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Plate [















To face

Plate I Finchingfield : The Church . Frontispiece

Plate II The Old Vicarage 26

Plate III Finchingfield Church : The Nave ; the
Berner's Chapel; the West Door.
The Yeld Hall 28

Plate IV A page of the Town Book ... 38

Plate V Spains Hall; the Fish Stews; Brent

Hall; the Old Poor House . . 56

Plate VI Weathersfield Church ; Duck End ;

Shalford Church*; Lees Priory . 72

* The photograph of Shalford Church is by Mr. A. W. Brunwin ;
the other three on Plate VI. are by Mr. H. T. Lawson, of Braintree ;
and the remainder by the Publisher.


" A worthy, sober man." — Baxter, in 1654.
** That Mr. Marshall was a faithful servant of God . . .
I doubt not. That he was perfect ... I affirm not."

Giles Firmin.

FEW more complicated problems present them-
selves to the thoughtful student of English history
than the arrival at a definite conclusion respecting
the individual integrity of those eminent men who
swayed the world of religious and political thought
throughout the stormy upheaval of the seven-
teenth century. And the reason is not far to seek.
For in the controversial conflict that raged on all
sides with equal bitterness, the weapon of personal
abuse and unjust imputation was so freely made
use of that to denounce an opponent as a rogue
and a reprobate seemed but fair play even to such
as John Milton, rendering it now a most intricate
task to clear away the smoke of wordy battles
across the centuries and see the combatants in
their true light.

It is probable that not many personalities have
been more obscured in the eyes of subsequent


generations by this mud- throwing process than
that of the illustrious puritan, Stephen Marshall,
aptly styled by Dean Stanley " the Primate of the
Presbyterian Church." Of his distinguished career
and undoubted abilities as an orator, administrator
and leader of religious thought there is no ques-
tion ; it is open for all to read in the pages of his
contemporary opponents and admirers alike. In
this brief and necessarily fragmentary biography
it is proposed to throw some light on the man
rather than the theologian, especially when deal-
ing with that portion of his life spent apart from
political turmoil in the remote Essex village of

And here it may be interesting to note in passing
that besides local sources of information hitherto
uninvestigated, the two most valuable records of
Marshall's individual character have come down
to us from very different points of view. One is
an anonymous " Life," written twenty-four years
after his decease with the evident purpose of
holding up the dead preacher to the contempt of
an age that knew not puritanism. This account,
called in bitter satire " The Godly Man's Legacy
to the Saints upon Earth," abounds in that
personal invective to which reference has been
made, intermixed with much that possesses some
element of truth behind the slander. The un-
known author appears to have known Stephen
Marshall, and is evidently well acquainted with


Finchingfield and its neighbourhood, but writes
with eyes so blinded by party passion, and with
such utter disregard for accuracy, that the wrong
done to the memory of a great man would have
been irreparable but for the other contemporary
witness, a quaint and quietly written tract published
in reply by Giles Firmin, the ejected minister of an
adjoining parish. This good man was apparently
one of those rare individuals to whose blameless
life friend and foe alike bore testimony. In his
younger days he had practised his original calling
of a physician for many years in New England,
whither he had accompanied a body of puritan
colonists from East Anglia. Returning to his native
land during the closing years of the Civil War, he
entered the ministry, and settled down as the ideal
country pastor, ministering to the souls and bodies
of his rural flock in the picturesque village of
Shalford. On the fatal " Black Bartholomew's
Day" of 1662, he left his home, with his wife and
seven children, and went to reside at Ridgwell,
where he resumed his medical profession, until, in
1697, he died, honoured and beloved by all, at the
ripe old age of eighty-three.

He tells us, in the "Brief Vindication" of his
dead friend, how, not content with his own
intimate knowledge of Marshall, he journeyed to
Finchingfield, about seven miles from Ridgwell, to
make " diligent enquiry." *' There," he says, " as
the providence of God ordered it, I met with one


very aged person, truly pious, who had intimate
relations with Mr. Marshall from his first coming
into Essex . . . dwelt always near him, kept in
his house for several weeks together, and knew
all the order of his family ; I judge no better
person than this to enquire of, the person being
very aged." The two elderly worthies then per-
used together with mutual indignation the pages
of the offending "Life"— '* this ugly brat" as
Firmin calls it — and the result was the little time-
stained pamphlet that now rests in the Library of
the British Museum.

