Blog – Our Heritage, Your Heritage

Pilgrims & Prophets local history tour: 2 June


A fascinating local history ‘day out’ by coach with guided tours

P&P 2 June tour link

DATE: Saturday 7th July: pick up Worksop (09:00) and Retford (09:20)

  • Guided tour of ‘Boston Stump’ – one of England’s great parish churches and home of John Cotton, one of America’s greatest 17th Century Church leaders
  • See the home of John Foxe, author of Tudor England’s best-selling book
  • Visit the cells in which the ‘Mayflower’ Pilgrims were imprisoned after their first escape attempt
  • Visit extraordinary Sempringham – home of St Gilbert and England’s only monastic order, where puritan leaders plotted the ‘Great Migration’ in 1629


  • PRICE INCLUDES morning coffee and cake, light lunch, and admissions
  • BOOKING INFORMATION: The all-inclusive price is £32.50 but we are offering an ‘early bird’ rate of £30 for bookings by 1st May.
  • Book by email (, by phone to Maggy on 07724 848958, or to P & P c/o The Well, Hospital Road, Retford including a cheque to Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours and your contact details.


Retford leads the way!

Retford’s Annual Religious Tolerance Forum provides the key to support for the Mayflower Pilgrims Commemoration in the USA 

There is enthusiasm in the USA for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims’ arrival in North America in 1620, however there is concern about its impact on the First Nations people who were already there.

By focusing on the theme of religious freedom and tolerance and looking forward through heritage rather than backwards as history, this will provide an approach, based on shared values, which should be acceptable to everyone. The fact that Retford has established an annual event focused on this subject, based on the thinking of its local puritans, some of whom were Mayflower Pilgrims, is of major interest to partners in the USA.

At this year’s Religious Tolerance Forum, held on Saturday 10th March 2018 at the The Well in Retford, Bassetlaw MP John Mann, who had just returned from a visit to Boston (USA), was able to share this exciting information arising from his trip. John Mann MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Also at the Religious Tolerance Forum, Adrian Gray, local historian and author of the book From Here We Changed The World, told the story of the roots of religious tolerance in Bassetlaw and Gainsborough. The Forum in Retford is an annual event, started in 2015 to commemorate the death of local puritan, Thomas Helwys, who was the author of the first document advocating religious freedom, not only between Christian denominations but also with Jews, Muslims and those without any faith. He also claimed that there should be no connection between state and religion, meaning each individual should be free to believe what they want.

Dr David Appleby, Lecturer in Early Modern British History at the University of Nottingham, focused on the subject of tolerance in the aftermath of the English Civil War, which proportionally had a greater casualty impact on the population than the First World War. He examined how the political environment was shaped and modified by the views and opinions of the people and how the leaders of the day responded, with the resulting persecutions and unlikely collaborations.

Phil Lyons MBE gave an extensive view of the National Holocaust Centre with its elements of the exhibition, The Journey, telling a refugee story from the perspective of a young boy, collections including 700 historical items, and The Forever Project which provides interactive survivor interviewing. Virtual reality applications are also being created enabling immersive experiences to be taken out to schools. This is currently the only museum of its type in the UK.

Rev Richard Warren interviewed representatives of Release International and Open Doors who seek to provide evidence of, and argue against, persecutions happening today around the world.

The event was completed by a video of an interview between Rick Brand, Chair of Bassetlaw Christian Heritage and Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge and former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Next year’s event will be held on Saturday March 9th, 2019 – save the date!

What’s the background to this event?

The main Separatists and Mayflower Pilgrims came from the area around Retford, in Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire; Bradford from Austerfield, and Brewster from Scrooby. Although not travelling to North America on the Mayflower, Clifton, from Babworth, Turvin from Retford, Bernard from Worksop, Smith and Robinson from Sturton le Steeple along with Helwys from Broxtowe were all part of the local puritan movement.

Roger Williams (from Essex) married Mary Bernard, daughter of Richard Bernard of Worksop Priory, and together they travelled to North America, where they befriended the local tribes and learned their languages, ultimately setting up Rhode Island State as a beacon of religious tolerance, separation of state and religion, and rejection of slavery.

Religious Tolerance Forum: coming up in March

This year’s Religious Tolerance Forum will take place on Saturday 10th March 2018, 10am-1pm at The Well in Retford (DN22 7BD). BCH are grateful to Bassetlaw District Council for their continued support for this event.

