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The First Nonconformist Ordinations in Yorkshire

Category Articles
Date November 8, 2019

The years between 1662 and 1689 witnessed the ejection from the National Church Establishment, and then the persecution of approaching two thousand of the best ministers England has ever possessed.  The Act of Uniformity, the immediate cause of their ejection, was soon followed by the Conventicle and Five Mile Acts.  The former prevented their gathering for Christian fellowship, whilst the latter was designed to banish them from the scene of their ministerial labours to the thinly populated areas where it was hoped the subsistence they had would cease, in consequence of their separation from those who derived spiritual benefit from their ministry.

How truly affecting it is to see these poor persecuted ministers, in such troubled and uncertain days, with fines and sufferings on every hand, and yet devoting their most promising sons to the sacred service in which they had suffered so much themselves and which promised so very little comfort to their successors!  The ejection fathers had resolved their work must go on and they were ready to bear the full proportion of responsibilities incurred by this decision.  In many cases they expended considerable sums of money to provide for their sons an appropriate education, that they might be fitted for the self-denying service of their humble sanctuaries.

Of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Puritans, Oliver Heywood has left us more literary remains than any of his contemporaries, and in his diary he tells how with solemn prayer and fasting he dedicated his sons John and Eliezer to the Gospel ministry.  What is true of Heywood must surely have been true of the other northern ministers who have left behind them no such records.  With what prayers Thomas Jollie1 must have set apart his beloved Timothy, or Joshua Kirby, his son,2 Godsgift!  Here is Heywood’s own account of the devoting of John and Eliezer to ministerial training:

My sons to go abroad for their learning, I took them with me to three private days this week, one was at Halifax May 14 (1673), one at home May 15 and the last at Mr Dawson’s May 16.  But Thursday at home was such a day as we seldom had.  I purposely appointed it to seek God on their behalf, and God wonderfully helped all his servants to plead for them.  About the middle of the day I called them both before the company and asked them several questions, as ‘what calling they chose’, with tears they both answered ‘the ministry’.  For what end?  They might suffer persecution; must not dream of honour therein and to live like gentlemen, etc.  They told me ‘their only end was to glorify God and win souls’; I marked John’s words he said, ‘he desired to do God more service than any of his ancestors’.3

I asked them what they desired Mr Dawson and the rest of Gods Servants might pray to God on their behalf?  They spake openly both of them, Eliezer spoke first, and said, ‘that God would give them grace and gifts, forgive their sins of childhood and loss of time; would make them studious, keep them from temptation and sinful company’; John’s answer was much what of that nature.  They both wept exceedingly, tears dropped down apace, the whole company wept.  Then I gave them up solemnly to God in his work.  They that went to prayer read also a scripture.  W.B. read 1 Samuel 1 of dedicating Samuel to God.  Mr Dawson read Genesis 28 of Isaac sending away his son Jacob; R. R. read Proverbs 3 about getting wisdom; Mr Hodgson read the latter end of Genesis 48 and when he came to the words, ‘the angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads’ tears stopped him, we all wept.  The scriptures I read and expounded briefly was 1 Chronicles 28, of Solomon’s charge to David about building the temple.  In prayer God helped all, but God wrought strangely in my heart, oh what a flood of tears!  What pleadings with God!  It’s a token for good.  At night after the young men’s conference, I set my two sons a-praying.  Eliezer began and wept and prayed very feelingly, but John exceeded both in strong scriptural expostulations and sobbing and weeping, that sometimes he could hardly speak; and such an evening and such a day I have seldom had in all my life.  ‘I watch to hear what the Lord will speak’; to all these surely ‘He will speak peace’, but oh that I and mine might not return to folly.4

With such prayers and tears our nonconformist fathers set apart their own sons that the North of England might continue to enjoy Gospel privileges.

Joseph Hunter in his Life of Oliver Heywood, after noting that the northern ministers had established an academy for the education of their youth who were destined for the ministry, makes the following observation: ‘The nonconformists in the North of England were fortunate in having amongst them a person who was excellently well qualified to discharge the duties of that difficult and responsible office, the tutor and director of one of these academies’.5

That man, well qualified and suitable, was Richard Frankland.  It was to Frankland’s academy that Oliver and Nathaniel Heywood, Thomas Jollie and Joshua Kirby sent their sons, and it was upon Frankland that the responsibility fell of training successors to the ejected ministers of the North of England.

