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Thomas Jolly of Wymondhouses

Category Articles
Date June 7, 2019

Thomas Jolly is representative of the large number of Puritan pastors who left no books by which posterity might be reminded of them, but who were neverthe­less in their own day eminent in spirituality and preach­ing power. We need to remember that the literary remains of Puritans which have been reprinted only represent a comparatively small number of the Puritan host and some of the foremost Puritan preachers, men like Stephen Marshall and Edmund Calamy, are less known than others who were their followers, simply because they prepared little for publication. With regard to Jolly we should only have had access to a few pages of information and little means of knowing why Matthew Henry spoke of him as ‘a minister of the first rank for gifts and graces’ had it not been for the discovery in 1892 of a portion of his Diary, or Notebook, which covers the years 1671-1693.1 Looking at Jolly without the aid of his Diary would be like dearching for an object on the horizon on a hazy day in comparison to the telescopic view we are given in the hundred or so pages of this 17th-century literary fragment. Things far off are suddenly brought near and with a colour and detail which almost dispels the mists of time.

Thomas Jolly was born at Droylsdon in Lancashire on September 14, 1629. After three or four years at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was appointed minister of Altham chapel, Lancashire, on the 10th of September, 1649, being then twenty-one years of age. His preaching was described as ‘life from the dead to many there­abouts’ and by the time of the Restoration he was looked up to as one of the leading Presbyterians of the North of England. But these years of blessing at Altham were not wholly bright; three times he had been left a widower, and strife between conflicting religious sects had added to his sorrows. He was thus in measure prepared to endure hardship and the discipline was a needed one, for there was probably no minister in Lancashire who was henceforth to suffer more than he for the sake of the Gospel.

On several occasions before the Act of Uniformity came into force, in August, 1662, Jolly was in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was twice arrested in the winter of 1660-61; he was cited to appear at Preston and at Chester more than once; at the latter place he was accused on November 28, 1661, by James Whittaker, a carpenter of Altham, who declared that he had never heard of Jolly using the Prayer Book, that for many years he had kept a private conventicle at his own house, or in one of the Society’s, and that a Mr Bannister, one of the inhabitants, having got the key of the chapel and refusing to admit Jolly to preach because of his Non­conformity, Thomas Jolly had got a new lock and key and preached ever since. For the moment, due to the death of two bishops of Chester in quick succession, Jolly survived, and it was finally only by a few hours that he was prevented from remaining pastor of Altham till the moment when, with his brethren all over the country, he was ready to give up his position in the national church. But his enemy Captain Bannister at last got the Suspen­sion Order he wished for, and arriving at the chapel as morning worship was commencing on August 17, 1662, h speedily had Jolly thrust out of the building before any farewell sermon could be preached. Nor was he allowed either to preach or pray in the porch, and to make sure he did not gather the people in any other place a squadron of horse soldiers was sent to the village. So Altham’s days of Gospel blessing were over and there was soon no alternative but for Jolly to break up his home, though it meant that with his three young children he was, as he writes, ‘put to wander for a con­siderable time without any certain dwelling place.’ Yet homeless and humanly helpless as he was, Jolly was still watched over by the authorities as though his presence were a constant source of danger to them.

Their opportunity came on October 9, 1663, when he was arrested at Healey, near Burnley, on suspicion of holding private meetings, and being set on horseback, without boots or hat, he was taken to Burnley. During his examination at Burnley he was lodged in a house where one night an officer coming for him found him conducting family worship. The Bible was torn out of his hand and he dragged ‘to the court of guard,’ where he was left all night to lie upon a bundle of wet straw and at daybreak taken through heavy rain to Skipton where he was detained for a short period. This confinement was a foretaste of what was to come. He was imprisoned at least five times between 1662 and 1669; in the latter year for six months at Preston, which appears to have been his longest sentence. Despite these hazards Jolly soon established himself in an itinerant ministry. Making his base the 13th-century farmhouse called Wymond­houses, which he purchased on the north side of Pendle Hill in 1667, Jolly ranged far and wide — Manchester, Bolton, Kendal, Liverpool, Chester, these were all now parts of the parish of the ejected minister of Altham. Preached ‘ten times in eight days’ and ‘ten times in twelve days’ are the kind of entries we find in his Notebook. Nor could any now say that the inspiration for such earnest­ness came from the presence of crowded assemblies; it is true he sometimes preached to hundreds, but it is also true that when he commenced preaching at Wymond­houses it was to a congregation of only two ladies! The Puritans knew something of what it was to preach Christ for Christ’s sake. Jolly’s preaching, says Calamy, was plain, practical, very moving and ‘generally watered with many tears. He had a happy talent both in rousing the sinner and comforting the saint.’

