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What about the north?

What about the north? – Hilary Hinds: conversation?
This film is about the role of the North in the formation of the Quaker movement. And I’m joined again by Hilary Hinds. Hilary, thanks for joining me again. When Fox comes out of jail in Derby in 1651, he heads north. What does he find there? It’s a good question. I think there’s quite a shift in Fox’s journal at this time. Before he went north, his is quite a solitary mission. So he’s preaching the Quaker message. And it’s not that he doesn’t find anyone who’s interested. But those people are few and far between.
Once he moves north into Yorkshire, then he begins to find a greater number of people who are interested in what he’s saying, who similarly have been looking for a new dispensation, another way of inhabiting, experiencing their religious beliefs. And this is the time where he meets people who became important figures in the early movement and convinced them. So people like Richard Farnsworth, William Dewsbury, James Nayler, they’re all convinced at this time where he goes into Yorkshire. So it’s not that Fox stopped encountering hostility at this point. I mean, he continues to do so. And he really continues to do so for the rest of his life.
But he starts to find a larger number of people who are asking the same kind of questions that he’s been asking. And from Yorkshire, he then will go west to Derbyshire and Lancashire. And you talk about the term “convinced”. Many people are convinced or converted to the Quaker message. But why do you think that this north and the northwest was such a fertile area for Quaker recruitment? Yeah, I mean, that really was, this really was the moment where the movement started to cohere, to come together. One historian has called this area the Quaker Galilee. And it’s still known as the 1652 country amongst Friends.
And I think those names really indicate the importance of this area, but also this time for the formation of the early movement. As to why here, why was this such a fertile area, I think one reason was because it was so remote from the centre of political power down in London. So the distance from London up to Lancaster, for example, was about 250 miles. If you travel by coach, you would expect to travel maybe 20-25 miles a day. You could go slightly faster on horseback. But it would take you well over a week to cover that distance. So you get a sense really of just how remote the northwest was from that centre of administrative and political power.
And consequently, I think the north had a reputation for unruliness. Another factor is the main mechanism of administration was the parish. And parishes in the northwest were unusually large. The terrain was also quite inaccessible, so hills and valleys and so on. The population was scattered throughout these large parishes. And it made it quite hard for there to be an oversight of the parish by those in charge of it. So how did that affect ordinary people as they were living their religious lives?
Well, I think the fact that there was not so much oversight perhaps as there would have been in smaller parishes or parishes that were more densely populated meant that more radical or less orthodox kinds of religion found it easier to get a foothold in those areas. And there is a history of radical religion in the northwest. So in the time of Elizabeth I, there was a group known as the Familists who had a strong presence here. In the early part of the 17th century, there were the Grindletonians who were also based in this area, followers of the minister Roger Brereley. So there was a history of radical religion in the area.
But more important for Fox perhaps was that there was a strong presence of people who were known as Seekers. They weren’t really a religious group. It was a name given to people who, like Fox, were dissatisfied with the versions or the interpretations of Christianity that they encountered either in the orthodox Church of England or in the dissenting groups that they may have encountered. And these were people who were waiting for an interpretation that fitted more with their views and their ideas. And they met together sometimes in silence, sometimes to listen to a lay preacher. And this was the group from which Fox drew many of his early converts.
So if the seekers weren’t organised as a group as such, how did Fox come across them? How did they gather together? I think this was in part owing to another feature of the rural northwest and these larger parishes. There were quite a large number of what were known as chapels of ease, so small chapels in quite remote rural locations that were intended for people who lived at some distance from the parish church and weren’t able to attend easily or regularly. And it was at just such a chapel of ease that John Audland and Francis Howgill were preaching on a Sunday in 1652 when Fox tells us he waited until they’d finished speaking, and then spoke to above 1,000 people.
And that place is the place that’s now known as Fox’s Pulpit. And there’s a plaque that to mark the importance of that place and that occasion in Quaker history. So Quakerism originated in the north and northwest of England. How important do you think that was for the formation and reception of the early Quaker message? I think it was important. I’ve talked a bit about the remoteness of the area and its reputation for unruliness. But I think that was reinforced by, if you like the kind of more symbolic reputation of the north coming from the Bible, there are a couple of passages in Jeremiah which say that all evil comes out of the north.
And the Puritan critic of Quakerism, William Prynne, picked up on those passages from Jeremiah. He matched them with an old English adage which said all evil comes out of the north. And he said, in effect, well, there you are. The Quakers are the instruments that are going to be bringing evil out of the north. He also said the north was a kind of apt area for Quakers to come from because it was so cold up there that they would shake and quake from the cold alone without the Spirit’s motion, Well, how did Fox and early friends respond to that kind of criticism? Well, I think they were very aware of the reputation of the North.
And they really did try and confront it head on in some ways. The early convert Edward Burrough wrote a pamphlet in 1655 in which he really addressed the reputation of the north. And he said something like oh, thou, North of England who art reckoned the most desolate and barren of all the nations. He said, but out of thee the branch did spring and the star did arise which gave light until all the regions roundabout. So he really tried to turn that reputation on its head. And Fox did something very similar. He wrote a pamphlet called “News coming up out of the North sounding towards the South.”
So in a way, he made a virtue of necessity and tried to kind of confront and rewrite that reputation of the north. Now, Pendle Hill becomes a kind of crucial part of Fox’s story in a sense. Why do you think that was? It’s an interesting part of Fox’s story. In the first version of his journal, which was dictated by him in the 1660s, he doesn’t mention Pendle Hill at all. The account that we’re now familiar with comes from the second version of the journal from the 1670s.
And that’s where we get his account of toiling up Pendle Hill, the steepness of the climb, how he got up there with much ado, and how when he got to the top, he was moved to sound the day of the Lord. And consequently, he then had this vision of a great people. So I think what’s happening there is that we have kind of match between the physical geography and the spiritual geography. So you get the sense of the struggle. You get the sense of him toiling up the hill. But then, at the top, his physical horizons are expanded. He says he can see Lancashire Sea, what we would call, I guess, the Irish Sea or Morecambe Bay from the top.
But he also has his spiritual horizons expanding. That’s when he has this vision of the great people. So he mixed a lot of the mapping of his spiritual journey with the physical journey. So does that set a kind of a pattern for the way he would talk about the landscape afterwards? Interestingly, it really doesn’t. The Pendle Hill incident is quite exceptional. Fox seems to have a much more pragmatic attitude to the landscape through which he’s travelling. Much of that landscape was through what we now call the Lake District. And I think we tend to think of that area– we tend to see it through the eyes of the romantic poets.
So we think of it in terms of it being sublime and majestic, and so on. Fox doesn’t respond to the landscape in that way at all. He’s interested in travelling through the landscape simply in order to meet people to whom he can he can preach the Quaker word and encourage this turn to the light within. There’s really only one other part of his journal where he does invest his description of the landscape with a similar kind of biblical symbolism. And that’s when he was travelling through– when he was on the North American seaboard, he travelled through swamps and forests and so on.
And he wrote about them in the same kind of way with the same kind of biblical resonance to his descriptions. And I think that’s probably because the scale of the landscape and the journeys that he was undertaking were quite unfamiliar, very different from the familiar landscapes of the Northwest of England. Thank you very much, Hilary.

In this video, Hilary Hinds talks about the role of the North in creating a distinct Quaker identity.

What was its role in the success of the movement and how did Quakers work against common perceptions that the north was a place of faithlessness and evil?

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Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

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