A Brief History of the Society of Friends & the Rawdon Meeting

by Brian Clayton

George Fox (1624-1691) is credited with founding the Society of Friends c.1651/2. Born July 1624 at Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, the son of Christopher FOX & Mary, née LAGO, he was brought up in a Christian family. His father, a weaver, held the office of churchwarden. George as a youth, was apprenticed as a shoemaker.  At an early age he was moved towards a deeper concern about religion and, as a young man, he was involved with the separatists. Later, in Mansfield, he became leader of the Nottinghamshire “Children of Light” movement. After serving in prison in Derby 1650-1651 for his dissenting views, George went on a religious mission throughout the north. He preached in the Pendle area of Lancashire, throughout Wensleydale and the districts of Sedburgh and Dent. So rapidly did the views of this leader of men spread that within a short time he had gathered many Ministers (50-60) to go forth and spread his word.  It is possible that one of these brought the faith to the Rawdon area but there is no record of a personal visit by George Fox to  Rawdon. 

The essence of the Quaker faith is that every individual person has the power of direct communication with God, who will guide him into the ways of truth. This power comes from the “inner light” of his own heart, the light of Christ. Quakers meet for worship, avoiding all ritual, without ordained ministers or prepared sermons. Often there is complete silence until someone is moved by the Holy Spirit to utter his message. In the early days Quakers gave vent to violent outbursts and disturbed church services. Friends had the habit of preaching at anyone who happened to be nearby and their denunciation of “Steeple Houses” and reference to the inner light, their addressing everyone as “thee” and “thou”, their refusal to go beyond “yea” and “nay” in making an assertion or oath, must have played some part in bringing about the savage persecutions they endured.

Many Friends emigrated to Pennsylvania, founded by William PENN in 1682, and missionaries were sent out to many parts of the world.  The former violence gave way to gentleness. Friends not only refused to take part in war, but also refused to resist personal violence. They took the lead in abolishing slavery, worked for prison reform and for better education.  As we know them today, Quakers are quiet, sincere, undemonstrative people, with a somewhat serious turn of mind.  The earlier peculiarities of custom and dress have been dropped and interpretation of the scriptures is more liberal.  Although the Quakers refuse to take part in warfare, they are always ready to help: organising relief, helping refugees, or sending their ambulance units into the heat of battle. In Britain the Quakers have about 19,000 members and c. 214,000 worldwide.

the friends of rawdon:  There is little documented knowledge of the Rawdon Society of Friends prior to the building of the present meeting house there in 1697-98, but it is evident that there was a strong following in the area.  Friends were said to be numerous in Baildon, Esholt, Hawksworth, Burley Woodhead, Burley in Wharfedale, Guiseley, Yeadon, Rawdon, Horsforth, Bridge, Rodley, Thackley, Farsley, Calverley and Idle.  A Friends’ burial ground, at Dibb House Lane, Yeadon, was known to exist between 1669 and 1696.  Several Rawdon Friends were persecuted for their faith. In 1682 other local Friends were imprisoned in York Castle for refusing to take the oath of allegiance and in 1683 Jeremiah Grimshaw and others were also indicted. By 1669 some fourteen Monthly Meetings had been established in Yorkshire, amongst them Knaresborough, of which Rawdon became a subordinate Meeting.  The oldest surviving Minute Book for Rawdon Friends was begun in 1693, five years before the Rawdon Meeting House was built, when Friends met for worship at the houses of local members. The Women’s Minute Book started at about the same time. It recorded the appointment of women Friends and the reports of those so appointed. It enquired into the suitability of intended marriages.  Both records are difficult to read.

The deeds of the Friends’ Meeting House at Rawdon are dated Feb 15th 1697/8. At this time a third of an acre of land was acquired from Francis RAWDON of Rawden, (altered to Rawdon since about 1872) in a place called Benton Hill, abutting on land belonging to Thomas HIRD. The land was conveyed to the following Trustees: Josiah GRIMSHAW of Rawdon, clothier, Richard HARDAKER of Rawdon, clothier,  William HOLLINGS of Yeadon,  William BUTTERFIELD of Rawdon, weaver, Timothy COWPER (Cooper) of Rawdon, clothier and Caleb VERITY of Rawdon, clothier.  The Meeting House was built the same year, and bears a datestone (1697). Also on the site is a separate caretaker’s cottage and stable.  Now, in 1998,  300 years later; we are able to view these same buildings. With the exception of Settle and Skipton, the Rawdon Meeting House is the oldest in the Knaresborough area.

In 1832 the Society founded a school at Rawdon. It was originally intended for the children of those connected with the Society but, from 1871, the school was opened to all.  In 1867, the Meeting House was lent to the Congregationalists, whilst their Chapel was being built at Benton Park. This suggests that a friendly spirit then existed between the various dissenting bodies and Friends.