Under such preaching the numbers at Wymond­houses gradually increased and precautions had to be taken against attempts to surprise the meetings. Thus the door which led from the sitting-room up the staircase was cut in two, so that the top half could fold back on hinges and rest on brackets as a kind of pulpit desk which could nevertheless be swiftly shut up again by strings, giving the preacher enough time to escape through the upstairs of the house.

Many such devices were necessary during the persecuting period. In other areas of the north of England it became the practice of Nonconformists to meet in the open air in deserted places with watchmen at vantage points to give warning of any approaching parties. At Rivington, in Lancashire, Christians met in a kind of amphitheatre in the side of Winter Hill, with seats cut in the hillside and a stone for pulpit. At Rawdon Low Hall, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, services were held in a cave under the Buckstone Rock with sentries posted on the heights above. It was through his preaching in another such cave that John Davis, ejected from Bywell St Peter, Northumberland, was said to have died through the severe cold he contracted.

Jolly’s imprisonment in 1669 proved to be his last, and though for the next twenty years he continued travelling, preaching and evangelizing, he was still alive at the Revolution of 1688 to thank God for thus pre­serving him through so many dangers. It is these years which are covered by the Notebook from which we take the following extracts. Preaching at Slade on June 14, 1674, he tells us: ‘I felt a more than ordinary presence of God, we read the 6th of Daniel; when I was preaching upon Hosea 5:15, chap. 6:1, 2, 3, and showing how the Lord smites and tears, heals and binds up a people; how there are grounds of our turning to God, and calling upon others to turn, Captain Nowell with his man came into the meeting place, commanded me to come down, swearing most blasphemously, calling me most shamefully, and threatening to pistol me (holding up his pistol at me) if I came not down presently.’ After two days’ detention he was released under bond until the next assizes [periodic Court], when he was warned to desist from preaching and, his accusers failing to procure either his banishment or imprisonment, he was fined £20. Jolly, nothing daunted, simply reported to the brethren at Wymondhouses and went off on another of his circuits: ‘I came to the brethren met at my house and so took a journey into the northern parts wherein I had much experience of God’s good presence with me and provi­dence about me.’ The consciousness of the Lord’s providential care was a very real thing to men like the pastor of Wymondhouses; they believed they were immortal till their work was done and that they had no cause why they ‘should be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man, which shall be made as grass’ (Isa. 51:12). ‘I found a peculiar presence of God with me in all my Yorkshire journey,’ wrote Jolly on another occasion, ‘and in every opportunity, yea in York itself in the very time of the assizes.’

The years 1683-4 were dark ones for Jolly as they were to all the persecuted Nonconformists. His youngest son, Timothy, was under close imprisonment at York Castle in 1683 for preaching, so was his friend Charles Sagar at Lancaster for the same offence. His old counsellor, John Owen, was dead and he had never had such bad news from the capital as he had now, ‘I had notice by a friend that the Gospel had then almost quite left London, and yet scarce any tears at all shed for it.’ With the persecution thus reaching its height the church at Wymond­houses had to leave off daytime meetings and commence to gather only under the cover of darkness, frequently in remote cottages or uninhabited places. ‘Oh! blessed night!’ Jolly recorded after one such meeting, and again, ‘the Lord refused not night comers, his night meeters.’ The danger of meeting at Wymondhouses was before long confirmed to them; returning to his home at the foot of Pendle Hill about two o’clock one morning, after a conventicle, Jolly found the farmhouse had been visited and ‘a mare of mine so wounded by some hand that she had almost bled to death and was lamed thereby.’

