We know that small dissenting groups already existed in the Newark area but the first mention we get of Quakers in the Trentside area is in 1658 when William Smith, an independent pastor from Besthorpe joined with Friends. Smith was to become one of the leading Friends in the Trenside meetings. He was also one of the most important Quaker authors of this early period. He is described as the son of a yeoman, a man of good estate and education, and had served in the office of chief constable. He was almost immediately imprisoned in 1658 for nine weeks for non-payment of tithes and in the following year a further twenty-one weeks.
William Dewsbury who had been with Fox in 1652 in Cumbria visited Newark in 1659.
‘On the 7th of November this year, William Dewsbury, preaching at a Meeting at Newark upon Trent, was insulted and much abused by the people: However the Meeting was held, through much Disturbance, and at the close of it, another Meeting was appointed at the same place on the 11th of the same month, being the Fifth-day of the week, at which, while the testimony of Truth was declaring, a ride multitude broke in, thrusting down both men and women, buffeting, punching and stoning them, so that some were knocked down, others had their teeth beaten out, and their faces bruised: Women had their head-clothes pulled off: After this manner they continued to abuse about an hundred persons who were religiously assembled, and who bore all patiently as Christian sufferers. These things were acted on the day they called their Sabbath, by a people who deemed it a profanation of that day to travel five miles to a Meeting, and whose consciences could admit them to exercise such barbarity on the day in which they would have thought it a crime to have been employed in any honest labour.’
This occasioned the publishing of a pamphlet bearing the title ‘Cains offspring demonstrated, as by their works they are discovered in a bitter persecution against the Lord’s people at Newark on Trent’
The reaction of the authorities in formerly Royalist Newark was extreme but early Friends were able to establish themselves in the villages especially to the north of the town. Most villages in our area would have had some Quaker families. Quakerism in C17 Nottinghamshire was very much a rural phenomenon.
Meanwhile in January 1660 William Smith was arrested with forty-six others while preaching at Worcester and committed to prison for refusing to take oaths.
There were many reasons why there was there such opposition from the authorities to the growing Quaker movement. They rejected the established church, saw no need for priests and refused to pay tithes. They would not attend services, or use the established church for baptism, marriages, or funerals, all denying the churches authority and threatening its income. They saw all as equal and would not use titles or remove their hats to supposed important persons. The wandering Quaker preachers drew large and enthusiastic crowds. In these uncertain times the sudden outbreak of religious enthusiasm for Quakerism was seen as a threat to the established authorities.
The persecution of Friends increased after the Restoration of Charles the second, and a series of Acts was passed to suppress their activities resulting in large numbers being imprisoned.
1662 saw the passing of the Act of Uniformity. It was now an offence not to attend the established church. Two further acts of Parliament made it particularly difficult for Friends. The first was the Quaker Act of 1662, which made it illegal not to take the Oath of Allegiance and to hold any religious meetings other than those of the established church. The second act was the Conventicle Act of 1664, which reaffirmed that holding unauthorized religious meetings was a crime. In 1664 the Five Mile Act prevented dissenting preachers from travelling within five miles of a town.
Despite these laws, the Friends continued to meet openly. They believed that by doing so, they were testifying to the strength of their convictions and were willing to be punished for doing what they believed was right.
Roger Storrs and William Thorp both Quakers from Girton were both imprisoned in 1662 for refusing to pay tithes. Henry Warren ‘for not going to the steeplehouse was fined 22 shillings and had a mare taken from him’. The same year William Smith of Besthorpe was again committed to prison for non-payment of tithes. The whole chicanery of the law was put in place to ruin Smith. When he appeared in London in court his persecutor let the suit drop but seized his corn: and entered another suit in an Ecclesiastical court, under which William Smith was imprisoned for three years 1662-1665.
1663 saw Robert Shaw of Grassthorpe imprisoned for his refusal to pay Tithes.
