Malhamdale Local History Group
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Quakerism comes to Malhamdale
17thC Local & National Events - The Historical Context
Quakerism came to this area in the second half of the 17th century with George Fox travelling through West Yorkshire in 1652, spreading his message of a much simpler expression of faith without the rituals of the established church. Shortly afterwards John Hall received this new ‘Truth’ at a meeting in Airton, and by the end of the century we have William and Alice Ellis establishing the Airton Meeting House.
National Events in the 17th Century :
This century was a time of great religious and political upheaval and to put the local events into context we need to look at the major event which affected the country.
1603 - Death of Elizabeth I
At the beginning of the century in 1603 Elizabeth the First’s long reign had come to an end and James VI of Scotland succeeded her. This united the thrones of Scotland and England, but political union did not come for another hundred years.
1605 - Gunpowder Plot
This act failed to assassinate the king and restore Catholicism.
In 1611 we have the publication of the King James Authorised Version of the Bible.
1642 - Civil War Starts
In the middle of the century a period of less than 20 years from 1642 to 1660 saw the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the Commonwealth and Protectorate, and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II coming to the throne.
For the people of Malhamdale the happenings of the Civil War would not have been distant events. We have all heard of the siege of Skipton Castle, less than 10 miles from here. But the war had come even closer than that, in 1643 there was a battle – or at least a significant skirmish – within a few yards of Airton Meeting House where we first gave these talks. This was ‘The Battle of Airton’ In November that year Colonel John Lambert, whose home was Calton Hall, was in Craven recruiting for the parliamentary cause. The reaction by the Royalist command at York was to send a troop of horse to attack the Roundhead force that by then had moved onto Lambert’s land here. Lambert’s men took refuge in Airton Hall but the Royalist forces stormed the building and sixty men were overcome, and taken as prisoners to Skipton Castle.
1649-52 - The Commonwealth
At the end of the Civil War and following the execution of Charles I we have the period known as the Commonwealth and it is during this time in 1652 that George Fox visits Yorkshire and it is the effect of his preaching on the people of this locality that Quakerism became established and the meeting Houses in Airton, Settle and Skipton were built.
Lambert was one of Cromwell’s right hand men and played a major part in many of the campaigns by the parliamentary forces. In 1653 he was entrusted with writing Britain’s first and only written constitution, The Instrument of Government under which Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector. We can visualise Lambert sitting just down the road at the family home in Calton working on the document and perhaps being visited by other movers and shakers of the day with whom he would have consulted. It is intriguing to think of this document which is said to have later formed one of the bases of the American constitution being forged here in Malhamdale.
In 1653 the stormy relationship between Cromwell and parliament broke down completely and from 1653 to 1659 we have the Protectorate which some describe as being in almost all respects monarchy with Cromwell at its head.
1661 - The Clarendon Code
Following the Civil War the ten year period of the Cromwellian Rule was one of relative religious tolerance and parliament’s offer to Charles II to restore the monarchy in 1660 required him to agree to concessions for religious toleration. In spite of that, within five years of the Restoration the Clarendon Code whose objective was to reinforce the supremacy of the Anglican Church had been enacted.
The Code consisted of four statutes whose provisions would have made life very difficult for Quakers and other dissenters.
1661 - Corporation Act
The Corporation Act required that all municipal officials took the Anglican Communion.
1662 - Act of Uniformity
The Act of Uniformity made use of the Book of Common Prayer compulsory.
1664 - Conventicle Act
The Conventicle Act forbade any meeting for ‘unauthorised’ worship by more than five persons not of the same household. This was worship not conducted according to the Book of Common Prayer. This was particularly oppressive for the Quakers and other dissenters.
1665 - Five Mile Act
The Five Mile Act was aimed at nonconformist ministers who were prevented from coming within 5 miles of incorporated towns or the place of their former livings. It also prevented them from teaching.
