Poet and Preacher
His just Description I no more can give
Than th’Painter can make this his picture live.
‘On Bishop Wilkins Picture Dec 30th - 82’ by John Rawlet in Poetick Miscellanies, 1687
WHO WAS JOHN RAWLET?
First published 1984
The Rev. John Rawlet, B.D., was born in Tamworth during one of the most turbulent periods of English history. Within a few months of his birth the country was plunged into a bloody civil war. He was seven when Charles I was beheaded by Parliament, and the rest of his childhood was spent under Cromwell’s Commonwealth rule. Charles II was restored to the throne while Rawlet was studying at Cambridge. He was working in the City at the time of the Great Plague and the Fire of London. |
Rawlet held church appointments across the country: in the Home Counties, at Wigan, Kirkby Stephen and Newcastle upon Tyne; and at the height of his career he was highly regarded both as a preacher and as a writer of devotional books. Among his friends were important and influential men of the seventeenth century, but Rawlet died before he could gain high office.
Over the centuries he has sunk into obscurity even in his native town; but his name has lived on in the Trust he set up to administer his will for the benefit of the people in the town, and, more recently, in the naming of The Rawlett School, Tamworth.
Now, some three hundred years after his death, using seventeenth century records, commentaries of later writers, and the letters and writings of Rawlet himself, this little book sets out to answer the question: Who was John Rawlet?
For Mark, Neil, Robin and George, who, with great patience and good humour, travelled the length and breadth of England with me on the trail of J.R.
by The Rawlett School, Tamworth
in a limited edition of 250 copies.
2nd edition 2004
© Margaret Manuell, 1984, 2004
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. Enquiries should be addressed to the publishers.
26 Alexandra Mews
Tamworth B79 7HT
Origins and early years …………………………|
Student, Tutor and Chaplain ………………………
Curate at Wigan……………………………
Vicar of Kirkby Stephen……………………………
Preacher at Newcastle ……………………………
The Rawlet Legacy…………………………………
List of Illustrations………………… ……………
Detail from an oil portrait in Tamworth Old Town Hall -
Photograph M.Manuell ……………………………
Engraving by Robert White, reproduced by permission
Of the British Library…………………
Signature of John Rawlet on the will of John Pynsent
Extracts from Rawlet’s letter to Richard Baxter, reprinted by courtesy of Dr Williams’s Trust………………
From Poetick Miscellanies, 1687, reproduced by permission of Newcastle upon Tyne City Library…
Images of Kirby Stephen - photos by M. Manuell.……
Images of Newcastle upon Tyne –
photos by M. Manuell ……………………………….
Extract from John Rawlet’s Will
Public Record Office …………………….……….
ORIGINS AND EARLY YEARS|
With the help of parish registers and wills it is possible to trace John Rawlet’s family origins to his great-great-grandparents Robert and Ales Rawlett who, in the mid-sixteenth century, farmed a smallholding at Whittington, a hamlet in the parish of Grendon,Warwickshire. Their sons and grandsons moved, over the years, into nearby villages, and those not inheriting Robert’s modest land and stock-holding took up trades. The Atherstone branch of the family were shoemakers and cobblers, while the Mancetter line went into wool. From Mancetter to Tamworth came Robert Rawlett, Woolman, where he first appears in the registers for the year 1611 with the baptism of one of his children.
John's father, William, baptised in 1615, was a younger son of Robert Rawlett, and the only one, apparently, to stay on in the town as an adult, though there were other members of the family living nearby at Kingsbury and sheep-farming at Wilnecote. Grandfather Robert died in 1636, but no will survives to tell us anything about his style of life or the property he passed on to his children. It is likely that William followed in his father’s wool-dealing trade and that he and his wife Margery were living in the Staffordshire division of the town at the time of John’s birth.
Tamworth depended on trade for its prosperity: sheep and wool being important commodities; and many flocks grazed on the rich surrounding pasture. Describing the town some eighty years later, Daniel Defoe called it ‘a fine pleasant trading town, eminent for good ale and company of the middling sort’. In the mid-seventeenth century the town was cut in two by the county boundary between Staffordshire on the north (church) side and Warwickshire on the south (castle) side. Each had its own town bailiff, administration and loyalties. The north side was, in the main, sympathetic to Parliament and the Presbyterians, while the loyalties of the other were with their aristocratic patrons at the castle, who supported the King and his Anglican Archbishop Laud. Thomas Blake, the vicar of Tamworth, preached from the pulpit of the parish church his brand of Presbyterian Puritanism with its dislike of bishops and catholic doctrines; and it was at St Editha’s that John, the only child of William Rawlett and Margery, his wife, was baptised on the 27th March, 1642, probably only days after his birth. (The date of his baptism was wrongly given in a publication of 1728 as the 28th, and this error has, until now, been copied by reference books; but the parish register is clear and there are no baptisms for the 28th.)
In August of the same year the tensions broke between King Charles I, who insisted on his Divine Right to rule as he saw fit and raise money by whatever taxes he chose to impose, and the English Parliament, who considered such matters theirs to grant or withhold. Civil War spread rapidly across the country as areas fell to the Royalist or Parliamentary cause. It was a ’war without an enemy’ in which everyone was caught up. Communities, families and even husbands and wives were split by the factions: the landowners and Anglican families on the King’s side; and, for the Parliamentary cause, the tradesmen and the evangelical free churchmen. People could no longer move freely about the country. ‘We lay at the mercy of a giddy, hot-headed, bloody multitude,’ wrote Henry Newcome; while Richard Baxter, another Puritan clergyman, recalled how ‘miserable were those bloody days in which he was the most honourable who could kill most of his enemies.’
In Staffordshire, the largest engagement was on Hopton Heath, where, in a Royalist victory, the Roundheads suffered great losses. There were numerous attacks in and around Lichfield as the city fell to each side in turn. It was inevitable that Tamworth, already divided within itself, should fall victim to the fighting, and there were many skirmishes around the town. The castle was held for a time by the Royalists, but eventually the garrison was defeated in a sharp attack after a two-day siege, and the castle fell to Col. William Purefoy’s forces.
Whether from wounds received in this encounter, or in a later skirmish, William Rawlett died in the hostilities, some time prior to October, 1643. In a letter to his mother years later, John reminds her of the sorrows of that time: ‘Where are all the aking Hearts and weeping eyes, to go no further, that our late Civil Wars Made? Where are now all those complaints that were poured out, some for a Husband, some for a Child, or Brother, or Friend? Are not your Days of Mourning for my father long since ended, and yet once, how hearty was your Grief?’
William was barely twenty-eight years old when he died, and his grief-stricken widow was left with their eighteen-month-old son and a few modest possessions. Understandably, William had not made a will, but an inventory was made of his clothes, furniture and other items. He owned no land or house, but those possessions he had, showed that the family had lived a reasonably comfortable life, and that at least one of the parents was able to read: as well as the family Bible, William owned half a dozen small books.
Margery did not remarry for many years, but devoted herself to bringing up her only child. John describes his ‘happiness that I should be born of a Christian Parent’ and wrote warmly of her love and devotion. From an early age the lad must have shown signs of sensitivity and intelligence, because his mother planned from his boyhood that he should be well educated: ‘so that I might be better fitted to serve my God in some Publick employment; and to the Ministry it was that you designed me…’ He almost certainly attended the free grammar school in Tamworth which was run by the collegiate parish church of St Editha.
The curate acted as the town’s schoolmaster, and would, at this time, be a young man, educated at Oxford or Cambridge, just ordained, or awaiting ordination. William Black had been curate and schoolmaster under Blake, but soon after the outbreak of the Civil War both men had moved out of town, Black to become a rector in Leicestershire, and Blake to serve on one of the committees for the removal of clergymen of ‘unsound’ theology (i.e. the Anglicans), and to become vicar of St Alkemond’s in Shrewsbury, the parish of the deputy governor of Tamworth Castle, Thomas Hunt, M.P. for Shrewsbury. Blake returned to Tamworth a few years later when Lord, who had looked after the living in his absence, died. So the first services the young John Rawlet attended were not those of the Church of England Book of Common Prayer, which had been banned by Parliament, but the less formal outpourings of the Puritan vicar and his nephews, William Rock and Samuel Beresford, who each spent some time at Tamworth as assistant curates.
John must have been a pupil at the school when he signed himself ‘John Rawlet, 1648’ on the flyleaf of a little book. It is the earliest writing of his that we have , but his signature did not alter much over the years. While his distant relatives spelt their names in various ways, the Tamworth family seems to have adopted the double-t Rawlett; but John, from this early age, consistently wrote Rawlet. At a later date, he inscribed, in Latin, ‘This book was given me by the best friend I had whom I ever Honour, the worthiest master William Wood’. Perhaps William Wood taught at the grammar school in the 1650s. Nothing is known about an earlier master, Mr Ellis, who was in the school at some time around the period, but it may have been the John Ellis who later held the living at Waddesdon, near Aylesbury. As an adult Rawlet made many visits to that area of Buckinghamshire, so it might well be that John Ellis taught him in his early years. We do know that one of Rawlet’s schoolmasters was the young and enthusiastic Samuel Shaw who came, fresh from Cambridge, to take over Tamworth grammar school in 1656. He was a lively preacher and a gifted teacher who wrote little plays for his pupils to act in. By the age of thirteen John had begun to feel the first stirrings of a vocation. As yet ‘they made no very great deep impression’, but under Shaw’s guidance the young Rawlet recognised more and more where his future lay.
When Thomas Blake, the vicar, died he was replaced by Samuel Langley who also was to have a hand in John’s spiritual guidance. Samuel Shaw , after a year at the Tamworth school, was invited to become curate at Moseley (now a district of Birmingham) and at some stage Rawlet must have gone with him, because he wrote of being at Moseley when he was fifteen, and hearing Shaw preach; and it was there that John received Communion for the first time and ‘thought with a sincere Resolution to devote myself to God’.
STUDENT, TUTOR AND CHAPLAIN
The next step was clear. John would have to continue his education at the University. Both Langley and Shaw were Cambridge men and it was to Pembroke College there that Rawlet was admitted, in the November of 1658. Twelve months later he took up residence and became a student of the University.