James H. Pallister in his History of Rawdon, published in 1914, gives us the names of early Superintendents of the School: James BOLTON 1832, Henry HAWLEY 1833, William ROTHERAY 1835, Frederick ROUS 1845, William ABBOTT 1851, Joseph SEWELL 1852, Charles BARNARD 1860, George WILKIE 1882, J. E. WALKER 1887, and John A. BARRINGER 1890.

australian wool:  The most common names in the Minute Book and on the surviving gravestones in the Rawdon Friends’ burial ground, are THOMPSON, GRIMSHAW,  and WALKER, with the ANDREW, COOPER, HARDAKER, HOLLINGS and HUSTLER families predominant. It was a Rawdon Friend, William THOMPSON, who was first to make up Australian wool into cloth. The Thompsons were amongst the principal coloured cloth manufacturers of Yorkshire. Larkfield Mill, Park Mill and Low Mill were run by the family, largely engaged in the American trade. The first bag of Australian wool received in England was sent by the Rev. Samuel from New South Wales, in 1808, to his nephew, John MARSDEN, a hosier in Briggate, Leeds. Several Leeds woollen manufacturers rejected this raw, unscoured greasy, dirty wool. It was thrown away, recovered by a rag dealer; and sold on to Johnywell THOMPSON’s, who produced from it the finest woollen cloth ever seen at that time. For many years all the wool produced in New South Wales was purchased by the Thompsons of Rawdon.  It is said that King George III was pleased with a suit made up for him from Australian worsted cloth, sent to the King as a gift by Thompsons.

gravestones in the friends’  burial ground:   The Rawdon Friends’ burial ground contains 101 headstones, which have been transcribed by the Wharfedale Family History Group.  An explanation about the scarcity of ancient headstones in Friends’ burial grounds is required: In the 1670s Friends were being advised not to place memorials to the dead in their graveyards, as it was contrary to their testimony for simplicity of life, tending also to mark a difference between those who could afford such luxury and those who could not. Indeed Friends were advised to remove such headstones. It took more than a generation for stones to be removed.  Most, but not all, had gone by 1720.  After 1850 Friends agreed, at the yearly meeting in London, that they could allow plain stones, in a simple common form, standard within each burial ground. Thus the majority of headstones in Friends’ burial grounds are for burials after that time. However, I note that, at Rawdon, 22 gravestones predate 1850.  The earliest to be seen are two memorials (nos. 50 & 51 in the list of Memorial Inscriptions) of Ann THOMPSON & Betty Thompson, which are dated 1830. Of the pre-1850 memorials, 15 relate to Thompson family members.  All these stones conform to this simple design, which suggests that there may have been a relaxation, certainly at Rawdon, for some twenty years before the 1850 meeting in London. The plain, regular design of the gravestones in the Rawdon Friends’ burial  ground consists of a  2″  thick  sandstone slabs measuring, 24″ x 24″, with a brief epitaph.  An illustration of the two memorials to Ann & Betty Thompson, referred to above, are to be seen in the WFHG Booklet.  The lettering on the 19th century stones was quite large but the 20th century lettering tends to be much smaller.      

quaker records:  Family historians will be pleased to note that George Fox instituted a system of recording births, marriages and burials. No Friends’ baptisms took place and no clergyman officiated at marriages and deaths, thus no record of such events will be found in Anglican parish records.  The original Quaker Registers were surrendered to the Registrar General after the Civil Registration Act of 1837 and these registers are now at the Public Records Office (Class RG 6). Before the registers were given up, a Digest was made by the Society of Friends from the original manuscript records and a complete set for the whole country may be seen at the Friends’ House library in London.   Information of events after 1837 is supplied via the Friends’ records deposited with the Carlton Hill Collection, situated at the Brotherton Library, Special Collection department, University of Leeds.  The burial records of Rawdon are based on the above, a copy of which was kindly supplied to the WFHG, by the Rawdon Friends, as an abridged  typescript.  The records held at the Brotherton Library include burial notes and Monthly Meeting minutes, particularly Leeds Monthly Meetings for the past half century.  In addition there are microfilm records held at the Leeds Reference Library for the Rawdon Friends’ births, marriages & deaths, having dates as early as 1669, with some gaps to 1837.

The first burial recorded Rawdon is that of Jane BUTTERFIELD, who died the 1st month 31st day 1695. (The first month of the Julian Calendar was March, therefore 31st March 1695).  This date is almost three years before the formal acquisition of the land.  There are two OVEREND family gravestones, with 1696 dates, which were brought to Rawdon from the Dibb Lane burial ground at Yeadon, in 1932, when railway work was being undertaken in that area. 

The above is extracted from the  brief history of the Rawdon Friends, contained in the Wharfedale Family History Group booklet: The Memorial Inscriptions and the Burial Records of the Rawdon Quakers  1695 – 1976. 

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