The Reverend Doctor Richard Gilpin is the most likely founding father of our congregation. He was baptised on 23rd October 1625 (in those days, baptismal dates were more important than birth dates) at Kendal. He was educated at Edinburgh University, graduating MA on 30th July 1646, and studying first medicine, then divinity. He began his ministry at Lambeth, but later came to Durham. When William Morland was sequestered, in other words ejected(1) from his living at St Andrew’s, Greystoke, in Cumberland, Gilpin eventually went there, in about 1652 or early 1653. There were four chapels in Greystoke parish and he organised preachers for all of these.
He was well-respected and well-liked and was known to provide medical as well as spiritual comfort. At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Gilpin was offered and refused the position of Bishop of Carlisle. (His kinsman Bernard Gilpin had refused the same honour from Elizabeth I). Some authorities suggest that the offer was a bribe to persuade him to conform to the established teaching and it may be significant that his name does not appear on the list of the incumbents of Greystoke church. Gilpin was not ejected from his living, but resigned when Morland was reinstated in 1661and retired to Scaleby Castle which he had bought some years before.
Shortly after the passing of the Act of Uniformity, Gilpin moved to Newcastle to minister to the congregation of Samuel Hammond, who had been ejected and left Newcastle. He was assisted by Dr John Pringle, sometime erroneously called Richard(2) the ejected Minister from Eglingham. Again, we can be certain that our list of ministers in the church vestibule is wrong(3), because Bishop Cosin was complaining about Gilpin’s activities in Newcastle as early as 1663, and continued to do so on a regular basis until about 1679. On the granting of the Declaration of Indulgences in 1672 Gilpin, like Durant, was granted a licence to preach in his own house (which was in the White Friars area behind where the Central Station now is and near to where Hanover Square chapel was later built).
He also practised as a physician, having graduated MD at Leyden on 6th July 1676, and acquired such a reputation that any doctor who lost a patient and had not consulted Gilpin was said to have been negligent. Our first church, “without (ie, ‘outside’) the Close Gate”, was built by Gilpin in or about 1681. Durant died in 1681 and the bulk of his congregation joined Gilpin’s, (although not before a small group of Durant’s followers tried to take it over). It was the first Nonconformist meeting house in Newcastle. What the Close Gate chapel looked like we do not know. Its location was described as “a few yards beyond the frowning portals of the Close Gate”. When it was advertised for sale in 1728 it was described as “the large building without the Close Gate”, and in 1715 its congregation was numbered at 700.
The location of the Close Gate can be ascertained with reasonable accuracy. On the retaining wall of the Close opposite the Copthorne Hotel is a carved stone which records where the town wall came down to the river bank. Thereabouts must have been the gate allowing ingress to the town from the west along the riverside. A measure of the size of the task facing Gilpin is that in 1694 the church took on William Pell(2) as an assistant. Pell died in 1698 and Timothy Manlove, whom Gilpin had supported when he was appointed to Mill Hill Chapel Leeds, was then persuaded to join Gilpin in Newcastle in 16992. Sadly, Manlove only lasted a few months. He caught a fever shortly after his arrival and died on 3 August 1699 at the age of thirty-five. Thomas Bradbury was taken on and continued to look after the congregation until 1703, along with Benjamin Bennet who succeeded Gilpin. All four men have their own entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and will be the subject of later articles in this series.
Richard Gilpin died in 1700(4), in early February. Having retired from his living in Cumbria, rather than having been ejected, he was buried in the churchyard at All Saints’ Church. That churchyard was destroyed when All Saints’ was pulled down prior to the present elliptical building being erected and no trace of his gravestone is known.
(1) There were many ejections from the Church of England during the period of the civil war. This appears to be the Parliamentarians getting rid of the clergy who supported the Monarchy.
(2) Our list of Ministers makes no mention of either John Pringle or William Pell.
(3) Our list of Ministers in the vestibule says 1693.
(4) Despite our list of Ministers saying 1703; the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives his dates as October 1625 to 13th February 1700.