Family History Notebook

THE MUGGLESWICK PARK
CONSPIRACY

(From Tales of Derwentdale by J.W. Fawcett 1902)

During the brief reign of Presbytery and Independency under the Commonwealth and Protectorate, from 1649 to 1660, the bulk of the inhabitants of Muggleswick and the neighbourhood, seem to have abjured Episcopacy and Prelacy; and the Rev. Richard Bradley, Master of Arts and a High Churchman, who had been appointed to the Perpetual Curacy of Muggleswick, and the spiritual oversight of the parishioners, on the 20th of November, 1641, was expelled, or ousted from his living five years later. The Civil Wars which broke out in 1642 ended in the abolition of monarchy and the establishment of a Commonwealth in 1649. During this period every effort was made to desecrate the Established Church, and considerable damage was done to the ecclesiastical buildings, their monuments, and their parish registers, and all the established clergymen were driven from their livings.

In 1646 Episcopacy was abolished and the use of the Book of Common Prayer, whether in public or private, was prohibited; fines being inflicted for the first offence, and a year's imprisonment for the third. In the county of Durham the Bishop (Thomas Morton) was driven from his see, and his estates and property seized and ordered to be sold. All the Clergy in this diocese, as elsewhere, were thrust out of of their livings, and Puritan preachers, or intruders as they are generally called were put in their places. These intruders were not clergymen, but sectaries, thrust into the livings by the Parliament, or by Oliver Cromwell, after the Church and Crown had been overthrown by the rebel.

The name of the intruder into the living of Muggleswick was Thomas Roger, who, however, did not occupy the perpetual curacy very long from the restoration of monarchy in the person of Charles II., in 1660 when everything that had been done in the Church and State during the interregnum was annulled, and when by the Act of Uniformity, all the Clergy were obliged to subscribe to the Thirty--nine Articles, and use the same form of worship and the same Book of Common Prayer, Mr Roger was, with about two thousand other Nonconformist ministers, deposed in their turn. Roger did not stay until the final ejection of Nonconformist ministers on Black Bartholomew's Day on the 24th of August, 1662.

This violent change was naturally distasteful to the Puritanical portion of the inhabitants of Muggleswick and the neighbourhood, who complained loudly, but in vain, that an unsuitable person was to be imposed upon them to guide and rule them in spiritual matters. They thereupon drew up a petition containing their grievances, which they gave to Mr. George Lilburne, one of the members for the county, to present to the House of Commons. It was signed by sixty-two persons, including women and children, whom the Rev. Richard Bradley had indicted for absenting themselves from Holy Communion.

A copy of this petition, which was printed, is amongst a series of pamphlets presented to the British Museum by King George III. (Folio. Sh. 1. No. 121) and is quoted by Robert Surtees in his History of Durham. It is as follows:

"A most lamentable information of Part of the Grievances of Muggleswikk Lordship, in the Bishopric of Durham, sent up by Master George Lilburne, Major, of Sunderland, to be communicated to the House of Commons.