Richard Frankland was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge and, having gained a high reputation for his scholarship, he was, during the Commonwealth, appointed vice-president and tutor of the college founded by Cromwell at Durham, which was intended by the Lord Protector to supply the place of a University for the northern counties.  At the Restoration, when the attempt to form a third university was terminated, Frankland lost his appointment, and on the passing of the Black Bartholomew Act he was ejected from his living of St Andrews, at Auckland in Durham.

A gentleman by descent as well as by education and accomplishments, he settled on his patrimonial property in the little village of Rathmell, near Giggleswick, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and there in 1669 opened one of the first of what came to be called ‘Dissenting Academics’.6

As a schoolmaster Frankland was exposed to the penalties of the Act of Uniformity and was compelled, as was not unusual with teachers in those times, to remove his pupils from one obscure situation to another.  Between 1669 and 1689 the academy had no less than six migrations!  With the passing of the Act of Toleration he ceased from his wanderings and settled on his property at Rathmell where he remained until his death in 1698.

In all these several places he educated, practically single-handed, three hundred and three students, the greater proportion of whom were intended for the nonconformist ministry.  So well recognised was the completeness of the academy course that the University of Edinburgh admitted Frankland’s students to degrees after only one session at the University.

As the years passed the question of ordaining new ministers pressed itself upon the Yorkshire Presbyterians.  On the one hand the older of the ejected ministers were entering upon their eternal reward, whilst on the other young students were completing their education and giving evidence of their usefulness in the Gospel ministry.  Joseph Hunter begins his entry of Heywood’s life for the year 1678 with this sentence: ‘This year was spent in the same manner as last, but it is memorable as being the year in which the Presbyterian ministers in the West Riding of Yorkshire first resumed the practice of ordination.’

Heywood’s own explanation of the event is prefaced to his large and most instructive account of that first nonconformist ordination service in Yorkshire.  He writes: ‘Ancient ministers according to the course of nature dropping off and dying, and some young scholars being trained up in learning and giving good proofs of their public usefulness in future times for the service of the church, we thought it our duty, according to our principles to set some young men apart by examining them according to the rules in the [Westminster] Assembly’s Directory, fasting and prayer and imposition of hands, that there may be a provision made for a succession in after times in the ministerial work; and God hath much assisted us in this work, and given us great encouragement that he hath owned our honest endeavours therein.’

The design seems to have originated with Frankland.  On the 17th May 1678, he and his wife and son came to visit Oliver Heywood at Northowram, when he opened up the whole business.  The person whom Frankland had more particularly in view was John Issot, one of the earliest of his pupils, who, having completed his education, was then assisting Frankland both in preaching and teaching.  He lived at that time with the tutor and is described by Heywood as ‘an able and serious young man.’

Both Frankland and Heywood, in accord with both the scriptures and the Westminster Assembly’s Directory,7 had distinct views about ordination.  They held that the young men, who had been prepared to take the places of the deceased ministers, and who were as yet unordained, could not fulfil all the functions of a minister, especially the administration of the sacraments, until they were.  Frankland’s views at that time were no doubt identical to those he expressed in a letter written in 1694:

‘I am troubled to hear that the persons you mention do upon such weak grounds (so far as I understand them) put off their ordination, especially when grave ministers would not only argue them into their duty, but would likewise contribute their help to them.  If they should persist in their present course of preaching without being ordained, it would give great offence, and also open the mouths of the enemies of the truth, whom we have sometimes more sharply reproved for their acting as ministers without a due ministerial call, besides (as you hint) they might first in general be ordained ministers, and then they might with better right, order and direct their people; they cannot expect to have the divisions that are amongst the people removed till Christ’s discipline take place amongst them.’

