Pastor of the Mill Yard Seventh Day Baptist Church, London, England, since 1929

Published by
3120 Kennedy Road
P. O. Box 1678



James McGeachy received our invitation to prepare the following paper on "The Times of Stephen Mumford" only a few weeks before coming to America to the First World Consultation of Delegates from Seventh Day Baptist Conferences ("CoWoCo") and the General Conference at Salem College, Salem, W. Va., August 17-22, 1964. He was therefore not able to list in footnotes the sources consulted in several British libraries or to document certain new insights he has presented. We do not hesitate to disagree earnestly in search of truth, and students may well debate pro and con some of his findings. But he paints a clear and moving picture of the threats to conscience in 17th Century England and New England, echoes of which are still heard. The paper was received with enthusiasm when it was presented by McGeachy with charm and incisiveness at the Salem Conference, and we are indebted to him for the trust he lays upon us. It has been my privilege to prepare the manuscript for publication as a resource for "Sabbath Heritage Day" and for general reading.

Albert N. Rogers, President
Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society
Denver, Colorado


By James McGeachy

As we all know this year 1964 is the 300th anniversary of the departure of Stephen Mumford from England and his arrival in Rhode Island in 1664; and therefore it is appropriate that Seventh Day Baptists should celebrate this event since it was through his testimony to the Sabbath truth that our first church was founded on American soil at Newport, R. I., in 1671.

Stephen Mumford was a member of the Bell Lane Seventh Day Baptist Church in London, and so he could not but witness to his faith among the Baptists of the New World. He persuaded a number that the Fourth Commandment should still be kept, and they had to separate when they found it impossible to continue in fellowship with the other Baptists who opposed the truth for which they stood. Thus he was the human instrument used by God to establish our denomination in America where it succeeded in taking root and in expanding, while unfortunately the cause declined in the country from which he came.

There is no doubt that Stephen Mumford decided to migrate across the Atlantic Ocean because of the difficult circumstances in which not only the Seventh Day Baptists but other Baptists and Dissenters found themselves in England at the time. They hoped to find greater freedom over the seas.

Persecution and Revolt

England was under the rule of King Charles 11 who had been restored to the throne in 1660. His father, Charles 1, had sought to enforce uniformity of worship throughout the kingdom according to the Prayer Book of the Church of England, causing much dissatisfaction. This led to revolt by the Dissenters under Oliver Cromwell. Charles I was put to death in 1649 after a long conflict between King and Parliament. Cromwell had raised the New Model Army which by its new tactics was able to overcome the Royalists; and so it became the great power in the land even opposing the Presbyterians who held power in the Long Parliament. This was because the Presbyterians wanted to enforce their form of church government upon the national church and do in England what they had succeeded in doing in Scotland. They would have abolished episcopacy and the rule of bishops altogether and have made the national church Presbyterian.

Cromwell and his army were opposed to this conception of the church and wanted everyone to have complete freedom of worship as they thought right, to set up independent churches if they so desired. His army was largely composed of Independents, now known as Congregationalists, and Baptists; and so they fought for freedom of conscience and worship and asserted that the civil power had no right to interfere in any way with religious matters.

Early Sabbath-keeping in England

Thus it came about that under the Commonwealth established by Cromwell the greatest amount of freedom was allowed in this respect. He set Triers who examined the lives of the clergy in the pulpits of the national church, and this resulted in the election of "ignorant and scandalous" ministers. Most of the parish churches were still occupied by Episcopalian clergymen but there was a shortage, and so Nonconformist ministers were given other parish churches. Mostly Presbyterians undertook this task, but also some were occupied by Independents and Baptists. This is no doubt how Thomas Tillam, a Baptist chaplain with Cromwell's army, came to occupy the parish church of Colchester and, upon accepting the Sabbath, closed the church on Sundays and opened it for Sabbath services about 1656. Needless to say this was too much for the authorities and so his career there did not last long. There he baptized about 100 people by immersion. It is possible that he was influenced by Theophilus Brabourne, the Episcopalian clergyman of Norwich, who had advocated the claims of the seventh day in 1628 in his book on the subject which he dedicated to Charles 1. Both were acquainted with Christopher Pooley, to whose Seventh Day Baptist Church in Norwich Brabourne left 10 pound in his will doubtless pleased to see a church practicing what he had advocated in the national church so long before.

