Quakers of the Lands End Meeting
In 1656 George Fox the founder of the Quaker movement entered the lives of the people of West Cornwall. Below we give some of the story of how this happened and what followed.
When we came to Ives, Edward Pyot's horse having cast a shoe, we stayed to have it set; and while he was getting his horse shod, I walked down to the seaside. When I returned I found the town in an uproar. They were haling Edward Pyot and the other Friend before Major Peter Ceely, a major in the army and a justice of the peace. I followed them into the justice's house, though they did not lay hands upon me." Quaker link
These words record the arrival of George Fox the founder of the Society of Friends and two colleagues to the Town of St Ives in Cornwall in the year 1656. The Society ( otherwise known as Quakers ) was growing in numbers and many of the establishment saw it as a threat. Fox argued that to anyone could contact God at anytime. He said that people did not need to go to church or have the guidance of a priest. This was seen as seditious especially as he also argued that the bible stated that people should not swear allegiance to anyone or anything other than God. Members of the sect refused to pay their tithes which were used to pay for the priest.
Many local magistrates were determined to put an end to Fox's and his Society of Friends and Major Ceely of St Ives was amongst these. Fox had written an open pamphlet to the people of the seven parishes of the Lands End. This had been circulated before his arrival so the population were expecting him and his friends. In his journal Fox records the following:-
"When we came in, the house was full of rude people; whereupon I asked if there were not an officer among them to keep the people civil. Major Ceely said that he was a magistrate. I told him that he should then show forth gravity and sobriety, and use his authority to keep the people civil; for I never saw any people ruder; the Indians were more like Christians than they.
This first visit of George Fox to St Ives in 1656 ended with him and his two friends being taken to Launceston Jail, (which was in the castle) here they remained for nine weeks. Fox wrote the following about the Jail:
"The place was so noisome that it was observed few that went in did ever come out again in health. There was no house of office in it; and the excrement of the prisoners that from time to time had been put there had not been carried out (as we were told) for many years. So that it was all like mire, and in some places to the tops of the shoes in water and urine; and he would not let us cleanse it, nor suffer us to have beds or straw to lie on.
At night some friendly people of the town brought us a candle and a little straw; and we burned a little of our straw to take away the stink. The thieves lay over our heads, and the head jailer in a room by them, over our heads also. It seems the smoke went up into the room where the jailer lay; which put him into such a rage that he took the pots of excrement from the thieves and poured them through a hole upon our heads in Doomsdale, till we were so bespattered that we could not touch ourselves nor one another. And the stink increased upon us; so that what with stink, and what with smoke, we were almost choked and smothered. We had the stink under our feet before, but now we had it on our heads and backs also; and he having quenched our straw with the filth he poured down, had made a great smother in the place. Moreover, he railed at us most hideously, calling us hatchet-faced dogs, and such strange names as we had never heard of. In this manner we were obliged to stand all night, for we could not sit down, the place was so full of filthy excrement.
The first report of Quakers at Sennen appears in the a book by Norman Penney, " The Record of Sufferings of Friends in Cornwall ". Mr. Penney transcribed a record kept by Thomas Lower the step son-in-law of George Fox. Thomas Lower reported that in 1657 John Ellis, whose home was at Brea Farm on the Sennen- St Just boundary was summoned before the local justice Peter Seeley (Ceely) and charged with failing to raise his hat to Seeley and James Launce. The argument was that, as appointees of the government, Seeley and Launce should be shown respect by people raising their hats when meeting them. George Fox reported a similar instance in his biography and just as in his case, John Ellis was taken to the " Doomsdale " at Launceston for refusing to remove his hat. This was to be his first of many visits there. The year was 1657 and on his release he returned home to Brea Farm where he and others had set up a group of Friends or Quakers.
It was the Quakers practice not to pay the tithes or cost of repairs to the church (Steeple House) and as a result they were often beaten and had their property removed. A record of these happenings was kept in the " Book of Sufferings " and a number of the entries are produced below.
John Ellis had a horse taken from him by Thomas Quarum and Richard Whiteforde who farmed the tithe of the priest of Sennen ( Joseph Hull ).
Nicholas Jose had taken from him at harvest time 39 sheaves of rye for failing to pay his tithe. This was done by officers acting for priest Hull and no warrant was produced.
As Nicholas Jose was traveling along the highway he was attacked by Thomas Treave the elder of Sennen. Treave beat him with roapes and threw stones at him resulting in Jose being injured. Jose later reported the attack to Michael Richards and John Saundry the local constables but could not get them to act.
James Myers was beaten up by parson Hull whilst the parson's wife held him.
In 1660 parliament invited Charles I son to return as king. Cromwell had been dead for two years. Under King Charles II the Church of England regained some of the power it had lost under Cromwell. It it was deemed an offence to hold Society meetings but Friends continued to meet at each others homes. If the authorities caught them they were arrested and faced imprisonment and the " Book of Sufferings " records the following:
On the 29th of February 1660 the home of George Reed was raided by the constables and the following arrested. George, John and Tobyas Read and John Tonkyn of Sennen. They were taken before Walter Vincent and John Vivian, Justices at Truro who committed them to Launceston jail where they remained for around 7 -8 weeks.
On the 27th of August 1662 A Captain Jones arrested the following at a meeting at the house of Nicholas Jose:-
Nicholas Jose, George Reed, William Roberts, Edward Auger, John Reed, John Mathew, Sampson Jeffrey, Richard Hunt, Degory Vingoe, John Tonkyn.
Also arrested where 5 women:-
Johan Penwarden, Mary Penwarthen, Jane Wilkey, Anne Treeeve and Blanch Bosistowe.