These night meetings were attended with many practical difficulties — the time, the place, the need of going on foot because of the darkness, and the return home exhausted ‘through the length of the way.’ ‘Sometimes [but seldom] an opportunity for prayer in the daytime,’ he notes in his Diary, ‘and sometimes a more full resort to hear the Word, but more ordinary my people are even worn out, some of them creeping to the meeting on crutches, yet doth the Lord help me in night travels and labours, though the stock of natural spirits and strength is far spent.’2 But this was all far better than the occasional Sabbaths when, through the absence of any moonlight, they could not meet at all: ‘Oh how tedious was it to spend a Sabbath without an holy con­vocation, it made me think whether dying for my work be not better than dying by not doing of it.’

Despite such trials, being sometimes dogged by in­formers and searched for by troops, Jolly persevered in his labours. Indeed he had far more fear of hindrances arising from the sinfulness of his own heart than he had of any outward troubles: ‘I am yoked with a body of death and temptation. . . Oh! wretched man that I am.’ He mourned over the corruption and temptations felt within which threatened ‘to draw me or drive me aside’ — ‘I was reduced to such straits,’ he writes on one occasion, ‘that I knew not how to keep on in my way, up to my work one day longer.’ It was this sense of sinfulness which drove him often to the throne of grace for seasons of special prayer. One typical entry in the Note­book reads: ‘My retireing in the 1oth m. [1684] was on account of my original and actual iniquity and impo­tency, how easily captivated, how quickly defiled with any temptation. Oh! the sin of my nature, of my pro­parents and of my first parents! that it should be but thus after all these ordinances and opportunities, corrections and comforts, after all this time and at this age.’ A man’s view of his own condition will always determine the character of his prayers. It was the Puritans’ knowledge of the gravity and power of indwelling sin that made them so dependent upon God and so conscious of the necessity of his continual aid and presence. ‘That I might have further supplies of the Spirit,’ was Jolly’s frequent petition and it was graciously answered. ‘I felt special fellowship and familiarity with the Lord,’ he records after one such time of waiting upon God. Like Samuel Rutherford of Anwoth, he even knew something of having the joy of Christ’s presence with him in his sleep: ‘One night about this time,’ he records, ‘I had such a dream as I could not but take much notice of; I was led along through a dark alley into a most sumptuous temple where I was unconceivably ravished in spirit, and was raised to sing part of the 25 psalm, 5,6 in a tune unexpressibly melodious and in an exceeding high note so that I seemed to have a taste of the angelic exercise and celestial state above.’

The consolations which Jolly thus received he did not keep to himself; he could enter deeply into the Apostle Paul’s thanksgiving to God, ‘who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble’ (2 Cor. 1:4). So it was with no despondent heart that he went to visit his son ‘in close prison at York’ one summer’s day in 1683: ‘I would humbly bless God that I have a son not only a professor and preacher, but a confessor of the truth and way of the Gospel, that he and his true yoke-fellow were helped to carry it so Christianly and comfortably, that they are so blessed as to bear the yoke and cross of Christ in their youth.’ Jolly found his son in the same surroundings which he himself had been in twenty years before when he spent some of the months of the winter in 1663 shut up in a dilapidated room in York Castle, without any fire, and exposed through the broken window to bitter winds and driving rains. ‘We had a comfortable opportunity in the prison itself,’ he notes concerning that day’s meeting with his son, and he was using the word ‘comfortable’ in its true Pauline sense. A few weeks later Jolly was off in his Kendal-Lancaster circuit, preaching at several other places en route: ‘I had my opportunities at Kellett, Bolton and at Lancaster as usually at other times, but I was especially melted with the condition and refreshed with the carriage of Brother Sagar, a prisoner of the Lord at Lancaster.’ These prison visits would remind him that the number of those still at liberty in the work of the Gospel was now dwindling in the north of England, as it was in the south, and Jolly was conscious of his own increasing danger: ‘The prosecution of me upon the 35th of Eliz. being the probable issue of my present troubles and the penalty thereof being abjuration or death, it put me to again go over that old lesson of Christ’s cross.’ On his return journey from York, lodging at one place overnight, he had been ‘set upon by several at once’ who sought unsuccessfully to implicate him in certain plots of which he was ignorant — attempted rebellion against the Government being a charge frequently levelled at the Nonconformists. On another occasion at a conventicle at Harden in Cheshire he was ‘preserved even in the mouth of danger,’ likewise on a journey in his Man­chester-Chester circuit, ‘I was for sometime exercised in preaching every night in several places, and sometimes in imminent danger on the Lord’s Day in the daytime.’

