Churches Together in Benington and Walkern

St. Peter's Benington with St. Mary's Walkern






Dr. John Gorsuch

More than 400 years ago, at the dawning of the 17th Century, John Gorsuch was born. In the same year,1600, King James I and his Queen Anne had a son Charles, who later became John's monarch in 1625. Many of Charles I's decisions both political and religious, were to affect John's personal life as much as they influenced England and the rest of the known world.

Religion and politics were inter-related. To King Charles the Church was the soul of the state. He never forgot his Anglican upbringing as Head of the Church and Defender of the Faith.

A pedigree printed in the Visitation of London 1633-4 commences with William Gorsuch, merchant of London. He married Alice Hilson and had a son Daniel. William died a young man in 1575-6 leaving his widow and small son whom he put in the care and custody of his uncle, Robert Hilson.

Robert Hilson was a Mercer and so Daniel was apprenticed to him and was later admitted through him to the Freedom of the Mercer's Company in 1593.

On the death of Robert Hilson, Daniel inherited property in the City of London. Subsequently he married Alice Hall, daughter of John Hall of London. John Hall must have had good standing in the City as he had been elected annually as one of the Wardens of London Bridge from 1594 to 1618, a total of 24 years.

Daniel and his wife Alice lived in the vicinity of Old St. Paul's within the square mile of the City and possibly at Bishopsgate. They had three children John, Katherine and Mary.

One can assume that John Gorsuch's birthplace was here and that his childhood was spent in the company of his sisters. It was customary at the time to start educating children in the home at their mother's knee. Later, he might well have attended either St. Paul's School or the Mercer's own Grammar School each barely half a mile from his home.

It is clear that Daniel had invested in real estate in Walkern. The village, though tucked away in a small valley, was nevertheless en route to Cambridge which was already a thriving seat of learning.

There is a record of John Gorsuch "son of Daniel Gorsuch, Mercer of London and Walkern", being admitted "Fellow Commoner" at Pembroke, Cambridge, aged 17, on June 18, 1617.

The teaching at the Universities set its stamp on many men who trained there for the Ministry of the Church. As a whole the general behaviour of the students at Cambridge at that time seemed vigorous and independent, even to the point of being undisciplined. Scholars were upbraided for shortcomings by Masters of several colleges, and even by the Vice-chancellor "for neglect in religious practices, swearing, drinking, rioting, the wearing of unseemly garments and the disuse of academic dress".

In spite of what was happening around him John Gorsuch (who must have been a studious fellow) took his Batchelor of Arts in 1620.

In 1622, the year Daniel was Warden of the Mercer's Company, John was admitted to the Freedom "by patrimony". Cambridge must have been more attractive to him as he did not follow in his father’s footsteps in the City, but returned to carry on studying at Pembroke, taking his M.A. in 1624 and entering the Church.

John's marriage to Ann Lovelace may well have been both a romantic affair and also a hard-headed business deal by both sets of parents. John's friend, Richard Lovelace, down from Oxford, was welcome at Court. Perhaps John Gorsuch had been to Court with him to listen to music or to meet other ambitious and clever young men. It was not uncommon for young men to marry their friend's sisters. Sir William Lovelace and his wife Anne, possibly celebrated the wedding of their daughter Anne to John Gorsuch at St. Margaret's, Bethersdon in about 1628.

John and Anne set up home in London. Three children were soon born to them. Daniel in 1629, John a year later and then William in 1631.

This was a time of change and the patronage of church livings were being bought by individuals and corporations. Soon after his son's marriage, Daniel Gorsuch, having invested in property in Hertfordshire, bought the advowson of St. Mary's, Walkern, from Edward Beale.

When Daniel bought the living the Old Parsonage house was at Clay End, a good distance from St. Mary's. Daniel built a new Parsonage close to the church. People with money often built and furnished their houses extravagantly. This house is basically still the same, square in outline, with brick walls, three floors and a 'hipped' tile roof sloping on all four sides. It had glazed sash windows in oak frames. The only difference is in the front facade which was changed sometime in the late seventeen hundreds, and a "long" room added on the south side. The front entrance could conceivably have faced the church on the east side with a path and bridge over the river Beane to the churchyard. The house was one of the earliest all brick houses built in England.

Four years after their marriage we find the young couple settled at the new parsonage house in Walkern. John Gorsuch subsequently received his Mandate for Presentment, instituting him as Rector, signed and sealed on behalf on King Charles. The years following the move to Walkern were seemingly happy. Two more children were born. Their eldest daughter Katherine is recorded in a baptismal entry dated 26th November 1633 and another son, Robert was christened on 19th November 1635.

It was during this period that Daniel Gorsuch repaired and improved St. Mary's, built a monument into the south wall of the chancel and installed a plain square East window - a window that was lost at the time of a major renovation in the 1870's. It was also in the time of John Gorsuch that the altar, or communion table, was set behind altar rails under the new East window.

The Gorsuch monument was described by Henry Chauncey in his history of Hertforshire (published late in the century) as having "the figures of a Man and a Woman kneeling upon cushions, and a book before either of them, with this inscription over their heads.

“Daniel Gorsuch, Citizen and Mercer of London in the month of July 1638, caused this Tomb to be made for himself and his wife Alice by whom he had three children, John, Katherine and Joanna, his age being     years     months and     dayes. And he died    .”

In fact the third child's name was Mary, and Daniel's age, added later was 69 years, 6 months and "odd" days. He died on the 8th day of October, 1638.

By 1636, whilst London reeled under another spate of epidemics loosely defined as plague, causing 10,000 deaths, John had achieved his Doctorate in Divinity from Cambridge.