But to return to Marshall himself. Nothing
about his early days held any promise of future
distinction. He was bom at Godmanchester,
near Huntingdon, in the year 1594, of lowly
parentage, his father being a glover by trade,
and very poor. The boy and his sister were
often sent out into the fields to assist the scanty
larder by gleaning corn. No record exists to tell
us how Stephen obtained his education. We only
know that " having got so much Latin Grammar
as his poverty and industry would attain unto,"
he matriculated at Cambridge in 1615, entering
Emmanuel College as a pensioner on March 14,
1616, remaining there until taking his B.A. degree
in 1618. He subsequently became an M.A. in 1622,
and a B.D. in 1629.

Emmanuel was at this time one of the leading
puritan Colleges in a puritan University. The


large body of Essex " Lecturers " who fell under
the displeasure of Laud and his predecessors were
all Cambridge men, and chiefly from Emmanuel or
Sidney College ; those *' nurseries of Puritanism,"
as the irate Prelate called them, "from whence
come these People's Creatures," to " blow the
Bellows of their Sedition."

In the same year that Marshall left the Uni-
versity, after a short residence in Suffolk as a
private tutor, he became an ordained minister of
the Church of England, and was presented to the
lectureship of Weathersfield, in Essex. This ap-
pointment had become vacant by the death of the
venerable Richard Rogers, who had held it for
forty-six years, faithfully upholding his puritan
principles, in spite of being several times sus-
pended by the predecessors of Laud. His tomb
is still to be seen near the north porch of his
village church, but the moss-grown lengthy in-
scription has become illegible.

It is not always an enviable position for a
newly ordained cleric to follow in the immediate
footsteps of an able and much respected pre-
decessor, but Stephen Marshall soon appears to
have won the hearts of all his congregation, who
presented him with "a Library at the cost of
Fifty pounds" — a large sum in those days — ex-
acting from him in return a promise that he would
not leave them. Already the young lecturer was
showing promise of those great oratorical powers


for which he was to become so justly noted in
after years, and the story of the effect wrought
by his preaching upon a heedless country gentle-
man of the period is recorded in the pages of old

There is little doubt that the personal appear-
ance of Stephen was not prepossessing ; his face
was rugged and plain, and the study of pulpit
elegance he would have scorned. So it befell
that when — "thick shouldered," with '* Shackling
Gait," and large burning eyes " rowling in his
Heade" — he made his appearance in the pulpit
of Weathersfield Church, the awkward set of his
cloak, and his more awkward struggles to set it
right, were a source of infinite amusement to a
certain Mr. Wiltshire, who, says Firmin, "ob-
serving him, says to another Headborough of the
town that sat by him, in a scoffing manner, Look^
Look^ he shakes his Shoulders^ we shall have some-
thing anon. Then Mr. Marshall went to prayer ;
after he had been awhile in his Prayer, Ay^ hut
listen^ says Mr. Wiltshire, do you hear how he
prays ? Prayer being ended, he went to preach-
ing ; his text was Matt. v. 20. Mr. Wiltshire's
comb was cut, his Jollity was taken down by
that sermon. The next time he came, the text
was Matt. vii. 13, 14. This sermon knocked him
quite down, God struck home, this Scoffer now is
changed." A subsequent sermon on Romans v. 7
brought him " much Refreshing Settlement," and


at the close of the service " Mr. Marshall going
out at the Chancel door, Mr. Wiltshire met him,
and told him, and thou shalt he my adopted son,
and soon took him from Mr. Langden's, where he
boarded, to himselfe, with whom he continued
about a yeare."

This convenient arrangement was in all pro-
bability brought to a termination by Stephen
Marshall's marriage, which took place during his
residence at Weathersfield. His choice fell upon
Susanna Castell, " a gentlewoman of considerable
fortune," whose home lay some twenty miles
away, in the hilly and beautiful village of Wood-
ham Walter, near Danbury. This fair puritan
was one who commanded the respect even of
Marshall's unfriendly biographer. He especially
commends her for not being of " a Politic Reache,"
and for never wanting the '* Ornaments of a
Meeke and Quiet Spirit." From the same source
we are sarcastically informed, and probably with
some truth, as Giles Firmin does not contradict it,
that the lady, who appears to have been staying
in Stephen's neighbourhood, was *' enamoured"
not with "the comliness of his Person, but
ravished with the zealous delivery of his Ser-
mons . . . For whatever good his preaching
does upon Men's Souls it works mightily upon
Women's Affections." In this instance, at all
events, the attraction of the pulpit worked so
*' mightily " upon tll^ begirt pf Susanna that it


became impossible for her to conceal the state of
her feelings, and the admiration she entertained
for the young preacher becoming apparent to
some of her female friends, they hastened to
convey a tactful hint to that good man of the
happiness that might be in store for him, if his
heart should incline towards the damsel. The
affection was evidently mutual, and Stephen
hastened to act upon the suggestion, wooing
the lady "in the Language of Canaan," and so
without difficulty winning her. *' For," says the
malicious old chronicler, with an evident pun
on Susanna's surname, " a Castle is never hard
to take where the Gates stand open without a

Thus did Stephen Marshall take unto himself
a wife and settle down for the next four or five
years in his Weathersfield home. But when three
little daughters had made their appearance upon
the domestic hearth, a change came in the lives of
the worthy pair, occasioned by their removal to
the adjoining village of Finchingfield.

This living — valued in those days at £200 a
year, and much sought after — became vacant in
September 1625 by the death of its minister,
** Thomas Pickeringe — Vicarius ille dignissimus,"
as the old register calls him. The parish is still
one of the largest in Essex, and in those days —
long before a goodly sized hamlet had been
separated from the parent church — the circum-


ference was estimated to have been thirty-five
miles, with a population in proportion, and
containing some notable families, whose pic-
turesque old houses still remain more or less

Foremost amongst these was Spains Hall, the
home of William Kempe, the patron of the living,
whose ancestors had held it in possession for
three hundred years, and who were no doubt the
original builders of the main part of the fine old
Tudor residence as it stands to-day. The repre-
sentative of this ancient family, during the early
years of the seventeenth century, was a strange
and morose being, with an iron will, and probably
a somewhat disordered brain. Subject to fits of
violent and unreasonable passion, he on one
occasion uttered an unwarrantable accusation
against his wife, Phillipa, and — upon becoming
sensible of the gross injustice he had done her —
formed a stern resolution to hold his peace from
that day forward, maintaining his vow "with
voluntary constancy " for the space of seven
years. According to local tradition he marked
each year with the formation of a fish *' stew,"
the remains whereof are still to be seen, and
although the recent discovery of an ancient map
in the cellar of Spains Hall points to a somewhat
earlier date than the term of the vow, it leaves no
doubt but that William Kempe was the designer
of these beautiful sheets of water lying one behind



the other in the densely wooded plantation that
still skirts the park. Many are the curious tales
handed down in the old village respecting this
extraordinary vow, and various forms of tragedy
and misfortune foretold by a Finchingfield wizard
called " The Raven " are recorded to have befallen
Kempe during the period of silence, including
serious accidents to himself, the loss by drowning
in the fishponds of three of his servants, and, as a
direct consequence of his refusal to speak, the
sacking of his home by a wild gang of robbers,
during which desperate deed a little boy was
murdered, whose small spirit — it was firmly
believed — haunted from henceforth the scene of
his untimely death.

According to local tradition it is also supposed
that Kempe never again held converse with mortal
ears, but died vainly struggling to utter a word at
the exact termination of the seven years. This,
however, is incorrect, as the valuable information
given us by Giles Firmin proves, confirming at
the same time the main truth of this strange story,
and the magnetic power of Stephen Marshall's
kindly influence. He tells us how, upon the death
of *' Mr. Pickeringe, a learned and reverend
Divine . . . the Patron of the Living (so swallowed
up with a Melancholy Phrensie that he neither
went to Church nor spoke to any Person for
several years, but always signified his mind by
writing) had suitors indeed for the Living ; some


earnest for Mr. Daniel Rogers, others for Mr. Lee.
Mr. Kempe the Patron would hear of none ; after
they had long urged him, he grew much dis-
pleased, and wrote : They did hut go about to
shorten his life hy giving him this trouble^ no man
should have it but Mr. Marshall. . . . Mr. Marshall
sought not the living, nor any for him, but for
others ; the Patron resolves (moved from no
other but his own pleasure) that none shall take
it but Mr. Marshall, who when he came to the
Living, soon wrought upon his Patron to converse
with men by his Tongue, lay by his Pen, brought
him to Public Worship, hundreds of spectators
wondering to see him come to Church : I think it
an honour to Mr. Marshall."

