A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
James Nobbs, Senior and Junior, and their ‘Anabaptist’ or Baptist Community at Horton, Gloucestershire
The Baptist Church in Chipping Sodbury has a very long history and we know that it was represented at a conference in Bridgwater in 1655 and during the following year James Nobs, their pastor, signed the Somerset Confession of Faith. Chipping Sodbury was a member of the Western Association of Baptists unlike Cirencester and some of the other Gloucestershire churches which looked towards the Midland Association.
Referring to ‘Dissenters’ Meeting-House Certificates, 1672-1852’, compiled by Anthea Jones, Volume 32 of the Gloucestershire Records Series, I noticed that on 5th September 1672 a licence was granted to ‘James Nobbs of Harton in Gloucestersh to be an Anabapt teacher at his one (own) house there.’ At that time a James Nobbs, Baptist, was also granted a general licence for Westport in Wiltshire. Westport St Mary was an ancient parish situated immediately to the west of Malmesbury. Also, one Samuel Webb of Chipping Sodbury held a roving commission, while John Kibble opened his house there.
In 1673 the Baptists at Horton wrote to Broadmead Chapel about the meetings at Nympsfield that they were at that time supporting. This letter was included in the ‘Records of a Church of Christ Meeting in Broadmead, Bristol, 1640-1687’ collected by Edward Terrill (1634-1685) and the later footnotes in the Hanserd Knollys Society edition, of 1847, include further details, firstly that ‘a brother William Warner was recommended from this church (at Horton) in 1669, to the church in Devonshire Square. Of this church (at Horton) no other information is known to exist.’ Secondly, concerning Nympsfield, ‘at the general assembly of the baptized churches, in London, in 1689, a Mr. Robert Williams appeared as minister at Nympsfield, and again in 1692.’
‘Letter from the church at Horton, Gloucestershire.
To the church of Christ in the city of Bristol, who usually assemble in Broadmead, with whom our dearly beloved brother Hardcastle walkethas pastor; we, the church of Christ who usually assemble at Horton, in the county of Gloucester, send greeting, desiring that grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, through our dear Lord Jesus, may be multiplied upon you all, and in you all; that so you may grow in all the graces of the most Holy Spirit, and at length be found to the praise of his glorious grace.
Dear Brethren – The occasion of our writing unto you at present, is to return you thanks for affording that assistance you have toward the carrying on the work of the Lord at Nympsfield, in sparing our beloved brethren, brother T. Jennings and brother Terrill, so often as you have. Our request unto you is, that you will be pleased to continue that assistance; and not only our request, but, indeed, as it is well known, we suppose, to those brethren with you which have been there, that through the goodness of God it is the desire of some hundreds of souls which come to that meeting. You will find the names of some of them here subscribed in the name of the whole.
We hope we have no need to use any arguments to provoke you to so good a work, considering that the work is the Lord’s, though a self-denying work. We pray you to encourage our brethren; send them to help the Lord against the mighty: we mean the great work of the ministering of the word in that place, where it is so much desired. So we rest,
Your weak and unworthy brethren in the best relation.
Signed by us, in the name, and by the appointment of the whole, at the church assembly, this 27th day of the sixth month, anno Dominii 1673, –
Richard Bird, Thomas Evans, Edward Evans, Edward Heaven, and fourteen others.’
A James Nobbs was the pastor at Chipping Sodbury in 1681 but in 1687, Edward Terrill, in his ‘Record of a Church of Christ in Bristol’ writes, ‘We have lately parted with one ministering brother already to ye Church of Sodbury, in the sad and deplorable estate which fell upon them by the defect of Bro Nobbs.’
Joseph Stratford in his tract entitled, ‘Edward Terrill and other Baptists’, mentions that during the early years of the Broadmead Church, ‘They kept up friendly intercourse with other Baptist churches at Horton, Gloucester and Chipping Sodbury.’ I have also found a reference to Mr Nobbs being a pastor of a congregation in Bristol Castle.
The first mention that I can find to a James Nobbs in the Anglican Church records at Horton is to the marriage of James Nobbes, on 12th August 1622/3, to Bridget Nowell (? could it be Howell?). There is also an entry for the baptism of Mary, daughter of James Nobbs on 25th March 1631. From this we can assume that James and Bridget became Anabaptists or Baptists some time between 1631 and 1655. It is highly likely that the family came under the influence of early advocates of Believers’ Baptism at Bristol where Baptist history can be traced back to 1640 with Broadmead Church and a little later with ‘the Pithay’ which also practised Believers’ Baptism.
The next reference to the Nobbs comes much later when Bridget, the wife of James Nobbs, was buried in the garden of her son, James, on 28th April 1664. The register adds the words, ‘Anabaptist excommunicated’.
