Thomas Jollie

Thomas Jollie was in his time a leading nonconformist minister in the Northwest of England, the founder of one of the earliest Congregationalist Chapels in the area and, notoriously, one of the exorcists of the Surey Demoniack. Most importantly his life gives an insight into the chaotic times of the English Civil Wars and the Restoration.Thomas Jollie

When Thomas Jollie was born at Droylsden, near Manchester, on 14 September 1629 nobody could have foreseen the forthcoming chaos of the English Civil Wars. Charles I had been on the thrones of England and Scotland for only four years. But the country was already divided. As Richard Baxter, the Presbyterian leader was retrospectively to observe: “the war was begun in our streets before King or Parliament had any armies.” In 1564, or thereabouts, “the English [had] discovered a new term of abuse”1 By the beginning of the seventeenth century, Patrick Collinson shows, Puritanism had “become the brand name for a certain kind of Protestant religiosity, social conduct and politics.” Jolie’s family were very firmly in the Puritan camp and Manchester was one of the Northern strongholds of Puritanism. His father, James Jollie (1610–1666), was a clothier and was an elder in the church at Gorton. James married Elizabeth Hall, a widow, in 1625 and they several children: James, their eldest, had been born in 1627.2

What would Thomas’ early life have been like? If Thomas’ life was like Oliver Heywood’s, who was a near contemporary, much of it would have consisted of going to church, not just on a Sunday but during the week as well. Heywood was taken to these activities by his mother, reflecting the major role that women, as mothers, had in raising their children in the Protestant faith. Sermons would have been a key feature of those meetings.3 As Collinson points out, although the texts of these early Stuart sermons survive, what has not survived is the way in which they were delivered: the sermon was not a text, but a performance, sometimes lasting for hours. People would travel for some distance to hear a good preacher, to the irritation of some in authority, as some parish churches were deserted in favour of other “hotter” locations.

Another distinctive feature of the Puritan movement of the time was the fast, Unlike its Roman Catholic counterpart, the Puritan’s fast was seen as having no merit of it’s own. Instead it was to clear the day for a shared participation in the ministry of the word and intended to lead the community to repentance or a shared understanding of the will of God. Manchester was well-known as a centre of Puritanism but by no means everyone was sympathetic to the godly, as Thomas’ family would have described themselves. Lancashire “was famous for it’s addiction to sport and communal pleasures of the most traditional kind – wakes, ales, greens, May games, rush bearings, bear baits, dove ales, bonfires, gaming and dancing. None of these would have been for the young Thomas, although he would undoubtedly known about them: their popularity, particularly in Lancashire led James I to attempt to regulate them through his Book of Sports in 1617.

The Puritan fast was in some ways the counter to the traditional feast day: there was even music and singing, although the singing of metrical psalms would perhaps seem oddly unmoving to modern ears. These great occasions would bring people with shared views and values from many miles around: perhaps the ancestors of the later great camp revivals of America 4. First, three or four sermons would be preached, one after another, psalms would be sung, communal prayers would follow and the Lord’s Supper celebrated as the end of the day (in both senses of the word).

puritan family life

When Thomas was 13 in 1642 the conflict between Charles I and Parliament erupted into the first of the English Civil Wars. Although at its outset much of the country was neutral (it has been estimated that Parliament and the King had less than 15,000 men under arms at its outset) the armed conflict came to quickly engulf the whole country. Manchester was the largest town in the north of England and was overwhelmingly Parliamentarian in sympathy (although Salford was royalist)5

Thomas’ father James became provost-marshal general of the forces in Lancashire: he was to rise rapidly through the ranks. A year later, in 1643 he was appointed Quartermaster General to Sir Thomas Fairfax’s army and served during the siege of Chester. By 1647 he was Captain in the Irish campaign. By 1652 he was a major.

In 1645 at the age of 16 Thomas entered Trinity College Cambridge, then also a strongly Puritan college. He worshipped for at least part his time in Cambridge at St Giles’ Church. Here, he was later to write ” God provided for him and kept him from presumptuous sins, and also wet his soul under the ministry of Mr. [Samuel] Hammond and Dr. Hall.”6 While he was studying at Cambridge he met Oliver Heywood who was to become his life-long friend and fellow clergyman.

