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Philip Henry: Scholar, Preacher and Diarist

Philip Henry (1631-1696) was a scholar and preacher who led Whitchurch’s first non-conformist congregation and was imprisoned for his beliefs.

Originally from London, Philip Henry came to the Whitchurch area in 1653.

He was vicar of nearby Worthenbury until 1662 when he was ejected – one of the 2,000 victims of Charles II’s Act of Uniformity. Philip Henry continued to preach as a dissenting minister but was forced underground in 1665 by the Five Mile Act and was not able to resume a regular ministry for seven years.

In 1672 his home at Broad Oak, just outside the town, was licensed as a meeting place and he led a non-conformist congregation there. The majority of the worshippers were from the town of Whitchurch. In 1681 he was fined for holding conventicles and imprisoned briefly.

After the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689, which recognised the rights of those who dissented from the Church of England to worship freely, Broad Oak Chapel was registered as a place of worship. In 1707 the congregation from Broad Oak had a chapel built in Dodington, Whitchurch.

In St Alkmund’s, the parish church of Whitchurch, a marble tablet commemorates the life of Philip Henry describing him as “an elegant scholar, a profound divine and an exquisite expositor of the word of God”. Philip Henry’s diaries, which covered 22 years, are still in existence and these, together with letters between him and his son (bible commentator Matthew Henry) provide a contemporary record of the religious persecutions during the second half of the 17th century.