Quakers in Cumbria

Quakers in Cumbria

Cumbria is the birthplace of Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends.
Pardshaw and Pardshaw Hall, near Cockermouth, were strongholds of Quakerism from its early days. While the churches in most parishes, including Dean, had to meet the challenge of Methodism and Baptists, the Rector of Dean had even earlier to contend with what was virtually a Quaker enclave within the Parish.
George Fox preached on Pardshaw Crag in 1650 drawing huge crowds.
A meeting of Friends, the first to be settled in Cumberland, began in a private house in 1653. As this meeting grew in numbers, it could not be contained indoors and met for many years in the open air on Pardshaw Crag. In time the meetings during the winter were divided amongst Friends’ houses in Lamplugh, Pardshaw, Whinfell and Eaglesfield. Eventually, in 1672, a meeting house was built at Pardshaw and this was enlarged in 1705. For about a century this was the largest country meeting in England. No traces of this building now remain.
The Roman Catholics did not find Cumbria conducive to their missions, but it was exactly the reverse with George Fox in the 1650s, when he allied with the Westmorland Seekers and organised his first 70 Quakers into 35 missionary teams to evangelise Europe, America and Britain.
The Quakers of the 17th century were the natural refuge of those who disagreed with the Presbyterian organisation of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, who nevertheless gave them religious freedom.
After 1689 the Quakers had won their battle to worship as they chose, and remained a small but influential sector of society. Schools for all denominations were founded by a Quaker in Whitehaven and Kendal, they were prominent in industry and manufacturing trades, and by the early 19th century had formed an impressive political force for those seeking freedom from the political control of the Earl of Lonsdale in Kendal and Westmorland.
Meeting houses such as Swarthmoor near Ulverston, and Brigflatts near Sedbergh were built, and which seemed to perfectly fit the Cumbrian climate and temperature.
With influence today out of all proportion to their numbers, Quaker thinking underlies modern movements for conservation and nuclear disarmament.

Fox's Pulpit - Firbank Fell.
Fox’s Pulpit – Firbank Fell.

The London Lead Company was formed by Quakers in 1704, and the directors, in common with other Quaker industrialists, recognised a moral responsibility to their workforce. They built the first purpose-built industrial village in England and laid the foundations for today’s social welfare system. Complete with free lending libary and compulsory schooling for all children, the Cumbrian village of Nenthead was born. The company also provided small holdings and carried out experiments in upland farming.
In Dufton land was purchased by the London Lead Mining Company. An agent’s house and smelters’ houses were built. Old cottages pulled down and new ones built with running water and gardens. Contributions were made by the company to local schools and churches. Similarly in Garrigill and Hilton, the Mining Company purchased land and built homes and facilities for the local people.
In the Kendal Meeting House is the ‘Quaker Tapestry’ – illustrating 350 years of Quaker history exhibited on 77 panels. Created as a community embroidery project by 4000 women, men & children from 15 countries.
Swarthmoor Hall
Swarthmoor Hall – photo by Wikipedia contributor Mikelowden.

A little way north of Allonby is North Lodge, built about 1840 by Thomas Richardson of Darlington a Quaker who had family connections to Allonby. This central pavilion provided him with a summer home. At each side of this were three smaller cottages which were occupied, rent free, by local widows or spinsters each of whom also received a yearly pension of £5. The building is owned by The Society of Friends and used as low-cost housing. A small burial ground is attached.
Allonby - North Lodge
Allonby – North Lodge. Photo by Simon Ledingham.

Quaker Places of Interest
Firbank FellFox’s Pulpit
KendalThe Quaker Tapestry Exhibition
SedberghBrigflatts Meeting House
UlverstonSwarthmoor Hall
Hawkshead Colthouse Meeting House
Pardshaw Meeting House

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