To understand where the Newcastle upon Tyne Unitarian Church originated, we have to go back some way in history, to one of England’s most famous (and notorious) kings, King Heny VIII.
When Henry VIII split from Rome in 1534 (the year he was excommunicated by the Pope), there began a religious struggle in England that lasted for over 100 years. It led to many people being executed for supporting the ‘wrong’ side, a revolution and the execution of a king, and a Puritan Republic which governed England for 11 years. Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and began the process which he intended would bring the strife to an end.
While it was not the only Act to this end, the Act of Uniformity in 1662 prescribed by law the Protestant faith as practised by the Church of England as the only lawful form of worship, thus making the Roman Catholic faith illegal. The Act required all clergy to swear an oath that they would only conduct worship in the manner prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. Those who refused were kicked out of the church. The unforeseen problem was, of course, that those who were kicked out were not Roman Catholics, they were Puritans and they became known as Nonconformists. Their reasons for refusing to conform were various, and some of them became the Unitarians.
In Newcastle in 1662 there were six ministers who were required to conform. Only one did – Richard Prideaux of All Saints. Stephen Dockwray of St Andrew’s died, Samuel Hammond and John Knightbridge left Newcastle (although he conformed later on) and Henry Leaver of St John’s went to live in Shincliffe. Only one minister was left in Newcastle to carry the Nonconformist flag – William Durant.