One August morning in 1684, just as the day was breaking in the sky behind Pendle Hill, the farmhouse of Wymondhouses was suddenly surrounded by a constable and his men and Jolly was summoned to Preston to answer the charge of being a frequent keeper of conventicles. ‘I was helped to acquiesce in the Lord’s will,’ he wrote with regard to his feelings on that early morning ride amongst his captors, ‘and by the apprehension of my appearance before a greater Judge many scriptures were brought in, and my spirit was so fortified that his reviling language [when I came before him] and his severest threatening did not fasten upon me.’ Jolly’s first appearance was before Justice Thomas Braddyll, who had tried him ten years before, and ‘severe instructions’ were given that Jolly should go to prison unless he could provide bondsmen who would undertake to pay a high sum should he again be found contravening the law. Jolly could not honestly seek to obtain friends who would thus stand surety for him for the very good reason that he was resolved as long as he had liberty to go on with his work. However, Jolly’s second appearance was before another Justice, who was through a confusion (which Jolly regarded as an answer to the prayers of those who had ‘wrestled with God’ on his behalf) ignorant of Braddyll’s orders and this justice released him under a bond of £200; ‘Judge Jeffryes would have had £2,000,’ Jolly commented in his Notebook. It was deliverances such as this which served to confirm Jolly in his purpose: ‘I had run the hazard of many hundreds of pounds, and I thought I should hazard this also for the greater advantage and others good, though I might fear and must prepare for the worse, yea, for the worst men can do when I come into their hands. . . Though I was bound, the word of the Lord was not, nor was I [through his grace] bound up from my duty in my present capacity; I did therefore take this occasion to go my Kendall circuit where my labours in preaching were more than ordinary; at Kellett I had more encouragement, and in Lancaster I felt I wanted not work nor exercise. At my return I met with the report of Mr Braddyll’s rage against me for my seeming to slight him about my bond, or rather [I doubt] for the disappoint­ment of my imprisonment; this made me that night turn aside to Blackburn and so to Tockholes, where I was not without work. After all my travel and toil, I got at last to the Church meeting in the dead of the night, being mightily strengthened in spirit and body, day and night.’

Such are some of the leaves out of the Notebook of this man, and if we take them as representative of a large number of forgotten Puritans it may give us some idea of the kind of ministry England knew three hundred years ago. Moreover the Notebook is by no means the complete picture; it is not much more than the inner feelings of a humble man who after the Revolution of 1688 refused to publish any account of his sufferings. Glimpses that we get of him from other sources confirm that the half has not been told of the workings of the Spirit of God through his ministry. Oliver Heywood’s Diaries contain frequent references to him: ‘I went to Kipping,’ Heywood writes concerning June 4, 1679, ‘where Mr Jolly was to preach; I prayed almost two hours, God did wonderfully assist. In preaching Mr Jolly was about four hours in the work, God helped, blest be God!’ On a March day the next year, ‘Mr Jolly preached at my house, God wonderfully helped him, blessed be God’; and a few days later, ‘Mr Dawson and I rode to Lidiat, Mr Whitehurst’s meeting place, where Mr Jolly preached out his text he begun at my house; God helped him very graciously.’