"To all Christian people to whom these presents shall come, know that we are a people in that our parish of Muggleswicke, who have been destitute of a preaching Minister; yea, ever since any of us that are now breathing were borne, toour soul's great griefe and dreadful hazard of destruction; neither is it our case alone, but also ten, yea or twelve parishes all adjoining are in like manner void of the means of salvation, whose case and condition is deeply to be deplored: And as for us in Muggleswicke, we have had neither good nor bad since Martinmas (November 11th) Anno Dom., 1640, but such as the Scottish Presbiterie furnished us withal (bemoaning our miserable estate) for hee who then supplied the place, departed this life the day of the date above mentioned; and we immediately after his death rode to one Master James, minister of Riton, being one of the prebends of Durham, entreating him with all earnestness, with an humble petition, because he then was in authorite, and no more of that sect left in the countre, but all fled because of the Scots, that this our poore parish of Muggleswicke might once at length have the fruition of a faithful minister, but hee answered that they (viz.) the prebends, had already appointed us a man, namely, one John Duery, whom we knew; then with all our soules we besought him that we might be exempted of that Duery, because we knew him to be no preacher, and his life and conversation scandalous, and had two places at that present; as we told him; and also that he publicly confessed in a pulpit before an open assembly, that he could not preach, and yet that aspiring prebend (whose lifeless conscience, we leave to your censure) replyed that they had once authorized him, and wee neither could nor should depose him; and he also told us in plaine tearmes, that if he could reade the prayer booke and an homily, it was nothing to us what kind of man he was ; so when things would be no better, it behooved us to come home with these cold comforts having heavy hearts that our soules should a longer season be inthralled to such a simple, yea (we dare say) sinful minister, who is ignorant of the very principles of religion; yet our all sufficient God (seeing that we were but breeding and beginning in Christianitie) would let no more be laid upon us (than we were able to beare), and so seeing us unwilling to accept of him he gave over. Thus the place being voide for the space of a whole yeare, we ourselves betwixt grief and necessitie, went abroad to seeke, and it pleased our God to send such an one as our soules longed after, and no sooner found we one to whom our minds affected, but immediately those prebends (who whether they were friends or foes to Christ judge yee), that will not sticke to hazard their heads so they may hinder the truth, doe impose one Braidley upon us, a bird brought out of the nest of their bosomes who (we may say without sinne) is one of the most deboist amongst the sonnes of men, for hee will neitherpreach himself, nor yet permit others; but upon the Sabbath day he, took the locke from the Church doore, and fastened on one of his owne, so that the parishioners were forced for to stand in the church yard to discharge divine duties with their minister in cold, frost, and snow, to the, infinite dishonour of the Almightie, the great griefe of their minds, and the dreadful indangering of themselves in that stormy time of the yeare; other times before, he came into the church, whilst our minister was in his exhortation, and stood up beside him, reading with a loud voyce in a book to overtop the sound of his words ; afterwards pulled him by the coate when hee was in the pulpit; but when neither of these would cause him to desist from duty, he goes and rings the bell all aloud; neither is this all, but out of malice cals a communion and enters upon the sacred action without any prepartion sermon before the day."

Under the circumstances described in the terms of the petition, it was no wonder that the parishioners felt deeply aggrieved, and Surtees observes that "it was perhaps owing to the calmer temper of the people and the. milder genius of the country rather than to the leniency of the Government, that the same scenes were not acted there which soon after occurred in Scotland, when the Covenanters were hunted into the wilderness, and found consolation in anathematising those persecutors amidst woods and water and waterfalls." The proceedings on the part of the clergyman at Muggleswick unquestionably in a great measure fomented the Anabaptist and Presbyterian plot hatched at that place. The local gentry and others of Muggleswick parish who had been imbued with this Puritanical spirit during the Commonwealth, were, after the Restoration, viewed with suspicion by the Royalists. In such a state of things every movement was liable to be misconstrued as treasonable ; whilst on the other hand their proceedings of the Government were naturally thought tyrannical by those who had contended for the "good old cause."

Muggleswick Park at this period became the scene of several supposed seditious meetings, which an ill-judged display of force might very easily have converted into dangerous armed assemblies provided there had been some leader to inflame their godly zeal and to lead them forth to fight the battle of the Lord of Hosts. The "psalm singing rascals," as such individuals were called in those days, on the banks of the Derwent, however, were few in number and devoid of influence; and the gentry in the neighbourhood were almost to a man against them. The. actual state of matters may be inferred from the following affidavit (from the Harleian M.S.S. in the British Museum) sworn to by John Ellerington, of Blanchland, in the county Northumberland before Samuel Davison, Cuthbert Can, Thomas Fetherstone, and Richard Neile, justices of the peace, on the 22nd March, 1662, at Durham.

