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Credit! nay, thats it the King forbad:
he bad, if I got thee, I should thee stay, The Lawyer payd him an hundred pound
in ready money, ere he went away.
Would every Lawyer were served thus !
from troubling poore men they would cease: They'd either show them a good cause why,
or else they'd let them live in peace.
And thus I end my merry tale,
which shewes the plain mans simplenesse, And the Kings great mercy in righting his wrongs,
and the Lawyers fraud and wickednesse.
QUAKERS IN THE NORTH.
BY JOSEPH RIDLEY.
T has often been a subject of remark, and sometimes of regret, that there should be none of the Society of Friends, located in Hexham That a town of so considerable a size should not for a whole generation hold a solitary quaker, whilst places of far less magnitude in various directions are inhabited by them, is not easily accounted for :
especially when it is known that Hexham, when less populous was favoured with the residence of some of that fraternity, and that it was once honoured with a visit from the Founder of the sect. The little towns of Allendale, and Alston, have each their Friends' Meeting House ; and the small village of Winnowsley has it's Quaker's Burying-ground.
In the year 1653, there came to Hexham a little company of interesting strangers. One may imagine them attracting some notice as they entered the town from the east, dressed in plain grey clothes, with hats of more than the usual breadth of brim, and mounted on roan coloured horses, they enquired their way to an Inn, and were directed, may be by our great grand-mother, protruding her head through a window under a thatched roof in Priestpopple, to the Gaping Goose, at the foot of the Broad Gates. Hither we may suppose them to repair, and having put up their horses and refreshed themselves, they proceeded to hold a meeting on the top of the Seal, the leader of the party, a portly young man, under thirty, distinguished by a pair of Leather Breeches, being the Preacher; and no less a personage than George Fox, His visit has been thus recorded.
“ Then passed we on to Hexham, where we had a great meeting at the top of a hill. The priest* threatened that he would come and oppose us, but he came not, so that all was quiet : and the everlasting day and renowned truth of the Everlasting God was sounded over those dark countries, and his Son exalted over all. So after that all were directed to the Light of Christ, by which they might see him and receive him, and know where their true Teacher was, and the Everlasting Truth had been largely declared amongst them, we passed away through Hexham peaceably, and came into Gillsland, a country noted for thieving.”
• Who the Curate at that time was, is uncertain The Rev. Thomas Tilham was Lecturer; and three years after the elder Ritschell held both offices.
This remarkable man, and uncompromising preacher, wherever he went, protested against the Established Church ; and was equally zealous in exposing abuses which were found to exist amongst other denominations ; at one place in the North of England, we find him standing up in the Church-yard, and declaring to the people, that "he came not there to uphold their idol temples, nor their priests, nor their tithes, nor their augmentations, nor their priest's wages, nor their Jewish and heathenish ceremonies and traditions, for he denied all these ; and told them that that piece of ground was no more holy than another piece of ground.”
One of Fox's early associates in the Ministry was Myles Holhead. About the period of their visit to Hexham, above described, “ Myles went to Newcastle, and there said to the Mayor, Rulers, and Priests of that town, that God's anger was kindled against them, because they had shut the kingdom of heaven against men, and would not enter themselves, nor suffer them that would. Because of this he was imprisoned, But the Mayor being much troubled, sent for the Sheriff* (for those two had committed Myles to prison), when come, he said to him, we have not done well in committing an innocent man to prison. Pray let us release him. The Sheriff consenting, Myles was set at liberty. Then he declared the word of the Lord in those parts, and many were convinced of the truth held forth by him.”
In 1657, we find George Fox, and another eminent Friend in the Ministry, Anthony Pearson, at Newcastle, where they visited several members of the Corporation, particularly Alderman Ledger, who shewed great hostility; and with whom they had a discussion. But “No leave for a Publick Meeting being obtained, George Fox got a meeting among his Friends, and some friendly people at Gateside."
These Memorials of a worthy people are chiefly gathered from George Fox's Journal, and partly from a rare Folio,“ originally written in Low Dutch, by William Sewell, and by himself translated into English.” In the former work there are repeated notices of visits paid by the author to Bishoprick, (Durham) and more particularly to Derwentwater. No doubt Shotley Bridge, and Benfieldside, in its immediate neighbourhood, were scenes of his early ministrations. About 1653, he writes, "I passed through Northumberland to Derwentwater, where there was a great meeting, and the priests threatened that they would come, but none came. The everlasting word of life was freely preached, and freely received, and many hundreds were turned to Christ, their Teacher.” The founding of the original Quaker's Meeting House in this locality, may probably be dated from
• Willm. Johnson, was Mayor; and Rt. Johnson, Sheriff; at that period.
about this period ; and not so early by ten or twelve years at least, as it has been placed by Ryan, in his history of Shotley Spa.