It is to be regretted that this happy change had
come too late to be any comfort to Phillipa, who,
two years previously, had exchanged the miserable
silence of her earthly home for the stillness of
eternity. She was " of Chaste Life, and Religion,
Discreet in both," as her epitaph records ; the
latter quality being doubtless one necessary of
cultivation in her difficult life. Her eccentric
husband lived for nearly three years after the
arrival of Stephen Marshall. He was ultimately
taken with a fit one summer morning in 1628, and
after fruitless efforts to make his wishes known —
his will being unmade — the obstinate old man
passed away the same evening at the age of
seventy-three years. Marshall was no doubt


present at his death -bed, and a few days later
committed his mortal remains to rest byPhillipa's
side in the old family vault.

Robert Kempe, his nephew, a cultured and
refined puritan of the more moderate type, came
into possession of Spains Hall, and lived there
for thirty-five years, to be a source of blessing to
Finchingfield. Artistic in spite of his creed, he
beautified his ancient home with curiously
wrought water pipes, which not only remain until
this day, but their function of conveying super-
fluous water from the roof is in perfect working
order. The chancel roof was rebuilt at his " Pious
Charge," and in 1635 a venerable building called
the " Yeldhall" — the headquarters of the Trinity
Guild in pre-Reformation days — was bestowed
upon the village as an almshouse, and still con-
tinues to be as comfortable a shelter for aged
village dames as in the seventeenth century.
Robert Kempe received the order of knighthood
from the Long Parliament in 1624, and was one of
the elders under the presbyterian system, but he
never appears to have taken any active part in
the conflict of this time. He lived to see the re-
storation of the monarchy, dying in the autumn
of 1663, and leaving behind him a name worthy
to be had in remembrance.

Brent Hall, now a quaint old farm-house, about
half a mile from Spains Hall, was then the resi-
dence of Edward Bendlowes, the great-grandson


of William Bendlowes, an Elizabethan Serjeant-
at-Law, whose memory was much revered for the
many pious benefactions he had bequeathed to
no less than seven parishes, including Finching-
field and his own native village of Great Bard-
field. His descendant was chiefly distinguished
for his great extravagance of living, combined
with "proficiency in Elegant Literature." He
was on intimate terms with celebrated writers
and poets of the day, including Francis Quarles,
whose curious " Emblems " is said to have been
chiefly composed at Brent Hall ; tradition even
pointing out a nook in the garden under an old
wall as the scene of his labours. In one edition
of the " Emblems," a map of the world occurs on
the title-page, but only four places are recorded
as worthy of notice, Finchingfield being one.
Bendlowes himself published a " Divine Poem "
. . . with parts thereof made to fit Aires, called
"Theophila," and several other productions of
a like nature. In 1657, his imprudence " in
matters of Worldly Concern" not only necessi-
tated the sale of Brent Hall, but landed him for
a time in a debtor's prison at Oxford, in which
city he continued to reside for some years "in
obscure condition," yet "much admired by great
men for his ancient Extraction, Education, and
Partes " ; until, " for want of Conveniences fit for
old age ... he marched off in a cold season, on
the eighteenth of December at eight of the Clocke


at night, Anno Domini 1676, aged seventy-three
yeares or more."

Another prominent puritan household with
whom Marshall was on terms of friendly inti-
macy was that of the Meades, owners of Nor-
tofts and Sculpins, two ancient houses standing
some distance from the village, Nortofts being
situated on the highway to Weathersfield, and
Sculpins on what is now a lonely district to the
north, only to be reached by a bridle path or
a deeply sunk lane. The latter place appears to
have been the usual family residence, for we read
of Stephen as being a constant visitor there ; con-
tinually, says his disparaging biographer, " sucking
in the air at Sculkins." The house was famed
throughout the county for its open-handed hos-
pitality, a reputation that it maintained to the end
of the eighteenth century. " Mr. Meade," says
Giles Firmin, " was the second Liberal Gentleman
in Essex, and there were such a succession of
Strangers, especially Ministers, to his house that
none need fear an unaired Bed."