That summer his mother had remarried. Her husband, William Rice, was a Tamworth shoemaker whose first wife had recently died, leaving him with two small children to bring up. Rice was well regarded in the town, and showed many kindnesses to his stepson, but clearly the family was not in a position to pay for student privileges, and John registered as a sizar — a student who received the same education as his fellows, but had to act as a servant to the young men of wealth and rank whose fathers could afford to buy this pensioner status for them.
Rawlet received a broad classical education at the University and, as a potential clergyman, read widely in theology and learnt some Hebrew in addition to his Latin and Greek. He was interested in the works of both English and Latin poets, and was already writing verse of his own, scribbling it on the blank pages of his books. His tutors and professors were men who had trained under an earlier group called the Cambridge Platonists, whose philosophy and theology kept alive Anglican beliefs and practices during the Commonwealth, when the Church of England was outlawed by the government. They were liberal men, interested in developing new ideas out of the old ones, and were in the vanguard of scientific enquiry and discovery. They, with similar men from Oxford, were the nucleus of the ‘Invisible College’ which later became the Royal Society. These middle-of-the-road men were well placed to mediate between the extremes of non-conformity when the monarchy returned to England in 1660 with the restoration to the throne of Charles II .
It was to be expected that there would be a backlash when the Church of England was restored as the official state religion and the reprisals were harsh indeed. Every sect that had worshipped freely in the parish churches during the Commonwealth: Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists and Independents — were now banned. All over the country the clergy were driven from office without compensation, unless they signed oaths of loyalty to the King and subscribed to the articles of faith of the Church of England. Those who had not been ordained by a bishop had to undergo reordination. At first, Langley, vicar of Tamworth, refused to sign and was replaced, though he did later relent, signed the necessary oaths, and was reinstated. Samuel Shaw refused to be reordained, however, considering his Presbyterian ordination to be valid, and lost his living; but when rules were relaxed in later years, he was licensed as a schoolmaster, and built up a fine grammar school at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, in Leicestershire.
And what of John Rawlet during these upheavals? There are no records to show how long he stayed at Cambridge, but we do know that, owing to the ‘circumstances of his condicion’ (not specified) he was unable to take his degree at the proper time. Whether this was because he could not afford the fees, or because he did not want to take the oaths, we cannot be certain, but later he was to express some reservations about subscribing. Examinations such as students now sit were not taken. Usually a student took his degree after three years, but there were wide variations, and it has not been possible to find out anything about John’s whereabouts between 1660 and 1665. He was considered by his contemporaries to be a very well-read and scholarly man, which does suggest that he spent these most of these years studying.
John had a friend, John Wood (perhaps he was a relative — the word ‘friend’ was used at that time to mean kith and kin, and this was how Rawlet had described his master William Wood in one of his books). This John Wood was a young clergyman whose family had the patronage of the little chapel of St Leonard’s, a tiny hamlet in a remote part of Buckinghamshire, where his brother had installed him as curate. It was not a rich living, but it was independent of the Bishop of Lincoln in whose diocese it stood. Only a mile from St Leonard’s was Cholesbury chapel, which had been without a clergyman since the curate was thrown out for refusing to sign the oaths at the Restoration. John Wood was curate at St Leonard’s from 1664, and might also have had the care of Cholesbury from the same year. Rawlet wrote how, after he had returned from Cambridge he was ‘left at my cousin Wood’s alone’ until ‘called out of this solitariness to London’. He certainly knew that part of Buckinghamshire around Aylesbury, and it is possible that, during 1664, he spent some time deputising for John Wood in his absence from the area. Such unofficial curates were common at a time when it was not necessary for a clergyman to be permanently resident in his parish.
A ‘call’ to London meant an offer of a position, and John Rawlet was very fortunate on two counts. First, he was to ‘live in’ with a family of good social standing, and, secondly, he was to spend much of his time in the City of London, an important centre for the new movement of Latitudinarian clergy — those University men who had been fellows and students during Rawlet’s time at Cambridge. They were the men who sought to mediate between the Anglicans and the Nonconformists, in the early years of the Restoration. Several of the church appointments in the City were filled by these ‘new Latitude men’, and John knew them well enough to receive from them copies of their publications: men like Edward Stillingfleet, John Tillotson, Simon Patrick and their leader, John Wilkins, theologian, mathematician and founder member of the Royal Society, who, as early as 1640, argued the scientific possibility of putting a man on the moon. These men moved in high circles, and all eventually became bishops or archbishops. Wilkins was a friend of Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and the Duke of Buckingham. George Villiers, the second Duke, was an intimate of the King and one of his inner cabal of ministers. His cousin Barbara was the King’s mistress. Buckingham’s influence was to prove very helpful to Wilkins, and, indirectly, to John Rawlet, too.
The household into which Rawlet moved some time after April, 1665, was that of the lawyer, John Pynsent, an official at the court of Common Pleas. He had a substantial town house in Bartlett’s Court, off Fetter Lane, Holborn, suitably furnished as befitted a gentleman of high legal office and personal wealth. Pynsent’s wife, a close relative of Thomas Clifford, another of the King’s ministers, had brought him a handsome dowry, and he owned country property at Croydon and in Oxfordshire. The Pynsents had three daughters. The youngest married Villiers Chernocke, a relative of the Duke of Buckingham. The Chernocke family seat was at Hulcote in Bedfordshire. The oldest Pynsent daughter, Grissell, had married John St Barbe of Broadlands (in our time the home of Lord Mountbatten of Burma); but this couple had died tragically within days of each other, leaving their two young sons in the care of their Pynsent grandparents. It was to tutor these two little boys, Sir John, aged ten, and Edward, eight, that John Rawlet was called to London.
It is not certain how John came to be suggested for the post of tutor-chaplain to the Pynsent household, but there were one or two men living close by who might have recommended him. A couple bearing the same names as the vicar of Tamworth and his wife, Samuel and Sarah Langley, were in residence just around the corner of Pynsent’s London house in April, 1665, and John Wood’s father, Seth, who had lost his London preaching post when the Anglican clergy were restored to their churches, had lodgings nearby in Grey’s Inn Lane. A man who would have been well known to all the parties was Richard Baxter - a Puritan who had been ordained as an Anglican priest before the Commonwealth, a friend and supporter of Oliver Cromwell, yet now well regarded by the King. Baxter’s beliefs would not allow him to sign the required oaths accepting all the tenets of the Church of England.
John Rawlet knew Richard Baxter well enough to visit him and his young wife, Margaret, at their home on many occasions; and he wrote of their kindness to him, and of his debt to Baxter for all that he had done for him. Their association was already established by 1666, but could well have begun several years earlier, when Rawlet was a lad at Moseley; for in those days Baxter had been a clergyman in the area. Kidderminster had been his parish, but he had formed close links with the surrounding parishes, one of them being Bromsgrove, of which Moseley was then a part. Another house in London where John Rawlet was made welcome was the home of Col. and Mrs Hunt — the same Hunt who had been deputy governor of Tamworth Castle during the Civil War. They also had a house in Shifnal, Shropshire, and were also close friends of Baxter. So the network of Rawlet’s friends in London stretched wide, and, more to the point, they were in contact with those who could help him on the first rung of his career. For a young man without wealth or rank this was essential, because the only way to be appointed into the Church was to have relatives or friends who could offer a post, or who knew those who could.
In Pynsent’s household John occupied one room at Bartlett's Court, described in 1670 as ‘Mr Rawlett’s [sic] Chamber Study’. The boys shared ‘The Children’s Chamber’. Rawlet’s room was furnished with a bed, chairs, stools, a table and form, which suggest that it doubled as the schoolroom. For his comfort were provided bedclothes, a carpet and a looking-glass. He would, no doubt, have added some personal effects like boxes for his clothes and his growing collection of books. As well as teaching the boys, Rawlet served as the house chaplain, which involved leading the family and servants in daily prayers and preaching twice a week. His tutorship would also entail acting as companion to the boys. In payment for these duties he received free board and lodgings and a small stipend. How much this was, exactly, is difficult to calculate. A ledger entry detailing the payment to him of £10 includes a legacy of £5, as well as his tuition fees, and the period of time covered by the fees is not specified. Later, when he added a preaching appointment at one church and a curacy at another, he was being paid £80 per annum on top of his keep. In his leisure time he visited friends in the City and read and studied. Already he had written several poems as meditations on scripture, and was preparing a full-length work on Holy Communion.
During that summer of 1666, London experienced its worst plague epidemic. The disease spread very rapidly and many feared for their lives. John Rawlet was so alarmed that he wrote a letter of farewell to his mother, reviewing his life and writing of ambitions that he feared would never be realised. He told her of poems he had written specially for her, and asked her to show them to Mr Shaw and Mr Langley, and ‘if they think fit, let either of them be put to the Press’. He kept the letter by him, with his papers, so that they would be found after his death and sent to Tamworth, but there was no need. No doubt the St Barbe boys and their tutor were sent, at the height of the epidemic, to Pynsent’s manor house at Croydon. John escaped the plague and his letter was forgotten, tucked away until it was unearthed more than half a century later.
Living in the country did not always guarantee safety from the disease, as John Rawlet’s old teacher found out. Samuel Shaw was living in enforced retirement in Leicestershire, and offered sanctuary from the plague to his old friend George Crosse, then living in London, who had been deprived of his Clifton Campville living, near Tamworth. Unknown to them both, Crosse’s family was already infected and carried the germs of the disease to Shaw’s house. Crosse and one of his little children died there. Eight of Shaw’s household succumbed to the plague and his sister, a servant and two of his babies died.
Later that same year, the City was hit by a further catastrophe. Fire was always a hazard among the close-built wooden dwellings, but in September, 1666, ‘the Hand of God, a great wind and a very dry season’ whipped out of all control the blaze which started at a baker’s in Pudding Lane. The fire burnt for days as panic-stricken residents struggled to save their belongings and escape to the country. Both Evelyn and Pepys describe the dramatic events of those few days in their diaries; and Richard Baxter writes how, at Acton, six miles away, he could see ‘the air, as far as could be beheld, so filled with smoke that the sun shined through it with a colour like blood’; and he found ‘the half burnt leaves of books near my dwelling’.
Many were made destitute by the fire which swept almost through the entire city, but miraculously reached only halfway up Fetter Lane and stopped barely yards from Bartlett’s Court. John Wilkins was not so lucky as Pynsent and his chaplain. He lost nearly everything he possessed: his extensive library went up in flames, together with all his letters, sermons and other manuscripts. His church of St Lawrence Jewry was burnt out. Without it he was forced to seek help from his friends. The heaviest losses were borne by the booksellers and publishers, whose entire stock had been stored beneath the old St Paul’s, in St Faith’s in the crypt. The volumes burnt like tinder, and so completely that for a time books became a rarity in the City.
What was a disaster for many gave John Rawlet his opening, and, with Richard Baxter’s help, he published his first book — the one he had written of to his mother earlier that year: A Sacramental Covenanting with Christ under the initials MM. Baxter’s ‘Letter to the Reader’ was dated ‘Acton the Year and Month of London’s Flaming Sept. 1666’. In it he wrote of the thousands of books so recently reduced to ashes. Rawlet’s book was not written for the sophisticated churchgoer, but for ordinary poor men and woman who had little education, so he used a down-to-earth, plain and forthright style, excused by Baxter as ‘purposely suited to the capacity of the ignorant for whom it was written’. Over the years it was to prove a very popular book: one to be bought by the rich for distribution to the poor, to instruct them in the importance of Holy Communion. John Pynsent kept a copy in his library. Even in the eighteenth century it was still being recommended to ‘a Patient just admitted to an Infirmary’ as a ‘lively and judicious book’.
Being published was a good way for a young man to attract notice. Samuel Shaw, as a young schoolmaster, was offered his Moseley curacy shortly after publishing his oration from Thomas Blake’s funeral; but Rawlet’s book, even if it led to offers, did not result in an early move. Throughout his career, he showed a reluctance to move away from people to whom he felt a sense of loyalty and obligation, and he may have thought the same about leaving the St Barbe boys; but, around this time, he probably took up the preaching appointment at Hulcote church, Bedfordshire, where Pynsent’s daughter and her husband had a family home. He might also have held a similar post at Croydon. These lectureships, as they were called, were often unofficial, so did not appear in the records. They were not usually full-time appointments, but required the preaching of so many sermons a year, under the patronage (what we today would term sponsorship) of a local landowner or lord of the manor. Rawlet does mention in a letter that he preached at Hulcote and was under obligation to be at Croydon one Sunday in the year. His tutoring went on, however, and he continued to live at Bartlett’s Court. Even after John Pynsent’s death in 1668, there was probably little disturbance to his way of life; but Rawlet was now twenty-six, and of an age to be ordained. It was time to move away from his comfortable City life among gentlemen and to seek further training in the church.
An opportunity came some time in 1669, and it was probably Richard Baxter who secured John’s appointment as curate in Dunton, Buckinghamshire. The church’s patron was Richard Hampden, son of ‘ship-money’ John Hampden whom Charles I had tried to arrest in Parliament with his fellow dissidents, but found ‘the birds had flown’. John Hampden was killed fighting for the Roundheads. As a Nonconformist, Richard Hampden had helped many of the dissenting clergymen who had been barred from their churches. Both Baxter and George Crosse of Clifton Campville had stayed with him, and Seth Wood had been at the same church of Dunton some ten years earlier. This time John Rawlet appears officially in the records as curate of Dunton. He probably continued to live in Holborn, travelling to Hulcote and Dunton to fulfil his duties. The distances were not great, and we do know from letters that Rawlet thought nothing of riding horseback on long journeys across country.
For this curacy John might have been ordained deacon, and the most likely person to have performed the ceremony was John Wilkins, now Bishop of Chester, thanks to the patronage of his friend the Duke of Buckingham. Wilkins was often in London, and the ordination could have been held, as was that of John Wood, in Holborn chapel. Certainly, by the time Rawlet moved to his second curacy he must have been ordained priest; and that probably took place in London, in April, 1670. Few of Bishop Wilkins’s ordinations were recorded.
In May, 1670, John Rawlet left London, relinquished the posts at Hulcote and Dunton, and handed the education of the St Barbe boys to a new tutor. He was travelling north to become Minister in Charge at Wigan, as the curate of Bishop Wilkins of Chester.
1st codicil and memorandum from the will of John Pynsent,
with the signatures of John Rawlet and Villiers Chernocke as witnesses.
Public Record Office, London.
Part of a letter from John Rawlet to Richard Baxter, undated,
CURATE AT WIGAN
Bishop Wilkins was known to be ‘soft on dissenters’. He believed so strongly that the clergy should be united, despite disagreements over small points of doctrine and worship, that he was willing to appoint and ordain men without insisting on the whole package of oath-taking. Little wonder, then, that his records of ordination and licenses to preach and teach were so scant. Because of his liberal interpretation of the statutes, he had his enemies, but was secure as long as he was under the protection of the Duke of Buckingham, who, in the words of Samuel Pepys, was now ‘the chief of all men in this Kingdom’.
With the bishopric of Chester went the living of the parish church in Wigan. Bishop Wilkins received the revenue as rector, but needed a curate to live in at Wigan, to take services, preach, and to undertake the religious education of the poor. His previous curate, Edmund Lees, had left to take up an appointment elsewhere, and John Rawlet succeeded him in the post on Lady Day (March 25th), 1670. He stipend was £60 a year and he no longer received free board as he had done as a tutor, but for the first few weeks at least of his residency, ate his meals at the home of one of the sons of the late Charles Herle, who had been a clergyman in the Commonwealth Assembly of Divines. Out of his stipend, Rawlet paid for a deacon to read the services.
At this point in his career he had probably not yet put his signature to those oaths which the law required, but that Bishop Wilkins did not insist on. With Richard Baxter as his mentor that was hardly surprising. Baxter, still unable to return to his Kidderminster parish because of his refusal to sign, believed that the words of the oaths must be taken literally, whereas Wilkins and Tillotson, who spent time at Chester with the bishop, thought a more liberal interpretation was permissible and took it upon themselves to persuade Rawlet to their point of view. At first Rawlet could not decide his position on the oath-taking. If he could accept the view argued by Wilkins and Tillotson ‘one of my greatest objections against subscribing were removed’. Their arguments must have found merit with him eventually, because by the time another bishop succeeded to Chester he must have signed the oaths, otherwise he would have been dismissed from his post.
John Rawlet found the people of Wigan very friendly and welcoming; and though his first impression was that they were ‘very great strangers to religion’, they did fill the large parish church to hear him preach. After his tiny congregations in the little country chapels, it was a new experience for him to preach to hundreds. He found that there was much work to be done among the poor, particularly to persuade them to attend church worship. This Sunday attendance was required by law, but many stayed away, Roman Catholics and Nonconformists among them. It was the minister’s job to encourage even these to join the Anglicans in worship. Baxter and other ejected clergy used to attend Church of England services when they were unable to hold their own, and John Rawlet could have pointed to their good example. Failure to attend the parish church at least one Sunday a month would lead to an appearance in court. In one such case, Wigan parishioners Earle and Daniel were charged with non-attendance during Edward Lees’s curacy, but, when their case came up again the following year, they were able to produce witnesses. ‘Mr Herle and wife and Mr Rawlet, Clerk, licensed minister there, certify that they have several times of late seen them at the sermon, prayers an at service at the parish church.’
Just as he was settling in the town, John Rawlet heard from Tillotson that Wilkins might be moved to the diocese of Worcester to fill the place left vacant by Bishop Skinner’s death in June. Tillotson suggested, half joking, half in earnest, that Rawlet should try to get someone to nominate him to Baxter’s old church at Kidderminster, which was then without a vicar or a preacher. The thought of working with Baxter’s congregation was very tempting. A few weeks later the suggestion was renewed, this time by Thomas Foley’s chaplain, who was visiting relatives in the Wigan area and came to the parish church, hoping to hear the bishop preach. Instead he found Rawlet, and told him more about Kidderminster. Samuel Heirons had been appointed as their new vicar, and John Rawlet’s name had been put forward for the lecturer’s post by Mr Foley, the Shropshire iron master, another close friend of Richard Baxter, and one who had a say in the appointments at Kidderminster. The terms offered were £60 a year with meals to be taken with the chaplain in the Foley household. Ecclestone, the Foley’s chaplain, urged him to consider the position, saying that whoever became preacher was likely to succeed the new vicar in time as he was ‘an ancient infirm man’. So, when Tillotson next rode south, Rawlet went with him as far as Kidderminster, intending to meet Mr Foley and see how matters stood; but on his arrival he found that Foley and his wife were away from home. As there was no-one in the town whom he knew, he was forced to begin on his return journey immediately - a ride of two days. He passed through Shifnal, however, and found that ‘my old friend Mrs Hunt’, now a widow, whom he had known in London was at home, so he paid her a call.
Bishop Wilkins did not move to Worcester as had been rumoured, and Rawlet decided that his loyalties lay with the bishop and the people of Wigan, and the idea of Kidderminster was put aside. It was not the end of the affair, for a year later, when John’s reputation as a preacher was becoming known over a wide area, Ecclestone returned to Wigan with an invitation from Kidderminster to preach there one Sunday. He accepted and was touched by his warm and appreciative reception. In his modesty (for he called himself a very plain sort of preacher) he put this welcome down to the fact that he was a protégé of Richard Baxter, and that the congregation made much of him for the sake of his old friend. He was very moved, stepping into the pulpit from which Baxter was now barred, although he had preached there for so many years. Before leaving for Wigan, Rawlet was again asked by Thomas Foley to accept the post of preacher there, but he explained his obligation to remain with Bishop Wilkins, much as the idea of settling in Kidderminster appealed to him.
He was now receiving invitations to preach from far and near, and hardly a week went by without him preaching outside Wigan. When he accompanied the Bishop of Chester on a visitation around the diocese, he went to Carlisle to preach. There he was shocked to find barely anyone in the congregation: ‘scarce an hundred hearers’! He was used to people flocking in large numbers to hear him preach. He thought the apathy of that ongregation was the fault of their regular minister: ‘alas! They had got such a preacher (by report of those I spoke with) that will safely lessen a congregation’.
