Rev. Stanley Gower, one of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, was minister at Attercliffe in the early days of the Commonwealth. The town was blessed also by the labours of Rev. William Bagshaw, who resided in the family of Col. (afterwards Sir John) Bright. His ordination took place at Chesterfield, in 1650. He subsequently removed to Glossop, where his labours were most abundant throughout the whole neighbourhood. After 1662 he ultimately settled at Ford, where he lived upon his own estate. His varied and extensive usefulness throughout the district gained for him the title of "the Apostle of the Peak."
William Blythe, a commander in the Parliamentary army, was for a short time commander of Sheffield Castle. His family, of Norton Lees, was Nonconformist, and he married a Bright. His son was a Dissenting minister, and preached to a small congregation at Attercliffe.
It is clear, that from an early period the principles of Nonconformity were understood and appreciated by the inhabitants of Attercliffe, and that the subsequent congregation greatly owed its origin to the influences which had preceded its formation. Two names are conspicuous in the history of Attercliffe Congregationalism; - those of Hancock and Bloome.
The Rev. ROWLAND HANCOCK came first to Sheffield as under-master of the Free Writing School. He became afterwards vicar of Ecclesfield, but relinquished the benefice at the Restoration to the old incumbent. In 1661 he was elected assistant minister by the burgesses. But as his right to the living was disputed, a meeting was held at the church June 11, 1662, Sir John Bright and others being present, when it was resolved-" That as for matter of title, Mr. Hancock is now an assistant, the burgesses will be ready to maintain." In the following August, however, this resolution was rescinded, and the old incumbent replaced,- a decision which the Act of Uniformity, which came into operation immediately after, confirmed. The passing of the Five-mile Act drove Mr. Hancock from Sheffield, and compelled him to take refuge at Bull-House, the residence of Mr. Rich. On the indulgence Mr. H. returned to Sheffield, and to his on n house at Shiercliffe Hall, and he preached at Attercliffe, and at Brookside, near Bradfield, where he could escape from hostile eyes. Though not a man of university education, Mr. H. was "a very good scholar, and a man of fine parts as well as real piety."
Rev. MATTHEW BLOOME was curate at Attercliffe, and was also displaced by the Act of Uniformity. He was imprisoned for a time in York Castle. Mr. Hancock and Mr. Bloome united, shortly after Mr. H.'s return, to form an Independent church. It worshipped at Shiercliffe Hall (Hancock's residence).
The names of those who thus entered into communion have been preserved :- Mr. John Hatfield, Mrs. Anthony Hatfield, Mrs. Hancock, Mrs. Jennet Bloom, Joseph Capper, Joseph Nutt, Robert Hool, (tanner), Wm. and Mary Wadsworth, Mary Nicholson (widow), Hannah Cox, Margaret Parkin, Margaret Sharpe, John Oldale, Widow Hoole, William Hoole (cutler), Robert Hoole (his brother), William Marsland.
Shiercliffe Hall was in a private situation, whilst it was central and convenient of access. But before the church had been long in existence, disagreements arose, and about the year 1681 it seemed desirable that the ministers should separate, which they did; one part of the congregation worshiping at Attercliffe, where Bloome lived,*1 whilst the other part remained at the Old Hall, under the care of Hancock.*2 Soon after this separation both ministers died; Hancock in 1685, and Bloome in the year 1686. He had latterly carried on the business of a maltster, at Sir W. Ellis's, Lincolnshire. The people then became re-united. At this time Rev. Nathaniel Baxter (ejected from St. Michael's, Lanes., and afterwards a private chaplain in Derbyshire), came to reside in Sheffield, for the education of his children. He willingly consented to preach. It appears, however, that he did not take the post of pastor. In the diary of Heywood, Rev. James Wright,*3 father to Dr. Samuel Wright, of Carter Lane, London, is mentioned as minister of Attercliffe. After him, the aged and venerable Mr. Pryme, ejected from the parish church, preached much at Attercliffe, and also, when possible, at a fortnightly lecture in Sheffield. He was a holy man, greatly beloved by the Attercliffe flock, and continued his labours till entirely disabled. He died in 1708, having preached on the previous Bartholomew anniversary (according to his custom) from the words-" And now behold the Lord hath kept me alive these forty and five years." He was buried in the parish church, being the last of six ejected ministers laid there : Thomas Burbeck, 1674; Robert Durant, 1678; Richard Taylor, 1680; Rowland Hancock, 1684; Nathaniel Baxter, 1697; Edward Pryme, 1708.*4 A funeral sermon was preached and published by Robert Fern, at the request of his family. Text, Heb. xii. 23. "And to the spirits of just men made perfect."
The name of Hawden, probably of Wakefield, occurs, as preaching for Mr. Pryme, about 1707. Samuel Blythe, a marriage connection of Pryme, and father to Blythe, of Birmingham, was here in 1716. The congregation then numbered 250.
Attercliffe became about this time an attachment of the Upper Chapel, and was usually under the charge of Mr. Jollie's students. After Jollie's death the care of it fell upon Mr. Wadsworth, senior, and his assistants. On Mr. W.'s death the pastorate fell to Rev. F. S. Wadsworth, his son and assistant. He was educated by Doddridge, who had given him a high character, though he was unorthodox. The people at Attercliffe soon perceived that the doctrines he preached were unscriptural. He united the pastorate at Attercliffe with the position of assistant minister to Mr. Haynes, at the Upper Chapel. The congregation miserably declined, and at length became extinguished. It is not known when the sacrament was last administered; but the communion plate was taken away by Mr. F. S. Wadsworth, used in his family, and sold at his death.
Hunter says ("Biographia Puritanica, Mus. Brit.") : "Mr. Johnstone, of Wakefield, told me he preached an annual sermon on `Death, Judgment, and Eternity,' in pursuance of directions left by Mr. Wilson, minister at Attercliffe, and received two guineas a year." "Mr. Frankland, the minister,. established an annual sermon in May. See Will."
* For much information relative to Sheffield I am greatly indebted to E. D. Leader, Esq., editor of the Sheffield Independent.
*1 Among Bloome's congregation was Mr. Spencer, Attercliffe Hall. The whole number of his adherents was twenty-two.
*2 Hancock and Bloome were both decided Congregationalists.
*3 "He married a daughter of Wm. Cotton, of Wortley, and Nether Denby, ironmaster, a great patron of the Nonconformists."-Hunter's "Hallamshire."
*4 Hunter's "Sheffield."