1665 - The Black Death
To put another marker in our time line of this period we should remember that 1665 was the year of the London Plague which decimated the population of London to be followed in the next year by the Fire of London which left large parts of the capital in ruins. Plague had been endemic in Europe since the 1300s and often erupted in hot Summers. An outbreak was reported in Craven in the Quarter sessions in 1645 and there are numerous records of death from plague in local church records, but in 1665 the London Plague killed around 100,000 people or a quarter of the population. This of course was followed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Restoration of the Monarchy saw a reaction against the strict Puritan morality of the previous decades with the return of theatre, dancing and sport BUT with, at the same time, a tightening of the grip of the Anglican Church.
During his reign Charles II did issue two Declarations of Indulgence. In these he attempted to use his Royal Power to suspend the restrictions on Roman Catholics. He included with them non-Anglican Protestants who ‘modestly and without scandal performed their devotions in their own way’. These declarations were seen by parliament as attempts by Charles to re-establish the absolute right of the monarch and he was forced to withdraw them. Parliament’s response was to enact the Test Acts which reinforced the provisions of the Corporation Act.
1685 - Death of Charles II
In 1685 Charles II died professing the Catholic faith and was succeeded by his brother James who was a staunch Catholic but his attempts to re-establish the Catholic Church came to nought and in 1688 he fled to France.
1689 - William & Mary
In 1689 parliament invited the protestants William and Mary to take the English throne in what became known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’. Within the year two very significant pieces of legislation were passed; the Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration.
Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights established the pre-eminence of parliament over the monarchy and specifically barred Roman Catholics from the throne.
Act of Toleration
The Act of Toleration freed the Quakers along with other nonconformists from the restrictions of the Coventicle Act and allowed them to establish their own places of worship. Nonconformists were strictly still prevented from holding public office for another 140 years.
Meeting Houses were built during the Stuart era but surely the protection given by the Act of Toleration must have encouraged the building of the Skipton House in 1693 and the Airton Meeting House right at the end of the century.
1707- Act of Union
To finish our 100 year historical resume we have in 1707 the Act of Union which brought political union to the two kingdoms of England and Scotland.
Local Events in the 17th Century :
What of things closer to home in Malhamdale? We have seen with the Lambert connection that the Dale wasn’t untouched by national events but there was also no shortage of local activity.
The existing Church building was already over 100 years old and was central to the life of the Dale. We have plenty of evidence that the church was active and well supported. Bells were installed in the Tower. The great tenor bell, still the heaviest of the ring, was given in 1602 by Josias Lambert, the father of the Civil War general and in 1617 the treble was cast. Probably the third bell of the old ring of three was hung at the same time although it is possible this had been there in the tower as a single bell from the 1500s.
The high box pews now in the North East corner of the church were installed – one has the name of Josias Remmington and is dated 1619 and another James Ward with the date 1631.
If we could take ourselves back to the 17th century we would certainly recognise many of the buildings in the Dale. In Airton Rose Cottage and some of the cottages on Hellifield Road were already there. Vipond House, also built by a Quaker gentleman, Town Head, Scosthrop Manor and of course Ellis House would be recognisable.
In Kirkby, the present vicarage was built or rebuilt in 1622, Tarka in 1633 and Yeoman’s Cottage in 1637.
In 1668, the same year that a Friends Meeting here in the Dale was formed Robert Serjeantson built Hanlith Hall.
All was not always rosy. Mortality rates were universally high in those days, particularly for children, yet there must have been some exceptional outbreak of disease in the Dale in 1636 for 21 deaths, mainly children, were recorded in June and July that year.
Education was important and at the beginning of the century in 1606 Benjamin Lambert (yes, a Lambert again) founded a Grammar School in Kirkby Malham and in 1717 Malham Grammar School was founded by Rowland Brayshaw. Sadly we have no pictorial record of the Lambert School which stood between the church and the vicarage but the Malham School still stands at the bottom of Malham Raikes. Both operated until the present United School was built in 1874. So, there were then two schools offering free education to the children, or at least the boys, of Malhamdale. There was therefore probably a higher standard of literacy than we might otherwise have assumed.
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