Wakefield Family History Sharing
Walkers History of Wakefield
2nd edition 1939 (privately printed)
George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends commonly called Quakers, was not only a great religious, but a great social reformer. The 'inner light' was the central idea of his religion, and he was utterly opposed to sacerdootalism and formalism. His zeal and indescretions subjected him to much insult, persecution and imprisonment. In 1651 he visited and preached at Wakefield station at the house of Lieutenant Roper at Stanley. Among those who came under his influence during this visit were James Nayler and Thomas Goodaire, who, as he records in his diary, 'came to me and both were convinced and received the truth.' This James Nayler was born at Ardsley, near Wakefield in 1618 ; joined the Parliamentary army in 1642, and was the quarter-master in Lambert's horse ; on account of ill-health he left the army in 1649, and after Fox's visit, embraced the doctrines which he taught. For this he was expelled from the Independent congregation under Christopher Marshall, which met in the parish church of Woodkirk, where he had been wont to worship, and in the following year, 1652, Fox, on his second visit to Wakefield, records 'I went to a steeple-house where James Nayler had been a member of an independent church, but upon receiving truth he was excommunicated. And when I came in ye priest had donne [the service], the people bid me to come up to the priest, and when I came upp and began to declare ye word of life to him and shewed ye people ye deceit of ye priest, they rushed me out of a sudden att ye other doore, and fell a punchinge and beatinge of me, and called 'let us have him to the stockes'; but the Lord's power ws over them and they was not suffered to put me in.'
In an account of the meetings at Wakefield in 1653, Fox mentions a Dr Hodgson of Wakefield who was 'very loveing to us, we went to his house, and there people gott in as many as could trust'. At a later period, 1695, meetings were held in the houses of Robert Lumb and Ellen Spray, widow of William Spray, who in 1682 was sent to York Castle for his religious views. The doctrines of the Friends spread to among all classes, though this did not prevent continued persecution by the authorities, and in 1656, the year agter they refused to take the oath of abjuration, there were nearly one thousand of them in gaol. In 1661 sixty Wakefield Friends went to York Castle rather than take this oath contrary to concience. Sir William Lowther of Swillington, M.P. for Pontefract, wrote to Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State, in 1661. 'In all the great towns Quakers go naked on market days through the town crying, 'Woe to Yorkshire', and declare strange doctrines against the Government, some officers being among them'. It was moved in sessions at Wakefield that a stop be put thereto, and an Order was made at a Session held at Wakefield on January 11th 1661, forbidding the holding of large public meetings in the West Riding by Quakers, Anabaptists and others who disown Magistracy, declare blasphemous opinions, and try to seduce liege subjects to disturb the peace. Justices are to cause offenders to give security for good behaviour or to commit them to goal.
King Charles II wrote to the lord-lieutenant of the West Riding, George Villiers, Duke of Buckinghamn, on July 7th 1662, to inform him of factious meetings about Leeds and Wakefield by Jeremiah Marsden, late the vicar of East Ardsley, and one Noste, who under the profession of godly preachers, possess the minds of secuded auditors, who flock to them from all parts, with dislike to present government, and he was ordered to apprehend these two and supress all tumultuous and disorderly meetings. In July, 1669 a large number of Friends were committed to Wakefield prison, and were kept there until the general pardon in 1672. William Spray, Mary Binns of Wakefield and John Roper, at whose house George Fox had stayed, were sent to York Castle in 1682. In January 1691-2, the Quakers gave notuce that John Wormall's house at Alverthorpe was to used as a Meeting house ; three years later they made choice of the houses of Robert Lumb, Elizabeth Rainhouse and Ellen Spray for Meeting houses to worship God in, and they formally subscribed to 'our burying place adjoining to the highway between Wakefield and Agbrigg'.
In 1743, George Arnett, the vicar of Wakefield, in hus reply to Archbishop Herring's Visitation enquiry, says that there are ten Quaker families in Wakefield and that they assemble every Lord's Day to the number of twenty persons. At Sandal there was one Quaker family at this time. Mr Arnet does not say where the meeting-house was, but it is known that it was at the house of Richard Frostard in Kirkgate, in a room for which they only paud the nominal rent of £1 yearly ; there the first meeting was held on Sunda January 27th 1716. Eventually the Society purchased this house, and held their meetings there until May 1772, when it, with the adjoining garden, was sold for £320, more suitable premises having being found at Agbrigg, situated on the north side of Wakefield - Doncaster Road ; the yard adjoining upon the Lane Syde being registered by Quaker Sessions in January 1694-95 as a place of burial for the people called Quakers. This property is opposite the present cemetery, and the old house still bears a stone with the date 1772 carved theron, but it is now converted into cottages. The four archways, now filled up, are said to have been for the stabling of those who came by conveyances from a distance.
The graveyard attached to this meeting-house is walled off, but looks very ill-cared for and forgotton. For just thirty years the meetings were held there. In the year 1785, owing to the smallness of the Agbrigg meeting it and the one at Ackworth were combined, which arrangement continued until 1793, when a separate meeting was established for Wakefield. When the Weslyans removed to their new chapel in 1805, the one they had used in Thornhill Street since John Wesley laid the foundation stone on August 30th 1772, was sold to the Friendws for £500, who proceeded to take out the pews and galleries and adapt the building for their requirements. Twenty years later they were able to purchase a plot of the adjoining land, comprising 500 years, at 10s 6d for the use as a burial ground.
Many well-known Wakefield families have been connected with the Society of Friends, Lumb, Aldam, Leatham, Benington, Holdsworth, Kitching, Spence, Binks, Wallis. John Bright married Margaret Leatham, sister of Edward Aldam Leatham and William Henry Leathem, at the Friends' Meeting House in Thornhill Street on July 10th 1847.
The earliest minutes of the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting bear the date 1669. In the reign of George I there arose the question about wearing wigs, and Quarterly Meeting issued a minute advising 'Friends to leave off wearing unnecessary and extravagant wigs, viz., such are sett out with many curls and reacheth down upon their backs longer than is needful for warmness and decency becoming the Truth professed by us, as also the powdering of them more than is needful, thereby to make us like unto the world'.
Bishop Westcott has said of these pioneers, 'They were amongs the people whose character for indepencence, for truthfulness, for vigour, for courage, for purity is unsurpassed in the records of Christian endeavour'.
To read fully the events, read 'Wakefield its History and People' by J W Walker OBE FSA