Although he was now living in the north of England, John was not cut off entirely from his friends and family. Letters could be sent to him by post addressed simply to ‘Mr Rawlet, Minister of Wigan’, or might be left for forwarding with his London bookseller and publisher, John Sims, at his premises in Cornhill. Every summer he would journey south, visiting his mother in Tamworth and his Warwickshire relatives, before going on to London, where he would spend a few days, accepting hospitality from Richard Baxter and his wife. He would receive visitors at Wigan and often went over to Chester. So, although he was working hard in the parish, he was not entirely separated from the life he had known in London. There was time for reading and listening to music. He continued to write: poems, meditations and translations for himself; and, for his parishioners, he was preparing another book for printing. He longed to be able to give all those who could read, but were poor, a Bible and a little book of devotion such as Simon Patrick had written, but this was beyond his means. What he could do was prepare a similar book of his own, have it printed and distribute copies in the parish. For this purpose he wrote and published An Explication of the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, early in 1672, together with a new edition of A Sacramental Covenanting with Christ.
While Rawlet was at Wigan, a longstanding dispute between two gentlemen in the congregation came to a head, and had to be taken to the bishop for arbitration. William Bankes, Lord of the Manor of Winstanley, and one Nicholas Pennington each argued their rights to the same pew and burial place in the church. The Bishop decided that, until the other could show a better claim. Bankes should continue to enjoy his rights. As things turned out,
Bankes died a few years later while on a visit to Oxfordshire and was buried there instead. John Rawlet dedicated one of his poems to William Bankes: An Epitaph designed for that most excellently accomplished and publick-spirited gentleman.
Now that Rawlet was well established as a clergyman, he sought to acquire property. Land and buildings could be rented out to give a modest but steady income as a form of insurance should illness or premature death prevent him from providing for his mother. Although he was still only thirty, he had suffered fainting attacks and giddiness, accompanied by shooting pains in the head, all of which gave him concern: ‘not so much by what I feel as by the fears of what it may presage, but that I confesse is my folly’. He wrote often about death and the need to prepare for it each night lest that sleep be the last. At twenty-four, he had written that farewell letter to his mother when he thought he might die in the Great Plague; and at twenty-seven he composed his own epitaph.
In 1672, he bought land just outside Tamworth, some of it forming part, if not all, of the land which became known as Rawlett’s Field. His purchase included Spooner’s Croft in Coton, and freehold land ‘lying in the common fields within the manor and Lordship of Wigginton and parish of Tamworth … called Spittalfield, Hillfield, Millfield and Horseholme’ - all now housing developments in the Wigginton/Comberford Road area of north Tamworth, in which stands the old Norman Spittal (Hospital) Chapel. For this land and its buildings Rawlet paid George Sadler £197, but he probably raised a mortgage (with yearly payments of £12) from two landowners and a Tamworth clothier for the purchase price.
John Rawlet’s future must suddenly have looked bleak when news was received in the north of Bishop Wilkins’s unexpected death in London. John did not know whether he would retain his post under a new bishop, or what, if any, openings would be offered; but during this period of uncertainty, his name was mentioned in connection with another church. This was at Deane, Bolton, where a strange relationship existed between ex-vicar Tilsley, who had been ejected at the Restoration, and the most
recent holder of the post, John Angier.
Angier had been an unruly young man, sent down from Cambridge for undisclosed offences, and forced to finish his education in the colonies, from whence he wrote ’penitential letters out of New England’ to his distressed relatives. On his return to England, he sought Presbyterian ordination after a full confession and a promise to mend his ways. When the vicar was expelled from Deane, John Angier was reordained as a Church of England clergyman and took Tilsley’s place; but the parishioners insisted on retaining their former vicar. When Bishop Wilkins had arrived at Chester with his liberal views on Nonconformity, he made Angier’s position even more difficult by granting Tilsley a license to preach, much to the annoyance of the legitimate vicar and his faction. Angier was reduced to being a mere reader of services in his own church, while Tilsley occupied the central role of preacher. It was an unfriendly alliance that could not last, and things became very unpleasant when the anti-Angier faction took him to court accused of the clandestine marriage of thirty couples. The court ordered Angier to be suspended from Deane, but he chose to resign instead and his enemies put forward a young man, Hatton, as vicar. Unable to find other work, Angier was in dire financial straits when news of Bishop Wilkins’s death reached him. With Tilsley’s most influential friend gone, Angier saw an opportunity to regain his place at Deane, but the other faction warned that if he withdrew his resignation, instead of Hatton, ‘they would indeavour to get in Mr Rawlett [sic] and by all means put me by’.
This story gives us an insight into John Rawlet’s reputation: a preacher of some renown well outside his own parish; a mediator and peacemaker, likely to receive a large nomination from Deane parishioners and sufficiently acceptable to both sides in this dispute to be assured of appointment. His name and reputation was enough for John Angier to accept defeat, and young Richard Hatton became vicar of Deane. No papers have come to light to show how much Rawlet himself knew about this dispute, but there is nothing in his letters to suggest that he was a party to it, or that he contemplated a move away from Wigan at this time.
In fact, when Bishop Pearson was installed at Chester early in 1673, there seems to have been little change to Rawlet’s life. Pearson brought in a second curate, but John remained Minister in Charge at Wigan, and, despite several offers from other parishes, appears to have been content to stay there, at least for the time being.
but written after the death of Bishop Skinner of Worcester on June 14th, 1670,
and before the subscription of John Tilsley of Deane, on July 6th, 1670.
Below: the direction or address written on the reverse of the letter.
Re-printed by courtesy of Dr Williams’s Trust.
Baxter Letters VI/68
VICAR OF KIRKBY STEPHEN|
During the summer of 1673, when John Rawlet had been at Wigan for a full three years, he took one of his customary trips south, and, when he returned, was extremely flattered to find a letter from Philip Wharton (the 4th Baron) offering him an appointment.
The Baron’s ancient family seat was in Westmorland but he spent most of his time at his mansion Wooburn, Buckinghamshire, or his town house at St Giles, London (then called St Giles in the Fields). Clearly Rawlet’s London friends had again been working on his behalf — Richard Baxter probably and John Tillotson, now Dean of Canterbury, certainly. The latter wrote a very warm letter to Wharton in praise of his young friend at Wigan, and now the Baron was offering Rawlet the living at Kirkby Stephen.
Wharton held the patronage of the many churches on his estates across the country, and two of these chanced to fall vacant at the same time. The coincidence was all the greater because these churches were near-neighbours on the wild moors of Westmorland (now a part of Cumbria). They were Kirkby Stephen and Ravenstonedale. The Baron was a Presbyterian who had helped several ejected Nonconformist clergy by offering them chaplaincies in his family houses. He would dearly have loved to fill his churches with Presbyterian clergy, but the bishops were unwilling to grant them licenses. Nevertheless, he offered the perpetual curacy at Ravenstonedale — the smaller of the two vacant livings, ‘as a place that required no Conformitie’ to Thomas Gilbert, a very well known and highly regarded Nonconformist living without work in Oxfordshire. At first Gilbert declined the offer, explaining that there would be duties required of him in an Anglican church that his conscience would not allow him to undertake; but, when he heard of the death of the vicar of Kirkby Stephen, he wrote to Wharton again, saying that if he could find a good man that he would be able to work with in the neighbouring parish of St Stephen’s, then he would gladly accept the job at Ravenstonedale. The sort of man he promised to find would be a moderate Conformist, who should be ‘so good a scholar, so good a Minister and so good a Man, as should give all the people there (as well as your Honour the patron) abundant satisfaction.
Whether John Rawlet was the man nominated by Gilbert (they did have mutual friends) he certainly fitted this description, and Wharton did subsequently offer him the living of St Stephen’s at Kirkby Stephen. Thomas Gilbert, however, did not go to Ravenstonedale. Perhaps the Bishop of Carlisle put his foot down. Instead, went one Anthony Procter, a Nonconformist who had taken reordination from Bishop Wilkins in 1671, some eleven years after the restoration of the Church of England. The villagers were not happy with the appointment of Procter and begged Lord Wharton to reconsider, saying they would ‘give Mr Procter twenty pounds to forgoe it before he move his family to us … for … he is like to bring a great charge Amongst us, having nine childringe’. But Procter did move into Ravenstonedale, where the curate’s house and income were both tiny, and over the years he had a great struggle there coping with the ’nine childringe’ on his stipend.
Philip Wharton’s invitation to Rawlet of the Kirkby Stephen position had been awaiting John’s return to Wigan from his southern journeys for several days. A nobleman of the Baron’s standing did not expect to be kept waiting for a reply to such a gracious offer, and Rawlet wrote immediately that he would go to Kirkby Stephen to preach and meet the people there, as Wharton had asked in his letter. The Baron was said to require three conditions of those he presented to a living: he must pray with members of Wharton’s family (not simply read prayers, for any servant able to read could do as much); he must preach in Wharton’s presence; and ‘he must go to the parish and if the people approve, the living is his’. In August John Rawlet visited the parish and called at Wharton’s London home. Only then was he sent the formal presentation to St Stephen’s.
The visit to Kirkby Stephen went very well. The congregation liked both the man and his preaching. Wharton had instructed his cousin, Sir Philip Musgrave, to be there to listen to the sermon, but, being occupied at the Assize court himself, he sent his son, who ‘returned much satisfied with him’. By the end of August all was set for the appointment, but first there were one or two matters to be cleared up. To start with he was not free to take up residence immediately. His curacy at Wigan was on a short fixed term contract, running from Lady Day to Lady Day, renewed or not at the end of the year. This meant that Rawlet was obliged to remain at Wigan over the autumn and winter, and would only be free to settle in Kirkby Stephen after March 25th. All this he explained to the Baron by letter prior to acceptance of the post.
