Nostalgia: Bible translator William Tyndale’s friend Thomas Poyntz, of North Ockenden

PUBLISHED: 14:58 13 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:07 13 June 2013

The Poyntz Chapel at the Church of St Mary Magdelene (picture: Essex Hundred Books)

The Poyntz Chapel at the Church of St Mary Magdelene (picture: Essex Hundred Books)


In Henry VIII’s England, the public’s knowledge of the Bible – unless they could read Latin – was based on whatever the clergy told them.

William Tyndale, an English scholar and religious reformer, thought people should be able to read the Bible themselves and decided to translate it into English.

However, existing church leaders such as Cardinal Wolsey, and later Thomas More, supported by the King, opposed this and vigorously enforced the law that the bible should only be available in Latin.

Despite this, Tyndale began translating the New Testament, but with his life in danger he fled England for Germany where he continued his work. By 1526 copies of the new “English” Bible were being read in England although any found by the authorities were publicly burnt.

Unfortunately William Tyndale was now being hunted by both English and Papal authorities. In 1534 Tyndale moved to Antwerp, where he could continue his work translating and publishing the complete English Bible in relative safety.

The house in Antwerp where William Tyndale took shelter was owned by Thomas Poyntz, a merchant from North Ockendon. At this time, there was considerable trade between England and Antwerp. Bibles printed on the continent in English could be smuggled relatively easily, hidden in bales of cloth or barrels. It was a highly risky business as the east coast ports of England were watched continuously.

Anyone caught with English Bibles could be charged with heresy which carried the death penalty, so Poyntz had to be very careful.

Shipments were made in the dead of night and often landed in and around Purfleet or Dagenham. The contraband then had to be dispersed overland which too was also extremely dangerous.

William Tyndale was eventually ensnared in Antwerp and after a show trial was burnt at the stake at Vilvoorde just north of Brussels in present day Belgium.

Thomas Poyntz had strenuously tried to get Tyndale released. He attempted to make a deal with the guards at Vilvoorde Castle and petitioned Henry VIII, but it was all in vain.

As a result of his efforts Thomas Poyntz was branded as a heretic and, although placed under house arrest in Antwerp, he managed to escape back to North Ockenden.

However, his life and business were in ruins. As a known heretic he was under surveillance by Henry’s spies. This, despite the fact that John Poyntz, his elder brother, was a member of the household of Queen Catherine of Aragon, and had been at “The Field of the Cloth of Gold” with Henry VIII.

Thomas Poyntz felt vindicated when, two years after the death of Tyndale, Henry VIII decreed that Miles Coverdale’s English Bible, based largely on Tyndale’s translation, must be used in every parish church.

But the damage was done and Poyntz’s fortunes did not improve. In 1547 his brother John died but his will left all his estate to his wife Anne. Only on her death would it pass to Thomas and his sons. The only immediate benefit Thomas gained was a length of black cloth for a gown and hood!

It was not until Anne’s death in 1558 that Thomas succeeded to the Manor of North Ockendon. By that time he was so poor that he could not afford to live there. He died in 1562 and is buried in St Dunstan’s in the West, in Fleet Street, London.

North Ockendon’s Church of St Mary Magdelene lies next to the site of the old Manor House. In its “Poyntz Chapel”, dedicated in the will of John Poyntz to “Our Lady”, the family are remembered.

Thomas’s son, Sir Gabriel Poyntz, twice Lord Lieutenant of Essex under Elizabeth I, restored the family fortunes. He commissioned the tomb effigies of himself and his wife and also a series of wall tablets commemorating his ancestors, including Thomas, which survive today.

The church also boasts “The Poyntz Singers” who are the present day church choir.

Extracted from London’s Metropolitan Essex – Tyndale’s Friend of North Ockenden

by Andrew Summers and John Debenham

(c) Essex Hundred Publications

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