Towards the end of 1666 Fox was in Nottinghamshire again and had he tells us ‘glorious, peaceable and precious meetings’. He continues in this journal;
‘At that time William Smith was very weak and sick and the constable and others had seized all his goods, to the very bed he lay upon. The officers threatened to break up our meeting, but the Lords power chained them, so they had not the power to meddle with us, blessed be his name. After the meeting I went to visit William Smith and there were constables and others watching his corn and beasts, that none might be removed.’
In 1666 Fox encouraged Friends to organise themselves into Monthly and Quarterly meetings. The strongest of the four monthly meetings in terms of numbers established in Nottinghamshire at this time was Trentside monthly meeting. There were particular meetings or groups of Friends at Maplebeck, Grassthorpe, Willoughby, Sutton-on-Trent, Kersall, North Collingham, Besthorpe , Swinderby, Girton and Carlton-on-Trent. The river Trent was not the barrier it is today, and Friends would use the ferries and fords to get to meetings.
In 1669 in accordance with an order issued by the King and his Privy council the clergy of each county were required to make enquiry after conventicles or unlawful meetings under pretence of religion and worship of God. John Hewes, rector of Normanton-on-Trent in his response mentions the Quaker meeting at Grassthorpe……
‘One (assembly) every Lord’s Day. They are sometimes in number 150 persons or thereabout; and for the condicion of them, I take to bee of the lowest and meanest of people, such as Jeroboam made priests of. Hitherto they have been kept indemnified by the indulgence and connivance of the civil magistrate, whose forbearance to punish is the spawn from which are bred these Egyptian frogs that are crept into every corner of the nation……The place of there meeting in my parish is Gresthorpe Hall, to which Robert Shaw is tenant, and the sole entertainer of this factious and seditious crew. Their constant speaker is William Smith of Besthorpe, who though a prisoner, is yet permitted by Robert White, the gaoler, to goes where he pleaseth to sow the seeds of schisme, faction, and sedition in most parts of the countie.’
A similar survey at Kneesall states that ‘at the house of Richard Humfrey between 20 and 40 Quakers from local villages attend worship led by William Smyth (Smith) and Thomas Hyfield of Nottingham’.
1670 saw severe persecution of Trentside Friends which are listed in their record of sufferings ...
1670 Robert Shaw of Grassthorpe fined £20 for suffering a meeting at his house, and he was a prisoner at the time many miles from his house and had goods taken to the value of £30.
1670 John Smith of Grassthorpe had goods taken worth 14s
Robert Carnell of North Collingham fined £20 for a Meeting at his house. Before the justice Robert said ‘It seems I am fined £20 for worshipping God!’
Yes you are said the Justice and he bid the officers to take a good pennyworth and Robert had goods taken to the value of £30 losing all his Sheep and wool.
John Theaker of North Collingham and Anne his wife fined 5s for being at a peaceable meeting, Mary Theaker fined 5s for the first time and 10s for the second time being at a meeting. Thomas Elsam of Girton fined 25s and had goods taken worth £1 10s. Thomas Ridge had goods taken worth £1 8s. Thomas Crane had taken the worth of £1 3s, Faith Sturgis had goods taken worth 8s
William Wilson fined 10s
Mary Watson 5s
Mary Garret 5s
William Calvert of Carlton-on-Trent had goods taken worth 17s
John Smith of Grassthorpe had goods taken worth 14s
John Trusswell and his wife of Sutton-on Trent fined 5s a piece and had goods taken to the value of £1
Hugh Heal fined 5s
Matthew Hartley 5s and had goods taken worth 10s
Joseph Watts fined £4 10s and lost goods to the value of £6
John Theaker fined a further £7 10s and had goods taken to the value of £20
As a guide to the nature of the fines, the average wage at this time would have been 10 pence a day or about £40 a year.
Over £281 was taken from Friends in Nottinghamshire in 1670.
