Congratulations to local farmer Edward Walley who has created, funded and restored a superb red sandstone cross at the site of Cotton Gate on Plough Lane, adjacent to his family farm at Cotton Abbotts. This welcome addition to local history tells travellers the story of John Bruen, The Squire of Stapleford, a devout Puritan, who destroyed the crosses of many local churches and villages in the area. The new cross at Cotton joins the ones at Littleton (Viccars Crosse) and Waverton to commemorate the Millennium.

The story of John Bruen was researched by members of the local History Group in 1978.

“In the early part of the century the parish suffered at the hands of John Bruen, the Squire of Stapeleford. He was a pillar of strength to the cause of Puritanism, giving food and clothes to the poor, but at the same time he was a fiery man who stirred up trouble for the Church, the State, and for the people in this part of Cheshire. In the Star Chamber proceedings for the year 1613-14 there was a complaint by John Savage’ about the destruction of four ancient crosses of squared stone eight feet high, one in Delamere Forest, another in Tarvin, another at Christleton, and Ecclestone Cross. All of them beyond the memory of man, boundaries of townships and estates, and were also good direction points for travellers, and places appointed for the payment of certain rents, and for other lawful meetings. There were three other crosses destroyed in the same way in the churchyards of Barrow, Ecclestone and Christleton. The crosses were pulled down with the force of arms, and in riotous manner during the night.’

Among the accused, eleven were named, and these included John Bruen, Ralph Darlington and Thomas Partington of Cotton. They pleaded that the destruction was done as a protest against the idolatrous worship of the crosses, and that it was not against the law to destroy objects of superstitious use. This excuse was accepted and the men returned to Cheshire. It was Bruen himself, together with John Eaton & Hugh Jones who broke down “Viccars Crosse” and Christleton Churchyard Cross on Ascension Eve 1613.

As a young man of seventeen, John and his brother Thomas were sent as gentlemen – commoners to St Alban Hall, Oxford, where they stayed for two years. He left the University in 1579, and in the following year married, the daughter of a Mayor of Chester. He was married three times in all and had seventeen children. One of his wives was Anne, the sister of Sir John Done of Utkinton, and with Ralph Done, he became a keen hunter with fox hounds, and with hawks. However his circumstances changed in 1587, when on the death of his father, he inherited the estate and his income severely reduced. He got rid of his dogs, killed the game, and changed the nature of the parkland around his estate. He removed four knaves from his packs of cards to make them unusable, and destroyed his backgammon set, its dice and its thirty men” into a burning oven which was then heating to bake pies”. In his house he set up desks in the hall and parlour for “two goodly faire bibles of the best edition”, for his family and servants to read each day. It is said that his children were brought up strictly, and his choice of servants always fell upon the sober and pious. He rose early each morning and read prayers twice a day. An iconoclast, he removed the stained glass in Tarvin Church, and defaced the sculptured images. Yet on Sundays he walked from his house, a mile distant to the church followed by most of his servants, and even called on his tenants on the way, so that when he reached church, it was at the head of a large procession. It is also said that they would sing psalms as they went, especially the psalm “How pleasant is thy dwelling place” because he loved Bruen Stapleford above all places on earth. He rarely went home after morning prayers but stayed until after evensong.

John Bruen (1560-1625) is buried at Tarvin Church

References:

An account by William Hinde, fellow of Queens College, Oxford, c.1600

John Bruen. Hargrave & Huxley Historical Society

Christleton The History of a Cheshire Village 1979. Christleton L H Group

  •  Cross at the site of Cotton Gate on Plough Lane

    Cross at the site of Cotton Gate on Plough Lane

  •  The junction of Corron Abbots

    The junction of Corron Abbots

  •  John Bruen

    John Bruen

  •  Servants and other Puritans set out to destroy every old cross around Chester

    Servants and other Puritans set out to destroy every old cross around Chester

  •  The magistrates failed to take action

    The magistrates failed to take action

  •  They had heard of strangers praying at the ancient crosses

    They had heard of strangers praying at the ancient crosses

  •  Idolatry is sin

    Idolatry is sin

  •  John Bruen is buried in Tarvin church

    John Bruen is buried in Tarvin church

  •  Crosses built to celebrate the millennium

    Crosses built to celebrate the millennium

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© 2018 Richard Nicholson

Christleton History File June 2018

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