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Rochford Congregational Church (HT)

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About Rochford Congregational Church (HT)

As told by David Saunders, the Minister. 2017.

Press this YouTube link or read below.

Please see the footnote below regarding subsequent historical research which tells a slightly different story about the events at Rochford Hall. 

As Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary was rampantly burning dissenters at the stake in 1555, Rochford’s first Congregationalists were boldly risking life and limb by holding evening services in Rochford Hall. It rattled the nerves of local residents and eventually the Queen was informed of Lord Rich’s acceptance of heretic practice in his manor. He was sentenced to jail. Refusing to be deterred, Congregationalism continued in secret until 1679 when the Tolerance Act gave marginal freedom to nonconformists. They would then build their first chapel in Weir Pond Road, on what is now the site of the car park of Doe’s agricultural firm.

Rochford’s current Congregational Chapel opened in North Street in 1741. It was half the size of the present church, with a burial ground at the rear. Growing in popularity, the church became so over-crowded that in 1838, it was extended by 20ft to accommodate its worshippers, including adding a gallery. Folk travelled from neighbouring villages to attend the popular Sunday services. 

Congregationalists believed that education should be available to everyone regardless of class. They opened the first town school, building it at the same time as the main chapel in 1741.  This was a brave move in a time when there was fear that if poor children were educated they may rise up and rebel against aristocracy.

Footnote from subsequent historical research:

The incident referred to above appears not to have happened under Mary I but later under Elizabeth I, and the Lord Rich involved would have been a different one, not the more infamous Richard Rich. 
The story is about Robert Wright, a minister in the 'national' church but also dissenting who had visited Antwerp (a cause for alarm by itself in those days). There were reports that he said scandalous things when he had Lord Rich's permission to preach inside Rochford Hall, include calling the book-of-common-prayer preachers 'dumb dogs', which Wright denied.
Ministers were getting thrown in and out of prison continually. Lord Rich was put briefly in Marshalsea, but he got out easily enough, and Wright abandoned dissent and ended up with a nice living in Norwich. 

Address:20 North St
Postcode:SS4 1AB
Categories:Historical, Point of Interest

Rochford Congregational Church (HT) is included in the following trails:

Main Heritage Trail

Inner Heritage Trail

7 Centuries of Architecture

Churches, Faith & Peculiar People