Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tilsley, John

TILSLEY, JOHN (1614–1684), puritan divine, born in Lancashire, probably near Bolton, in 1614, was educated at Edinburgh University, where he graduated M.A. on 22 July 1637. He became curate to Alexander Horrocks, vicar of Deane, Lancashire, and signed the national protestation there on 23 Feb. 1641–2. He was with Sir John Seaton's forces when they took Preston on 9 Feb. 1642–3, and wrote an account of the affair (Ormerod, Civil War Tracts, 1844, p. 71). The benefice of Deane was given to him by a draft order of the House of Lords on 10 Aug. 1643, his predecessor Horrocks being retained at Deane as assistant minister until 1648. Tilsley was appointed by parliament on 13 Dec. 1644 as one of the ordaining ministers in Lancashire. He took the covenant, and became one of the leading and most rigid presbyterians in the county. In 1646 he joined with Heyrick, Hollinworth, and others in petitioning parliament to set up an ecclesiastical government in Lancashire, according to the advice of the assembly of divines, and in the same year wrote a vindication of the petition and its promoters, in answer to a pamphlet in the independent interest, entitled ‘A New Birth of the City Remonstrance.’ Parliament answered the petition by establishing presbyterianism in Lancashire by an ordinance dated 2 Oct. 1646, and Tilsley became a principal member of the Bolton or second classis. He signed the intolerant ‘harmonious consent’ of the ministers of Lancashire in 1648, and the answer to ‘the Paper called the Agreement of the People’ in 1649. He was ejected from his benefice in 1650 for declining to take ‘the engagement,’ but soon regained possession. Humphrey Chetham [q. v.], who died in 1653, made Tilsley one of the feoffees of his hospital and library, and one of the purchasers of books for the five church libraries that he founded. Details of the zealous way in which he fulfilled his trusteeship, and of the narrow spirit in which he made the selection of books, are given in Christie's ‘Old Church and School Libraries of Lancashire’ (Chetham Society, 1885). He seemed inclined in 1655 to accept an invitation to Newcastle, but pressure was brought upon him to stay at Deane church, where he remained until his ejection by the Act of Uniformity in 1662. He continued to live in the house adjoining the church, and was allowed to preach occasionally in neighbouring churches, and even to hold some office at Deane church. He was finally silenced for nonconformity in 1678, and spent the rest of his days in private life at Manchester. The diaries of Henry Newcome, Adam Martindale, and Oliver Heywood show him to have been on intimate terms with those divines. According to Calamy ‘he had prodigious parts, a retentive memory which made whatsoever he read his own, a solid judgment, a quick invention, and a ready utterance.’ Newcome complained of his querulousness and irregular temper. Tilsley died at Manchester on 12 Dec. 1684, and was buried at Deane four days later.

Tilsley married, on 4 Jan. 1642–3, at Manchester, Margaret, daughter of Ralph Chetham, and niece of Humphrey Chetham. She died on 28 April 1663. Three daughters survived him.

[The memoir of Tilsley by John E. Bailey, reprinted from Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Notes, 1884, contains all the necessary references to authorities; see also Shaw's Minutes of the Manchester and Bury Presbyterian Classes (Chetham Soc. 1890–6).]

C. W. S.