Local Quakers did not only have the justices to fear; each community had its ‘informers’ people who would inform the authorities about illegal religious meetings being held and who would in return receive a part of any fine given. A problem was that if the meeting was wholly silent it was difficult to fine people for simply sitting in silence.
In 1670 we have an account from Grassthorpe...
George Walker the informer came into the meeting at Grassthorpe and brought with him to the door Robert Stevenson Constable, and one Tustins a town man, and he ‘bad them take notice of the first that spake in the meeting’. And when he had sat a time among them and there being not anything spoken, the informer Walker asked Joseph Walls, one of the Friends, ‘When will you give over this?’
Joseph replied ‘When wilt thou give over thy trade?’
Walker replied not while you give over yours.’
Joseph replied ‘George Walker, thine will not bring thee Peace in the end.’
And for simply speaking to the Informers questions Joseph was arrested and fined £20 by Justice Pennystone Whalley.
Friend Thomas Elsam of Girton was present and minding Walker the informer to love his neighbour as himself and to do unto all men as they would do to him was fined £10 for speaking in this manner.
Their keenest oppressors were local magistrates Robert Thoroton and Penistone Whalley who dealt extremely harshly with any Quakers brought before them. As rural gentry they possibly felt threatened by the radical nature of Friends which included a ‘property threatening’ stand against tithes and their refusal to ‘doth hat even to social superiors’, and their unwillingness to recognise titles. As early as 1669 Whalley was encouraging juries to deal harshly with Quakers and was telling Quaker defendants to expect ‘justice but not mercy’. Thoroton was just as ruthless in his dealings with them declaring ‘you all deserved to be hanged for you are as ill as highway men’. The two magistrates appeared to wage a personal vendetta against dissenters with particular venom being reserved for Quakers.
In 1672 William Smith after much suffering died. A few days previous to his death the Quaker preacher John Gratton visited him and found him….
‘In sweet frame, full of love, life and peace were plenty in him, so I left him in great unity, tenderness and love…’
Many Friends we are told gave testimonies of his meekness, patience and gentleness under sufferings.
In 1673 the Quaker preacher John Gratton was in the area and we know visited Eakring. He writes…
‘I went to Alring (Eakring) and had a meeting and one John Allin came to it and was converted. He was convinced and shaken wonderfully, but though he rejoiced trembled, yet he rejoiced and cried out ‘He is come! He is come!’’
The persecution continued...
1675 for assembling to worship God were taken from
John Theaker of North Collingham £38
Thomas Elson, Thomas Ridge and William Raworth of Girton £23 18s
Joseph Wallis of Grassthorpe £24
Mary Snowden, Mary Theaker, Thomas Crane, Faith Sturgis, William Wilson and Mary Wilson £10 11s 4d
William Calvert of Carlton and John Truswell os Sutton-on-Trent £1 17
John Smith, High Heale, Matthew Hortley, John Abbot, James Cook and John Watson £6 13s 6d
We are also told that Edward Wood, a wheelright of Tork Lane Eakring was arreated for contempt of the Ecclesiastocal Court at York for non-payment of tithes. His fine of 37s was paid by a neighbour.
In 1676 we have a record of two meetings being prevented at Knapthorpe (Caunton) and Kersall…
1676 11th day of the 4th month.
Informers had told the Justice of a meeting for worship to be held at Knapthorpe in Caunton parish. As a result the Constable and church wardens were able to prevent Friends from entering their usual meeting house so Friends held a peaceable meeting in silence by the highwayside. All were arrested and fined…John Cam and his wife, John Hall, John Machon, Joseph Humphrey, William Hind, Roger Noble, Richard Hind and James Hind.
A week later a similar event happened when a meeting was held in silence on the common at Kersall again all were arrested and heavily fined. One of those fined again was Richard Hind of Wellow who was fined 10 shillings and 'had his bed-clothes taken off their beds leaving his children with nothing to wrap them in'.