Tillam, of course, was quite notorious being mixed up with all kinds of plots and schemes, the greatest of which was the emigration of 100 families in 1666 from East Anglia to the Palatinate, in Bavaria, South Germany. In this he was assisted by Christopher Pooley. However this anticipates a later part of our story.

When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 he was succeeded by his son Richard, who was not strong enough to hold the Commonwealth together. So General Monck, who was in charge of Cromwell's Army in Scotland, opened negotiations with the exiled Prince Charles, son of Charles 1, for his restoration to the throne.

Reaction and Violence

The Scots had already proclaimed Charles II king in 1651, but his arm had been defeated by Cromwell at Worcester and so he had to flee abroad again. Now however he was recalled by Monck. and promised in the Declaration of Breda to give a general pardon and religious freedom. On this assurance he was welcomed back, sailing from Scheveningen in Holland with a great fleet of ships and arriving in Dover. The mayor of Dover presented him with a Bible, which Charles declared was the Book he loved more than anything in the world. He was crowded in 1661. Perhaps Charles really intended to give much latitude in religion, at least for a time, till he was secure on the throne. But circumstances did not favor this course, because of the action of the extremists in Cromwell's old army, which had of course to be disbanded. Its officers had to promise good behaviour, otherwise they had the choice of emigration or being imprisoned. This of course was hard for them, and rebellious spirits began to plot against the new Government of Charles II, encouraged by the Fifth Monarchy men who thought they should overthrow Charles and set up the kingdom of Christ by force.

It was a party of these led by Thomas Venner who sallied forth from his meeting place in Coleman Street with an armed band of 50 men in January 1661, and, no doubt with the assistance of others, terrorized the city of London for about four days. Venner was an Independent, but there was also a Baptist church in the same street and others not far away. Venner indeed was opposed to the Baptists, and promised that when he succeeded in his revolution "the Baptists would know that Infant Baptism is an ordinance of Jesus Christ." However, it was not long before he was captured and put to death with others of his deluded followers.

Naturally this experience did not encourage the king to carry out his promise of religious tolerance; for it became evident that many Dissenting meeting houses were used for political plotting as well as preaching, and Baptists unfortunately were not all free from blame. The famous Col. Thomas Blood, who plotted against the government and later tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, was a Baptist. During the war which Charles declared on Holland, Baptists passed information to the Dutch; and if the Dutch had succeeded in landing in England they would have had 30,000 men from Cromwell's old army to help them. They saw no more harm in doing so than Charles himself saw in being in league with the French king, Louis XIV, to please whom he had declared war on Holland which was then the home of religious liberty and had shown Prince Charles hospitality while he was in exile.

John James

Venner's rebellion led to the martyrdom of John James, pastor of the Seventh Day Baptists in Bullstake Alley, Whitechapel, whose story we recalled in 1961, the 300th anniversary of his execution on November 26, 1661. John James was a believer in the views of the Fifth Monarchy men, who were looking for the setting up of the kingdom of Christ. This would be the Fifth Monarchy, the Stone Kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar's dream which was to follow the four great monarchies of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. John James, we believe, belonged to the moderate section who were content to preach about the Fifth Monarchy and not seek to establish it by force. He contended vigorously for the idea that the Millennial Kingdom of Christ would be a literal kingdom like the previous monarchies, and his great text was Rev. 11: 15, "The kingdoms Of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever."

On this point, the Mill Yard Church which is the continuation of John James' congregation is still a Fifth Monarchy church; but you need not be alarmed. I am not likely to lead our congregation on the streets of London to attempt the overthrow of the government of our gracious queen, Elizabeth 11! But John James greatly emphasized the point; and that, in the circumstances of his time, was a highly dangerous thing to do with the consequence that he was arrested and condemned for his belief.

