The Society welcomed David Olver to their meeting on 12th May, who provided a fascinating talk about Swarthmoor Hall and the history of the Society of Friends.
The Hall was built in the late 16th/early 17th Century at Swartmore (Old English for black moor) by George Fell. George’s son Thomas (1598–1658) was a Barrister, Judge and MP. Thomas married Margaret Askew (1614 – 1702) in 1632 and they had 7 daughters and one son. Thomas and Margaret Fell met George Fell (1624 – 1691), the founder of Quakerism, in 1652 and Margaret was one of his earliest converts.
George Fox was the founder of a movement originally called ‘Friends of Truth’, ‘Children of the Light’, later the ‘Society of Friends’ and internally call their members ‘Friends’. George Fox was an itinerant preacher who travelled extensively both in this country, in Europe and America. In the Spring of 1852 he spoke to a large gathering of over 1,000 on Firbank Fell. Quakers believe that all are equal and men and women are George Fox renounced his wife’s property on marriage. Swarthmoor Hall became the first headquarters of the Society and Margaret Fell, together with her daughters but not her son, raised funds to support a travelling fund. The daughters all married Quakers, but the son turned against her.
Margaret is known as the Nursing Mother of Quakerism. Prior to the 1689 Toleration Act Quakers suffered persecution for their beliefs and Margaret was imprisoned for 4 years from 1664 in Lancaster Castle. During her imprisonment her Thomas son took her properties but she later recovered them following his death. Following Judge Fell’s death Margaret Fell married George Fox in 1669 and continued to be a lifelong promotor and supported of the Society of Friends after George’s death.
Swarthmoor Hall was left to Margaret’s youngest daughter but was later sold by a grandchild to clear debts. It was then owned by distant landlords and occupied by tenant farmers and fell into disrepair. Eventually it was bought by a descendant of Margaret Fell (Emma Clarke Abraham) and extensive renovations have taken place, partly funded by the Society of Friends. In 1954 the Hall was bought by the National Quakers and they developed the historic house, museum, retreat, conference centre and café. The Hall is currently closed for a major refurbishment, including removing rendering, adding a new car park, a new museum and interpretation as well as enhanced facilities and is to be re-opened in 2023.
David Olver then highlighted some of the many Meeting Houses in the local area. One of the earliest was The Height (originally called Cartmel Height) which cost £106 9s 7d to build in 1677, the majority of the cost being for the wood. It was active until 1910, then sold in 1922. Swarthmoor Meeting House was built in 1687 and its burial ground opened in 1702. Colthouse Meeting House was built in 1688 with a detached burial ground opened in 1658. Rockhouse Meeting House was built in 1725 and is now managed by an independent charity as a meeting place and bunkhouse accommodation. Cartmel Meeting House was built much later in 1859, designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse.
Lyn Prescott May 2022