Edward Wood of Eakring was one of those present at Kersall common and was fined 10s with a further £10 for non -payment of levies. His wheelrights timber was confiscated along with most of his household goods in order to pay the fines. In October of the same year Wood was fined a further £20, this time for holding a Quaker meeting in his own house. Confiscation of six cows and two heifers raised £19 14s 6p, but with charges added to the fines this fell short by £6 of the required amount. A neighbour William Hurt, took the wheel timber to this value to make up the full amount owing. In both cases relations of Wood’s wife were involved in the confiscations in their capacity as parish officers.
1676 was a hard year for Friends with much suffering experienced. The list of those fined and imprisoned is long but a few excerpts are here…
Stephen Swinsco and his wife of South Collingham for going to meeting fined £5 10s and he being a labouring man and not having enough to pay the fine, the Constable took goods from him worth £2 6s And the Constable was then fined £5 for not also taking a cow that the poor man had, which the persecutors had been informed of.
Another poor woman of the same town having almost all she had taken from her formerly on this account…they now stripped her of All, and she was forced to seek lodging in the town.
Robert Carnell of North Collingham for going to the same meeting was fined £10 and they took from him all his household goods, and although formerly he had plenty, yet now he is ingraged to a neighbour for a bed to lie on.
Matthew Hardy a very poor man fined 15shillings and being gone forth to get his livelihood spinning wool for 2pence a day, Officers broke the door and took most of what he had, there being very little.
Other Friends were fined for non payment of tithes
John Machon of Kneesall
John Camm of Maplebeck Solomon Johnson and Robert Noble of Kersall
Hugh Heald, John Treswell and Richard Tracy of Sutton on Trent, Jane Smith of Grassthorpe and Robert Carnell of North Collingham. Being fined over £50 beween them.
1678 John Truswell once well to do was fined £5 5s by Justice Thoroton for attending a Quaker meeting…….he we are told had suffered so much previously that his house was now almost completely stripped, and his family had to lodge in the town for want of bedding.
We know that at this time there was a small group of Quakers in Balderton: Thomas Garret (weaver) and his wife Mary, Robert Pennell (sheephand and labourer) and his wife Hannah, and a bodice maker and his wife Thomas Harvey and Alice. Both the Harveys and Garrets underwent Quaker marriages. The Harveys was married at Maplebeck and the Garret’s at Besthorpe both in 1672. They are recorded as refusing to go to the parish church and being threatened with excommunication. In 1686 Thomas Pagget of Balderton was prosecuted foe an illegal assembly in his house. The records of Nottinghamshire Quaker emigrants to America show that in 1684 both Thomas and Elline Garratt and Robert and Hannah Pennell emigrated to America settling in West Jersey. They were accompanied by John Abbot of Kneesall.
Record of marriage between Thomas Harvey of Balderton and Alice Lamb of 1688
Local Friends cared for those who had suffered loss of property and other persecutions. In 1683 the Trentside Monthly meeting paid 15s for an Eakring Quaker ‘to go to ye bone setter for his knee’ and the man also received payments for rent, for coals, for bread corn and for other necessities’.
Following the accession of William and Mary to the throne in 1688 the ‘Act of Toleration’ was passed, and all non- Catholic dissenters were now free to worship.
In 1689 the houses of Isobel Heald of Carlton-on-Trent, John Cole of Besthorpe, Joseph Smith of North Collingham, George Cam of Willoughby, Richard Alcock of Weston, Robert Clarke of Collingham, Matthew Shepparson of South Collingham, Edward Wood of Eakring, Jane Smith of Grassthorpe, Solomon Johnson of Kersall, John Machin of Kneesall, John Caunt of Maplebeck, Sanuel Spraggon of Newark, and John Thorpe of North Clifton were registered as places of worship.
There were almost certainly others.
