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Swarthmoor Hall

Swarthmoor Hall, and the Fell Family: main film
Swarthmoor Hall, on the edge of Ulverston, is the third key site in the unfolding story of the birth of the Quaker movement in the summer of 1652. It was the home of Thomas Fell, appointed a judge by Cromwell, and his wife Margaret Fell. And it was well known as offering hospitality to itinerant preachers. The local minister, William Lampitt, was himself a Puritan, and George Fox may have felt that the inhabitants of Ulverston were ripe for an even more revolutionary message. In the 1650s, the Hall was one of the large houses in the area owned by the gentry. Margaret Fell managed the household and looked after the land and the businesses associated with the Hall.
In this film, we’re going to find out what happened when George Fox arrived here in June, 1652. Judges travelled around in those days, and Thomas Fell was away on the judges circuit when George Fox arrived. Margaret Fell was out on an errand. However, local priest William Lampitt was at the Hall, and he and George Fox soon argued. Fox reports that Margaret Fell returned home to hear of the disagreement from her children. The next day, Lampitt and Fox met again, this time with Margaret Fell present. Fox had a low opinion of Lampitt, as his journal shows. Fox claims that Margaret Fell started to see through Lampitt at this point, and was convinced. The word convinced in 17th century English meant convicted.
Early Quakers found themselves convicted by God, of having fallen short in their spiritual understanding, of being judged. But this experience also included the possibility of the kind of rebirth we’ve seen in Fox’s life.
When Margaret Fell went to church a few days later, she invited George Fox to come with her. But he declined, saying he must only do what God bid him to. He went walking in the fields, but then discerned that he was indeed meant to come to Ulverston Church. In typical Quaker style, he interrupts the service and start preaching. Lampitt tries to silence him, but Margaret Fell intervenes and Fox goes on to speak at some length, having a dramatic effect on Margaret Fell. Even when the constable finally evicts George Fox from the church, he continues to preach in the graveyard. In those days, the quickest way across Morcambe Bay from Lancaster to Ulverston was to ride over the Sands.
When Thomas Fell rode back across the Sands, William Lampitt rode out to meet him to tell him his wife was bewitched, a serious charge for the time. Thomas Fell returned home and met first with James Nayler. Six years older than Fox, he was an able Quaker preacher and former quartermaster under Major Lambert in the Civil War. Later the same day, Thomas Fell met with George Fox. Between them, Nayler and Fox persuaded Thomas Fell that his wife had not become a heretic. Thomas Fell never became a Quaker, but perhaps unusually, he tolerated his wife’s conversion and sat in a neighbouring room when the worship was held in the Hall, perhaps in sympathy, or perhaps so he could report to Cromwell.
At other times, he helped the Quakers when their cases came before him as a judge. Swarthmoor Hall became headquarters for the Quaker movement for the next four years. And Margaret Fell’s pastoral, theological, and administrative skills proved crucial to the ongoing success of the movement. The third part of the jigsaw of the consolidation of the new Quaker movement was now in place.

This video takes us to Ulverston, to Swarthmoor Hall which was the Fell family home and to Ulverston Church where Margaret Fell is so moved by Fox’s preaching.

Why do you think Fox may have come to Ulverston and to Swarthmoor Hall? What sense do you get of how Fox reacts to the people he meets on his travels? Does it depend on who they are or does he treat everyone in the same way?

Don’t forget you can refer to the Timeline of Key Events, short biographies of the Key People and contextual notes.

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Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

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