This year’s speakers include Dr David Appleby, Lecturer in Early Modern British History at the University of Nottingham, and adviser to the National Civil War Museum. David will be speaking about freedom and persecution in the post civil war era. Masoud Ahmadi from the International Liberty Association will talk about his escape from persecution, and Phil Lyons, CEO of the National Holocaust Centre, will describe the work done at the Centre and discuss the use of survivor testimony and recent innovations, including the Forever project.

We are also pleased to welcome Ben Huxtable of Release International and Andrew Smith of Open Doors. This year’s event will feature a video of an interview with Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, and former Archbishop of Canterbury.

For more information, please contact us at or Adrian Gray at

Religious Tolerance Forum poster v2 10th March 2018

Snowdrops at Babworth Church

Come along to Babworth Church on the weekend of 10th and 11th February to see the snowdrops…

Explore the beautiful surroundings of the church where Rev Richard Clifton once preached, before he became the leader of the Separatists who escaped to Holland. Church is open 10am-4pm on Saturday and 12pm-4pm on Sunday. All welcome.

Babworth Snowdrop Weekend 2018

Forthcoming talks with Adrian Gray

Adrian Gray with a copy of his new book, From Here We Changed the World

Thursday 18th October 2017, 7.30pm – Gainsborough

Adrian Gray will be giving a talk on Thursday 18th October at 7.30pm at Gainsborough House in Gainsborough (opposite the Old Hall) on ‘Religious Liberty: The Contribution of Notts and Lincs to Global Tolerance’.

Adrian, who leads ‘Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours’, will speak about how leaders from Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire helped to spread an understanding of religious tolerance that has been helping to change global attitudes.

Saturday 21st October 2017, 7pm – Lenton, Nottingham

Thomas Helwys, Baptist pioneer and campaigner for religious freedom, is one of the great men of Nottinghamshire history. Adrian Gray explains three key reasons why he is important in the World today, although he died in Newgate 400 years ago at a talk at Thomas Helwys Baptist Church (NG7 1SJ).

Tuesday 25th October 2017, 7pm – Wilmslow, Doncaster

Adrian Gray will give a talk on the puritans and pilgrims entitled ‘Why did they all come from here?’ at the Doncaster & District Family History Society, at the Doncaster School for the Deaf, Wilmslow (DN2 6AY).

Thursday 3rd November, 2-4pm – Lowdham

‘Nottinghamshire Christian Heritage’: Adrian Gray will give a talk explaining the contribution of Nottinghamshire men and women to the global development of Christianity. Full of human interest, bravery and tragedy.

Friday 4th November 2017, 9am-5pm – Retford

‘The Mayflower Pilgrims Tour’: This tour tells the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims through visiting the places where they lived and worshipped. Learn the history of your area! A great day out full of human interest. Coach tour £27.50 including lunch. Picks up at The Hub in Retford (09.00) then Retford at The Well and Worksop. Book by email to or ring 07724 848958.

Thursday 8th February 2018 – Retford

Talk on ‘Why did they all come from here?’ The Origins of the Mayflower Pilgrims – for Retford Inner Wheel at Ye Olde Bell, Barnby Moor.

500th anniversary of the Reformation

On Saturday 14th October 2017, a musical workshop will take place in St. Saviour’s Church, Welham Road, Retford, DN22 6QW.

Between 9.30am and 5.30pm Andy Watts of The Carnival Band will help participants explore the musical heritage of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and ways in which it developed in England, particularly the West Gallery music as performed today by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. The number of places for singers and instrumentalists is limited to 50 (£10 including lunch).

Places can be booked at search for Luther 500 Applications, or

The workshop will be followed by a REFORMATION 500 COMMEMORATION SERVICE at 7pm in St Saviour’s Church to which everyone is invited. The music and songs rehearsed during the day will be included and the preacher will be the Rev Paulina Hlawiczka, the Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Nottingham.

On 31st October 2017, all round the world, people are marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the castle chapel in the German town of Wittenberg – an event that has become known as the starting point of the Reformation.


Luther, an Augustinian monk, taught Biblical theology in Wittenberg’s new university. He found himself facing two difficulties. First, it was hard to reconcile his understanding of the Bible’s teachings with some traditional teachings of the Church. Second, he struggled with his own spiritual standing in the eyes of God. His theses dealt with several different matters, but were particularly prompted by the sale of letters known as ‘Indulgences’. These were said to shorten the length of time spent by departed believers in Purgatory, but Luther could find no Biblical basis for such a belief. He had gradually come to understand that human beings are reconciled to God purely by God’s generosity, his grace, rather than by anything they might do, however good.

Within a very short time the theses, which had been written in Latin, were translated into German, printed and widely distributed throughout the many different territories of Germany. Luther had no intention of causing a rift in the Church of Rome, but that is indeed what happened. Ever since, here in the west, the Roman Catholic Church has continued to exist alongside many Protestant Churches.

In this anniversary year Roman Catholics and Protestants are joining together to commemorate 500 years of continuing reform. All over the UK, and across the world, there are an enormous variety of events. In Retford, the Churches are inviting people to consider how the Reformation prompted by Martin Luther gave church music back to the people.

Arguably, Luther started a series of events which included Henry Vlll’s dissolution of the monasteries and establishment as head of the Church of England, swung violently through the reigns of Edward lV, Mary l and Elizabeth l, including the Spanish War and Cranmer’s Protestant Reformation. A hundred years of religious and political challenge delivered James 1 to the throne of Great Britain and the Separatists to arise in the area in and around Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire.

From here, some of them started a journey to found a colony in America. This year’s Pilgrims Festival starts on Saturday and Sunday 18th & 19th November with a Pilgrims inspired Art Exhibition at Babworth, followed by a range of events in Austerfield and Bawtry on Sunday 19th November; Retford on Tuesday 21st November; and Gainsborough on Wednesday 22nd November. A Thanksgiving Day Dinner is planned at Spencer’s on the Square in Retford on Thursday 23rd November and a concert by Doncaster Waites at Scrooby Village Hall on Friday 24th November. The Christmas Tree Festival at St Swithun’s and the Star Festival at the Grove will start on Saturday 25th November and the Christmas lights will be switched on in Bawtry and Retford on Sunday 26th November.

“Religious freedom everywhere must be defended”

2nd Annual Religious Tolerance Conference

Religious freedom and tolerance have been promoted in and around Bassetlaw for over 400 years. Following the successful event in 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Thomas Helwys, Separatist and early tolerance advocate, the second Annual Religious Tolerance Conference took place at The Well Baptist Church and Conference Centre in Retford on Saturday, March 11th 2017. This event attracted attendees from across England as well as in and around Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire.

The conference was opened by Cllr Jim Anderson, Chairman of Bassetlaw District Council, with an insightful world overview linking faith to humanity, democracy to freedom, and tolerance to understanding. Cllr Anderson focused on the point that religious freedom everywhere must be defended, using examples from scripture to support the argument.

The main speaker, John Coffey, is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester. He brought to life the stories of Thomas Helwys, who lived at Broxtowe Hall, and John Murton, from Gainsborough, both of whom advocated religious tolerance, not only within Christianity, but between religions and also for those without. They also promoted a separation between civil and spiritual loyalty, saying that the King could not dictate a person’s religion. This was revolutionary at the time, 400 years ago, and it cost Helwys his life. It is a concept that is still a topical issue today.

Another advocate of religious freedom with links through marriage to Bassetlaw was Roger Williams who married Mary Bernard, the daughter of Rev Richard Bernard, Vicar of the Priory Church in Worksop. Roger and Mary travelled to the New World Colonies following the journey of the Mayflower Pilgrims, and eventually set up Rhode Island State. Williams got on well with the native population in the area, and welcomed all beliefs, including pagans, into the Rhode Island State.

Professor Coffey focused the debate on the question of who had responsibility for an individual’s soul, and the role of coercion in religious practice. In the third century, Tertullian had written to a proconsul of Carthage stating the case for the religious freedom of the individual. However, since St Augustine in the fifth century justified the use of force against an heretic sect, the principle of the church having responsibility for the safeguarding of individual souls had grown, especially following the conversion of Constantine, the Roman Emperor who joined the Eastern and Western empires, and converted to Christianity.

A representative from Release International gave an overview of the world situation regarding persecution, where an estimated 80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians. Release uses the phrase “Love Kills Hate” and advocates that we use our freedom wisely through “Love in Action” on the basis that you can always make a difference.

Rev Canon Tony Walker, Rector of Retford Team Ministry, interviewed Imam Bakhtyar Pirzada, Vice-Principal of Jamia Al-Karam based at Eaton Hall, near Retford, which provided a fascinating insight into the Muslim faith. Imam Pirzada explained that Islam attempted to create a state of peace in three main elements: the Mind, the Body and the Soul/Heart, and that it was essentially opposed to violence. There are six key concepts of dignity, diversity, no compulsion in religion, commonality, neighbourliness, and the preference of peace over war. Imam Pirzada highlighted the ‘golden age’ of Islam in Europe, before the Renaissance, especially in Muslim Spain, when all major religions lived together in harmony and contributed to the scientific and intellectual development of Europe. Citing poverty, ignorance and politics as the causes for most civil unrest, he stated that less than 1% of the Muslim population were potential extremists, whilst the majority are interested in getting on with their lives. He said that Islam is about intellectual intelligence and learning, referring to Al-Azhar University in Cairo as a source of Islamic learning for over a thousand years.

Sharia Law was discussed as governing the ‘body’ or the physical element of faith, dealing with every aspect of living including worship and social dealings. It includes a penal code, but is not fully enforced anywhere in the world with the teaching of Islam categorically instructing people to adhere to the law of the land. Aspects of Sharia Law are adopted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike such as its principles of Islamic finance and Sharia-compliant banking, which the major banks in the UK and elsewhere have provisions for.

About education, Imam Pirzada said it was important to have “both eyes open” referring to the religion and the place where you live, the context. He felt extremists promoted fallacies and misinterpretations of out-of-context passages from classical times, without contextualising the religion and that is what created the problems. The founder of Jamia Al-Karam is a respected scholar among the British Muslim community and one of the top 500 most influential Muslims in the world, and he was the first to write against extremism, and state the illegitimacy of the group ISIS according to Islam (ISIS: State of Ignorance).

Councillor Jo White, Deputy Leader of Bassetlaw District Council, and Cabinet Member for Regeneration, carried out the extremely challenging task of summarising the morning’s discussions, which had contained a wide range of detailed information, accurately highlighting the themes of tolerance running through each presentation.

The conference was closed by Bassetlaw MP, John Mann, who had recently co-chaired a conference on tolerance in Germany with Chancellor Merkel. He highlighted, with personal examples, the fact that prejudice still existed in Bassetlaw and needs to be resisted. He referred to 2020 being an historic date and opportunity for the area in and around Retford to again assert its place in history, and the shared values between the US and UK, in advocating tolerance, political justice and freedom. He concluded by saying that we should look forward, with a firm understanding of our past, into a future to 2020 and beyond, to promote our values of democracy and tolerance.

“Tell the stories to help people to care”

2nd Annual Christian Heritage Conference

This was the overall message at the second annual Christian Heritage Conference organised by Bassetlaw Christian Heritage (BCH) which took place at The Well Conference Centre in Retford on Friday 10th March 2017. A common theme amongst delegates was the need to construct meaningful stories about their areas of interest, which people could relate to, and care about.

Local author and historian, Adrian Gray welcomed 30 delegates representing 27 different organisations from around England engaging in discussions about ‘working with your local council’, ‘does Christian Heritage matter’, ‘using publicity, marketing and social media’, ‘modern pilgrimage’, ‘engaging with local churches’, ‘raising money’, ‘engaging with religious education’, and ‘news from London’.

Delegates provided fascinating and informative accounts, including Dr John Clements about the local Separatist John Robinson’s time in Norwich and Norwich Old Congregational Chapel which is advancing Puritanism today.

George Burrows from the Birmingham Christian Heritage Centre showed that people voluntarily give them historical items, including a Bible signed and owned by Thomas Babbington MP (a member of the anti-slavery movement with William Wilberforce).

Geoffrey Marshall, from the Churches Visitor and Tourism Association gave an exhilarating romp through his innovative and successful activities including post office promotional franking, services in the open on top of a tower, and a dinner dance in a cathedral.

Sandra Withington from Bassetlaw District Council, Paul Howitt-Cowan from West Lindsey Churches Festival, and Anna Scott, Heritage Consultant, said that working with councils and local churches was most effective when aligning with their objectives, priorities and aspirations, and being aware of their limited budgets. There was then a more reflective session from author, Diana Chapman, who gave a moving statement on her belief that Christian Heritage really does matter.