In 1725 a plot of land was purchased by Isobel Heald at Carlton-on-Trent for use as a burial ground and a Meeting House was built on it in 1727. Meeting Houses were also built at Kersall and Besthorpe.
The Toleration Act of 1689 also allowed Quakers to affirm instead of taking the Oath (this is still the case). We have a list of local Friends who did this between 1669 and 1700;
After 1688 Friends could meet freely, but they could still be fined for refusing to pay tithes A good example is the case of William Marshall of Sutton-on-Trent who in 1728 was fined £4 14shillings, £4 10s in 1729 , and was again fined in 1730, 1731, 1735, 1737 and 1738.
After the sudden expansion and growth of Quakerism throughout Britain, Quakers started to enter what is later called the ‘Quietist period’ where having obtained freedom to worship in the way they wanted they became more inward looking, being concerned about upholding within their own meetings the ways and principles which they believed true.
As a result, the growth of the Society stopped. Believing they were the only true church meant that anyone who married out of the Society was expelled from membership. Many of the older Friends who had born so much suffering found it difficult to relate to the rapid changes taking place in society and expressed their concern. In 1717 Jane Truswell (formerly of Sutton-on-Trent) wrote an epistle in which she urges Friends to remain true to their beliefs.
Sadly, though the numbers continued to decline. Probably for many reasons. The earlier constant persecution had taken its toll and left many ruined. Some we know left Nottinghamshire and emigrated to America, where there are many Nottinghamshire names among the Quaker settlers (it is estimated that 30% of Nottinghamshire Friends were lost to emigration in the 1680s). Many settled on the banks of the Delaware river around Trenton. Many of those who left were those with considerable commitment and zeal and their loss severely weakened the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings they left behind. Another factor was the refusal to allow Friends to marry non-Friends and the strict lifestyle led many to leave and deterred others from joining.
We have a minute that in 1734 says
‘As for the prospering of the Truth we cannot see any increase but rather a decrease in some of our young departing from the good order of friends upon Act of Marriage although tenderly exhorted to the contrary though it is confirmed to many of us by daily experience that the testimony of Friends whose help to the life and conversation is as comfortable as ever.
We hope Friends will have children.’
It is noticeable that the average collection at Carlton-on-Trent was falling, presumably as a result of falling numbers.
By 1750 the numbers of Friends in the Trentside area had fallen and a decision was made to incorporate Trentside into Mansfield monthly meeting. The Meeting Houses at Besthorpe, Kneesall and Carlton were all eventually sold, and the money put towards rebuilding the Meeting House at Mansfield.
The meeting house at Carlton was at first rented out as a house in 1752. It is interesting to note the occupations of the Trustees…
Trustees of Carlton meeting were: Richard Alcock of Weston…weaver, Sam Doncaster of Maplebeck farmer, John Camm of Kersall…farmer, John Marshall of Sutton-on-Trent…shepherd, John Swanick of Hallam…weaver
This would support the view in Stuart Jennings study of Nottinghamshire Quaker migration to America where he states: ‘that many local Friends were drawn from the ranks of ‘the lower middling sort’ with a small number of ‘the poorer sort’. Members of the gentry and nobility are noticeably absent.’ (see Gon Forth of Ye Land ).
The building at Carlton was later sold in 1801 to the Welby estate for £80.
We do know though that some Quaker families continued to live in the Newark area. The members of the Jalland family are recorded as living in Newark area in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They would travel to Brant Broughton to worship. The burial ground at Besthorpe was last used in 1750 and at Kersall in 1785 .
In the summer of 1654 George Fox was released from Carlisle gaol, and made a tour of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on his way home to Leicestershire. It is believed that he stopped locally and possibly held an outdoor meeting held between Barnby and Beckingham in Lincolnshire. The villages are only a mile apart across the river Witham which separates the two counties. The size of the Quaker congregations is impressive considering that the two villages would not have had more than a few hundred people between them.
