LIFE is full of dissent! Dissent over territory may be resolved by wars and treaties, legal dissent by courts, and even scientific dissent by peer review and the like. But religious dissent has a huge history and just seems to go on.

The legacy is a host of chapels – some now private dwellings –- built by Baptists (of two kinds, General and Particular), Quakers, Congregationalists (or Independents), Methodists (Wesleyan and Primitive) and Presbyterians. There are also one-offs, like the chapel of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Congregation at Mortimer West End and an indeterminate Old Meeting House at Ringwood.

In the early years there were as many as 20 ‘separatists’, such as the Grindletonians, Levellers, Muggletonians and Brownists. Some of these congregations endure, like the Baptists, who owe their origins to an Englishman in Amsterdam in 1609. Others have combined, like the Presbyterians and Congregationalists who in 1972 formed the United Reformed Church.

Until recently most historians tended to write off Hampshire as an area of interest for the whole subject of nonconformity. However, in recent years studies by Dr Rosalind Johnson and others have revealed that religious intolerance was equally prevalent in Hampshire, especially after Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. Towns were the main focus for such events, with intolerance coming in phases – in places like Portsmouth and Southampton, and especially in Andover.

Touch-stones for persecution and even violence were the refusals of dissenters to take part in Anglican services and to pay the customary tithes to the clergy. Rosalind has been awarded a PhD from the University of Winchester, under the direction of Professor Elizabeth Stuart, for a thesis on the subject which is a “major contribution to an understanding of provincial dissent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries”.

Charles II made Winchester his ‘Windsor’, and if he had lived longer he might have finished a grand palace on the present site of Peninsular Barracks. The situation could hardly have been more satisfactory for a monarch accustomed to luxury. With lodgings in the deanery, his mistress Nell Gwyn conveniently close at Avington Park, and the Winchester Races on Worthy Down, what more could he want?

Actually, Charles II was living a dangerous life. He had been brought up in Catholic France. His father had lost his head to a Puritan Parliament, and he had been restored to the throne by a country which was determined neither to follow Puritan ideas nor return to what was called Popery.

After the Restoration, about 2,000 clergymen with Puritan beliefs were ejected from their livings throughout the country for failing to subscribe to the Anglican liturgy, with many in Hampshire. Some formed their own congregations, with a bewildering array of sects, but mainly Presbyterians and Independents.

Charles II depended on the French for political support and money and was under pressure to rehabilitate Catholics. In 1672 he exercised royal prerogative with a Declaration of Indulgence, which allowed Catholics and other non-Anglicans to meet, provided they applied for a licence.

In fact, within a year Parliament forced the king to revoke the Declaration, but the genie was out of the bottle and many dissenters became more active in setting up meetings. And Quakers refused to apply for licences.

There are many examples of religious intolerance in the county. In 1673, for example, depositions show that magistrates in Andover clamped down on Presbyterians meeting “at a conventicle or unlawful assembly…at a certain barn”. One of the ‘hearers’, as worshippers were called, was a “constable of the town of Andover” and was fined £5.

Another, fined for a “second offence”, was Isaac Chancy, described as gentleman, who “did preach or teach at the said conventicle”. In fact, he had been ejected from a living he held in Wiltshire at the return of monarchy.

Religious intolerance went on for hundreds of years, especially against Catholics, and examples of harsh treatment can be found in many places at many times. Other examples from Andover involving Quakers are detailed in the ‘Hampshire Book of Sufferings’ held in the Hampshire Record Office.

In the “4th month” of 1682 (which was in June, according to the Quaker calendar), a local priest informed the magistrates of a meeting and “hauled Friends into the street and locked up their meeting house”. Refusal to swear oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy led to the Quakers being imprisoned in appalling conditions –- “straw hath been denied the prisoners to lay on…and both bread and water hath been denied”.

In the next month, the treatment got rougher. In one case, to compensate for two years’ unpaid tithes, four oxen and five cows were confiscated. And in another a man was knocked out when he was thrown to the ground by two constables, and his child “thrown against the ground to the amazement of neighbours”.

From about 1714 Andover Quakers met in a building on the corner of George Yard and East Street, according to Alison Deveson, writing in Lookback at Andover.

Many other similar incidents have been researched, including a riot, with threats of arson that greeted the opening of a new Presbyterian meeting house in Petersfield in February 1722. So noisy was the mob outside that the preacher, John Norman from Portsmouth, could not be heard.

The incident triggered a pamphlet war between Norman and Dr William Lowth, a Winchester canon who held the living of Buriton-with-Petersfield (he had also been rector of Overton). A noted author, he wrote a popular book on “profitable reading of the holy scriptures”.

Norman’s real ‘crime’ was that he had successfully built up a congregation of 800 Presbyterians in Portsmouth, many of whom did not attend Church of England services. Across the water, in Gosport was an even larger congregation, numbering about a thousand. It was a sign of what many Anglicans feared, and by the mid-19th century the evidence was there. Nonconformity threatened to take over Anglicanism. But that’s another story.

For Dr Johnson’s thesis, visit: For more on Hampshire, visit: