One of the joys of history that I’ve picked up, often aided by the observations of Lyme History Walk participants, is the drawing of parallels between past and contemporary events.

The English Civil War and the Commonwealth period are probably the most traumatic events in our history. Old certainties were scattered like a pack of cards. The Puritans were in many ways England’s own home grown Taliban. Tempered by persecution under Archbishop Laud, who attempted to drag the predominantly Protestant clergy closer to Rome during the reign of Charles 1 they became hardened in conviction and dissent.

Ignatious Jourdain, whose brother Sylvester sailed with Sir George Somers to Bermuda, is a typical example. After his conversion in Guernsey he left Lyme for Exeter where he became the mayor and MP for the town. He was reknown for his harsh intolerance of sin and human weakness, introducing the first Sunday Observance laws in parliament and a bill mandating the death penalty for adultery. However he was a popular public servant and a man of great charity. During the Exeter plague of 1625, refusing to leave the town, he fearlessly offered succour and financial support to the sick and bereaved. This is the kind of spirit that must have sustained Lyme during the 8 week Royalist siege of 1644.

Two successive vicars of Lyme show the same qualities of conviction, courage and austerity.

John Geare, vicar of Lyme during the period of the Siege of Lyme managed to abolish what had been a centuries old custom, called the Cobb Ale. This was a festival of revelry and feasting held annually to raise money for the upkeep of the Cobb, which, in the eyes of Geare, was lewd and sinful indulgence. (Clearly he would have had little sympathy with our Lyme Regis beer festival!) 

It’s interesting the note that by 1660 when the breakdown of central authority in church and state had lead to disillusionment and despair, the puritans themselves, now split into opposing factions, were willing to welcome back the King. Aimes Short, the then vicar, extolled the virtues of Charles 11 on the eve of his return as a “virtuous godly prince.” How he must have regretted this sermon when he himself was persecuted under the new Act of Exclusion which Charles enacted in 1662. However with the same courageous stoicism of his predecessors, although deprived of his living, he set up the first Independent Meeting of dissenters in Lyme. He remained a virtual fugitive the rest of his life, often protected by influential members of the town who could not, however, save him from an eventual spell in Dorchester jail.

Samuel Pepys in his Diary shares his delight at the reopening of London’s theatres on the return of the King, and the indulgences of the “merry monarch” were mostly sympathetically viewed by a population who had grown tired of the joyless condemnation of simple pleasure and extreme religious observation of the puritans.

Modern parallels and lessons to be drawn I leave to you.