Quaker beginnings

I’ve learnt a lot about the early history of the Quakers in the last three weeks, thanks to the excellent FutureLearn course ‘Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers’ www.futurelearn.com/courses/quakers/1 .  This course, put together by Lancaster University and led by Ben Pink Dandelion, has covered the beginnings of this religious group as it emerged in 17th century England.  We have read and heard extracts from George Fox’s journal and also the writings of other key early Quakers such as Margaret Fell and Francis Howgill and some of the videos have been recorded at significant locations in the formation of the group such as Pendle Hill and Swarthmoor Hall.  I was already aware of my husband’s Quaker ancestry when we visited Swarthmoor Hall near Ulverston on a particularly wet and gloomy day a good 25 years ago.  Despite the weather I have fond memories of it being a special place and of the warm welcome we received there.

I have known for years that some of the earliest Quakers in Norfolk were Musketts, but following this course has enabled me to appreciate just how early they were.  In the book ‘The Intwood Story’ by Reverend A J Nixseaman, published in 1972, he asserts that “the first of the Muskett family known to have been a Quaker was Andrew Muskett, son of John Muskett, Gent. of Fersfield.  We find him settled in Thelton in the year 1659, and then known to be a Quaker”.   What is unclear is where this information came from but, if accurate, it means there was a Quaker Muskett in Norfolk barely five years after the Quaker message was disseminated from its Lancashire origins, when the ‘Valiant Sixty’ (Quaker preachers) set out on an organised mission to spread the message to the rest of Britain.  The book goes on to tell us that the first citizen of Norwich to become a Quaker was Thomas Symonds, in 1654, and the source for this information is ‘The First Fifty Years of Quakerism’, compiled by Arthur J Eddington in 1932.

Andrew Muskett’s son Andrew was twice imprisoned in Norwich Castle because of his beliefs, we are told.  Quakers had been free to worship since the Act of Toleration in 1689, but imprisonments continued for non-payment of tithes.  Andrew’s eldest son John, born in 1711, had 12 children by two wives:  Ann Hart and then Mary Heyward, both from Quaker families.  John lived at Tharston Hall.  He sent his seven sons to a Quaker boarding school in Lancashire called Yealand’s, founded by brothers John and James Jenkins.  His sons were born between about 1739 and 1762 and at that time a stage coach must have taken several days to make the journey from Norfolk to Lancashire.  The seven sons were John, Ephraim, Joseph, Zachariah, Benjamin, William and Thomas, and it is from Thomas, born in 1762, that my husband’s line of the family is descended.  Thomas settled in Gressenhall, where coincidentally I have found some of my Norfolk George family.  I live in hope that one day I will find a connection between the two families!

The FutureLearn course has been a real eye-opener into the radical nature of the early Quaker beliefs.  At a time when the Puritans conveyed the message that the ‘elect’ had already been chosen for salvation, it must have been an amazing revelation to people to be told that they could discover God for themselves, without the help of the Established Church, just as George Fox had done in the 1640s.  An additional surprise was the role of women in the movement, not least Margaret Fell, whose strong leadership and organisational skills helped to ensure the survival and growth of the Quaker movement  despite the opposition it encountered.

The Quaker faith today is quite different , and we would be wrong to think of our early Quaker ancestors as being peace-loving and liberal-minded.   From what I have learnt during the last few weeks, they appear to have been feisty people who knew their mind.  If you have Quaker ancestors I would recommend the following websites for further information:

http://www.qfhs.co.uk/ The Quaker Family History Society



Swarthmoor Hall
Swarthmoor Hall

Family Bake Off

Unlike some TV shows one could mention, The Great British Bake Off seems to have enriched our community lives. Families sit down together to watch the show itself; my cousin’s wife told me how her circle of friends go to the house of one of their number each week and the home bakes come out as soon as they get to the Technical Challenge.  My daughter has organised colleagues in her office so that each person is allocated a contestant and when that person leaves the tent they have to bring in cakes (or Steak and Ale pie, as one colleague is promising!).

What does this have to do with family history?  Well, coincidentally, October’s issue of Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk has a great article by Rachel Bellerby entitiled ‘A taste of the past’.  As she so rightly states “food and cooking play a big part in your memories”.  In common with many families, mine have had regular gatherings for as long as I can remember, often at Christmas, where everyone contributes food.  I can remember as a child making pink meringues to take to Aunty Mary’s now legendary Christmas parties.  In no small part due to her parties, that side of the family has remained in contact.  Once we had moved back within range of the rest of the family and had enough space, we instituted our own Christmas parties, knowing we could rely on Mum to bring the mushroom vol-au-vents.

Rachel Bellerby’s article highlights how precious a handwritten family recipe book can be.  At a recent visit with my daughters to my Mum’s house, the subject of baking came up, and out came her mother’s handwritten recipe book.  “Treat it like a form of autobiography” says Food Historian Dr Annie Gray www.anniegray.co.uk  :  clippings from magazines tell you what people read and names attached to recipes give you a clue to other relatives and friends.  Well, Granny’s recipe book has clippings from The Lady, a recipe for a Mother’s Union sponge cake (“very good”) and Mary’s recipe for something and Auntie Winnie’s recipe for something else.  The Mary in question is likely to be Granny’s friend Mary Moreley, who also lived in Croydon in the 1930s.  The recipe for Dandelion Wine reminded Mum of an occasion when she was a young child when her mother announced when she came home from school at lunchtime that it was a perfect afternoon for picking dandelions!  Off they went on the bus to Mitcham Common to pick the flowers, but Mum felt so guilty that she was being made to miss afternoon school!  It’s strange to think of my Granny encouraging truanting, but then she came from a rural community where staying off school in the 1890s to help with the harvest was the norm.

I am ashamed to say that my own recipe book mostly consists of scraps of paper which I have never got round to writing up properly.  But, in a similary manner, you can tell which magazines I’ve read and who recipes have come from.  I still use Vicky’s mince pie recipe (she was a university friend) and Aunty Elsie’s biscuits are a firm family favourite.  Now you need to understand that I’ve never had an Aunty Elsie – she was an aunt of my Mum’s cousins’s husband!  Well I guess that indicates that one of these days I should write up these recipes properly and identify the provenance – as far as I can – before the likes of Aunty Elsie are totally unidentifiable.

On your marks, get set – bake!

Recipes in my collection
Recipes in my collection
Granny's recipe for dandelion wine
Granny’s recipe for dandelion wine
Winnie's cake
Winnie’s cake