Up and doing

Susan Brigden

  • Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the 17th Century by David Underdown
    HarperCollins, 308 pp, £17.99, May 1992, ISBN 0 00 215865 5

This book charts a kind of revolution: the building of a new Jerusalem, ‘a city on a hill’, in Dorchester, Dorset, in the early 17th century. The story of a little country town, inhabited, like others, by ordinary sinners and recidivists, which, for a time, aspired to godliness is a remarkable one, and is here well and enjoyably told. Professor Underdown seeks to explain ‘who the reformers were, whom they were reforming, how and why they did it, and why in the end they failed’. Crucial to the transformation of Dorchester into ‘the most puritan town in England’ was the fire of 1613 which might have destroyed it, as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and the arrival in 1605 of a man with a mission: John White, known to posterity as the ‘patriarch of Dorchester’.

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