“Benfieldside is also famous for one of the first Quaker Meeting Houses in England, there having been one there for near two centuries, though the Meeting House now existent is not the original. All the general Historians have briefly noticed an account, taken they say, from “ Turner on Providence,” of the Devil having appeared at that Meeting House in great wrath and attempted to snatch away the key which was destined to imprison him for ever. But the author has not been able to procure Turner's work, and Tradition is utterly silent concerning this adventnre of Satan. But whether the fact remain in question or be assumed, the details of such an apparition are quite as elegantly understood and not expressed, page 59.
We have before mentioned the very old Meeting House of the Friends at Benfieldside, where there used to be long ago, it would seem, many more of that persuasion than have been there of late years. They are now considerably multiplied, either as permanent residents, or frequent visitors, and it is hoped they will exert an influence somewhat corresponding to that of their great and good progenitors.” page 147.
Our introductory remark on there being no Quakers in Hexham, applies strictly to the township ; but as far as we are acquainted, may be extended to Hexhamshire—a district thinly peopled for the most part, but of great extent, being seventeen miles in length, by about six in breadth. To what extent it was the residence of Friends, we cannot precisely say ; but that it was frequented by a multitude of that persuasion, full forty years after their doctrines had been promulgated in the parish by honest George Fox, is a matter of History, as we gather from the 'Hexham Charities,' a rare little Book.
“ There had been in old time a little chapel by the highway-side which leads from the head of the shire to Hexham, where a branch of it turns off to the east to the Steel and Dukes'-field mills, dedicated to St. Helen, commonly called Whitley chapel, which had been entirely ruined, and was rebuilt by subscription sometime before the Restoration, to teach school, and the neighbourhood to meet in upon occasion, as is set forth in the preamble to the said subscriptions, which having no date, the precise time cannot now be remembered.
“In the year of our Lord 1694, the Quakers from distant parts meeting at the said Chapel hill, and great numbers out of curiosity resorting to them, the said chapel was made fit, and appropriated to Divine service, and the minister of Slealey officiated there every other Sunday, which proved effectual to defeat their designs.” So then for aught that appears, the good folk of Hexhamshire might have
remained to this day without “divine service,” had not the meetings of Friends provoked an unfriendly feeling on the part of the Episcopal Church : but however effectual the opposition proved, it is not to be inferred that the “great numbers who were wont to attend the Quakers' Meetings on the Chapel-hill, continued to frequent the Episcopal Chapel of St. Helen's. The writer has been present when not more than a score, including the Priest's family were there ; and has witnessed a Communion on an Easter Sunday, when the Clergyman and his clerk were the only male communicants.
There has been one Quaker inhabitant, and only one, in the Town of Hexham, in the course of the present generation.
That was Betty Bowman, the Bread-baker, and Milk-seller. We recollect but one thing that she said ; and have but one incident to record of her. Those who art sparing in speech, may reasonably be expected to talk wisely. There was going to be a general illumination—it matters not now what the subject of the rejoicing was-the practice is foolish at all times. So out spake Betty, and said "I wish the folk had their hearts illuminated." The solitary incident may be thought too trifling to be put upon paper, but it has a recommendation which many trifles want-it will take up little time. Betty's being the only Quaker bonnet accustomed to be seen in the streets of Hexham, any other which happened to appear was sure to be stared at: and it was a very natural thought of a lass in Prietspopple, who chanced to meet a wandering Friend, to think that one person so habited would like to see another. So accosting the stranger, she said—“If ye please do ye want Betty Bowman." “Aye,” was the answer, " that's the very woman I want. Does thou know where she lives.”
There is a spot in Hexhamshire called the Quaker's Hole, which we shall not now stop to explore: but a field known to old people in Hexham, by the name of the Quaker's garth, extending from near the foot of the Battle-hill, to the head of Bone-street, must not be entirely overlooked. Many years ago, but long after it had obtained that name, it was almost if not entirely common. It seemed as if the land had been alienated, and its owner lost or disinherited. It came however, to be appropriated; was fenced and cultivated; has been bequeathed, and is now inherited by an heir of the late T. Leadbitter, Esq., Solicitor. It was this spot -the Quaker's garth-which was selected for the site of the New House of Correction, that was to bea project now happily numbered with things that are passed. An expence to the county that has been saved, by a wholesome investigation of its accounts. We want no New House of Correction at Hexham ; and such an appropriation of the Quaker's Garth, would have been a sad desecration.