Three generations inhabited Sculpins during
the period of Marshall's ministry, but the most
celebrated was John, the grandson of George
Meade, who had purchased the estate in 1602, and
died in 1629. He was succeeded by his son John,
whose wife was a victim to religious depression,
amounting to mania. After her husband's death
— which took place about 1640 — she continued to


reside with her son at Sculpins, where her distress
was completely cured by the spiritual ministra-
tions of Stephen Marshall. Calamy tells us that
she was " under great trouble about the Concern
of her Soul, and for some time would not go to
Church, though she us'd to love to go thither.
She now said, what should she do there ^ it would
but increase her damnation^ but being over per-
suaded, and almost forced into the Coach by her
son-in-law, Mr. Brown and others, she heard Mr.
Marshall, and was by that Sermon so exceedingly
satisfy'd that she came home transported with joy.'*

John Meade, her son, took an active part in the
religious alterations of the period, being one of
the ten appointed by the Earl of Manchester, in
1643, to form the Essex Committee for the sup-
pressing of " Scandalous Ministers," a somewhat
unhappily wide term for many an unfortunate
vicar, as it was also made to include all " any
waies ill affected to the Parliament." John's
connections by marriage were of a strictly puritan
type, his wife being second cousin of the Pro-
tector, and a first cousin of Sir John Barrington,
of Hatfield Broadoak.

Sculpins is so interwoven with Marshall's
village life that it may be interesting here to note
briefly its subsequent history. Upon the death
of John Meade, about the year 1664, his estates
passed into the hands of his two daughters, and
were divided among them by lot, Nortofts falling


to the share of Joan, the wife of Roger Rant, and
Sculpins to Dorothy, who had married John
Marshall, a loyal courtier, descended from the
Earls of Pembroke, and knighted in 1681, upon
his presenting an address to Charles II. from the
County of Essex. But, notwithstanding her hus-
band's opinions and his position as a Justice of
the Peace, Dame Dorothy nobly maintained the
puritan traditions of her race. For four or five
years after the passing of the Five Mile Act, in
1665, the old Manor-House of Sculpins, *' whither
Mr. Stephen Marshall us'd to come very fre-
quently," became the home and shelter of five
nonconformist ministers, "that eminent Divine,"
Mr. Samuel Fairclough, his two sons, and two
sons-in-law. Permission was also given them to
preach by turns in the family and to any of the
neighbours who came in to benefit by the exhor-
tations of this goodly " Constellation of Stars,"
which, says Calamy, " being now in all Conjunc-
tion, drew the Eyes of much People into the
Corner upon them." The same writer describes
the elder Fairclough as "a Boanerges in the
Pulpit, . . . Judicious and Moving, yet, withall,
a man of Greate Gravity, tempered with a
Surprising Sweetness." The old puritan sub-
sequently ended his days at Stowmarket in 1677,
aged seventy-seven, at the " Habitation of his
Daughter," whose husband had conformed and
become vicar of the little Suffolk town.


Dame Dorothy died in 1685, leaving an only
daughter. Sir John married a second time and
had two sons, the younger of whom succeeded
his father at Sculp ins, where he lived until his
death, at the latter end of the eighteenth century.
There he maintained such lavish hospitality that
local tales are still repeated in the village of his
famous bowling parties, whereunto all the gay
and fashionable world resorted every week, and
his ponderous coach, drawn by four powerful
grey horses, that used to crash down the now
green bridle-path to the church on bygone

At the present day but a fragment of Sculpins
remains, inhabited by a labourer, and a strange
silence, only broken by the singing of the birds in
the stately elms by the old moat, pervades the
deserted scene. The boisterous revelry of the
cock-pit and the bowling-green, as well as the
solemn assemblies of the divines, and the fair
presence of Dame Dorothy, have alike passed

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Online LibraryE VaughanStephen Marshall: a forgotten Essex Puritan → online text (page 1 of 8)