Heywood and Jolly were frequently in touch during the dark days of persecution, being men of one heart, and in one letter Heywood refers to their friendship, ‘which first commenced at Cambridge, where you were pleased to take notice of, and take into your society, such a simple, raw lad as O. H. I oft reflect, with comfort and gratitude, on the sweet opportunities we had in your garret-chamber, and the heart-meltings under Mr Hammond’s ministry.’3 There was good cause for their friendship to deepen over the years; Jolly’s son Timothy (the prisoner at York) once saved one of Heywood’s sons from drowning, and in turn Heywood was used in a sermon he preached at Kendal on 2 Tim. 3:7 to be the means of Timothy Jolly’s conversion.

Heywood and Jolly both outlived the persecution. When the eighteenth century dawned they were old men no longer able to range across the hills and dales of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Yet although they could no longer journey along the route which they had once covered so swiftly between Heywood’s home at Coley and the farmhouse beneath Pendle Hill, the fragrant memory of those days was dear to the two evangelists in the evening of life. ‘I often reflect,’ wrote Heywood to his Lancashire friend who was now suffering from a painful disease, ‘on the sweet days we have had together in God’s immediate presence. I despair of ever seeing you on earth, but hope ere long to meet you in heaven, in the general assembly above. Next to meeting our dear Lord, this cheers me, that we shall meet with our godly friends with better hearts, in a better place and posture. In the meantime, there is a communion of saints, if not local yet real: we meet at the throne of grace, conversing with our God, and thereby sending to each other by the road of heaven; yet these paper messages are not insignificant.’ The last words of a letter from Heywood to Jolly on June 12, 1700, well sum up the spirit in which the two men had long lived,

‘Dear Brother, we have not many steps to our Father’s house where our souls shall unanimously sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb, with our godly friends and brethren now at rest where he longs to be who is

Your endeared anciently obliged brother Ol. Heywood.’

Thomas Jolly died in peace at Wymondhouses on March 14, 1703, in the fifty-third year of his ministry and commending, says Palmer, ‘what he called primitive Christianity, or Puritanism, to the very last.’ Today the thirteenth-century farmhouse still stands high up on the hill sides in the Ribble valley. The chapel, built alongside the farmhouse, after the Revolution in 1688, has long since been pulled down but a text carved in a stone and evidently once part of the building reminds any who climb to this peaceful spot that

Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it.

Such was the message which lay at the heart of English Puritanism.

This article was first published in the July – August 1967 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine. Though the Trust does not publish any of Thomas Jolly’s writings, a digitalised form of his Notebook, and a history of his family is available to read for free through Google books, courtesy of the University of Michigan.


  1. The Notebook of the Rev. Thomas Jolly, edited with an Introduction by Henry Fishwick, 1894, published by The Chetham Society.
  2. A note in Heywood’s Diary shows that Jolly was far from exaggerating. On a journey in July 1673 Heywood says, ‘Will Cellar shewed me the very place where Thomas Hammond, a godly ancient Christian, was killed on a Lord’s day at night having been to hear Mr Jolly, returning home to his son’s house about 3 or 4 years ago just under Pendle-hill, at a brook, his horse did stumble, he fell forward over his horse’s head, never spake a word after that, though he lived till about 8 o’clock in the morning.’ Diaries, Vol. 3, p. 180.
  3. Heywood’s Works, vol. I, p. 431.

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    Thomas Jolly is representative of the large number of Puritan pastors who left no books by which posterity might be reminded of them, but who were neverthe­less in their own day eminent in spirituality and preach­ing power. We need to remember that the literary remains of Puritans which have been reprinted only represent a comparatively […]

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    Thomas Jolly is representative of the large number of Puritan pastors who left no books by which posterity might be reminded of them, but who were neverthe­less in their own day eminent in spirituality and preach­ing power. We need to remember that the literary remains of Puritans which have been reprinted only represent a comparatively […]

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    Thomas Jolly is representative of the large number of Puritan pastors who left no books by which posterity might be reminded of them, but who were neverthe­less in their own day eminent in spirituality and preach­ing power. We need to remember that the literary remains of Puritans which have been reprinted only represent a comparatively […]

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