This informant saith:- "That he hath known divers seditious meetings in Muggleswick park, within the last six month, sometimes in the house of one John Ward, who is one of their chief preachers, sometimes at the house of John Readshaw, Robt. Blenkinsopp and Rowland Harrison, who were met together. The said John Ward, John Readshaw, Robert Blenkinsopp, and Rowland Harrison, together with Capt. George Gower, Robert Readshaw, son of the said John, Robert Taylor, Mark Taylor, both of Eddis Bridge, John March of the same, John Joplin of the Foxholes, John March of Ridley Mill, Cuthbert Newton of Flendsey, Richard Taylor of Cronkley, Henry Angus, Cuthbert Maughan of Birchenfields, George Readshaw of Edmondbyers, John Oliver of the same, Lewis Frost of South Sheales, Cuthbert Coatsworth and Michael Coatsworth of the same, Richard Ord and John Ord of Birchenhaugh, James Can of Ardley, Nicholas Dalmer of Crawcrook, Rowland and Nicholas Harrison, sons of Rowland Harrison abovesaid, John Hopper of Carpsheales, Thomas Readshaw of Peddamack, Michael Ward of Shotley Field, Cuthbert Ward of Black Hedley, Ralph Iley of Edmondbyers, Richard Johnson of Sunderland, and .2pt">Foster of the same; where they did mutually take an oath of secrecy not to discover their design, which was to rise in rebellion against the present government, and to destroy the present Parliament, which had made a law against liberty of conscience, and to murder all bishops, deans, and chapters, and all ministers of the Church, and to break all organs in pieces, and to destroy the common prayer books and to pull down all churches; and farther, to kill the gentry that should either oppose them, or not join with them in their design. That they intended first to fall upon Durham, to seize any magazine that might be there, or money in any treasurer's hands, and to plunder the town. They did boast of many thousands of Anabaptists and Independents that were to join with them in the nation, with whom they had daily correspondence by letters and messengers, upon which employment the said informant had been divers times sent to divers persons ; and he heard them lately say that some Papists were lately come in to their party, and they did not doubt of their real intention to join with them in their design; That they have already in their hands some provision of arms, and do expect great proportion both of arms and ammunition from Lewis Frost abovesaid, who hath undertaken to provide for them. And he further saith, that for divers months by past it was resolved amongst to rise on the 25th of this instant March, but they did lately agree to defer the execution of their design for a month longer, till they see what the Parliament would do concerning indulgence to tender consciences and toleration of the party, and withal by putting off their rising they would be much stronger by many that would come to their party daily. And this informant saith that he knows to depose what he hath said because he was one of their party, and was rebaptised by the above John Ward, and was with them at most of their meetings, and did take the above said oath of secrecy, but being pricked in his conscience at the horror of such a, bloody design, he could have no rest nor quietness in his mind, till he had discovered the same."

In the second information Ellerington accused several gentlemen of considerable rank as participators in this crime of high treason. Amongst them were Sir Henry Witherington of Northumberland (who had been High Sheriff and also an M.P. for the country), Edward Fenwick of Stanton, Esq.; Timothy Whittingham of Holmside, Esq.; and Captain George Lilburne, of Sunderland. Witherington and Fenwick were probably Roman Catholics. Whittingham was a Presbyterian, and Lilburne whose name aforetime had been a terror was ominous, was an independent.

Whittingham and Lilburne were apprehended on the information of Ellerington, detained in custody three months, and then liberated for want of the slightest evidence to criminate them. Against Witherington and Fenwick there seems to have been less suspicion, probably their hereditory adherence to the old faith rendered, it unlikely that they would ever make common cause with the Roundheads in an endeavour to upset Charles II's government and replace it by something to their mind far worse. In the Bishopric of Durham the seditious Derwentdale plot excited no little com­motion, and to oppose the conspirators, Dr. Cosin, the Bishop, called out the trained bands of the Palatine, under Sir Thomas Davison, and the principal gentry and their retainers, embodied themselves in the different wards of the county, under Sir Nicholas Cole of Brancepeth Castle; Colonel Cuthbert Carr of Dunston; Colonel Byerley; and Henry Lambton, Esq.