Trinity College Cambridge in the seventeenth century

Trinity College Cambridge in the seventeenth century

Thomas Jollie had a “garrett-chamber” where he and other students, including Heywood, met together to pray and study the scriptures. Such meetings were not uncommon and had been taking place for some years before Jollie and Heywood became undergraduates.

Jollie does not appear to have graduated from Cambridge but in September 1649 he received a unanimous call from the parishioners of Altham, then a chapelry in the huge parish of Whalley. King Charles I had been executed on January 30th and the Interregnum had just begun.

The Chapelry of Altham served the township of Altham and part of Clayton-le-Moors. Altham at the time consisted of around 150 families.7 Despite his “unanimous” calling within a short period of time Jolly started to have problems with differences of view among the Presbyterian and Congregational wings of his congregation. Jollie’s preaching was described as “plain, practical and very pathetic”, and he soon began to form a ‘gathered church,’ at Altham. He was to serve here for thirteen years and proved to be a diligent and faithful minister.8

Thomas and his wife were to have the first of their children, Thomas, on 31 October 1652. Thomas His first wife died in 1653, giving birth to their second son, Samuel, and she was buried at Altham. Samuel to grow up to become a surgeon practising in Sheffield. Later in the year the Blackburn parish register shows that an intention of marriage was published on 1st, 12th and 19th March for Thomas Jollie, pastor of Altham, though there is now no record of the marriage itself.9 He was shortly to become a widower for a third time – his third wife died in childbirth the following year. His fourth wife was to die 8 June 1675, aged 42.10

In 1653 the living of Whalley was vacant. Jonathan Schofield was appointed to officiate on the petition of the inhabitants. In 1656, Schofield moved to Douglas Chapel in the parish of Eccleston and William More (or Moore) got possession of Whalley, apparently against the wishes of the congregation. In 1659 they offered it to Thomas Jolly. He declined the post unless More resigned. Jolly visited Chester and Wakefield to consult with other ministers and in 1658 visited London for a meeting of the Congregational churches and he preached there.

In 1654 “this year a dispute twixt [Thomas Jollie] and Mr Webster was begun and carried on in writing. Mr Webster was an enthusiast and had some odd notions” 11 According to Weeks the controversy, in writing, continued until 1656 when Webster dropped it.

Jollie’s third son, Timothy, was born at Altham in 1656. He became a student at Richard Frankland’s Academy in Rauthmell and was ordained by his father, Oliver Heywood and others on 28 April 1681 at Sheffield.

1658, September 29 – the Savoy Conference begins and remains in session until the 12 October. The proposal for a representative conference of Congregationalists was first proposed at the annual academic ceremony known as the Oxford Act in July 1658: the idea was approved by Oliver Cromwell, although apparently without much enthusiasm. During August, George Griffiths, preacher at the Charterhouse, London, wrote to leading ministers in all parts of the country, inviting them to send representative. No record of the names of those who attended has survived but the evidence appears to show that the conference consisted of around 200 men, of whom the majority were lay, representing anywhere between 100 and 120 churches.The meetings were punctuated by devotions, sermons and fasts: Thomas Jollie was one of those who preached.12

Although many churches were not represented the Savoy Conference was judged to have been successful in clearing the Congregationalists (or Independents) of the taint of heresy.

Jollie was one of twenty-one Lancashire ministers, presbyterian and independent, who met at Manchester on 13 July 1659 and subscribed ten articles of a proposed ‘accommodation’ between those two bodies. A further meeting was to have been held in the following September, but all such measures were broken off by the events of 5th August 1659.

George Booth, a presbyterian and royalist sympathiser led an armed uprising in Cheshire, Lancashire and North Wales. After gaining control of Chester on the 19th, Booth issued a proclamation declaring that “arms had been taken up in vindication of the freedom of Parliament, of the known laws, liberty and property”. Having been foiled in other parts of the country, Lambert’s advancing forces defeated Booth’s men at the Battle of Winnington Bridge near Northwich bringing the rising to an end.

