Leonard Chamberlain Trust


Leonard Chamberlain was a draper in the Market Place of Hull. In his Will dated 19th August 1716, by which he founded Chamberlain's Charity, he left property and estates in Sutton and Stoneferry as well as at Fitling, Selby, Dunswell and Hessle. In the latter case he owned Hesslewood House until his death in 1716.

It would seem that Leonard Chamberlain inherited a good deal of his property and he also married into a family of some position, his wife being Catherine, the daughter of Mr Tomlin of Riby, Lincolshire, who died in 1696.

Unfortunately, the Chamberlain's had no surviving children and in his Will, Chamberlain made generous and important bequests and Unitarian Trustees have seen to it that the terms of the Will have been honoured for nearly three hundred years. The almshouses in Sutton and the name Chamberlain Street and Chamberlain Road in Stoneferry have ensured he has a place in Hull and Sutton's local history.

Chamberlain was a prominent Presbyterian. Early non-conformity in Hull took its strength from an active group of Puritan clergy within the Established church. In the 1650's the nave of Holy trinity church, for instance, was being used for Presbytyrian meetings, led by John Shawe. He was followed by a Mr Anderson, who was described by the traditional church as "a dangfgerous person and a concealed Presbyterian." On the 24th August 1662, known as "Black Bartholomew", all non-conformiust ministers in the area who could not consciously give their assent to all in the Prayer Book were turned out of their livings. Mr Josiah Houldsworth was ejected in Sutton. It is not clear where meetings were held following this purge but presumably this was in the homes of these dissenters. Samuel Charles was imprisoned, the authorities did not accuse him of undermining doctrine, but rather that, to quote: "We have a Protestant Church". Samuel Charles wanted one Church too many because dissenters threatened the restoration of the Church and State. Leonard Chamberlain himself was put under house arrest in 1685, not because of his faith but because the Duke of Monmouth staged a rebellion at Sedgefield and it demonstrated the political danger of the Presbyterians. When the trouble died down, Chamberlain and the others were freed. Dissenters remained restricted and so the whole history of Bowlalley Lane church was of a people arguing to sweep away the narrow and corrupted governing regime: and as a disenfranchised minority it petitioned parliament for a whole range of liberties leading up to the 1832 Reform Bill to make Parliament credible. Agitation still took place when a defined Unitarianism had arrived, which is why much Unitarianism supported the bourgeois 1789 French Revolution.

All the ministers who had been ejected from their livings for their Puritan views including Josiah Houldsworth, and the ministers of Hessle, Cottingham, Bridlington, Selby and Shipton were remembered in Chamberlain's Will. This has now been reduced to just three - the ministers of the Hull church and those at Bridlington and Cottingham.

From the rents of his farms at Sutton and Stoneferry, Leonard Chamberlain gave 5 yearly to the schoolmaster "that teaches scholars in that School-house or chamber over the hospital, built and given to the town of Hessle (or Hassle as it was then known) by the late Revd. Joseph Wilson." He also granted 1 to each of the three poor people who inhabited the three lower rooms under the school house.

When the building was pulled down in 1921, the proceeds of 702.7s.6d were divided equally between two local charities - the Wilson and Chamberlain Foundation and the Hessle United Charities. In fact, even today, the Trustees make payments to the latter charity.

Doubtless, too, Chamberlain was motivated by the incident in 1638 which robbed the village of Rowley of its inhabitants. The Revd. Ezekiel Rogers, vicar of the Church of St. Peter in Rowley, kept the rules of Puritanism very strictly, doing no work on Sunday, nor countenancing any entertainment on that day. James l ordered that the Book of Sports, advocating dancing, archery, leaping and games after Divine service, should be read in churches. Any minister who did not read it should be deprived of his living. Despite threats, Mr Rogers refused to read the book and, rather than be imprisoned, he set out for America. All his farmers, numbering about 20, packed up and went also, leaving Rowley with no employment. The working folk had no option but to move elsewhere,. The old village of Rowley has never revived and the church stands today isolated still. The Chamberlains wished to be buried in the deserted church and the floor of the chancel bears their memortial tablets.

Chamberlain himself probably belonged to the Tailors Guild as woolen drapers did not have a guild of their own. He was a man of cultivated taste and learning and he bequeathed a valuable collection of books to the congregation of the chapel. However, the library was largely dispersed in 1883 after the removal to Park Street.

Though Presbyterian, Chamberlain in his Will, made provision for many of the poor, regardless of religious pursuersion, stipulating only that his gifts should be distributed among "sober and good Christians and such as want relief.

It is doubtful if Leonard Chamberlain ever lived in Sutton although he owned a good deal of land and two farms there. From the rents he supported a school in Sutton and provided relief to its residents along with provision for a service on Sutton Feast Day which is maintained to this day.

However, it was not until the begining of the 19th century that the almshouses in Sutton were erected - one almshouse for six people erected in 1800 and another for four in 1804. The almshouses were occupied in 1823 by ten poor women of Sutton and Stoneferry with stipends of 3-5 shilligs per week and two chaldrons of coal. Today the Trust provide electricity in leau of the coal.

Selby also benefits from his generosity. At one time he provided a school and paid for a shoolmaster and an almshouse for "six ancient women"! Today the Trust has a block of flats at Selby in d'Arcy Road providing bed-sits for 10 people but with land for development available.

The original Scheme has been replaced with a modernised one sealed in 1991 still carrying out the essence of the original Will. TheTrust now owns just two farms which have been improved over recent years by superior drainage. Both are on the East side of the city, near Roos,namely Meaux Abbey Farm and Decoy Farm. The Trust in addition to the bed-sits in Selby own ten double-bedroomed and six single-bedroomed bungalows at Sutton along with a listed building containing four flats at Chamberlain Street.

Leonard Chamberlain's interest in education, although now not going as far as providing a school and schoolmaster, now rests upon a Charitable Trust set up alongside the main Scheme. Trustees each year provide gifts of about 50 each for books to students going on to Higher Education in the Hull and Selby area.

Perhaps Chamberlain's character may be best assessed in his anonymous bequest: "I give my pocket watch to be disposed of by my executor in trust to some pious young minister of the Gospel that wants one to spend a good hour with."

Whittaker once wrote: "The earnest care of this woolen draper for education, his devotion to learning, the courage with which he had taken the side of freedom when that seemed the side of certain defeat and ruin, his mindfulness of the cry of the poor, his sympathy with the pioneer movements of his time for social reform, his anxiety to foster and perpetuate homes of pure and free worship - all this helps us to understand the inner nature of Purtitanism and what it accomplished for the English people"!