History of the Old Baptist Chapel
Bradford Nonconformists under Persecution
As early as the end of the fourteenth century Bristol was a centre of Lollardy and during the following century there were periodic arrests. Many of those seized were subjected to intense pressure and submitted to the authority of the church. The charges against them ranged from criticism of priests to the more serious accusation of denial of transubstantiation.
Dr. J. A. F Thomson has suggested that groups of Lollards on the western edge of Salisbury Plain were encouraged by support from Bristol. Lollards from Devizes, Frome, Steeple Ashton and Norton St. Philip appeared before the courts in the fifteenth century.
Of the sixteenth century Dr. Thomson wrote, 'the most active Lollardy in the years immediately before the Reformation seems to have been in the western fringe of the diocese of Salisbury, with two main centres at Bradford on Avon and Devizes.'
In 1518 John Tropnell a weaver of Bradford was condemned as a relapsed heretic, while two men and a woman from Turleigh and a man from Broughton Gifford abjured. There was no mercy for relapsed heretics and John Tropnell must have paid the supreme penalty at the stake.
Whether there was a continuous tradition of religious nonconformity we do not know, but there is evidence for existence of dissent at the end of the sixteenth century. At that time a West Country church fled to Amsterdam and there a number of its members joined a church of English nonconformists known as the Ancient Church.
Of this church W. T. Whitley wrote, 'the marriage records at Amsterdam show people there between 1598 and 1617 who hailed from Southampton, Hurst Castle, Salisbury, Newbury, Warminster, Frome, Selwood, Westbury, Beckington, Hilperton, Bradford on Avon, Chippenham, Wrington, Wells, Bruton, Taunton, Weymouth'.