, but whether dead or no, that I could not learn” (p.181). “This man goes up and down the countries spreading his corrupt opinions and dipping…..I have the examinations taken before the J.P.’s…..Anne Jarret, of Spalding. June 22nd 1646, saith:- @On Wednesday last, in the night about eleven or twelve of the clock, the servants of John Mackernesse did call me out to go with them to the little Croft, …..and being comes to the river side, Master Denne went into the water, and there did baptize Ann Steunet, Anne Smith,’” etc. (Part iii, 86, 87). “I was informed, for certain, that Mr Den is turned carter, and goes to car, holding that erroneous opinion that ministers must work with their hands, and follow some worldly calling; and that Den hath driven a cart upon the highway in London” (i. 182)
Denne was succeeded by T. A. Rotheram, of whom we have spoken in connection with Ickleford. He was a bitter opponent of Denne’s, and wrote against him. He was followed by John Walker, who in 1646 signs the petition of Herts ministers. The Commissioners of 1650 report that Lady Eleanor Douglas, of Pirton patronage, received all the tithes and maintained a preaching minister unto six months past, but that then it was destitute.1 The next vicar whom we find named is John Savage in 1670.
The following is a list of the ministers here, 1576 – 1670 :-
John Dunne, curate 1631. Henry Denne
- John Smith, vicar 1643. T.A. Rotheram
- Nathanael Lawrence 1670. John Savage
- Samuel Malc.
- Baptists in Pirton
In 1663, October 30th, Thomas Vauxe, of Pirton, was presented “for not paying his tax to the repair of his parish church; Thos. Hanscombe, Wm. Prior, John Field for the like.” 16th Sepember, 1674, Thos. White, of Pirton, was presented “for inscribing texts of Scripture in the chancel over the Communion-table, ‘Ye worship ye know not what’, and over the door, ‘In vain do ye worship me.’ He never comes to the church service or Sacrament.”2
Upon the Declaration of Indulgence 1672, these licences were granted:-
“To ROBERT COLLISON, of Pirton, to be a Baptist teacher, November 18th, 1672.”
“To THOMAS SILLY, of Pirton, licensed to be a Baptist teacher, November 18th, 1672.”
“To THOS. VAUXE,3 of Pirton, to be a Baptist teachers.”
“The house of Thomas Carter of Pirton, licensed as a place of meeting for Baptists.”
1Lambbeth MSS., Survey of 1650. The jurors for Pirton were John Roberts and Thos. Mann.
2Acta, Archdeaconry of Huntingdon.
3”Vauxe was afterwards (1687) pastor of Broadmead, Bristol, and died in 1698.”
- Ivimey, ii. 540
After the passing of the Toleration Act, we find the following places for religious worship certified to the Archdeacon of Huntingdon:-
- “This is to certifie …..that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters design to meet for religious worship at an house at the Little Green, in Purton, in the county of Hertford, inhabited by John Groom, 10th May, 1717. John Groom, Joseph Wilsher, Joseph Pilgrim. 18th May, 1717.”
- “December 21st, 1733. This is to certifie that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters design to meet for religious worship at the house of John Hudson at Pirton. Robinson Chamberlain, Thos, Nicholls, Thos. Beauchamp. 29th December, 1738.”
- These are to certify that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters do intend to meet for religious worship at the house of John Osbon, in the parish of Pirton, September 18th, 1734. Ravens, Nicholas King, Edw. Pakes, Thos. Tickle. Reg. September 19th, 1734.”
- These are to certify that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters do intend to meet for religious worship at the house of Jane Hobbs, in the parish of Pirton, 27th May, 1751. Samuel James, Jno. Williams, Wm. Chapman. 27th May, 1751.”
- These are to certify that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters do intend to meet for religious worship at the house of John Hudson, in the parish of Pirton, John Fosster, Thos. Ward, Jno. Dermer. 23rd March 1762.”
- These are to certify that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters do intend to meet for religious worship at the house of Edw. Law, situate at Pirton, April 23rd, 1775. John Geard, Wm. Thomas, Thos Button.”
- “Pirton. Dwelling house of T. Kingsley for Protestant Dissenters, April 25th, 1814. Hodson, Jno. Woolston, Thos. Kingsley, Saml. Jarvis.”
- “Pirton. Dwelling house of Jno. Throssell for Protestant Dissenters, April 7th, 1818. Throssell”
- “Pirton. Building of James Dawson for Protestant Dissenters, October 3rd, 1826. Garratt, John Throssell, Jas. Dawson.”
- House of Saml. Allen for Protestant Dissenters, July 1st. 1832. Certified by Wm Davis.”