Heywood heartily consented to Frankland’s suggestion and promised to engage another ministerial colleague, Joseph Dawson,8 to assist them, Frankland also undertaking to procure the assistance of Anthony Sleigh,9 an ejected minister from Northumberland.  The date fixed upon was July 8th at the home of a nonconformist farmer, Richard Mitchell of Marton Scar, about five miles from Skipton.  The farmhouse is still standing today.

Once the intention of holding this ordination was divulged, two other non-conforming ministers who had been long in the ministry but had never been ordained, applied to Heywood to be received to ordination.  The ministers concerned were John Darnton, who was ejected at West Tanfield and who had continued preaching as a nonconformist in the neighbourhood at Ripon, and Richard Thorpe of Hopton.

Upon receiving this request Heywood communicated the desire of these men to Frankland who, as a convinced Presbyterian and being zealous for Christ’s discipline, readily consented.  Having secured Frankland’s agreement Heywood wrote another letter, this time to his friend Thomas Jollie, the Independent Minister of the Wymondhouses Church, on the side of Pendle Hill, requesting his assistance at the ordination, ‘Knowing his principles to be for it though inclining to the congregational way.’

The entry for July 8th, 1678, in Heywood’s diary begins, ‘We had a solemn and weighty undertaking upon our hands and God ordered the matter very graciously.’10 Thus we find Heywood, accompanied by Dawson and Thorpe, proceeding to Marton Scar where they were met by Issot, Darnton and Frankland who had also brought a good number of his scholars with him.  Anthony Sleigh, the minister whose services Frankland had undertaken to procure, having been sick ‘durst not travel so far’, and Thomas Jollie, because he had no acquaintance with the persons to be ordained, declined to attend, adding however, that he was ‘heartily troubled that he missed such an opportunity of seeing such friends, of serving the interest of the gospel and giving a proof of what his principles were in these matters.’

The absence of these senior ministers almost frustrated the whole design, for when Richard Thorpe found there were no more than three ministers to perform the ordination he began to waver and even determined to return home, but, Heywood tells us, ‘I discoursed him plainly and fully’, and then Frankland urged Acts 13:1-3 to prove that ‘there were only three engaged in that apostolical ordination, and two ordained, for they were but five in all.’ Thorpe being then convinced of the matter by the older ministers was satisfied and consented to stay.

The following day Oliver Heywood and Richard Thorpe preached to a full assembly at the house of a nearby believer, John Hey, after which Heywood administered the Lord’s Supper to about thirty persons, ‘wherein’, he adds, ‘our dear Lord did graciously manifest himself to our souls.’

Following some refreshment they then began the work of examining the candidates which, as might be expected, was conducted by Richard Frankland, who examined them with regard to the extent of their knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures and of their acquaintance with the authors of philosophy and divinity.  During these examinations Frankland detected that Richard Thorpe adhered to the Baxterian view with regard to the doctrine of justification;11 this viewpoint was regarded, quite rightly, by Frankland as a serious deviation from the doctrine as set forth in the Westminster standards, hence in the midst of these trials, he publicly refuted the Baxterian position and went on to state the orthodox doctrine.

The extent and the thoroughness of these examinations can be gathered when it is appreciated that it took Frankland and his colleagues the greater part of a whole day to conduct them!  The Directory of the Westminster Assembly required that, ‘The man be examined in what authors in divinity he hath read and is best acquainted with and trial shall be made of his knowledge of the grounds of religion, and of his ability to defend the orthodox doctrine contained in them against all unsound and erroneous opinions, especially those of this present age, of his skill in the sense and meaning of such places of scripture as shall be proposed to him, in cases of conscience and in the chronology of the scripture and the ecclesiastical history.’ This duty Frankland discharged with great thoroughness.

