Who was John Bunyan in Braintree?

Many a youngster in Braintree will know the name of John Bunyan as John Bunyan Primary School and Nursery is a popular option for local children. So who was Bunyan to lend his name to local landmarks?


John Bunyan was born in 1628 in the village of Elstow in Bedfordshire. His father was a travelling tinker who went from place to place plying his trade of mending pots and pans, and Bunyan was taught to follow in his father’s footsteps, learning his skills along with rudimentary schooling.


In 1644 Bunyan joined a summons to enlist in Parliament’s New Model Army which was formed in the first part of the English Civil War. His experiences in the war shaped him greatly, particularly an incident when he was due to go into battle and another soldier took his place only to be killed in combat.


After the war Bunyan married and started a family. He returned to his home town of Elstow and picked up where he had left off, working again as a tinker and moving into a cottage with his wife and children. Although he enjoyed a seemingly carefree life, Bunyan was soon overcome with doubts about his spiritual state and consumed with fear that he would die and his immortal soul would be carried away to Hell for an infinity of damnation. While travelling for his work, he came through Bedford one day and was impressed with the spiritual conversation he overheard and he also became friends with a local minister John Gifford. Bunyan joined Gifford’s church and soon began preaching himself, full of zeal and passion for his newfound salvation.


During this time England was going through huge political change; the government set up in the wake of the English Civil War was crumbling and soon Charles II, son of the beheaded king, was asked to return to the throne and restore the monarchy. With Charles becoming king, the religious freedom enjoyed by Bunyan’s church was stopped, and anyone not aligned with the Church of England was in danger of arrest.


Bunyan was not discouraged, but his enthusiasm soon landed him in jail for refusing to cease preaching his fiery sermons. With plenty of time on his hands, Bunyan devoted himself to writing and soon became a prolific author of religious works, even after he was released. Bunyan’s most famous book was published after he had served a second prison sentence; this book was The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical account of the journey a Christian makes through life. It was an instant hit and its popularity, along with more relaxed laws, meant that Bunyan was often called to preach in London as well as in Bedford. He travelled all over the country, and on occasions he is known to have visited Braintree, staying in a house on Rayne Road.


John Bunyan was on one of these pastoral missions when in August 1688 he rode through heavy rain, became ill, and died at the age of 59.

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