Broadmead Baptist Church, Bristol UK
                                                           "The Church Above the Shops"

Dorothy Hazzard

Dorothy Hazzard was a religious reformer who came to prominence during the 17th century. Virtually all the events of this time were in some way affected by the political situation of Civil War and Bristol was an important city, being held by the Parliamentarians. Dorothy Hazzard herself was personally involved in the defence of the city during the Royalist siege, through her leadership of a group of women who tried to seal the Frome Gate. She first appears as the wife of a Mr. Kelly, who attended worship at St. Philip's. She was widowed in about 1631 and later married the Revd. Matthew Hazzard, who had arrived in Bristol around 1633.

Dorothy Hazzard kept a shop on High Street, which she opened on Christmas Day in the belief that people should not make a special show of devoutness simply because of the day. She believed that true devoutness came from within. She wanted public worship to be conducted according to the principles and practice of the New Testament church and regularly met with her friends for conference and prayer. These meetings were continued for approximately twenty years, during which time she was charged with meeting in secret for impure purposes.

The move away from the church

Probably the first major point in Dorothy Hazzard's move towards non-conformity was the day she walked out in the middle of one of her husband's sermons in which he upheld the lawfulness of images and paintings in churches. She declared never to hear his sermon and she did not.

The real turning point, however, came one Sunday morning. She was about to leave for church when she stopped to read her bible. She happened to turn to Revelation, chapter 14, verses 9 to 11 and was deeply affected by what she read. She knew that her conscience would no longer allow her to go to mass or hear a service from the Book of Common Prayer ever again and so set up another church; a “separate community.”.

These were the beginnings of Broadmead Baptist Church, the first dissenting church in Bristol, formed in 1640. There was a total of five involved and meetings were held at Dorothy Hazzard's house at the upper end of Broad Street.

The importance of Dorothy Hazzard

It is difficult to assess the impact of Dorothy Hazzard made on Bristol because she achieved so much, particularly in her historical context. She was a woman who, in the 17th century, was forced to challenge the social and political thinking of the time in order to achieve the prize she treasured so highly: religious freedom. In addition, with every step she took closer to religious separatism, she found her opinions more and more polarised from those of her husband. Indeed, one member of Matthew Hazzard's congregation apparently told him that as his wife had left his church so she would go on to abandon his bed, a prophecy which was not fulfilled as it turned out.

Dorothy Hazzard died, an active and honoured member of the congregation on the 14th of March 1675.

Laura Clark 1997