John Bunyan was born in 1628 in Elstow, near Bedford. The family had lived in the area for generations. His grandfather was a peddler and his father a tinker, repairing and making pans and kettles, a trade that Bunyan himself followed.
One Sunday, after hearing a sermon on the evil of breaking the Sabbath, Bunyan was playing a game of tip-cat on the Elstow village green when he heard a voice within asking, “Wilt though leave thy sins, and go to heaven? Or have thy sins, and go to hell?” From that moment on, Bunyan’s life was changed. He experienced conversion and joined the newly formed Bedford Meeting in 1653, worshipping in St John’s Church. See Bunyan's beliefs. In 1672, after Bunyan’s release from prison, the congregation bought a barn in an orchard in Mill Street, where the Church remains to this day, eventually taking on the name of Bunyan Meeting. It was also in 1672 that Bunyan began his work as a minister of this Church.
Bunyan, as a Puritan, believed in the right to draw faith directly from reading the Bible without the mediation of the Church. As such he would not conform to the Book of Common Prayer or attend Church of England services. Religion and politics were closely linked in the 17th century. Failure to conform to the Church of England, the national church, was considered a political act, and those who dissented were suspected of plotting to overthrow the monarchy. As a result, Bunyan spent two periods of time in prison, the first of 12 years and the second of a few months.
We are grateful for this time in prison in Bedford, because it gave Bunyan time to write many books, including his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, which was published in 1666. In prison, Bunyan probably began to write his most celebrated work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. This great Christian allegory, a first step in the development of the English novel, was published in 1678, became an immediate success, and has since sold millions of copies around the world, both in the original version and in its many translations. The second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress, published in 1684, tells the story of Christian's wife Christiana’s journey. Bunyan wrote some 60 books and pamphlets in all. For more information about John Bunyan see detailed history.