Heavenly Henry 1662

Revd Matthew Henry Lee, vicar of Hanmer 1867-1891
Philip Henry 1631-1696 and Matthew Henry 1662-1714

Father and son Puritan ministers with a Hanmer Connection.

Revd Matthew Henry Lee, vicar of Hanmer 1867-1891, was a descendant of Philip Henry and Matthew Henry. He collected 22 of Philip’s diaries from various descendants and published them in 1882. The diaries record the friendship and troubles shared with Richard Steele, puritan minister of Hanmer Church. They cover in a very different way the same times as those of Philip’s more famous contemporary Samuel Pepys (1633-1703).

Philip Henry was born in London in 1631. His father worked as a trusted servant at the court of King Charles I in Westminster. As a child he was a playmate to the young princes who later became King Charles II and King James II. Later as a student at Oxford, and whilst visiting his parents at Westminster, he saw King Charles I executed and left a vivid eye-witness account.

Philip Henry became a puritan champion through the Commonwealth and was invited by Lady Puleston of Emral Hall near Wrexham to be tutor to her children and minister of nearby Worthenbury church. He was a gifted preacher who was offered other livings, including St Giles in Wrexham, but chose to stay in rural Worthenbury. He gained the popular nickname of ‘Heaveny Henry’. When monarchy was restored in 1660, times became difficult for him. He refused to accept the Government`s new Book of Common Prayer in 1662. Like hundreds of other non-conformists, Philip Henry was immediately evicted from his post as preacher at Worthenbury. The 1662 Act of Uniformity ruled that those who did not sign their acceptance were presumed dead and their posts were filled by others.

Soon after, in 1665 and 1666, came the Black Death plague and the Great Fire of London. In London, many clergy deserted their congregations and some of the non-conformists stepped in to minister, so the Government passed the Five Mile Act. This meant a non-conformist minister was not to step within five miles of the church where they preached. Meanwhile, Philip had left Worthenbury and had gone to Broadoak in Whitewell parish near Whitchurch. Broadoak was a substantial property inherited by his wife Katherine. Though Broadoak was just about 5 miles from Worthenbury, for a while Philip had to leave his family to avoid arrest. But Philip’s puritan faith drove him to continue to preach. On one occasion, he was caught and fined £40 – that was a considerable sum in those days: more than a year`s wages. A couple of times, he was arrested and spent time in the public lock-up in Hanmer with his friend Richard Steele, minister at Hanmer Church. This lock-up was adjacent to the old Police House opposite the Hanmer Arms. Matthew was also jailed for two weeks in Chester Castle during the Monmouth rising of 1685. These were the same times in which his more famous contemporay John Bunyan (1628-1699) was imprisoned for similar offences and wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress from prison.

But Philip`s constant brushes with the law did not seem to put too much of a strain on family life. His marriage to Katherine was a long and happy one and they had two sons, four daughters and 22 grandchildren. Philip taught his children to read Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He encouraged them to take notes on Bible expositions. He died in 1696 still preaching at the age of 65.

In 1680, Philip’s son, Matthew, was sent to London and placed with Thomas Doolittle, a dissenting minister, to continue his learning. He went on to study law at Gray’s Inn. He continued his religious studies alongside his legal studies and was ordained in London in 1687 at the house of his father’s old friend from Hanmer, Richard Steele. Richard Steele although a very popular minister in Hanmer had also been evicted. In 1689, a Toleration Act was passed and a nonconformist congregation formed in Chester called Matthew Henry to be its pastor. The Matthew Henry Church in Trinity Street Chester was one of the first non-conformist churches in the country.

Matthew married a girl called Catherine, who died in childbirth. Their daughter was named after her. Matthew then married a girl name Mary Warburton and they had a number of children, including a son, also called Henry. In about November 1704, Matthew began writing his Bible Commentary. He had inherited a love of the Bible from his father and had his childhood notes on his father’s exposition of the whole Bible. His own son chose a change of direction. The young Henry became a Chester MP, but took his mother`s name and was known as Henry Warburton. Matthew Henry died in 1714, when his vast commentary was only three quarters of the way finished. After his death, lots of other preachers got together. They got hold of his notes and finished the commentary for him. His commentary was read by influential people like George Whitefield and is still used by preachers today.

The chapel survived until the 1960s, when it made way for a redevelopment in the Chester city centre, which saw The Forum being built. The church was relocated to Blacon and many of the artefacts were moved along with it, including a 300-year-old pulpit, the memorial tablet, an organ, the stained glass windows and a communion table

Memorials to Philip Henry are to be found in Whitchurch and Whitewell churches. An obelisk opposite the castle in Chester records Matthew Henry.

Entered 26th November 2014 by Bill