On Wednesday the 10th, they began at 7 o’clock in the morning, Frankland opening the proceedings with prayer.  After the examination of their certificates each candidate in turn had to deliver in Latin the thesis previously assigned to him and then maintain his position in a dispute.  Richard Thorpe positioned on the thesis ‘Dature Divina Providentia’ and was afterwards opposed in a ‘short dispute syllogistically’ by Joseph Dawson and Oliver Heywood, the latter describing the thesis as ‘a learned discourse in Latin’.  Then John Issot spoke on the thesis, ‘Quod ordinatio per manuum impositionem per seniores (vulgo vocatos Laicos) non est valida.’ ‘It was’, Heywood tells us, ‘an excellent discourse, very large and cogent, yet we made our objections.’ John Darnton whose thesis was ‘Non Datur omnibus gratia sufficiens ad conversionem’, ‘begged leave to deliver himself in English, which was permitted for the benefit of such as were present, and did pretty well, though some of us’, says Heywood, ‘were not so fully satisfied in his abilities.  Yet having testimonials of his pious conversation, Mr Frankland having known him formerly in Northumberland, and he producing testimonials of approbation granted in 1658 by the Commissioners for the trial of ministers in those parts, and confessing his fault and defect in having preached twenty years without ordination, and further assuring us that he had never baptized a child and had been always seeking ordination’, Heywood concludes, ‘upon these encouraging grounds we entertained him.’ In Heywood’s diary record of these trials for ordination there is a sentence which is characteristic of this warm-hearted puritan, ‘Blessed be God, they all did well!’

After the presentation of the thesis, in order to complete their trials Richard Frankland inquired of them all individually concerning the following: their persuasion of the truth of the Reformed Religion, their ends in entering the gospel ministry, their diligence in prayer and reading, their zeal and faithfulness in maintaining the truth, their care of their families and flocks, their willingness to submit to the admonitions of their brethren and, finally, of their resolution to continue in their duties against all trouble and persecution.

For details of the actual act of ordination we turn again to Heywood’s account: ‘Then we proceed to the imposition of hands. . . Mr Frankland begun with Mr Issot who kneeled down before us and when Mr Frankland came to the words, “whom we set apart or appoint”, he having laid on hands, we did the like and kept them on till the close, then I prayed over Mr Darnton, Mr Dawson over Mr Thorpe in like manner, then we gave them the right hand of fellowship owning them as our brethren in Christ’s work, and then we all sat down.’12

Heywood then preached on the text, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:38), insisting most upon the word ‘labourers’, ‘God helping me’, he says, ‘graciously to open the laboriousness of the ministerial calling and press it home upon them in particular.’ ‘Then’, he concludes, ‘I went to prayer wherein God did wonderfully draw out my heart with exceeding meltings for those brethren, for Mr Frankland and his scholars, for the church, God helped them all to join, and gave some remarkable evidences of his presence, we then sang part of Psalm 132.’

The following day the little assembly met once more to bid their loving and solemn farewells to each other and thus to return to their respective spheres of labour.  Thus drew to a conclusion the first of a whole series of ordinations in which Frankland, Heywood, Jollie and Dawson took part.  Their object was to ensure a continuation in the North of England in those troublesome days of a faithful and well-equipped gospel ministry, and to uphold even in times of persecution and affliction the necessary biblical principles respecting entry into the ministerial office.  We can do no better than close our account with Heywood’s words:

Blessed be God for this fruitful blossoming of Aaron’s rod and the strong branches and sweet flowers issuing thence, that are likely to prove pillars and ornaments in the house of God.  What a lovely sight it was to see so many hopeful plants, and so willingly offering themselves, in this despised way, in such an opposing day as this is!  Oh that the blessing of Elijah might be upon Elisha!  There is hope the vacant rooms of God’s deceased servants may be filled up; Lord, take thou the glory and let the church have profit of these successors’ labours!

In conclusion it has to be observed that, like that of so many of his northern fellow-labourers, the life of Richard Frankland is largely unchronicled.  There are two very unsatisfactory biographical accounts known to the writer, namely, Brief Memoirs of Mr Richard Frankland and of Mr Henry Sampson, by Robert B. Aspland (London, 1862), and Older Nonconformity in Kendal by Francis Nicholson and Ernest Axon (Kendal, 1915).  Both productions are the work of Unitarians who were completely out of sympathy with Frankland’s Westminster Confession Presbyterianism.  The second book contains the following remark: ‘Frankland’s theology and that of the academy was Calvinistic; of this we can be in no doubt for there is contemporary evidence that Mr Frankland’s “little striplings” were notorious Calvinists’! (p. 137)

The fact that Frankland’s biographers have been Unitarians is a tragic irony.  In the early 1690’s, when Arian views were first noised in the Presbyterian churches, the very thought of a Unitarian controversy pained both Frankland and Heywood.

