THE 17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES
CHURCH LIFE IN DARTFORD DURING THE 17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES
Religious life in Dartford suffered mixed fortunes throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Successive vicars continued to play a prominent role in the local community, receiving tithes of wood, animals, turnips, and crops from the parish, as well as income from the tithe of the Dartford Salt Marsh.
An upsurge in Puritan thinking made many clergymen of the Church of England targets for criticism. In some cases such criticism was well justified. A Kent Petition against Episcopacy was presented to the national Committee of Religion appointed in 1640. This petition made specific accusations against local clergy.
Doctor Vane of Crayford was accused of "pernicious and popish doctrine" after preaching controversial sermons at Holy Trinity, Dartford, Stone, and Horton Kirby.
Accusations against the vicar of Dartford, John Denn, were even more serious. He was described by the petitioners as:
John Denn was removed from his post later in 1643.
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During the English Civil War (under the Commonwealth of 1653-9) new service books were provided including The Directory for the Public Worship of God authorised by the Assembly of Westminster Divines. Every parish in England was compelled to purchase this new book. Anyone found using the Book of Common Prayer publicly or privately was to be fined £5 for the first offence with the threat of imprisonment and loss of goods for subsequent offences.
The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 with the accession of Charles II saw a return to normality in church life. High-backed pews were installed in Holy Trinity church. These were rented out to local worthies. Church bells marked the passing of time in the town. A bell was tolled at 6 a.m and 8 p.m. each day. Bells were rung at all church festivals and on special national occasions. In 1693 a church clock was installed at a cost of £6.10s.6d.
The paving of churches is a fairly modern innovation. It was formerly the custom to strew the church floor with rushes, and in the winter with straw. In 1718, John Hudson was paid £34 17s for paving Holy Trinity. Church-going attained an increase in popularity in the late eighteenth century. Dartfords response to this increased demand was to build a new gallery on the south side of the church in 1773. An organ was purchased for the church in 1793. In the same year, the whole church was repaired and beautified by the parishioners at a cost of £1200.
DISSENTERS AND INDEPENDENTS IN DARTFORDThe Elizabethan puritans, working from within the Church of England, mostly wanted to abolish religious ceremonies which had originally been part of pre-Reformation catholicism. These included the use of the cross in baptism, the surplice worn by priests, and kneeling at communion. Some puritans questioned whether there was any biblical authority for bishops. Elizabeth I was unwilling to allow religious changes along puritan lines. Eventually, the fundamentalist Puritans separated themselves from the Church of England, which they believed to be polluted and false, and set up their own congregation which marked the beginning of the English Independent or Congregationalist movement. Early independents were known as Dissenters.
Dissenters were active in Dartford from at least the 1720s onwards. An entry in Dartford Parish Register for 1726 records the burial of Thomas Andrews described as a Dissenting Teacher. In the late 1770s Mr. William Hall, a Dartford linen draper established an Independent meeting house in the town. The dissenters meeting house attracted a lot of local opposition. Its worship was often interrupted by riotous and disorderly persons. On one occasion, twelve young men from Dartford were taken before the magistrates at Greenwich for destroying the meeting house seats. Zion Chapel, another Independent meeting house, opened in Dartford in 1794. It had close links with Lady Huntingtons Connection.
METHODISM IN DARTFORD
Methodism took Britain by storm in the eighteenth century. Founded by Anglicans John and Charles Wesley, it soon won a mass following, mainly in towns and cities and among the working classes. By 1743 Methodism was a nation-wide organisation, made up of a series of circuits, or preachers rounds. Methodism was dynamic, radical, and evangelical. Wesley preached that salvation was for all. With an emphasis on open-air preaching and travelling ministers, it was not long before Wesley and his followers broke away from the Church of England. Methodism generated a huge spiritual revival in England and Wales, but its success caused bitterness and opposition from the established church.
Methodists are first recorded in Dartford in 1758 when a watch-night service was held in the town. There is a tradition that John Wesley himself preached in Dartford. He was a great friend of the vicar of Bexley, and a frequent visitor to the area. Mr. Peter Brames, a keen Methodist, came to live in Dartford in 1789 at the Manor House of Charles. One of the rooms in the house was used for preaching and teaching.John Hall, founder of the Dartford Iron Works was also a keen Methodist and played an important part in establishing it in Dartford. He converted two cottages on his premises at the corner of Priory Lane, Waterside, into a chapel, which was opened on New Years Day, 1794. This building quickly became too small and a new building was erected in 1798 at a cost of £700.