The other matter concerned the advisability of a rising man in his profession, as Rawlet was, burying himself for ever in such a remote part of the country. A vicar’s living was, literally, for life (excepting such unusual circumstances as had arisen during and after the Commonwealth). His clergy friends advised him to add a resignation clause before signing the agreement, but he did not raise this in his letters to Wharton. Instead, Richard Baxter wrote to Wharton on Rawlet’s behalf, saying that he would accept the place on the terms offered, but would have to delay his actual move to the parish until the spring; and requesting, should his advisers consider it right for him at some future time to move on to further office, that the Baron would not take this as a personal affront, but would allow him to resign the living. There would come a time for Rawlet to recall Baxter’s kindness in writing that letter, and, no doubt, to regret that he had not taken his friends’ advice about the resignation clause.
Once these matter had been cleared, John’s formal instalment to the living could begin. On September 5th, 1673, he rode into Carlisle to be instituted by the bishop, and arranged for locum ministers to fill his role at St Stephen’s while he remained at Wigan. While in Cumberland, John accepted the hospitality of Sir Philip Musgrave at Edenhall. Musgrave was a loyal Anglican who had fought bravely on the King’s side in the Civil War. He received Rawlet ‘with great civility and kindness’. Bishop Rainbow, too, gave him a warm welcome. Such treatment John attributed to their respect for his patron, Philip Wharton, rather than any merit of his own.
From that September to the following April John Rawlet travelled to Kirkby Stephen, a distance of some eighty miles, about once a month. He kept up a correspondence with the parishioners on one hand, and his patron on the other. Called back to Carlisle to attend a Synod in the October, he took the opportunity to be inducted to St Stephen’s, which meant he was now entitled to the revenues of the church. While in Cumbria he took the opportunity to call on ‘that very famous lady, the old Countess of Pembroke’ the doughty eighty-year old Lady Anne Clifford, famed for her extensive castle restoration work and her (unsuccessful) fight to inherit her father’s hereditary titles. John Rawlet was thrilled to discover that Lady Anne, having heard from her steward about the books he had written, had bought copies of both devotional works to give away. In her account book for that year is the record of the transaction: a payment to her bookseller ‘55: Books of Devotion of Mr John Rawlet’s writeing who is now minister of Kirkby Stephen which I buy to give away comes to Three Pounds ffive Shillings and ffour Pence’. John also took copies into his parish for distribution to his parishioners and sent one of each to Wharton, who responded by sending a bundle of Richard Baxter’s tracts to be given out in the parish as well — so that he might not be outdone by his vicar’s generosity? or to make sure that the Nonconformist voice continued to be heard, perhaps.
At this time Wharton was again enquiring when John would move into the vicarage, although this had been very clearly laid out in earlier discussions on the subject. Despite this importuning, Rawlet stuck to contract and completed his full term at Wigan, eventually leaving his curacy there, ‘not without some difficulty and regret’ at the end of March, 1674. It was not a complete severing of ties, however, because he visited his people at Wigan on future journeys south.
He quickly settled in at Kirkby Stephen. Although his position there could be worth up to £100 a year (the amount varying with the fluctuating prices of lamb and wool, on which depended the tithes paid to him by local farmers) there were heavy expenses to be cleared in the first two years. These were the ‘first-fruits’ tax on his income, and the cost of the institution itself. In addition, he was repaying a mortgage raised in 1671, probably to buy his Tamworth properties. Then he had ‘his tenths to pay’ - it was expected that everyone should contribute one tenth of his income to the work of the parish, which would include care of the sick and infirm who were without means. In addition he was expected ‘to provide bread and wine at Easter beside other paiments and the constant charge of keeping an old house in repair’. On top of all these was ‘the attitude of the poor who will expect much…’. Not much change, then, from his £100.
It could have been because of these expenses that Rawlet failed to take up the mandate which someone of influence had obtained for him from Charles II, in the early summer of 1674, that he be awarded an M.A. by Cambridge University ‘on paying his fees’. Two years later friends petitioned the King again. The University this time was commanded to bestow on him the degree of Bachelor of Divinity, the fees were duly paid and thereafter he was styled the Rev. John Rawlet, B.D. .
He continued to travel to his customary holiday places when opportunity arose, and now he added Wigan, the Baron’s seat at Upper Winchendon, Buckinghamshire and visited Wharton’s brother, Sir Thomas, at his Doncaster home. Sir Thomas had estates in Yorkshire but maintained a strong interest in affairs at Kirkby Stephen, particularly at the school, which he generously endowed. Most of John’s time, however, was spent at Kirkby Stephen going about his parish duties. Occasionally he would be called upon to mediate between his parishioners and their absent landlord, his patron Lord Wharton, and sometimes one of his fellow clergy would ask for his help.
One of these was Anthony Procter at Ravenstonedale, who was desperate for a larger house and higher income. When he thought that Rawlet might be leaving the parish for another living, he begged Wharton ‘to consider my straight roome and maintenance for my great family by a remove all thither’ - perhaps, in the interim, he had added to his nine children. Whenever there was news or rumour of a vacant living, Procter would beg John to intercede with the Baron on his behalf. After some years, the Baron, with money put up by himself and others, established a lectureship for mid-week sermons at St Stephen’s, with the intention of increasing Procter’s income; but when Rawlet set about arranging this with the bishop, he found that other local clergy were unhappy about Procter's Nonconformist views, and on those grounds the bishop declined to license Procter to preach at St Stephen’s, and considered that, as its vicar, Rawlet was at liberty to preach these sermons himself . When pressed further, Bishop Rainbow conceded that, if Rawlet invited him, Procter might, perhaps, preach there occasionally without a license. Knowing that Wharton’s intention had been to improve Procter’s lot, John arranged that ‘Mr Procter frequently preach there and receive the same advantage in a manner as if he had been licensed’ and ‘though he should not happen to preach there so often as I may do, yet I shall so order matters that there shall be no manner of disagreement as to the allowance…’. It seems that Rawlet was endeavouring to keep everyone happy: other local clergy, by rationing the Nonconformist sermons to be preached from his pulpit; his patron by allowing the Ravenstonedale curate to give the occasional address there; and Procter himself, by helping him to provide for his family by paying him the allowance that had been set aside for the midweek lectureship.
Someone else in need of Rawlet’s help at Ravenstonedale was the schoolmaster, Samuel Shaw. This was not the same Samuel Shaw who had been Rawlet’s master at Tamworth grammar school. This Shaw wanted to be appointed to the larger and more important school at Kirkby Stephen, and hoped, eventually, to be appointed vicar of the parish in Rawlet’s place. Wharton was extremely keen to appoint Shaw to the school. The governors and parishioners were equally anxious not to appoint him, Wharton ordered the appointments board give Shaw the job. The governors declined, saying that neither Shaw’s theology nor his teaching was in line with Church of England doctrine and that he had been publicly rebuked by the bishop for improper teaching and for preaching without a license.
Once again Rawlet found himself treading a diplomatic fine line when Wharton instructed him to interview Shaw and those who
knew him. Rawlet’s reply is a masterpiece of diplomacy. He feels he cannot say much about Shaw’s ability as a teacher. One man has spoken well of him and he and others who know him would be better placed than he to give advice. He has spoke to Shaw, who assures him he has always intended to be ordained and is just waiting for a suitable opening. John stresses that, in writing thus of Shaw he is not pressing his claim above all those who have also approached him for this post, and that, of course, the final decision must rest with the Baron. It did. Wharton imposed his will and Samuel Shaw became schoolmaster of Kirkby Stephen, although neither the Bishop of Carlisle, nor the Archbishop of York to whom the governors turned for a decision, seems ever to have licensed him or admitted him to the post.
Nor was this the end of the affair. Four years later the continuous rumbles of complaint against Shaw erupted in a formal complaint by a leading governor on behalf of several parents. The master was not a good teacher, they said; what he taught was not true doctrine; and when Mr Rawlet was away, he preached so often in church that he neglected his school work entirely. Wharton and the governors ordered a full school inspection. Shaw’s lessons were observed by clergy from outside the immediate area, and they discussed with the unfortunate master his methods and his doctrine. Then they interviewed and examined the pupils while the governors listened to the detailed grievances of Mr Fothergill and those parents who had lodged the complaints. Shaw had his say, too, and wrote to Wharton in his own defence. If parents insisted on taking their boys out of school to help with the harvest, to accompany them to town on market days and to run their errands, they could not expect them to succeed at their lessons. As to his preaching, this was undertaken in his leisure time only and did not interfere with his teaching. He was simply practising for when he got a church of his own.
The clergy and the governors decided that, on balance, there really was nothing too much amiss with the school, that, either things had recently improved, or the complaints had been exaggerated. At Wharton’s request, Rawlet had prepared Shaw for the inspection and had, perhaps, suggested improvements. He did persuade the schoolmaster to meet the complainants half-way by offering to employ a good Latin grammarian as usher (or assistant master) and pay something towards his salary from his own pocket. This he did, offering to pay half of the £10 yearly salary, if those who complained would put up the other £5. They said that was more than they could afford, but that they would find £2. Shaw then offered to go to £7 and Rawlet said he would make up the short-fall ‘both for peace sake and for the benefit of the school’.
So, once again, John Rawlet had shown himself a mediator and peacemaker, one ready to make personal sacrifices. The matter was settled, for the time being at least, but Rawlet knew perfectly well that Shaw was not a good teacher, and that his heart was not in it; and he asked Wharton to bear Shaw in mind should a church become vacant, because ‘It would, I believe be more acceptable to Mr Shaw than his present employment’. A few months later, when such a vacancy did occur, the parishioners were begging Rawlet to write to the Baron ‘that your Lordship would please to bestow it on Mr Shaw that they might have a new schoolmaster’, but they were not to be rid of Samuel Shaw so easily.
So the years at Kirkby Stephen passed. In his home town of Tamworth, schoolmaster George Antrobus raised a subscription for an extension to the grammar school in Gungate, and Rawlet contributed £5. Sir Philip Musgrave died at Edenhall, and Rawlet sat by his bedside in his final sickness, then wrote movingly of his last days. One of Rawlet’s poems probably dates from his time in Westmorland. It gives us some idea of the life of a country parson, in harmony with his people and the countryside around him. It was a quiet life of moderate ease, without servants, without doctors. He had a plain diet and only the bare necessities. Here were no gentlemen to offer him entertainment:
No Walks or Gardens here, but yet the Field
And fragrant Meadows equal pleasures yield;
No Lutes or Viols entertain my ear,
But more melodious birds I daily hear.