After all the alarm proved to have been a "much ado about nothing," without solid foundation, resting simply on the evidence of the one rascally informer and infamous scoundrel - John Ellerington, of Blanchland, who, in order to gain himself favour, and finding his audience had itching ears, accused every Anabaptist, Independent, and Presbyterian, or whoever leaned to the presbytery, of participation in the alleged plot, and manufactured cock and bull stories to startle them and subserve their own vile purpose.

It is true, however, that in various parts of the Kingdom all the Dissenters showed symptoms of uneasiness under the Bartholomew Act of 1662 which demanded episcopal recognition, the use of the amended Book of Common Prayer and the adjuration of the league and covenant, and the Cavaliers could never forgive

"The psalm singing rascals who drubbed them so well."

Loyal addresses poured in, and armed associations formed in all quarters, and such a face of general resistence was displayed, that all the discontented residents shrunk from showing any unpleasantness.

The following is a copy of the text of one of these loyal addresses dated 14th January, 1663:

"For-as-much as this county palatine of Durham together with others, the northern parts of the Kingdom, have been lately disturbed by many seditious plots and devices of disaffected persons, who in their frequent and secret designs in their unlawful designs, may much endanger the peace of his majesty, and of his loyal subjects we therefore as faithfully promise and undertake to be ready with our horses and arms, and with all the free assistance we can procure, to repare unto such place etc., and to oppose the designs either of Quakers or Anabaptists or other disaffected and disloyal persons, and to dissipate the dangerous assemblies and seditious conventials, etc., in the several and respective quarters of our habitations."

During 1663 several inquiries were held concerning the plot and various evidences taken.

In a letter written by Mr. Edward Arden to Mr. Stapylton, dated Auckland Castle, 27th March, 1663; we have the following:-"My Lord (the Bishop, Dr. Cosin) is now and was yesterday examining several Anabaptists, who have a witness come in against some of them that upon oath swears that they at their meetings entered into a solemn oath upon the Bible to destroy the Parliament, the Bishop, the Clergy, and the Gentry too if :they opposed them. We have now horse and foot, with no great number, heare in towne, and at Durham in readiness, &c."

In the month of December several witnesses were examined before Henry Widdrington, James Ogle, and Ralph Jennison. It is impossible however to give the whole of their evidence, but the following extracts will show what sort was adduced:‑

George Proud, of Ebchester-bridge-end, Webster, on December 1st, 1663, stated that "Being in company with one John Suirtes, of Highfield, about five or six weeks since at a place called the Hollins, he heard the said Suirtes say that there was two troops of horse that were in arms there;" and Proud also stated that two persons with broad swords came over the ford at Ebchester.

The same day Thomas Richardson deposed "that he told Thomas Marshal that John Wilkingson told him that Joseph Hopper was and had been abroad with his horse and armes, and that there were some men upon horseback with swords, seen ryding by over at Ebchester and Shotley Bridge, and John Wilkinson said that he feared Joseph Hopper was with them."

Joseph Hopper was then examined, and he stated that he had been "abroad five weeks in Ireland, to see some friends he had there" and that when he went "he would not acquaint his wife therewith, for he knew she would be unwilling to let him go."

After the most minute inquiries, conducted by parties by no means disposed to extenuate the case, it turned out that the terrific array of mounted Anabaptists whom the informer alleged to have been mustering by night on Muggleswick Common, and the two troops of horse seen near the Hollins, and the, same men who forded the Derwent with glittering broad swords was reduced to one man - Joseph Hopper - who had taken a jaunt to Ireland, and had reasons for not acquainting his wife, showing, indeed great want of gallantry, but nothing to intimidate the Cavaliers, and had come back again on horseback. As Ellerington had accused every person in the neighbourhood who favoured the presbytery and was opposed to prelacy, of participation in the alleged plot had there been a tittle of evidence against any of them they could not have escaped the severest punishment, such was the inflamed spirit of the time, and if such had been the case, of the fifteen hundred men then sent on an average to the Virginian colony in North America, Muggleswick would probably have provided a considerable instalment that year to labour as slaves in the tobacco plantations.

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See also Paul Hobson