Sarah Crosland, of the National Churches Trust, explained that visits to Christian places of worship were increasing and that 4 out of 5 Britons think that churches are an important part of our history. Websites, mobile technology, and the importance of video images were the norm now and vital in interesting people in heritage sites.

Robert Mountford, Ecumenical Mission Officer (Churches Linked Across Staffordshire and the Potteries) described how ‘Pilgrimage walks’ were increasing in popularity in Staffordshire, and some churches were even offering overnight accommodation.

Hilary Wheat explained how the Hidden Treasures project in Bilborough, as well as successfully renovating a neglected and vandalised church building, was able to provide youth training opportunities to local people.

Mike Arnold from Nottinghamshire SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education) emphasised the importance of working with the education system in contributing local topics and resources for schools. The day was completed by Ben Virgo from Christian Heritage London, who showed the impact of short videos made using mobile phones.

Next year’s event is already planned for Friday March 9th 2018, and if any organisation involved in Heritage Tourism would like to attend or take part they should contact Adrian Gray at

Annual Religious Tolerance Conference

When: Saturday 11 March 2017, 9.30 for 10.00am

Where: The Well, Hospital Road, Retford, DN22 7BD

Professor John Coffey (University of Leicester) heads the programme at this year’s Retford Annual Religious Tolerance Conference at the Well on March 11th.

The Annual Religious Tolerance Conference takes place at The Well in Retford on Saturday March 11th 2017, at 9.30am for a 10.00am start.

John Coffey
Prof John Coffey

John Coffey is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester. He will give an historical approach to the ideas of persecution and tolerance in religion, politics and ideas through the 17th and 18th centuries. He has written extensively on this subject, and is the author of four books including Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558-1689 (2000) and Exodus and Liberation: Deliverance Politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr (2014). He was the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (2008).

Rev Canon Tony Walker, Area Team Rector, Retford Area Team Ministry will interview Imam Bakhtyar Pirzada, Deputy Principal, Eaton Hall, on Islamic teachings and debates on tolerance.

Andrew Haigh, CCO, International Christian Consulate will give a modern-day perspective on religious tolerance through the subject of Christian refugees in the Middle East.

The event will be introduced by Cllr Jim Anderson, Chairman of Bassetlaw District Council, with a concluding summary and reflections from John Mann MP and Cllr Jo White, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Bassetlaw District Council.

The event is open to all, and everyone is welcome.

Following on from our successful event in March 2016, when we commemorated the anniversary of the death of Thomas Helwys, supported by Baroness Berridge and Rev Tony Peck, we are now making this an annual event to focus on the subject of religious tolerance. Last year’s event resulted in a Radio 4 Sunday Worship broadcast live from The Well in October 2016, on the same subject.

We are very grateful to Bassetlaw District Council and Churches Together in Retford for their continuing support.

Babworth ‘Pilgrims’ Church Snowdrops Weekend – even better in the rain!


Known as “the Church in the Woodland”, All Saints’ Parish Church in Babworth provided the ideal setting for a delightful display of snowdrops even though the weather was challenging, to say the least!

On the weekend of Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th February, a steady stream of visitors exceeded last year’s visitor numbers, and braved the rain to come and walk the Snowdrops Trail and call in to the church to enjoy the homemade refreshments on sale.

A popular part of the weekend’s activities was the successful ‘Separatists and Mayflower Pilgrims’ exhibition. The exhibition included a description of the role of Rev Richard Clifton who was a prominent Separatist and Rector of Babworth from 1586 to 1605. On Saturday 11th, a talk by tour guide, Maggy Watkins, focused on Clifton’s connections with Bradford and Brewster. These men were prominent Mayflower Pilgrims, and the story of the Scrooby congregation’s struggle to escape arrest and leave for Holland fascinated an attentive and appreciative audience.

There were also many architectural wonders to see, including stained glass windows by Kempe, Eginton, and Wailes. Furniture by “Mousey” Thompson proved an exceptional attraction, with many visitors of all ages enjoying the challenge of ‘counting the mice’.

Bassetlaw Christian Heritage will be returning to All Saints’ Babworth during Open Churches Weekend on 8th and 9th July 2017 with another chance to see the exhibition and a further talk with another perspective on the Mayflower Pilgrims story. The church is also open with refreshments on Saturday afternoons from May through to September.