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The Godalming Classis of 1648

 Part II - Its jurisdiction, membership and fate

by Norman Cowell

The setting up, by the Long Parliament, of ecclesiastical courts on the Scottish Presbyterian pattern, of which the Godalming Classis was one, and the reason for doing so was the subject of Part I of this paper, published in our previous issue. It remains to investigate the area that the Godalming classis was to cover, the nature of its membership and the outcome of the whole exercise.
The Boundaries of the Godalming Classis

The pamphlet announcing the Godalming classis seems to have been a somewhat rushed document. It states that the presbytery was to consist of 'the Towns of Farnham, Elsted, Seale, Wanborough, Farnham (sic.), Ashe, Frimley, Purbright, Windlesham, Shalford, Bramly, Hascombe, Alfold, Dunfold, Hazilmore, Chiddingfold, Witley, Thursley, Hambledon, Godalminge (the spelling throughout is not consistent), Pepperharrow, Puttenham, Compton'.

Farnham appears twice in this list and Wonersh is omitted, though its minister appears in the list of clergy. Probably 'Farnham' has been printed in one place where 'Frensham' should appear. 
Given these changes, the Godalming Classis would have covered the entire Hundreds of Godalming and Farnham, together with the western-most parishes of the Hundreds of Blackheath and Woking ( see map).
The Personnel of the Classis

The pamphlet then gives a list of names for each of the Surrey classes. For Godalming they are: 'Ministers - M. Wood of Pepperharrow, M. Stoughton of Hascombe, M. Duncomb of Farnham, M. Diggle of Chiddingfould, M. Fortree of Godalminge, M. Johnson of Wonersh. Others - Sir William Elyott Knight, M. Arthur Squibb, M. Duncombe of Shalford, Doctor Rand of Godalming, M. Smith of Tursley, M. Piggot of Farnham, M. Jervois Searle of the same, M. Iohn Baker of Pirbright, M. Nathaniell Wreath of Farnham, M. Lickford of Seal, M. Waterfeild (sic.) of Godalming.'

In an addendum the name of 'Sir Poining Moor Barronet' is added to the list for Godalming.

Something can be discovered concerning most of the names on the list. One might expect that the persons nominated to the classis would be Presbyterians and would give an indication of where Presbyterian support lay in the area. However Malden1 comments:

'Among the men nominated were a few of the leading men of the County - these were not all really Presbyterian, and one at least was a man of doubtful character.'

In the light of this comment it is interesting to see that Sir Poynings More had been specifically added to the Godalming list. Born 1605/6, he succeeded to the Loseley estates on the death of his grandfather in 1632. He represented Haslemere and Guildford in Parliament, was created a Baronet in 1642 and died on April 11th 1649. He undertook services for the Parliamentary side, being a member of the committee for putting Surrey into a defence posture in 1645 and of the committee for raising money for the army of Sir Thomas Fairfax in 16472

Robert Wood, Rector of Pepperharrow, held his living from before the Civil War. He did not suffer the fate of being ejected by Parliament, as a number of other clergymen in the area were. In 1640 he was called before the Chancellor of the Diocese to explain why he had not read the special prayer appointed for the support of Charles 1st in his expedition against the Scots3. Thus it would seem that, from the start, he was a supporter of the Parliamentary side.

The name 'Duncomb' appears twice in the list. In 1641 Harman Shepheard, a Farnham curate, was ordered into custody by Parliament for opposing a new Lecture that had been set up in Farnham, to be held on market day. This lecture was delivered by 'Mr. H. Duncomb' who was subsequently installed in Farnham Church after the ejection of Paul Clapham4 and would be the person in the list of clergy. Clapham was accused of 'Adultery, and several instances of Bastardy'. 'But', says Walker5, writing from an Anglican viewpoint in 1714, 'whether this would have brought him under the Displeasure of the Party, had he not call'd the Parliament Rebels and Traytors, and fled to the King's Army, I must question'. The second Mr. Duncombe (in the list of lay members) is probably the 'George Duncomb the younger of Shalford' who appears in a contemporary deed6.

Dr Edward Layfield, Archdeacon of Essex, Prebendary of Harleston, Rector of Chiddingfold and Vicar of Allhallows, Barking, 'was plunder'd of his Living at Chiddingfold, and was the First Minister that was so used in that County'5. John Diggle, named in the classis list, replaced him and held the living from 1644 till 16597.