However Booth’s personal fortunes were soon to be restored as Charles II took the throne in 1660: After the Restoration of the monarchy the newly-restored Church of England sought to reestablish its control over its clergy and congregations.

In November 1660, only six months after the return of Charles II from exile in France, Thomas Jolly was arrested and charged with sedition at Preston. He was arrested again on 15 February 1661 and in March 1661 and shut out of his chapel at Altham by Captain Nicholas Bannister of Altham. On 25 July 1662, Captain Bannister and his ensign, John Grimshaw brought new charges against Jolly, to be answered at Chester.

At the bishop’s court in Chester charges were brought against Jollie by the rector of Bury, the Rev. John Lightfoote, by Mr. More, the vicar of Whalley and by Richard Walmesley of Dunkenhalgh who had shut Jolly out of Langho Chapel. James Whittaker of Altham, a carpenter, stated at the court that Jolly had come to Altham 12 years earlier and had been ordained as a Presbyterian and sworn to defend the ministry to the last drop of his blood. He claimed that Jolly had been minister for the last nine to ten years against the wishes of the congregation and against the will of the vicar of Whalley, William More. In the last three years he had developed a separate congregation called the Society and had declined to baptise or administer the sacrament to those not in the Society. Jolly was also accused of not using the Book of Common Prayer and having private religious meetings at his house. Jollie’s response to Bannister’s locking of Altham had been to change the lock and key.

A further charge was that Jollie had delivered Jenet Cunliffe and Joan Atkinson to Satan and had refused to bury a child. The nature of the first accusation is not clear but we can assume that it was some form of excommunication. After three appearances at Chester he was suspended from his living. His suspension was delayed by the death of his bishop, Dr. Walton on 29 November 1661 and then his successor, Dr. Henry Ferne who died a few months later on 16 March 1662. It is an unattractive feature of Jollie’s journals that he sees divine providence in these and other misfortunes of those who persecuted him. Nevertheless on 17 August 1662 Bannister, Grimshaw and Captain Alexander Nowell brought him an order for suspension from his position and forced him out of the chapel. To prevent him from organising a private meeting a squadron of soldiers on horseback was sent to the village. Captain Bannister was shortly afterwards to die – Jollie recorded in his journal that “he became his own executioner by excessive drinking”. Soon after, Mr. More, formerly vicar of Whalley died “in great poverty and dis-esteem and his wife shortly after him.” Once again Jollie saw this as divine vindication for himself and judgement on his enemies.

On the following Sunday (24 August 1662) the Act of Uniformity came into force.

The Act prescribed the form of public prayers, administration of sacraments, and other rites of the Church of England in the Book of Common Prayer. Anyone wishing to hold any office in government or the church would now have to adhere to this Act. The new 1662 Book of Common Prayer prescribed by the Act was so new that most people had never even seen a copy. In effect the Act restored the Church of England to it’s pre-Civil Wars condition. Jollie finally resigned his living at Altham on Dec 9th, 1661. Richard Greaves quotes a figure of 100,000 nonconformists being created by the Act: Tudor Jones comments that given the militancy of Jollie’s congregationalism it is surprising that he had not been ejected before 1662.13

After a time Jollie moved to Healey, in Burnley, Lancashire. However simply moving away from Altham did not bring any respite from Jollie’s persecution.Here the next year on 9th October 1663 Captain Parker with a lieutenant and soldiers seized Jollie and took him first to Burnley and then Bury. he was again placed under arrest and was shortly afterwards committed to custody at Skipton, on the charge of keeping a conventicle (a religious assembly of more than five people outside the auspices of the Church of England), presumably under the Religion Act of 1592. Although this Act had been passed under Elizabeth I, John Bunyan was charged under it as late as 1661.