John stresses the quiet pleasures of country life, yet through the poem runs an underlying feeling of regret that ‘whilst buried here’ he is cut off from his friends; and, although content in his day-to-day life as he went about his parish duties, he yearned sometimes, perhaps, for the busy social life among gentlemen that he had known, particularly in London and the Home Counties, but also at Wigan. Other poems speak of loneliness and solitude, but there is one (reproduced on p. 38) which suggests that ‘In this obscure, quiet recess’ John would be content to live out his days as ‘an honest Country Parson’. Yet this was not to be his future. Early in the summer of 1679, he was invited to leave Kirkby Stephen for Newcastle upon Tyne, where a challenging and well-paid post as preacher was being offered him by the town’s Common Council.
From ‘An account of My Life in the North' by John Rawlet in Poetick Miscellanies, 1687,
reproduced by permission of Newcastle upon Tyne City Library.
A Plain Paraphrase
Let who will climb to heights of Honour, where
What they with labour get, they hold with fear.
On lower ground give me an humble nest
In private shades with peace and safety blest
Here I’l in silence pass my sliding years,
Strange to great men, strange to their cares and fears
In this obscure, quiet recess shall I
An honest Country Parson live and die.
But dreadful terrors do his death attend,
Who all this time in crouds and noise doth spend;
Knows not himself, nor thinks of his last end.
John Rawlet’s poetic translation from Act II of Thyestes by Seneca the Younger.
From Poetick Miscellanies, 1687
Above - views of St Stephen’s Church
Below - Schoolmaster Samuel Shaw, determined to stay in post,
leaves his mark on the school house.
So, unfortunately has a village youth.
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Skyline from the Quayside
Elizabethan Town Houses
Above: modern views of Newcastle which John Rawlet would have known.
Below: St Ann’s church which replaced the chapel-of-ease where Rawlet preached.
St Nicholas church, now the Cathedral
PREACHER AT NEWCASTLE
What is now the cathedral church of St Nicholas was, in Rawlet’s time, the parish church which served the older areas of the town which ran down to the quayside. It is a large, magnificent building with a uniquely distinctive lantern steeple. The vicar there had died, and John March, who had been the preacher, accepted the living, which left his post of lecturer vacant. March was a keen conformist, who did much in the town to educate the poor and bring them into the church. Now the town council wanted to bring in a man of similar mind to help the new vicar in this evangelical work. Perhaps Rawlet’s name was put forward by March himself as a man he knew and respected. They had a connection through Sir Thomas Wharton, the baron’s brother and a close friend of Sir Philip Musgrave. March had been tutor to Sir Thomas’s son at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he had been vice-principal; and, as we have seen, Sir Thomas Wharton was familiar with Kirkby Stephen and had extended hospitality to John Rawlet at his Edlington home, near Doncaster.
However he came to their notice, the Common Council of Newcastle, having received confirmation that Rawlet was a devout, learned and conforming clergyman of the Church of England, sent him a formal invitation to the lecturer’s place at St Nicholas’s, offering him a yearly salary of £90. In addition, a sum of £10 was to be paid for his removal expenses. Perhaps Rawlet’s first response was to decline (he was, after all, already on £100 a year), because, by the time the appointment was recorded in June, 1679, the salary had been raised to £100 per annum, to be paid quarterly, the first payment to be made on September 29th; that is, three months in arrears, as was the custom.
Having accepted this new position, it became necessary to make some provision for his parish in Kirkby Stephen. It was not unusual for one man to hold several appointments in different places and this, it seems, is what Wharton expected John to do, when he permitted him to go to Newcastle for a six months trial - that is, to continue to hold the living at St Stephen’s, even while resident in Newcastle. There were plenty of these absentee vicars. But Rawlet, apparently, from the beginning, had other ideas.
By the middle of August, he was living in Newcastle and had begun his work there. It was demanding and challenging. Not only was he to preach at the church every Sunday afternoon, and on holidays and religious festivals, he was also to continue and support John March’s work there, with pastoral visits to the uneducated, the poor, the sick and the dying. It was for this sort of charitable work that he was afterwards to be remembered in the parish. There were weekly Communion services at the church, and John would also be required to assist at these, as well as at Morning and Evening Prayer, perhaps sharing the preaching with the vicar and curate in addition to his own lectures.
This opportunity to concentrate on his preaching, and to reach many more people with the Christian message must have been one of the attractions which brought John Rawlet to Newcastle. It was also, like Wigan, a bustling place and a centre for educated men in the area. There was, too, the added attraction, for a serious scholar like Rawlet, of the fine library at St Nicholas’s; and, although he now had a sizable personal collection, there he would be able to consult old works and rare manuscript volumes.
In his absence, the work at Kirkby Stephen was undertaken by several ministers that Rawlet put in to cover his duties, but he still went over as often as he could. For part of the time the school-master at Kirkby Stephen Samuel Shaw deputised for him. In the records for 1680, Shaw is shown as the curate. Anthony Procter of Ravenstonedale still hoped that he might find an opening there. The situation was unsatisfactory for Rawlet, because the responsibility for the parish remained with him and he had enough to occupy him in Newcastle without the worry of the Westmorland parish. Frequently he tried to raise the matter with Philip Wharton, asking him to name a successor so that he might resign from the living. This the Baron seemed reluctant to do, for he either did not reply to John’s letters on the subject, or he wrote on other matters entirely and avoided dealing with the question of Rawlet’s resignation. Rawlet was anxious that the living be offered to John Wood, who had been a preacher at the Baron’s Upper Winchendon church and was now vicar of Stone (both in Buckinghamshire, west of Aylesbury). He was no stranger to the people of Kirkby Stephen, so he must have stayed there with Rawlet, perhaps deputising for him sometimes. We do know that, on one occasion at least, John Wood stayed with Rawlet's mother in Tamworth on a journey to the north. The parishioners, wrote Rawlet to Wharton, would rather have Wood than anyone else. They certainly did not want Anthony Procter.
In the summer of the following year, Wharton did offer the living of Kirkby Stephen to John Wood, but on terms so stiff that no clergyman of any worth or reputation would take the place. To begin with, he proposed lopping off £30 a year from the salary in order to pay Procter this addition to his Ravenstonedale income. Then he proposed that the incoming vicar should put down a sum of money as a bond to be forfeited should he later resign the living. This would seem to show his dissatisfaction with Rawlet for daring to consider resignation. When we remember the pains John Rawlet took originally, in advance of his acceptance of the parish, to make clear the terms on which he would move to Kirkby Stephen, and Richard Baxter’s letter specifying what amounted to a ‘release clause’ in that contract, the Baron’s behaviour at this time does seem to have been singularly churlish and ungracious. He seems to have taken just that offence that Baxter had pleaded against. John’s sense of outrage at the Baron’s terms in his offer to John Wood led him to be daring in his letters. He expresses indignation that his parishioners should be cheated out of a good man, not just Wood, but any clergyman worth his salt. Considering the vast difference in status between Rawlet and his erstwhile patron his letters are very bold and forthright - though never disrespectful.
In November, 1680, Rawlet took matters into his own hands. After all, he had been trying to resign the Westmorland living for a full twelvemonths. So, in the absence of any reply to his further entreaties, he rode forty miles across Yorkshire in an attempt to catch Wharton’s agent who was visiting in the area, so that he could forewarn him of this plan as a matter of courtesy. Gunter, however, could not be found. So John turned his horse westward and rode all the way into Carlisle, where, with the permission of no-one but the bishop, he made full resignation of the living of Kirkby Stephen, renouncing all its revenues. Yet, even now, his responsibility for the place was not ended, for, after breaking the news of his action to Wharton, he was instructed to put in a young man to care for the parish until an appointment was made. This he did, and raised again with Wharton the problem of his successor in another bold letter, saying that John Wood should be given the living on the same terms that he had enjoyed, and that the patron should leave the matter of increasing Procter’s income to the generosity of the new vicar, who, being a good man, would make sure (as Rawlet had done) that extra payments came his way. No appointment was made for several months, and John Wood accepted a living in the south-east. It was Samuel Shaw, against all the wishes of the parishioners, who became the vicar, probably on the terms which reduced the salary in favour of Anthony Procter. No doubt the parishioners accepted the appointment with resignation, and learnt to respect the man they had for years been urging the Baron to remove elsewhere. Shaw remained in his post for the rest of his life, a full eighteen years. Perhaps, after all, he was more suited to this remote country parish than John Rawlet, the scholar-poet with a gift for preaching.
Rawlet’s contact with the Whartons was not entirely over. Early in 1682, hearing that the living at Waddesdon, near Aylesbury, was still vacant after the death of John Ellis (that John Ellis, perhaps, who had taught at Tamworth grammar school during the years of the Civil War), John Rawlet wrote to Thomas Wharton, son of the Baron, asking if he might be considered for the position. Thomas was embarrassed and rather annoyed. He wrote to his father how Rawlet had reminded him ‘with great respect though positively enough’ of a promise made to him some time earlier. Although Thomas would now rather choose to forget, there seemed to be no way that, as a gentleman, he could refuse to honour that promise. He was further embarrassed to find that the Waddesdon parishioners were urging him to invite Rawlet to the living, and he was at a loss to know how a preacher from the north of England could be known to them. But, of course, John Rawlet knew that area of Buckinghamshire very well, having worked not far away at the very start of his career, and latterly a guest, no doubt, at John Wood’s place in Stone. It is strange, however, that he should have been eager to resume the yoke of parish priest so soon after freeing himself from Kirkby Stephen. Could it be that he hoped to live within easy distance of London and nearer the heart of things? Or not far from Oxford with its magnificent Bodleian collection of books and manuscripts. Did he have plans to marry? Whatever Rawlet's intentions, Thomas Wharton was determined that the living at Waddesdon would not figure in them. He wrote to his father that, although, as a gentleman, he could not go back on his word, he would hedge the offer (as his father had done to Wood) with so many conditions that Rawlet would turn it down: ‘I fancy that he will scarce leave Newcastle to come to Waddesdon, upon the terms I shall insist upon’.