Efforts at Conformity

In the same year, 1661, the Earl of Clarendon, chief minister of Charles 11, introduced the first Act of the series which became known as the Clarendon Code and which was aimed against Roman Catholics and Dissenters. This was the Corporation Act, requiring that all members of corporations such as mayors and aldermen should take Communion according to the Prayer Book of the Church of England, and take the Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance. The second Act was introduced in 1662 and was the Act of Uniformity, which excluded from the parish churches all ministers who refused to be ordained by bishops and conduct services according to the Prayer Book. This resulted in the Great Ejection of 1662 when the conscientious Dissenting ministers introduced by Cromwell into the parish church pulpits were compelled to leave, and the former clergymen removed by Cromwell were brought back. So about 2,000 Presbyterians., Independents and Baptist ministers were expelled with such harshness that it created a deep gulf between the Episcopal clergy and the Nonconformists for many years.

The third Act was the Conventicle Act of 1664 which forbade the assembly of more than five people in addition to the family of the house for religious services except according to the Prayer Book, under penalty of fines and transportation. For the third offense they could be banished to the American plantations, excepting New England and Virginia. If they should return or escape, death was the penalty. Many were sent to the West Indies where they endured great hardship. Vast numbers suffered in all parts of England and Wales. It is said that 8.000 perished in prison during the days of Charles 11. It may have been this Act which led Stephen Mumford to decide to migrate to Rhode Island, to banish himself by so doing rather than wait for the Government to do it. This Act was meant to silence the clergy ejected in 1662.

The fourth Act of the Clarendon Code was the Five Mile Act, which forbade any preacher or teacher who refused the Oath of Allegiance and Supremacy to come within five miles of any important town.

Migration in Search of Freedom

Many Baptists beside Stephen Mumford were led to migrate to the New World even before the troublous times we have mentioned, and these had been persecuted in New England and Connecticut. Led by Roger Williams they had found a haven in the Island of Aquidneck which they bought and named Rhode Island. John Clarke was their leader at Newport and conducted worship. When the First Baptist Church of Newport, R. I., was organized in 1644 he became its ruling Elder. It was with this church that Stephen Mumford connected himself and made known his convictions concerning the Sabbath, convincing quite a number who joined him in its observance. Later four of them returned to Sunday-keeping, and this created such tension with the church leaders preaching against the Sabbath that the only solution was for the seventh-day keepers to withdraw and form a church of their own in 1671.

Before this the Bell Lane Church in London, which seems to have been gathered by John Belcher the bricklayer in 1662, kept in touch with Stephen Mumford at Newport. Their letter was dated 26 March 1668, four years after he had migrated, and signed by eleven members of Bell Lane. Among these signatures appear the names of Belcher and William Gibson who later came to Newport and was the second pastor of the Seventh Day Baptist Church there. A month before this on 2 February 1668 Edward Stennett wrote to Newport from his place in Abingdon, Berkshire.

Another Sabbath-keeper in England wrote to those in Newport two years later. This was Joseph Davis, Sr., who had accepted the Sabbath in 1668 and was in prison at Oxford Castle in 1670 as a result of a fresh wave of persecution for attending conventicles. It would seem that those in Newport had heard of him because they wrote to him on 4 July 1669, and to this letter he replied 26 January 1670 bemoaning the fact that Baptists and Independents were preaching against the Sabbath. He exhorted the Sabbath-keepers on Rhode Island not to be discouraged by opposition. He seems to have written again on 7 February 1670 another letter in which he mentioned that he had kept the Sabbath for two years. This was the Joseph Davis who later bought the Mill Yard property and erected the old chapel and other buildings in 1691, and endowed the cause with his charity for Sabbatarian Protestant Dissenters,

Further Persecution

Meanwhile, soon after Stephen Mumford's departure from England in, 1664, other developments were taking, place which greatly promoted in the Seventh Day Baptist cause in the old country. In 1665 Francis Bampfield was a prisoner in Dorchester Jail, having been one of the ministers ejected in 1662 from his church at Sherborne, Dorset. in this year someone wrote to him enquiring about the Sabbath question, and this led him to study the Bible carefully on this point so that he came to the conclusion that the seventh day should still be kept. He made known his conclusions among his fellow prisoners and won a good number of them to its observance. In this prison he remained for eight years, and it is said he organized a Sabbath keeping church there.

In 1671, the year of the founding of our Newport church, we find Bampfield at Salisbury where he formed another congregation but this resulted in his imprisonment in Salisbury Jail for 18 months. After his release he came to London and there at Bethnal Green he organized a third church on 5 March 1676. This congregation he moved to the famous Pinners Hall in 1681, and from this hall his congregation took its name. This church sent him out as a Messenger to five or more churches in Wiltshire (Salisbury), Hampshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Berkshire (Wallingford). He also wrote a letter of brotherly love to churches in Holland and New England. Francis Bampfield was arrested at Pinners Hall in 1683 and died in Newgate Prison, London, on 16 February 1684. Edward Stennett succeeded him as pastor of the Pinners Hall Church in 1686 and ministered there for three years, being followed by his famous son Joseph Stennett in 1690.

The Struggles Within the Churches

We may wonder why Francis Bampfield never connected himself with the church led by Dr. Peter Chamberlen and John James, which became known as the Mill Yard church in 1691. This church at that time met at East Smithfield. The reason is that the Mill Yard church held Arminian views, or that salvation is open to all men, whereas Bampfield was a Calvinist in his views and so could not unite with them.

The Mill Yard church was also in touch with Rhode Island, and wrote to the church at Newport on 21 December 1680 having by this time left Bullstake Alley and gone to East Smithfield. That is eleven years before it really became the "Mill Yard" church.

The Bell Lane church after various migrations from place to place also came to Pinners Hall in 1690 and linked up with Joseph Stennett and the Pinners Hall church. John Belcher, pastor and leader of the Bell Lane church, was still living for he died in 1695. One party met in Pinners Hall on the Sabbath morning, and the other in the afternoon.- but they attended each other's services and eventually merged in 1702.

It might be well to learn something of this famous Dissenting meeting place of the 17th century, Pinners Hall. Originally the site off Old Broad Street, and not very far from where Liverpool Street Station now stands, was occupied by an Augustinian Priory, dedicated to the famous Bishop Augustine of Hippo, North Africa. At the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII about 1540 the Friars House, Cloisters and grounds were granted to a Mr. Paulet, first Marquis of Winchester, who died in 1572 after building Winchester House on part of this site. Much history is imbedded in the names of present day streets and alleys of the city of London.

In 1580 Verselyn, a famous glass blower, came from Venice and being granted a patent by Queen Elizabeth I set up a factory off Old Broad Street. It was on the site of this Glasshouse that Pinners Hall was built by the Company of Pinmakers or Pinners incorporated in 1626 by Charles 1. This hall was let to various groups of Dissenters during the reigns of Charles I and 11. In 1649 Thomas Gunn's Baptist Church hired the hall and fitted it with two tiers of galleries. Richard Wavell's Baptist Church hired it on Sundays from 1609-1705 and this hall was let to Bampfield's church on Saturdays from 1681. Just a few years before the famous John Bunyan had preached here from 1676-79 having been released from Bedford Jail in 1672 when Charles 11 proclaimed an indulgence. He had been in prison twelve years. Unfortunately Bunyan was one of the opponents of Seventh Day Baptists in his time. It was to this famous hall that the Bell Lane church came in 1690.

Leaders in the Churches

John Belcher was a Fifth Monarchist, and seems to have adopted the seventh Day about 1658 after the famous debate on the Sabbath question held in the Stone Chapel of Old St. Paul's Cathedral which had been hired by Chillenden's Baptist church. Chillenden was an opponent of the Sabbath, and this debate was between Dr. Peter Chamberlen, Matthew Coppinger and Thomas Tillam, on the one hand, upholding the Sabbath, and Jeremiah Ives, a famous Baptist controversialist of that time, on the other hand, who opposed its observance. Coppinger is believed to have been connected with the Traskites who had preached the Sabbath since 1617, the year from which we usually date the origin of the Mill Yard church.