Oliver Heywood in characteristic language says: ‘Surely ‘tis a thousand pitties that in England, a Goshen, a land of light, where the gospel sun hath shined in its meridian splendour, such black frogs should arise out of the bottomless pit as to darken our horizon.’

So stirred was Frankland that in the year prior to his death he published his only book, a volume defending Westminster orthodoxy on the question of the Trinity.  To Frankland the Arians were ‘scoffing adversaries’ and their teaching ‘gross and abominable untruth’.  The work was seen through the press by Heywood, who also appended a preface in which he states the author’s purpose to be ‘zeal for God, his cause, truth and glory and the preventing of young students being poisoned with soul-destructive errors.’

Though Frankland and his academy have gone, unremembered by Christians of this present century, we have all reason to be thankful for this northern puritan academy; for it was there that no less than three of the thirteen divines who completed Matthew Henry’s Commentary received their theological education.  The commentaries on Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews are the work of John Evans, Joshua Bayes and William Tong, all of whom were students of Richard Frankland.

This article was first published in the November 1975 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.


  1. A brief account of the life of Thomas Jollie was given in Issue 49, pp. 13-17 (July-August 1967).
  2. Joshua Kirby (1617-1676) was ejected from the Cambden lectureship in Wakefield.  He was a man of extraordinary sanctity and exactness, a solid substantial preacher and a great ‘scripturist’.  It is said that some persons in his congregation near Wakefield complained of his citing too many scriptures in his sermons, to whom he answered ‘that it was like complaining of flour being too fine to make bread of, could we speak more properly than in God’s language?’ cf. Yorkshire: its Puritanism and Early Nonconformity, B. Dale, pp. 93-95, and Nonconformist Memorial, Vol.  III, S. Palmer, (1802), pp. 454-455.
  3. John Heywood had some notable ancestors.  Besides his father and mother there was his uncle, Nathaniel Heywood, and all his grandparents.  His maternal grandfather was the holy and peaceable John Angier of Denton who was trained by John Rodgers of Dedham.
  4. Cited in Lancashire, its Puritanism and Nonconformity, Robert Halley D.D., (1872), pp. 413-414.
  5. The Rise of the Old Dissent exemplified in the Life of Oliver Heywood, Joseph Hunter, (London; 1842) p. 242.
  6. While the tutors were men of the stature of John Flavel, Philip Henry, Thomas Doolittle, Theophilus Gale and Richard Frankland, these academics proved to be a real blessing to the church.  Their later history, however, when they became ‘institutions’, with a staff of tutors, makes depressing reading.  The churches had little or no control over their teaching and gradually the academics became the seed beds of the Arianism that was to tear apart the Presbyterian Church.  See A. H. Drysdale Presbyterianism in England, pp. 510-511, (London; 1889), and, for an informative account of the place of the academics in the educational system of the country, I. Parker’s Dissenting Academies in England, (Cambridge; 1914), (Appendix 1, listing all the academies, is most valuable).
  7. Westminster Confession, XXVII : IV, ‘There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord; neither of which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the word, lawfully ordained.’ Also, ‘The Form of Presbyterial Church Government and of the Ordination of ministers.’
  8. Joseph Dawson was ejected from Thornton Chapel and after his ejectment lived and preached near Halifax.  In 1688 he was chosen minister of the Chapel at Morley near Leeds.
  9. Calamy’s account of this man is quite affecting.  Though he received only 20 shillings a year from his congregation, and numerous other more lucrative stations were offered him, such was his love for his poor flock nothing could separate him from them.  Calamy adds ‘he was twice imprisoned for preaching and once thrown into the dungeon for praying with the prisoners.’
  10. Oliver Heywood: Diaries, Anecdote and Event books, edited by J. Horsfall Turner, (1883), vol II, pp. 194-197.
  11. For a good summary of this error see James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, 1961 reprint, pp. 191-92.
  12. ‘The ordination by the laying on of the hands of elders, commonly called laymen, is not valid.’

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