By 1662 there were around 1,300 Quakers in prison and Justice William Godolphin added to the number by sending all the above to Launceston jail. They appeared before the Judge at the next assizes. Four of them Nicholas Jose, George Reed, William Roberts and Edward Auger were indicted and fined 40s each and committed to prison until this was paid. The rest were also committed until they could find sureties for their good behavior. All of these latter group were held for three x assizes without any charge being laid against them and they each served almost two years in prison. The other four who had been fined were kept in prison for five and a half years.
There were those who saw the persecution of the Quakers as a means of enriching themselves. Hugh Jones was a local Sennen Justice who lived at Penrose Manor. He would fine Quakers and then remove goods worth much more than the amount of the fine. He would then either pay the fine to the court and pocket the difference or in the case of goods which had been confiscated pay the fine and keep the goods. Here are some instances of this practice.
Taken from John Wallish by Richard Warren and Martyn Millarde constables and Nowell Roberts and Mathew Humphrys wardens off the parish. Who came on the 6th day of the 4th month 1670 and distrained by a warrant from Hugh Jones, called a justice, two milk cows, two oxen and three heifers to the value of £20 for a fine for attending a meeting though John Wallish was a prisoner at Launceston at the time.
Also taken from Jane Wallish by the aforesaid officers for her being at the same meeting one milk cow worth £3 4s for a fine of 5s imposed upon her.
Also William Roberts for attending the same meeting had four milk cows, sixteen sheep and two rearing calves taken away on a warrant from Hugh Jones.
Also taken away from George Reed of the parish of Sennen by John Mathew and Nich: Wallish constables and John & Thomas Terreeve wardens by a warrant from Hugh Jones for his permitting the aforesaid meeting to take place in his house and for being present at the same, 3 Milk cows and one horse being worth £12
Taken from Nicholas Jose for attending the same meeting One brasse pan and one chair worth £1 for a fine of 5s. Jose was also in prison at the time.
Taken from Thomas Richards (also in prison) one brasse pot worth 8s.
So from this one meeting Hugh Jones had secured ten milk cows, two oxen, three heifers, one horse, two rearing calves, one chair, one brass pan and one brass pot.
The persecution of the Quakers by Hugh Jones continued and in 1677 he sent George Treweege to collect goods to the value of £25 12s 6d from the shop of Nicholas Jose, all taken as a fine for the non-payment of his tithe. Jose owned one and a half acres of land. Each year Jones sent his clerk at Harvest time to take sheaves of corn from Jose and other Quakers
In 1685 there was a pardon for all Quakers but in the two years prior to this Hugh Jones had sent a number of Sennen Quakers to prison:
John Mathews, Isaac Chappell, John Tonkyn, Richard Richards, Jone Olivy and Wilmott Richards sent by Hugh Jones, Justice, for attending a meeting to Launceston Gaol. They came before the infamous Judge Jeffreys. After careful consideration he discharged the prisoners.
Again Justice Jones imprisoned John Mathew, Richard Richards, Jenkin Vingoe, John Tonkyn and Samson Olivey for unlawful assembly in Sennen. Judge Montague set them all free.
In 1685 James II came to the throne and the Society of Friends was recognised by the state. The hard won rights to worship God as they choose had led to the deaths of many of them as a result of their time in prisons such as Launceston. Now they had the law on their side Justice Hugh Jones found other ways to continue his harassment of members of the Lands End meeting. William Bottrell the nineteenth century historian records this story in the third volume of his "Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall":-
the notion of the transmigration of souls is not at all new to Cornish people,
you may imagine that, in some former state of existence, you lived out west
about the time that old Justice Jones resided in Penrose, and was long the
unquestioned tyrant of that part of the country. In complaisance with the good
pleasure of the justice, many old men in the parish, even farmers, did the work
on his farms of Penrose and Brew, for no other payment than his worthless
promise that their sons should not be impressed and sent off to serve the king
on board a man-of-war. It seems that in the time of this ancient edition of
Colonel Peard, the magistrates were entrusted with warrants which empowered them
to draft off whomsoever they pleased for the kingís service, and to gratify
their ill-will they had only to intimate to the press-gang that the disliked
were eligible men.
Whether William Bottrell's story is fact or fiction we do not know. The Jones family left the Sennen area shortly after the death of Hugh Jones in 1715 with one son James setting up a shipping business in Plymouth.
Known Quaker families from Sennen:-
Chappell, Ellis, Jose, Mathews, Myers, Olivy, Reed , Richards, Stevens, Tonkin, Vingoe, Wallish, Williams.A Record of Some Quaker Births. 1668: Jane Wallish dau of John and Marye of St.Just 15 Apr. 1671: John Wallish son of John and Mary Wallish of St.Just 10 Apr. 1673: Elizabeth Wallish dau of John and Mary Wallish of St.Just 16 Aug. 1702: Mary Wallish dau of Robert and Ann Wallish 30 Mar. 1715: John Wallis son of Nicholas and Prudence Wallis 1 Nov.
A number of weddings took place amongst the Quaker community1657: John Reed of Sennen s. of George & Ann Reed to Margaret Penwarthen of Buryan.
Ref. Cornwall Records Office SF 84 page 181.1679: 4th Nov., John Stevens of Treag to Mary Jose dau of Nicholas Jose . Witnesses: Nicholas Jose, George Reed, Tobyas Reed. Charles Read, Richard Dinnys (Dennis), Will Roberts, Nicholas Wallish, Jenken Vingoe, Richard Richards, John Williams, Isaac Chapple, John Mathews, Elizabeth Jose, Honour Tregelles, Ann Reed, Honour Roch,
Ref. Cornwall Records Office SF 232. recorded in Marazion Quarterly Meeting Book.1685: 4th July, Charles Rowd to Mary Tonkin at Troofe. Witness Jenken Vingoe and others.
Burials at the Quaker Burial Ground, Brea.