In 1596, the Hall was purchased by William Hickman, a London merchant with strong Protestant convictions and sympathetic to the separatist position. At about the time that Richard Clifton's separatist church began meeting in William Brewster's house at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, the Hickman family allowed another group, led by John Smyth, to meet in the Old Hall. A link between the two congregations was provided by John Robinson (1576-1625), who was born either at Gainsborough or at Sturton-le-Steeple, a few miles away across the Trent. In the eastern wing of the Old Hall is an exhibition devoted to the Pilgrim Fathers and the role of the Gainsborough congregation in their story. It covers the origins of the Protestant Reformation, the history of the Hickman family, the formation of the Scrooby and Gainsborough congregations, their subsequent move to Holland and final journey to America in the Mayflower. In the early days of the Gainsborough congregation, John Robinson provided pastoral support to Smyth, but later joined Clifton as teacher of the Scrooby church. Robinson had attended Cambridge University and served for a time as lecturer in St Andrew's church in Norwich, before returning to his hometown. In about 1608, under threat from the church authorities, both groups moved to Amsterdam, but relations between them were not always harmonious. Smyth frequently changed his opinions and was involved in disputes with Robinson and Clifton. Eventually, Smyth was expelled from the English church, and many of his congregation joined the Dutch Mennonites. For this reason, the eventual roll call of those who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 included relatively few from the Gainsborough area. Smyth had died in 1612 and Clifton in 1616. Although recognised as their spiritual leader, Robinson did not sail on the historic voyage. The reason is unclear; he may have intended to join them later or he may have felt a pastoral concern for church members who had chosen to remain in England. However, Robinson's sister-in-law Catherine Carver sailed as wife of John Carver, the first Governor of the Plymouth colony.
John Wesley preached here 1759, 1761 and 1764.
It is fascinating to think, as one stands in either of these two rooms, that this was where those early Puritans met to worship God, at a time of persecution byKing James I. The rooms are much as they would have been.
It is well worth a visit.