William ‘Basher’ Dowsing (1596 – 1668) was born in Laxfield, Suffolk, was a puritan and made his name during the English Civil War (1642-49), a war that split the country between Parliament and Royalty.
In December 1643 he was appointed as the “Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition” in the Eastern Association (Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire). We was to carry out a Parliamentary Ordinance of 28 August 1643 which stated that “all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry should be removed and abolished”.
In late 1643 and 1644, during the Civil War in England, he visited some 250 parish churches, breaking up pictures, crosses, crucifixes, stained glass, monumental brasses, images of the Virgin Mary and altar rails.
Little is known about him, apart from the finely detailed diary of what he saw, and what he destroyed. Below is his diary entry for when he came to St Peter & St Paul church in the village of Clare on 6th Jan 1644:
“At Clare, Jan. 6. We brake down a 1000 pictures superstitious; and brake down 200, 3 of God the Father, and 3 of Christ, and the Holy Lamb, and 3 of the Holy Ghost like a dove with wings; and the 12 Apostles were carved in wood, on the top of the roof, which we gave order have taken down; and 20 cherubims to be taken down. And the sun and moon in the east window, by the King’s Arms, to be taken down”.
Musket ball holes in the church roof suggest one inaccurate method to destroy things high up; the rest being done with arrows, stones, poles and whitewash.
Although the stained glass of the Sun and Moon wasn’t taken down, it survived.