John Smyth was a preacher in the city of Lincoln from 1600 to 1602. The Bishop of Lincoln dismissed him for his strange doctrines and forward preaching of his Puritan views (people who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices) that had been developing since his early days at Cambridge University.
He then came to Gainsborough as a preacher. His daughter Chara was baptised in Gainsborough Parish Church in 1603/4, followed by Sara in March 1605/6. Later that year he broke with the Church of England to join the Separatists.
It is thought that John Smyth enjoyed the freedom to preach in his own style at Gainsborough Old Hall. He had a large congregation of sixty or seventy people, coming from surrounding towns and villages including Retford, Worksop, Scrooby and Sturton Le Steeple, under the protection of the new lord of the manor William Hickman.
In 1606, they formally separated from the state church. Later the same year the Gainsborough congregation split into two groups. One group now met nearer their homes across the River Trent under the care of a like-minded preacher Richard Clifton, the former rector of Babworth.
By 1606, Scrooby had Richard Clifton as Preacher, John Robinson as Teacher and William Brewster as Elder. The large congregation, including William Bradford, met secretly in Scrooby Manor House where Brewster entertained them with great love.
They continued to meet there during the spring and summer of 1607, but their activities were reported and the congregation was then ‘hunted and persecuted on every side’. Brewster and three others were also harassed by the Archbishop of York, the owner of Scrooby Manor, and they were imprisoned and fined in York.
At that, both the Scrooby and the Gainsborough Separatists decided to leave England and they began to sell their belongings.
The Separatists were being pushed to conform. Sir William Hickman found himself under pressure from the Bishop of Lincoln for permitting John Smyth to preach. Unable to emigrate legally without permits and unable to obtain permits, John Smyth and at least forty of his Gainsborough followers slipped quietly away and disappeared in early 1608.
They fled to Holland – some of them from Gainsborough’s riverside up the River Trent to Immingham. Some of them also travelled on foot, where it is believed they stayed overnight in Caistor, then known as ‘Caistrop’.
To mark this significant date there will be a special event on Sunday 10 May. Enjoy an action packed day full of Mayflower activities and fun for all ages. There will also be a special reduced admission to Gainsborough Old Hall of £2.50 per person! For more information click here.