As for Belcher, he was quite a notorious character, associated with the leading Fifth Monarchists of his time such as Tillam and Col. Blood. In fact, he was such an ardent Fifth Monarchist that he was reported in the State Papers of 26 September 1661 as the chief preacher in Coleman Street and as one who was likely to follow in the footsteps of Venner. Belcher was one of the 150 signatories of the Fifth Monarchy, Manifesto on August 1654, which was really a protest against the new attitude taken up by Cromwell in 1653 when he had himself proclaimed Protector. Previously he had expressed Fifth Monarchy sentiments in his speech to the Nominated Parliament, but in the following months had evidently concluded that these ideas were impracticable in the situation which confronted him and which demanded a strong hand. So he set up the Protectorate; but this move turned the Fifth Monarchy men against him, for in assuming the title of Lord Protector he was taking a position which they regarded as rightly belonging to Christ. Hence this Manifesto of 1654.

Dr. Peter Chamberlen was the famous physician who served Charles I and Charles 11. He seems to have been spared by the king despite his heresies as a Baptist and a Sabbath-keeper because of the value of his medical services to the royal family, a curious example of how the king could turn a blind eye when it was in his own interest to do so. Dr. Chamberlen would have attended the Queen, Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal and a Roman Catholic. He had been an Independent, but in 1648 he had become a Baptist and in 1651 accepted the Sabbath to which he remained faithful till his death in 1683. Evidently Jeremiah Ives had not been able to shake his convictions on this point.

Chamberlen and some of his Sabbath-keeping group also signed the Fifth Monarchy Manifesto. Another signatory was John Clarke of Rhode Island, and he signed as one of "The Church that walks with Mr. Jesse." This was the famous Henry Jessey, a well known Baptist minister . of that time. How was it that John Clarke of Rhode Island signed this Manifesto?

Fifth Monarchy Views

It is not known perhaps that the expectation of Christ's appearing to inaugurate the Fifth Monarchy was very vivid in New England at that time. John Eliot preached it and Thomas Venner was so stirred by it that he returned to Old England to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, with the sad results that we have seen. In 1654 Clarke had returned to England on business connected with Rhode Island Colony which in the spring of that year was incorporated by the Protector an his Council. In 1657 there was a move to change Cromwell's title from Protector to King which aroused dissent so that a petition, signed chiefly by Baptists, was sent to him begging him to refuse the title of King. Among these signatories appear the names of Henry Jessey, John Clarke and Hansard Knollys.

A few days later there was a Fifth Monarchy insurrection at Shoreditch led by Venner, so here we find him opposing Cromwell before Charles came to the throne. In April 1658 several People were arrested in Coleman Street, including Clarke and John Belcher, showing a connection between the famous Rhode Islander and the founder of our Bell Lane Church; but this was probably before the debate in the Stone Chapel which converted Belcher to the seventh day. Clarke defended himself at his trial with great spirit and even accused his judges of treason, producing various Acts of Parliament to prove it and throwing them into confusion.

After the death of Cromwell another Fifth Monarchy Manifesto was presented to Parliament in September 1659, but Clarke's name is not among the signatories although Jessey signed it. This may indicate that Clarke was beginning to change his views. Clarendon in his history of those times says that some Baptists in 1659 made overtures to Prince Charles. Perhaps Clarke sympathized with them, and believed that the restoration of the monarchy was the only solution to the crisis.

A few days after the defeat of Venners insurrection in January 1661, there appeared a pamphlet entitled "The Plotters Unmasked, Murderers no Saints, or a word in Season to all those that were concerned in the late rebellion against the peace of their king and country, on the sixth of January last at night and the ninth of January. By a friend of Righteousness, and a Lover of all men's Souls, knowing that one is of more worth than 10,000 worlds." The author was John Clarke, who never associated himself with the extremists but now took the opportunity of disowning the rebels.

