Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

Painting of George Fox at Abbeytown
George Fox at Abbeytown
George Fox, the founder of the Quakers or The Religious Society of Friends, first came to Cumberland in 1653. He attempted to preach in Carlisle cathedral and was imprisoned as “a blasphemer, a heretic and a seducer.” In 1657, he preached at Abbeytown where he found a large meeting of ‘Roundheads’ already established.

The Quakers refused to pay their tithes – a yearly sum levied to support the local vicar – and also refused to take any oath, believing that there should be only one standard of truthfulness and that this should be adhered to at all times. These beliefs resulted in them being repeatedly fined or imprisoned.

They were meticulous record keepers and noted all the persecutions of their members in a “Sufferings Book”.

Page from Sufferings Book
Page from the Holm Monthly Meeting Sufferings Book.

In 1688, among the Quakers imprisoned in Carlisle Goal were many from our area:  imprisoned ‘at the suit of John Lowther’ were Thomas Ostell, Mary Saul, Widow, William Glaister, Thomas Drape, Anthony Skelton, William Bouch, Arthur Skelton, John Biglands, and Thomas Wilkinson. These families were to form the backbone of the Friends’ Meeting at Beckfoot for many, many years.

Sketch of Beckfoot Quaker Meeting House
Beckfoot Meeting House

The Quakers had been established in Wigton since 1653. Around 1689, a meeting started at Beckfoot, on the coast. Others followed quickly, Kirkbride in 1698, Allonby in 1703 and later, in 1772, the Maryport meeting was founded. There was also a large meeting at Moorhouse, near Burgh-by-Sands. This began sometime around 1670 and a very impressive Meeting House was built there in 1733; about forty families from the area attended regularly at that time.

Sketch of Allonby Meeting House
Allonby Meeting House

Most of the Quakers in the area were farmers. Other members of the Society were successful in business. The Carrs had a biscuit factory in Carlisle and a flour mill at Silloth. The Glaisters were seafarers and, along with other members of the Beckfoot meeting, owned a schooner – the ‘Dan Glaister’. The Beebys were fishermen at Allonby and ran a smokehouse there. Thomas Ostell became a book publisher of some note in London. Joseph Saul was the headmaster of Greenrow Academy.

Friends' School, Brookfield
Friends' School at Brookfield, Wigton

The Quakers established a co-educational boarding school at Wigton in 1815. In 1827, it moved to larger premises just outside the town. 'Brookfield', as it was known, educated not only the sons and daughters of Quakers, but members of many of the better-off farming families from North Cumberland and beyond right until it closed in 1984.

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North Cumbrian Quakers
Quaker History
The Quaker Tapestry at Kendal

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