Isaac Fortree was appointed to succeed Dr Andrews at Godalming. Andrews, who was both Rector of Guildford and Vicar of Godalming, was both Royalist and outspoken in defending the practices of the Church of England. He was ejected from his livings by Parliament and 'harried from Jayl to Jayl, some time Imprison'd on Shipboard, and Dy'd under this barbrous Treatment and Confinement'5.

Sir William Elliot, of Busbridge Hall, was one of those who made and supported claims against Dr Andrews, the ejected minister of Godalming8.

Dr Ralph Rand was a (perhaps the) Godalming physician. His death in 1653 is recorded in the Godalming Parish registers.

Richard Smith of 'Mousall' was constable of the southern division of the Hundred of Godalming, consisting of Chiddingfold, Haslemere, Thursley and Witley, so is probably the list's 'Mr. Smith of Thursley'. The Piggots were one of Farnham's 'leading families' and the Mr. Piggot of Farnham in the classis list might well be William Piggot. He was one of the two bailiffs of Farnham in 1649 as was Mr. Nathaniel Wreath (or Wroth), who was elected a Farnham bailiff that year4.

The remaining members of the classis cannot be so well identified, or have not been traced at all. The Searles were another prominent Farnham family and Searle memorials can be found in Farnham Church but no reference to Jervois Searle has been found. There are many 'Watersfields' in the Godalming Parish registers of the mid-seventeenth century, but which was the Mr. Waterfield of Godalming is not clear. An Arthur Squibb (of Westminster) was a business associate of Sir George More of Loseley in 16319. The Squibbs may have moved to Godalming or had property there since 'Jo. Squibb' carried out a survey of church lands in Godalming in 165010.

Within the limitations of the research undertaken in preparing this account, nothing could be found of Mr. John Baker of Pirbright, Mr. Stoughton of Hascombe, Mr. Johnson of Wonersh, or Mr. Lickfold of Seale. The End that came before the Beginning

It will be noted that the Parliamentary order for setting up the classes indicated that some counties had already done so. Walker5 identifies these as Lancashire and London. However he comments that there was no requirement placed upon the classes to meet and no penalty if they failed to do so. It would be understandable if those nominated, particularly in areas where opinion was strongly divided over Presbyterianism, held back from precipitate action. Walker could find evidence of only one classis in the country, the second classis of Lancashire, actually meeting and transacting business and even they complained that the ministers and elders of some of the churches named never appeared at their meetings.

Presbyterianism was strongest in Surrey on the fringes of London and in the South East of the County1. The West inclined more to the Independents, though Farnham remained strongly Anglican. The Reigate Classis has a shadowy existence in so far that William Lay 'Minister of the Word at Charlwood' dedicated his pamphlet on Presbytery to its members, but for the rest it is likely that the classes existed only on paper for the few months before 'the Independents were arriv'd to such an Height of Power, by means of the Army, that they soon after seiz'd the Government, and put an end to the whole Scheme of Presbyterian Settlement'5.

It had been a dangerous policy for the Presbyterian faction in Parliament, with a slim majority, to try and establish Presbyterianism as a state religion when the other power in the land, the Army, was antagonistic. The end came only a few months after the proclamation of the Godalming Classis when, in December 1648, Cromwell sent Colonel Pride to Westminster to eject the Presbyterian members from the House of Commons. 'Pride's Purge' terminated a now almost-forgotten era in the national religious life.

Norman Cowell 


1. H.E Malden 'Ecclesiastical History' in H.E.Malden ed. A History of the County of Surrey ( Victoria County Histories ) Vol. ii p. 36 ) 
2. F G Mellersh, 'The Civil War in the Hundred of Godalming' Surrey Archaeological Collections, Vol LXI, p. 51-79 
3. E A Judges Some West Surrey Villages, Surrey Times, Guildford 1901, p. 117 
4. D Hall & F Gretton, Farnham During the Civil Wars and Interregnum 1642-1660 Farnham Castle Newspapers, Farnham, n.d. p. 13 
5. R Walker. An attempt towards Recovering an Account of the Numbers and Sufferings of the Clergy .... of the Great Rebellion (London : 1714). 
6. Surrey History Centre, Ms. G101/1/65 
7. H R H White Chiddingfold n.d. (Godalming Museum Library) 
8. S Welman The Parish and Church of Godalming (Elliot Stock.: 1900) p.71 
9. Surrey History Centre Ms. LM350/33 
10. S W Kershaw, The church lands of Godalming from the Parliamentary Surveys, Surrey Archaeological Collections, Vol VII, 1880, p. 50-56 )



                                                                    Web site last updated 29/12/2004