On the 20th January, 1661, Clarke put in a petition for a royal charter to be granted to the Rhode Island Colony. By the end of March he had succeeded and prepared to return to Rhode Island. No doubt his loyal pamphlet had helped him to gain favor with the king.

Continuing Ties Across the Atlantic

The Bell Lane church wrote again to our Newport church on 17 June 1674 and enquired about a certain Isaac Wells "who had been an officer with Mr. Pillam at Colchester, but had been long gone." Wells seems to have settled in Jamaica, Long Is., and to have been a member of the Newport church. It was about the time of this letter that Stephen Mumford returned to England to report the actual conditions in Rhode Island and invite others to this haven of rest. He succeeded in persuading William Gibson to return with him. We remember Gibson as one of the signatories of the letter sent from the Bell Lane church to Newport 24 March 1668.

Gibson became assistant to the first pastor of the Newport church, William Hiscox, one of the first converts made by Mumford. When Hiscox died in 1704, having been pastor for 33 years, Gibson succeeded him. It was under Gibson that the First Seventh Day Baptist Church in Hopkinton was organized in 1708 as the denomination began to move westward.

In Summary

This enables us to understand the contribution made by the English Seventh Day Baptists to laying the foundation of the denomination in North America. The honor belongs largely to the Bell Lane church, and not so much to the Mill Yard Church. We are glad that the Mill Yard church encouraged the Sabbath-keepers in New England by sending letters, especially those of Joseph Davis who was imprisoned for his faith and later gave the Mill Yard church its chapel in the East End of London at Whitechapel, and whose legacy has helped the Mill Yard church ever since.

The Bell Lane church, as we have learned, merged with Bampfield's Pinners Hall church in 1702, seven years after the death of its founder John Belcher. After Joseph Stennett's death in 1713 the Pinners Hall church declined but continued to worship until 1721. It then left Pinners Hall and came to share the premises of the Mill Yard church, remaining until 1727. Then it called Edmund Townsend of the old Natton church, near Tewkesbury, to be its pastor and under him moved back into the City of London and worshipped at Curriers Hall, Cripplegate. He was its pastor for 36 years till 1763. Samuel Stennett served as its pastor from 1767 till 1785 and Robert Burnside from then till 1826; and under him the church moved to Red Cross Street in 1800 and to Devonshire Square in 1812. Burnside became pastor of the Mill Yard church and was succeeded at Devonshire Square by John Brittain Shenstone who was pastor from 1826 till his death in 1844. By this time the tiny congregation had moved to Eldon Street Baptist church, where this once famous Calvinistic Seventh Day Baptist church founded by Francis Bampfield finally became extinct in 1847. The last member, Mrs. Shenstone, died in 1863, just over 100 years ago.

Our Trust

The Mill Yard church thus becomes the sole heir of the fine traditions of the Pinners Hall and Bell Lane churches. Let us pray that we may faithfully maintain these traditions in Britain and expand our witness for Christ and the Sabbath. We feel sure our American brethren and sisters, who owe such a debt to Stephen Mumford and William Gibson will do what they can to encourage us in this endeavor, looking forward to the establishment on this earth of the Fifth Monarchy, the Kingdom of Christ.



The author acknowledges his debt to many articles in the Transactions and Quarterlies of the Baptist Historical Society, which contain a wealth of information regarding the early history of the Seventh Day Baptists in England.

Other helpful books from which further information has been gained are:

Information published by the owners of the present "Pinners Hall," a fine block of offices which occupies the site, and retains the name of the original Pinners Hall.

Dictionary of National Biography (Both British and American.) Articles in various Encyclopedias.

Notes copied from a MS of the researches of the late Dr. W. T. Whitley of the Baptist Historical Society, who kindly loaned it to the author many years ago.


The Church Records of the seventh day Sabbath keepers on Rhode Island


Let us here the Conclusion of the whole matter.

Fear God and keep his Commandments for this is the whole duty of man.

If ye love me saith Christ Keep my Commandments.

From the title page of the earliest records extant, 1692-1836.