Thomas Wharton was correct, Rawlet did not leave Newcastle, but his position there was greatly improved when the Common Council awarded all its clergy a pay rise, and he received an extra £20 a year; but, as well as this, they also offered him another lectureship with a further £30 so long as he continued to reside in the town and took up no other living or curacy. It is as though, having got wind of Rawlet’s enquiries about the Buckinghamshire parish, the Common Council was offering him inducements to stay. This he did. Now, as well as his Sunday sermons at the parish church, he was to preach at the newly restored chapel of St Ann on Sandgate, where the council had just opened a school. There he was to instruct children and adults at a five o’clock catechism class every Sunday evening from March to September (that is, when the evenings were still light), and he was to preach a sermon at the chapel throughout the year, on the first Wednesday of the month.
These increased duties did not stop John Rawlet finding time for his writing, but it did mean he could not take up the living of Coleshill in Warwickshire, not far from his native Tamworth, which was offered him not long after he had accepted the new lectureship. This well-endowed church was in the gift of Simon, Lord Digby, who wanted to fill the position with a good, well-qualified man. He wrote ‘to Mr Rawlett [sic], a worthy Divine… But he by reasons of other Engagements which he judged not fit to Quit, did decline it…’ Instead Rawlet put forward the name of John Kettlewell, who had been John March’s student at St Edmund Hall and whose mother lived in Newcastle. In due course, Kettlewell, became vicar of Coleshill.
Now John Rawlet’s life-work was almost over. He must have had some clue that it was so: an increase, perhaps, in the frequency of the fainting attacks which had bothered him fifteen years before. If he now knew that he suffered from an illness which would bring premature death, or one that he feared was hereditary, it would go some way to explaining why he had not married the woman he loved, ‘my dear and loving friend Mistress Ann Butler’, ‘a sober and religious woman’ and the unmarried daughter of Newcastle merchant John Butler, who resided in Fleshmarket. On September 23rd, 1686, John Rawlet had a lawyer draw up his last will and testament. There must have been earlier ones, because he had prepared for death before, and, as a property owner, he would need to make some statement of his intentions. He was not ill when the will was drafted: ‘Being through God’s mercy in perfect health and soundness of body and mind, yet sensible of the frailties of life…’ The formula for a sick testator tended to be along the lines of: ‘being sick in body but of perfect mind and memory...’.
A few days later John lay dying. Ann Butler begged him to marry her. A contemporary describes how ‘They had been sometime in love together; but he, falling sick, he at her request, that she might bear his name, married her upon his death-bed, and left her both a maid, a wife and a widow’. John was forty-four years of age, Ann only thirty-six. Although the clergyman omitted to record the marriage in the parish register, Ann was thereafter accorded the status of Rawlet’s widow. She never remarried but carried his name to the grave. John Rawlet’s burial took place on September 30th, 1686, two days after his death. In 1703, at the age of fifty three, Ann too, was laid to rest in the secluded burial ground of St Nicholas’s church, like her husband of three days. John Rawlet’s friends gathered together his private jottings - the poems he had written over many years - and from these made the selection published as Poetick Miscellanies a few months later. The book bore, as its frontispiece, the engraving by Robert White copied from a portrait painted in oils during John’s lifetime. Later editions of his earlier works included this engraving. His ‘Sorrowful Friend’ J[ohn]. M[arch]. Wrote an epitaph by way of introduction to the poems.
Rawlet's remains lodge in this humble cave:
As he was free from pride, so was his grave:
Virtue needs no Pyramids…
Although the ‘cave’ here is the humble book of poems, this seems also to hint at Rawlet being buried without a monument, which would appear to be supported by the fact that there is no record in the churchwardens’ contemporary records of permission being sought, as was required, to erect a headstone on the grave. J.M. continues:
Great deserts are their own monument:
No tomb, no Epitaphs so eloquent.
One poem from the volume shows the spirit in which John Rawlet approached life and death.
| O let me not my golden hours wast|
But live this day as if it was my last:
That I might mind the work I have to do,
Set Death and Judgment, Heav’n and Hell in view.
News of John Rawlet’s death was not long in reaching Tamworth, and Samuel Langley, still vicar after almost thirty years, preached a funeral oration in which he told the congregation of Rawlet’s bequest to the town: how his wife and mother were to be taken care of for their lifetime, after which nearly everything that he owned would be held in trust for the people of Tamworth. Then he spoke of the man himself, and his words are the fullest comment we have from someone who knew John Rawlet personally, from being a young man and over many years. The picture he gives contradicts nothing that we learn from John’s own writings, and fills out the impression given by others.
the pious and learned, the most ingenuous [noble and generous] and good natured, the very kind and charitable Mr John Rawlet, Bachelor in divinity...
It pleased God to endow him with extraordinary parts, which he industriously improved. He had a quick understanding, a great memory, together with a very rationall and deep judgement, and a ready utterance, in sutable words, and with an elocution generally pleasing to his Auditors. Each of these are excellent gifts of God, but here are frugally rare when they are combined in one person, and much more when accompanyd with great and undissembled humility, so that it may be said of such an one, as it was of Moses when he came down from God in the mount, his face shined and had a glory upon it but he himself was not aware thereof and knew it not. I do not intend to compose a character of my late endeared and very agreeable Friend and Brother and the most ardent lover of Tamworth as he ever demonstrated, all along his life and at his death. It hath pleased God in whose hand all our lives are to give him rest from his incessant labour in this world. But as it was said of Abell being dead he yet speaketh. He hath left behind him in print sundry of his pious labours…...
Langley here spoke of John’s books, including A Dialogue Betwixt Two Protestants: ‘which hath found good acceptance with good protestants (as it well deserved), and as I hear with persons of high quality as well as others’. He finished his oration with a prayer that ‘all who are concerned as Trustees be faithful in the execution of that trust’. It was this Trust, administering his legacy to the people of Tamworth ‘for ever’ that was to give John Rawlet a sort of immortality in this world, by continuing in his name the work to which he had been dedicated in his life - the education of the young and the relief of poverty among the needy, both young and old.
Below: an extract from the will of John Rawlet, September 23rd, 1686.
Prob. 10 1183, Public Record Office, London
THE RAWLET LEGACY
The will was straightforward. Margery Rice, his mother, and Ann Butler (now Ann Rawlet, his widow) were to have a life interest in the land and buildings John had originally bought in 1672, and in two other Tamworth properties — one a house in Church Lane, another with land attached. He nominated as trustees his step-father, William Rice, his Tamworth legal agent, Nicholas Parker, Joseph Batman, a clothier, and Samuel Langley. Small sums were to be given to one or two close cousins. Rings to the value of 10s each were to be given, as was customary at funerals, to his friends, including his old schoolmaster ‘my deare friend Mr Shaw of Ashby’. All his clothes, cash, rings and other personal possessions were to be used to defray his debts, pay the legacies and cover funeral costs. His magnificent library of over 900 books, many first editions, including some given to him by their authors, was offered to the town for the use of scholars, providing suitable housing could be found for them ‘that they may be preserved for the use of surrounding schoolemasters and such students in the towne as shall need them (and that they may serve as an encouragement to others to make addition thereto that there may be a publick library for the benefitt of scholars in the said town)’.
On the death of Margery and Ann, all the land property was to revert to the Trust, and the yearly income of £23.15s generated from it was to be paid out ‘for ever’, with the exception of £6 a year for Hannah White of Tamworth, should she have need of it, for the rest of her life. [Who this Hannah White was has not yet been established.] The vicar was to have £2 for two sermons a year, one on Good Friday, another on November 5th (a day when ministers preached against the ‘heresies’ of the Roman church and children burnt effigies of Guy Fawkes). The schoolmaster was also to have £2. Ten poor children every year were to be put to school to learn English, and two poor boys were to be apprenticed to a trade, at a cost of £2 and £8. What remained was to be given ‘as far as it will reach yearly on Good Friday twelve pence a piece to the poorest families of Tamworth’. When Hannah White’s share reverted to the fund, one more boy was to be apprenticed each year, and the remaining £2 used ‘for the buying of ten Bibles to be given to the ten poor scholars before mentioned or to any poor family that can make use of them’.
To make sure his Trust would last into perpetuity as he wished, Rawlet made provisions for Trustees to be replaced within six months of the death of any one of them. Margery Rice died just a year after her son, and the Trust began paying out. Her husband died in 1693 and was duly replaced on the board of Trustees. When Samuel Langley died two years later, the new vicar took his place on the board, a custom that continued over the years and is now written into the rules which govern the Trust. With Ann’s death the rest of the legacy was shared out.
Despite the failure of many similar trusts set up in the seventeenth century, Rawlet’s Trust (like his patron Philip Wharton’s Trust) has had an unbroken record of charitable pay-ments. Even had the property not increased in value over the centuries, Rawlet’s original fund would have benefited something like 3, 861 individual children and 21,750 poor families from the first year until now. In fact, the property grew in value and the Trustees bought in more land, and invested in the new railway companies in the early nineteenth century, which in turn gave a greater annual yield, so that, although payments were raised with the changes in money values, many more people were helped to receive an education or a trade, or were given some relief from their poverty, than John could possibly have dreamt of when he planned his will.
The trust has changed little over the years. In the nineteenth century, Sir Robert Peel M.P. (son of Prime Minister Peel) cast doubts in Parliament on the way the charity was run, and the resulting report Tamworth Charities, 1867, set out many facts about the property then owned by the Trust. An earlier re-organisation by the Charity Commissioners had split the Trust into Rawlett’s [sic] Educational Foundation, for the benefit of children, and The Rev John Rawlett’s Charity, for benefit of the old, the sick and the needy; but in 1981 the Commissioners agreed to a merger of the two under the old name, spelt as John himself always wrote it. Today it is once again The Rawlet Trust. It helps with the extras that fall outside the scope of the welfare state. Grants are usually made to individuals in a once-for-all payment, or to groups caring for the disadvantaged. Currently, Tamworth school leavers who go on to higher education are granted a generous book allowance, while others have help with purchasing musical instruments. The Trust no longer owns land or property, but holds investments in safe stock. The capital (under £80,000 in 1984) is not touched, but all the income, after basic expenses have been met, is paid out according to the spirit and intention of John’s will. The vicar of Tamworth must still preach his two sermons a year, but now they commemorate the charity’s founder. Rawlet Bibles are distributed to youngsters every Christmas.