It is recorded that the first Quaker meeting in Beckingham was attended by James and Mary Wadeson, Robert and Mary Parker and Richard and Mary Pidd, all of Beckingham, William and katherine Massey of Sutton, and John and Ann Pidd, Henry Carlton, George Lucas and John Trueblood of Barnby in the Willows. Sixty adults are listed as having converted to Quakerism in the two villages at this period.
We know that Elizabeth Hooton was in Beckingham in 1654 where she interrupted the church service and as a result was imprisoned for five months. She was imprisoned again in 1655 for the same offence this time for twelve weeks. We are also told that John Pidd was imprisoned for six months in 1655 for refusal to pay tithes. Arnold Trueblood refused to pay tithes and was imprisoned in Lincoln Castle gaol where he died. In 1660 Robert Parker had goods seized worth £10 4s 3d for not paying tithes and John Wadeson had goods seized worth £21 again for not paying tithes. In 1667 William Massey was fined £2 3s for refusing to swear an oath in court.
When the monthly meetings were established in 1666 the Quakers at Barnby in the Willows and Beckingham became part of the monthly meeting based at Brant Broughton in Lincolnshire.
In 1669 William Cliffe and his wife Katherine (formerly Katherine Pidd), who had become Quakers while living in Beckingham, had moved to Anderby, where we are told the local priest came to William while he was ‘lading his corn’ and demanded tithes. When William refused to pay the priest ordered his servants to ‘strike’ William and his wife. When the servants did not respond the priest struck Katherine with a fork, when her husband demanded he stop and not abuse his wife who was with child, the priest we are told then took up another fork and punched her violently on the body. Soon afterwards she ‘miscarried of twins, and was in great danger of life’. A few days later the priest had William put in prison.
In 1670 Friends were were fined heavily for having a meeting in the house of Richard Pidd. Pidd was fined £20 in household goods and barley, Richard Burditt and his wife were fined 10s, a pewter flagon and five pewter dishes, William Burditt and his wife 10s, plus a a coverlet and three pewter dishes, Mary Parker lost five pewter dishes, John Green and his wife lost goods to the value of 22s, George Lucas lost two coats, John Trueblood and his sister one brass pot, a brass pan and some pewter, John Pidd a brass pot, Henry Carlton pewter worth 7s, Mary Sharpe a blanket and Hugh Ridmill, a poor man , one coat.
It appears that the poor of Beckingham refused to benefit from the fines of the Quakers, returning charity money and goods to those whom they had been taken. Again in 1677-8 a number of Friends were fined bullocks and sheep, but because no one could be found willing to buy them they were returned to their owners.
Births, Deaths and marriages from the two villages are recorded in the Lincolnshire records. The house of John Pidd at Barnby being used for marriages until the opening of the meeting House at Beckingham.
It is interesting that the there was obviously some interaction between the Barnby/ Beckingham Friends and the Trentside Friends at this time as there are marriages between members of the two groups.
In 1682 Richard Burditt of Beckingham died and left his house and yard and outhouses to be used as a Meeting House and burial ground. The meeting house was at the end of Rectory Street.
There is also recorded evidence of the existence of an earlier Quaker burial ground at Barnby. Thomas Hardy was tasked with sorting out legal paperwork in connection to the Quaker burial ground at Barnby in 1682. It is believed that the burial ground was in the field to the south west of Barnby Hall.
In 1682, William Penn had purchased land in America, in what is now East Jersey. The following year, in 1683 Gertrude Holland from Beckingham Meeting bravely went out there alone. She was followed to East Jersey in 1684 by several Friends from Beckingham who we are told took their families with them.
By the end of the eighteenth century the numbers at Beckingham had fallen and the remaining Friends still living in Beckingham would walk along the footpaths (which was locally known as Quaker Way) to worship at Brant Broughton. The meeting House at Beckingham was later sold in 1850 to Joseph Johnson.
Updated 5 August 2021
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