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Benjamin Dutton

Benjamin Dutton became a Minister of the Gospel and Pastor of a Church of Christ at Great Gransden [Huntingdonshire]. He was born in Steppingley on 16 February 1692 and his memoirs were published in 1743 under the title: The Superaboundings of the Exceeding Riches of God’s Free-Grace towards the Chief of the Chief of Sinners. A copy is in the searchroom library [CRT130Steppingley1].

Most of the memoir is about Dutton’s journey in faith but some anecdotes of his childhood in Steppingley are related which give a flavour of the village at the time. Dutton’s father was from Cheshire but his mother was from Steppingley and Dutton describes them both as “Gracious”. His father was also a Minister and preached to a dissenting congregation in Eversholt for more than forty years. He is mentioned contemptuously by Rev William Hide of Eversholt in a questionnaire prepared for an episcopal visitation in 1709: “one Dutton a shoemaker teaches”. Hide was even more contemptuous in 1720: “The Number of Families are about Fifty. About ten are dissenters, But of What sort they hardly know themselves, and we can onely guess, but by their Deluders who are Carpenters, Coblers, Smiths, Tanners or any sort of Booby than can Rattle Nonsensically for two or three hours … One Licens’d Meeting House furnished with very Common Ignorant and Scoundrel People. They Assemble as often as the Toy takes them in the Head".

Dutton’s mother Elizabeth had a brother, John Brown, who “taught school”. A school in the parish taught by Robert Jones is mentioned in the questionnaire before ecclesiastical visitation in 1709. Though brought up strictly Dutton recalled “I grew weary of this very strict Life, left off Prayer in a great Measure, and hanker’d after Play, and rude Boys’ Company … and at Holiday-Times go to see the Ringers, hear the Fidlers, and see the Dancing, and such like”.

The church from the west December 2016
The church from the west December 2016

He further recalled: “Once upon a Sabbath-Day, after we were come from the Meeting, I went into the Orchard, on the other Side of the Wall of which was a Play-stall, as it was call’d, adjoining the Church Yard. That Piece of Ground, as I have been informed, was given for that Purpose, by a Maiden, whose Sister and she was playing in the Church Yard, over the Graves, and her Sister fell over one of them, and brake her Neck. In this Play-stall, the Boys had got an Owl, which they had been Hunting. And I was looking thro’ a small Window, made in the Wall, in order to look into that Ground: And my Father coming behind me, I think, struck me”.

His elder brother: “who had been at School many Years, came Home to my father’s, and set up a Grammar-School, and had several Boarders. And I was taught Writing, Arithmetick and somewhat of Grammar by him”. He went on “There was a young gentleman came to our School, and boarded with us, whose father was a Clothier. And he often mentioning his Father’s Trade, and commending it, I had an Inclination to be an Apprentice to that Business. This my Father concluded on, and several Places were sought after for me; but none suited. Afterwards my father enquir’d of a Gentleman at Ampthill, two Miles from us, who had a Son put Apprentice to a Clothier and Draper ay Newbury in Berkshire, about fifty Miles from us; And this Place the Lord order’d for me”.