Bridget’s husband seems to have died within the period between the making of his will in 1667 and the proving of it at Gloucester in 1678. In his will, James left the manner of his burial to the discretion of his executrixes but there seems to be no reference to his burial in surviving Anglican records. From his will we know that this James had a son, James, a daughter Hester, who was the wife of Daniel Rudley, and further daughters Maria and Hannah. There is also an inventory attached to James’s will.
How do we reconcile the references in Baptist records to James Nobbs, the Pastor, with the information that we have gleaned from the Horton Parish Registers? There is clearly a problem as we have two generations of James Nobbs and, as we will see in an excommunication list, both were active ‘Anabaptists’.
It seems reasonable to propose that James Snr. lived from about 1600 until about 1682 and that his son, James Jnr., from about 1625 until his known death in 1698. The younger James, who was given the accolade of being ‘a great Anabaptist’ in the parish register, could have become a Baptist by the mid 1640s and then served as the pastor at Chipping Sodbury by 1654. Perhaps young James was even present at nearby Westerleigh when Mr. Canne, a committed Baptist, preached there in 1640 and then debated matters of faith with Mr. Fowler, the local minister, for two hours on the village Green. Alternatively, there is the possibility that both father and son were active in pastoral ministry. My own feeling is that it is the younger James who was the Baptist minister or preacher rather than his father and it would seem that in some way he defected from his ministry in 1687.
James Nobbs Jnr. may have married as an Elizabeth Nobbs appears beneath his entry in the list of excommunicated people in the Horton Register.
We know from the Horton Registers that James Nobbs Jnr. died in 1698 and was buried in Thomas Howell’s garden on 22nd July. However, James left no will and I have found no further reference to an Elizabeth, his possible wife, or of any children in the Horton Registers.
The list of ‘Excommunicated Persons’ mentioned above is fascinating and needs to be reproduced in full:
1 James Nobbs Snr
2 3 James Nobbs Jun
1 Mary Nobbs
1 Hannah Nobbs
1 Luke Higgs
Ellinor Cabball ye wife of William
2 Wm Higgs Weaver
John Howell (?) (deleted)
1 Simon Jones
1 Daniel Rudley
2 Hester Rudley
Hester Bennett ye wife of Richard
John Long (?) (deleted)
4 Robert Sparkes 9th 18 1666
Mary Hawborough als Lucas (Sparkes’s whore) 10th 16 1666
John Horwood Snr (deleted)
Those against ye figure 1 were excommunicated June 28 1663 & 26 11 1665
Where ye figure 2 Feb 4 1665
Ye figure 3 Dec 13th 1668
4 as per supra
These were all pardoned
Mary Hickes (?) (deleted) 7th 27 1674
To this may be added a further list from the Horton Registers dated 1660:
‘Some have children alive but that are by themselves named but not baptised
Mary Wools hath a daughter born 1657 called Mary
Daniel Rudley hath a daughter called
Joshua Hooper hath a son born 1658 called Caleb
William Higgs hath a son born in 1658 called Jacob and another born in 1660 called Isaac
Luke Higgs hath a daughter whom he called Katherine born in 1657 or 1658 another who he calleth Hester born 1660 and another born 30th November last, whom he named on the Sunday after in sermon time at his own house, Sarah as it is reported.
Henry and Susannah White have one son called Thomas and daughter called Susannah.’
Some further entries in the Horton Registers refer to Non Conformist burials:
Bridget the wife of James Nobbs was buryed Aprill ye 28th in the garden of the sonne James an Anabaptist excommunicated.
William Marford buried in ye Quaker burial place toward Bristol June ye 8th.
Wm Higgs* an Anabaptist buryed the 17th of Oct in ye garden of James Nobbs Senr.
Elinor* his wife an Anabaptist buryed in ye same garden Nov. 8th.
*William Higgs married Elinor the daughter of Edward Isaac and both of them are mentioned in his will of 1650.
Thomas son of John Terine, grandchild to Luis Horwood was put in the ground August ye 28th
James Nobbs, a great Anabaptist, was buried in Tho Howell’s garden July the 22nd
The carcase of Thomas Howell* was put in a stinking hole in his garden April the 19th 1702
*An Anabaptist gingerbread-maker of Horton named Howell was sufficiently well established to make property deals with John Paston (BL Add. Charters 59739
Howell left a will in which he leaves legacies to various Ridly relatives.
Further entries from the Registers regarding the Higgs Family:
Isaac HIGGS Burial 26 November 1695 Horton as son of an unbaptised man ISAAC HIGGS & ELIZABETH
Elenor HIGGS Christened 22 February 1697 Horton as daughter of an unbaptised man ISAAC HIGGS & ELIZABETH.
An Infant [unnamed] Burial 31 December 1700 Horton child of an unbaptised man ISAAC HIGGS
William HIGGS Christened 9 January 1700 Horton as son of an unbaptised man ISAAC HIGGS & ELIZABETH
This is a work in progress so any further information would be very much appreciated.