What of that other substantial legacy to Tamworth — the library, built up from those ‘halfe a dozen of little bookes’ left by his father? What happened to them is a very sad and shameful story. Detailed catalogues of over 900 volumes were drawn up for Mrs Rawlet in 1686 by John Metcalfe, a clergyman, master at the Newcastle grammar school, but earlier a teacher at Ravenstonedale, so perhaps a protégé of Rawlet. Metcalfe eventually succeeded to Rawlet’s lectureship at St Ann’s.
The books were accepted for the town by Langley and George Antrobus, the schoolmaster, and a room was set aside for them in Thomas Guy’s Almshouses in Gungate. There they could be consulted or borrowed. Thomas Bray, Vicar of Nether Whitacre in Warwickshire, and a founder member of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), wrote how ‘several of the Clergy by Experience tasted of the Benefit of Mr Rawlett’s [sic] Library, out of which they could now and then Borrow out of it the Book we had Occasion for’.
An almsman kept the key to the library, but anyone who asked was allowed in. No proper check was kept, so, inevitably, many books went astray. Early in the nineteenth century, the remnant library was moved over the road to the old grammar school, and, eventually found its way to the new buildings in Upper Gungate. By 1893, the remaining books, much damaged by successive generations of schoolboys, were secured in an upper room at the Public Library. Some had turned up at a village sale at Middleton and were returned to the Headmaster by a public-spirited Mrs Hodge, most of them in a very bad condition. The Trustees provided new shelving and the library was returned to the grammar school; but, after several pleas to the Charity Commissioners, the Trust was given permission to sell the books. They were all scattered in the sale. 600 volumes were sold in various lots, but only 99 of these are identifiable in the 1932 catalogue as belonging to Rawlet’s original collection. Three books were not sold but given to the Castle Museum, Tamworth, because they contained his handwritten notes of commentary, verse jottings and a complete unpublished poem. Of these books The Christian Sacrifice by Simon Patrick, much admired by John Rawlet and the model for his own devotional writings, has since disappeared.
The sale proceeds of Rawlet’s splendid collection of first editions, autographed copies and a rare thirteenth century manu-script Bible (perhaps the ‘ould bible’ included in the inventory of William Rawlett’s possessions) was the paltry sum of £186.17s—all that remained after payment of the auctioneer’s commission. John Rawlet’s library bequest had been ‘frittered away for an “old song”’, as Fred A. Allsopp had warned in his letter to the Tamworth Herald on February 6th, 1932. ‘I may say,’ wrote Langley, after John’s death, it is an honour to Tamworth that out of it rose so worthy a minister...’. Allsopp’s similar observation in his plea to save the library, ‘Have we produced so many men of outstanding ability that we can scrap so lightly the records they leave behind?’ was made in vain.
It is more cheering to note that an oil painting, done during his lifetime, and viewed in some awe by the sitter himself, has had a happier history - a longer one, no doubt than Rawlet himself imagined in his meditation on it: ‘On My Picture’
See here the Shadow of another Shade|
Which like its Picture, soon away will fade;
To Worms and Moths a Portion soon will fall,
Both short lived Copy and Original …
Rawlet’s portrait, despite some neglect in the nineteenth century, has proved more long-lived than his library. It is not mentioned in any of the papers relating to Rawlet’s estate, but the picture seems to have travelled to Tamworth from Newcastle along with the books, and to have accompanied them to the Almshouses. There it was discovered by Mr Willington in 1834 when he visited the library. He found it ‘carelessly thrown down and in a state of complete dilapidation. He rescued and repaired it, presumably returning it to the library for rehanging, but the only word about it after that is its presentation to Tamworth Town Council by the Rawlet Trustees in 1853. Since then it has hung in the Council Chamber of Thomas Guy's Town Hall. Some have suggested this picture of Rawlet was painted by Mary Beale, and there is a similarity of style to other clerical portraits known to be by her. It is in need of cleaning and much detail is lost. The portrait shows its subject as a gentle and thoughtful man, more contemplative than the harder outlines of the White engraved version might suggest.
Until a few years ago, Rawlet’s legacy to Tamworth was confined to these: his charitable Trust; its last piece of land, Rawlett’s Field; his two books in the Castle Museum; one or two fragments from his books in the Tamworth Reference Library archives; and the Town Hall portrait. Few people in the town knew about any of them, and hardly anyone outside it; but, when the Trust sold Rawlett’s Field to Staffordshire Education Authority for a new school, the then governors of the proposed North Tamworth Comprehensive School thought it appropriate to perpetuate the name. Under the chairmanship of the late George Fathers, who was keenly interested in John Rawlet and his legacy to the town, the governors requested that the school that now stood on Rawlett’s Field should be call the Rawlett School. A few years later the school buildings were further enhanced by the addition of a sports hall, jointly owned by the Education Authority and Tamworth Borough Council, and fittingly named after George Fathers. Now, the Rawlett School and the Rawlett Sports Centre ensure that the name of Tamworth’s modest and self-sacrificing seventeenth-century clergyman is known by more people. It is my hope that this biography has gone some way to enable the man himself, his deeds, his writings, his character and his legacy, to be known more widely.
In Se Epitaphium |
Whoere thou art that lookst upon this stone,
I charge thee in the Lords most dreadful name
Go get thee to thy closet, there alone
Review thy sins, confesse, bewaile the same:
Return to Christ and in the waies
Of serious Holinesse spend all thy dayes,
So when thy body crumbled into dust
Like mine shall bee thy spirit shall rejoyce
Amongst the perfect spirits of the just
In endlesse blisse. Might now a dead mans voice
Thy soul, if dead in sin, to true life raise
Then should the living God from both have praise:
In life and death poor sinners I would faine
Gain unto Christ, who was in both my gain.
An unpublished poem in John Rawlet’s hand.
It is stuck into one of the books he owned, which is to be found at the Castle Museum, Tamworth.
Detail of a portrait of John Rawlet by an unknown artist, perhaps Mary Beale.
This bookseller’s advertisement from a first edition of Poetick Miscellanies, reproduced by permission of Newcastle upon Tyne City Library, shows revised editions of the original four books. With the exception of the misspelling of ‘Protestant’, this is an accurate list of Rawlet's books, shown in the order they appeared. Dates of first publication were: 1667, 1672, 1685, 1686, 1687. There is no justification for doubting Rawlet’s authorship of any of these titles, as some scholars have done.
It is impossible here to give a detailed list of research material consulted. Readers interested in knowing the sources of all facts and quotations should refer to the detailed chapter notes in the unpublished monograph My Very Agreeable Friend Mr. John Rawlet by Margaret Manuell, copies of which are deposited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Dpt. Of Western MSS: MS Eng. Misc. c.804), and in the Reference Libraries at Tamworth and Wigan. In the following list are included only the major printed works and the manuscripts quoted in this booklet.
The Baxter Correspondence, Dr. Williams’s Library, Gordon Square, London.
The Wharton Correspondence, the Rawlinson MSS, The Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Notes for a sermon on John Rawlet, in the hand of Samuel Langley, c1686, Local History Archive, Reference Library, Tamworth Central Library. This also has the fragment of a 13th/14th century MS bible page, possibly from one of Rawlet’s book collection.
The Rawlet Trust Archive, now deposited with Staffordshire Record Office, Stafford.
The Parish Registers of St Editha’s, Tamworth, now also at Staffordshire Record Office, Stafford.
Barnes, Ambrose, ed. W.H.D. Longstaffe, Memoirs of the life of Ambrose Barnes, 1867.
Baxter, Richard, abridged J.M.Lloyd Thomas, ed. N.H. Keeble, Autobiography, 1974.
Bray, Thomas, ‘A Brief Account of the Rev. Mr. John Rawlet etc.' in Two Select and Exemplary Lives of Two Parochial Ministers, by George Carleton, 1728.
Defoe, Daniel, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain 1724 - 1726, 1971.
Granger’s Biographical History, 1769.
Heywood, Oliver, ed. J. Horsfall Turner, Diaries etc., 1882.
H.M.C. 14th report (letter of J. Angier), 1894.
Kettlewell’s Works, 1719.
Newcome, Henry, ed. Richard Parkinson, Autobiography.
Pepys, Samuel, ed. R.C. Latham & W. Matthews, The Diaries, 1970 - 76.
It is amazing that after three hundred years it is still possible to find so much detail about the life of someone who is a virtual unknown; and I would like to thank all those people throughout the country who have so generously given their time and expertise—often beyond the call of duty—to help me piece together the clues which go to make up what can be found of Rawlet’s life. Unfortunately I cannot name them all.
I am particularly grateful to the Librarian and staff of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for allowing me access to much source material, and especially to the Department for Western MSS for helping me to track down many Rawlet letters; to the Trustees of Dr Williams’s Library, Gordon Sq., London, for allowing me to copy and quote from the Rawlet letters in their care; and, in Tamworth, to the Local History Librarian, the Curator of the Castle Museum, and the Trustees and Clerk of the Rawlet Trust, all of whom granted access to Rawlet MSS in their possession.
My gratitude is also due to Sister Judith CHN, for her valuable help on Newcastle church history; F. Norton of Pembroke College, Cambridge, for extracts from the college archives; Alec Swailes who lent me his work and notes on the history of Kirkby Stephen Grammar School; and E.J. Sandland of Cleveland who enabled me to make sense of the relationships within the Wharton family.
To Dr Margaret Urquhart, who stumbled upon Rawlet while researching the life of Sir John St Barbe, his pupil, must go my especial thanks. Dr Urquhart shared all her findings with me, supplying details of the Pynsent/St Barbe/Rawlet connection. Without her help it is doubtful if any of the period of Rawlet’s early career would have come to light.
I am indebted to Alan H. Watkins, then Headmaster of the Rawlett School for his support and encouragement during the three-year research period.
Of course I take full responsibility for the ideas expressed here, and for any errors that occur.
Margaret Manuell, August 2004
Title page of a first edition of Poetick Miscellanies, 1686.
Reproduced by permission of Newcastle upon Tyne City Library