It was at Christmas 1636 that a Thomas Humberstone and his wife refused to come up to the altar rails for communion. They knelt at the chancel steps but the Rector refused to give them the sacrament. Again at Easter the same couple raised their objections to approaching the altar rails and being denied the sacrament they referred the matter to the Archdeacon who after interviewing Gorsuch wrote them a "persuasive letter to reform their carriage". Instead they petitioned John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. He was sympathetic to the Puritan faction and ordered the Rector to administer the communion "to all who presented themselves kneeling in any part of the church under pain of suspension and deposition of his curate". John Gorsuch appealed. As John Williams had by then been imprisoned in the Tower for malpractices in State Affairs, and Archbishop Laud had taken charge of Lincoln Bishopric, the Rector was supported. On 28th October a bond was filed against Thomas Humberstone "... to exhibite a true and full certificate of his due frequenting of his parishe church of Walkerne and divine service ..."

The Humberstone couple conceded and no further steps were taken against them either by John Gorsuch or his curate Francis Beckwith. Perhaps John Gorsuch was like his Archbishop - too single-minded in his religious duties. He was fortunate that Bishop Williams was considered untrustworthy in church matters.

In the meantime Ann had borne another son, Richard, baptised 19th April, 1637, and John's father had died. Daniel's burial is recorded in the Walkern Parish register on 8th October 1638, signed by John Gorsuch, Rector. In Daniel's will, made at Walkern two days earlier, he left property in London to his wife and to John Gorsuch, a sum of £500 to his daughter Katherine, property in Weston to his grandchildren Daniel, John, William, Katherine, Robert and Richard, and a variety of smaller legacies to other friends and relations.

Further entries in the Walkern Parish Register show that a second daughter, Anne, was baptised in Walkern church on March 13th 1639, a third, Elizabeth, on May 13th 1641, and a seventh son, Charles, on August 25th 1642.

By 1640 both Church and State were undergoing economic pressures causing grave problems in the country. During the years 1641-1642 the Universities were released by a Committee appointed by Parliament from an injunction "requiring them to do reverence to the Communion table". They were to remove the altar and the surrounding rails from the east end of all chapels, and level chancels. This was a complete reversal of what Laud had promoted as reforms in the Anglican church.

John Gorsuch's religious leanings were too radical for a country parish. This became amply clear when he was ejected from the Parish of Walkern by Parliament in 1642 and his living sequestered. Politics had crept into religious matters. The accusation was that the priest had "endeavoured to hire one Jones to ride a Troop Horse for Prince Rupert (nephew of Charles I ) ... and had published a wicked libel against the Parliament that some of the Lords whom he named were Fools, Bastards and Cuckolds". John White, in his "First Century of Scandalous Malignant Priests" published in 1643, wrote that the benefice of John Gorsuch,

“Doctor of Divinity, Rector of the Parish Church of Walkerne in the County of Hertford, is sequestered for that he is a common haunter of Ale-houses and Taverns, and often drunke; and oft sitteth gaming whole nights together, and is seldom in the Pulpit, preaching scarce once a quarter; and hath often denied many of his Parishioners the Sacraments of the Lord's Supper, without any cause shown, and refused to administer it to such as would not come up to the rails ..."

John Gorsuch's chief antagonist was Simon Smeath, Vicar of Weston, a staunch Parliament man, who was attracted to the Rectory in Walkern with the expectation of two livings. He achieved his wish and took over the Walkern parish.

The fact that John Gorsuch owned the parsonage must have caused problems though it was not difficult for him to move his family to nearby Weston where his mother was still living. John conceivably remained in residence in Walkern, claiming tithes from the surrounding glebe land which was by rights his property.

A copy of Henry Chauncey's "Antiques" was found with a marginal note made some 100 years later by Thomas Tipping, Vicar of "Yardley" (now Ardeley). "Dr. Gorsuch," he wrote, "was smothered in an haymow". The note affirming that in 1647 Simon Smeath persuaded Fairclough of Weston to send a body of rebels to seize and eject Gorsuch who was still around and "causing a nuisance". It had become a personal involvement between neighbouring clergymen with opposing religious political views. Country folk took sides at the slightest provocation and were only too glad to stop paying tithes, whilst being "hired" as villains.

This is the only statement on record made about John Gorsuch's fateful end. Thomas Tipping concluded; "He left a very good name".

An entry under "Burials" in the Parish Register of Wilburton Church in Cambridgeshire, for 1648, reads: "Doctour Godsuch, Dr of Theologie, May the 24th". There seems to be no other record which ties up with Dr. John Gorsuch.

It is strange that he should have been buried so far from Walkern. The village of Wilburton is north of Cambridge and half way to Ely, the home of Cromwell and his faction. Was John Gorsuch being taken there to be imprisoned at Ely House by Cromwell's militia? Or had he been imprisoned and was trying to find his way back to Walkern? We shall never know. Prisoners had to pay rent depending on their status and where they were housed; also for their diet and other expenses. How his expenses were paid or what deprivation his family suffered is not known either.

Anne Gorsuch left for America with four children, Robert, Richard, Anne and Katherine about 1651. She could have taken her children to Virginia on the understanding that the Lovelace family were already settled. She seems not to have survived long as letters of administration of her estate, dated 2 June 1652, were issued to Daniel her eldest son in England as she had "deceased in parts beyond the seas".

Katherine married, but returned to England, three years later, widowed with two young children. Brother Robert returned too, though much later. They must have rejoined their other brothers Daniel, John and William at Weston. Their grandmother, Alice Gorsuch (nee Hall) died in 1662 and Daniel was the executor of her will.

Compiled by S. Esmé Overman.