The network of hundreds of nonconformist congregations which now met regularly was seen as not just a blow to the religious life of the nation, but potentially a political threat to the Restoration government. A network of spies and paid informers monitored the Independent churches for any attempt to restore the Commonwealth. On October 10 1663 a meeting of some twenty people took place at Farnley Wood near Morley: among the ministers accused of taking part in this aborted plot to raise a rebellion were Jeremiah Marsden, James Fisher and Thomas Jollie. This time he was taken to York and detained for at least a month, possibly on suspicion of being involved in a plot against the government. Twenty prisoners were executed as a result of this abortive plot but Thomas Jollie and others were released without charge.

Jollie was holding a meeting at the house of Richard Ingham on 12 February 1664 when Captain Parker arrived with some soldiers and broke down the door. Jollie was taken before local JPs, Mr. Starkie and Mr. Braddyll who committed him to Lancaster Castle where he was imprisoned for three months. In November 1665 he was arrested again and taken before Justice Edward Rigby who bound him over to appear again if needed.Soon after Jollie’s release he was arrested while riding in Lancashire, and confined in York Castle for some months in the winter.

In total during this period Jollie was imprisoned 5 times – “not only was imprisonment a restraint upon freedom, it was also a grave hazard to health and life and a golden opportunity for the jailers to fleece their victims” But gaol was not the only potential hazard. “Imprisonment was not the only instrument of persecution nor was it the most effective. The levying of fines was less spectacular but more damaging…it was part of the bitterness of the Second Conventicle Act that it laid emphasis on the fining of offenders and it was part of the [government] policy of undermining the economic power of Dissenters” 14

The Conventicle Act of 1664, part of the Clarendon Code, named after Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, aimed to discourage nonconformism and to strengthen the position of the Established Church. Under its provisions conventicles, as religious meetings outside church were known, were forbidden.

The Five Mile Act was passed in 1665, requiring all ministers deprived of their livings to live at least five miles from their former abode. The Act forbade clergymen from living within five miles (8 km) of a parish from which they had been expelled, unless they swore an oath never to resist the king, or attempt to alter the government of Church or State. The latter involved swearing to obey the 1662 prayer book which Jollie and many others consistently refused to do. Thousands of ministers were deprived under this act.

Fortunately Jolly appears to have had a wide network of support for his ministry. He had a friend in the presbyterian Lady Hoghton, whom he frequently visited at Hoghton Tower, Lancashire: he appears. like many Puritan clergy, to have acted as an unofficial (although possibly paid) chaplain to this wealthy and well-established family. In 1667 Jollie bought the farmhouse of Wymondhouses (Pendleton), at the foot of Pendle Hill, near Clitheroe, in the parish of Whalley.

In 1669 he was again committed to gaol at Preston for six months, under the Five Miles Act, for preaching near Altham.

The Act of Indulgence of 1672 promised to give some relief to Dissenters . Jollie took out licenses for four preaching places at and about Wymondhouses. Even so, on 14 June 1672 Captain Nowell confronted Jollie at pistol point while he was preaching at the house of Thomas Riley.

The apparent lull in the persecution of nonconformists was short-lived. The Act of Indulgence Charles was forced to repeal the Act 1674 by the so-called Cavalier Parliament. The revocation of the Act forced nonconformists underground again. Jollie adopted an ingenious arrangement at Wymondhouses to enable him to evade arrest while preaching there. Jollie had the door which led to the meeting-room to a staircase cut in two, He stood on the staircase beyond the door to preach while the top half of the door – fitted on hinges – served as his desk. A string was attached to the desk and if a warning was given by a lookout that informers were approaching then Jollie would pull the string, raising the door, so that he could run up the stairs. The informers would arrive to find a room full of people but no sign of preaching or a preacher.

He was committed, however, for preaching at Slaidburn in the Hodder Valley, in 1674, and was fined £20. In 1684 he was brought before Chief-justice Jeffreys at Preston for keeping conventicles, was bound over to the next assizes, and was then discharged by Baron Atkins.

Throughout the period of persecution Jollie was assiduous in keeping in contact with congregations and other ministers, even though he berated himself for not doing more in his Note Book. “We are greatly a wanting, the Lord knows” he wrote in 1679 15 But his Note Book shows that he was to keep a close contact not just with others in the North but with London as well. In October 1674 he records a meeting of the messengers of the churches “in publique inn”, during the following August he himself made a journey to London to confer with others about the problems facing their churches, Finally he records a meeting of ministers “and some select brethren” near Woodchurch in the West Riding in 1680 which lasted for three days and considered the “accommodation and association of churches”. 16

Jollie was three times a widower before he reached the age of thirty; his fourth wife died 8 June 1675, aged 42. From 1679 to 1693 Jollie kept a journal. It records his frequent journeys to preach in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire and his various continuing arrests with Alexander Nowell his chief persecutor during this period.


In 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution, Jollie built a meeting-house at Wymondhouses adjoining his residence. The chapel was founded on 15 May 1688 and completed the following July. By this time James II had been deposed and William and Mary had taken the throne. Again this raised hopes for the Independent chapels and their ministers. The chapel at Wymondhouses was used until 1869 but was demolished in the late 19th century. In 1689 an additional building was licensed at Sparth, and another later at Newton-in-Bowland, both at that time in the parish of Whalley.

On 28 April 1689 Jollie took up the case of Richard Dugdale, the alleged ‘demoniack’ of Surey, near Clitheroe. He maintained that Dugdale’s was ‘as real a possession as any in the gospels.’ He seems to have been the leader of a group of over twelve nonconforming ministers, including Richard Frankland and his friend Oliver Heywood, who tried exorcism by prayer and fasting.

The religious meetings began on 8 May 1689, and were not effective till 24 March 1690. In a tract of 1697 Jollie ascribed his cure to the prayers of the nonconformists. Most of our information about the case comes from Zachary Taylor (died 1703). Taylor was vicar of Ormskirk, and son of an ejected minister of the same name, who felt strongly enough to write two tracts (1697–9) to expose the ‘popery’ and ‘knavery’ of this business. Taylor’s argument was that the nonconformist ministers had been victims of a hoax by the Roman Catholic Dugdale, supported by local Catholic clergy. John Carrington (died 1701), presbyterian minister at Lancaster, who had taken part in the exorcism, came forward in its defence; Frankland and Heywood, perhaps significantly remained silent.

Though Jollie was a strong independent and a great stickler for his principles in the matter of ordination, he joined the ‘happy union’ of presbyterians and congregationalists, which was not introduced into Lancashire till 3 April 1693, when it had already been dissolved in London. At the third meeting (4 Sept. 1694) he was appointed, with Henry Newcome, the Manchester presbyterian, to conduct the correspondence for the county. At the tenth meeting (12 April 1698) he preached the sermon. According to the historian Edmund Calamy “he drew up a large essay for farther concord amongst evangelical reforming churches.”wymondhouses

Thomas died at Wymondhouses on 14 March 1703 at the age of 73, and was buried on 18 March at Altham. His portrait still hangs in Mansfield College, Oxford, the university’s first Nonconformist college.

1 Collinson P (1988) The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century (London: Macmillan) p 5

3 Collinson P (1982) The Religion of Protestants: the Church in English Society 1559-1625 (Oxford: Clarendon) p 15

4 Collinson P ‘Elizabethan and Jacobean Puritanism as Forms of Popular Religious Culture’ in Durston C and Eales J (Ed) (1996) The Culture of English Puritanism (Macmillan London) p 53

5 Boxap E (2nd Ed 1973) The Great Civil War in Lancashire (Manchester University Press) p 39

11 Extract from the Church Book of Althams and Wymondhouses, quoted Weeks W Dr John Webster

12 Tudor Jones R, (1962) Congregationalism in England 1662 -1962 (Letchworth: Independent Press) 35

13 Tudor Jones R, (1962) Congregationalism in England 1662 -1962 (Letchworth: Independent Press) p 60

14 Tudor Jones R, (1962) Congregationalism in England 1662 -1962 (Letchworth: Independent Press) p 77

15 quoted Tudor Jones R, (1962) Congregationalism in England 1662 -1962 (Letchworth: Independent Press) P 272

16 quoted Tudor Jones R, (1962) Congregationalism in England 1662 -1962 (Letchworth: Independent Press) p 83


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