Local Quaker History

First hundred years of Nailsworth Friends Meeting
1655 to 1755

  • Not a learned history – aimed at the ordinary reader both in our
    Meeting and passing visitors (bearing in mind those from America)
  • Anecdotal (chronologically)
  • No attempt at full coverage, but with some background historical

Compiled by Winifred Page

In ?1654 (?1657) Samuel Clift, a clothier of Avening was committed
to Gloucester Gaol for “maliciously molesting and interrupting” the
rector at Minchinhampton Church. At his trial, it came out that he
had merely stood silent in the church with his hat on, and the jury
therefore acquitted him.
But “the Justice, enraged at (Clift’s) coming before him with his hat
on struck him several times” And “an officious constable had before
that, set him in the stocks without any warrant for so doing..... The
innocent man patiently bore these lawless indignities without seeking
to avenge himself, but committed his cause to him who judgeth

When Robert Sylvester (together with two Cirencester Quakers)
made a similar silent protest in Cirencester parish church in 1657
this resulted in their being sent to Gloucester Gaol.
And Samuel Clift was himself sent to the Marshalsea prison in
Gloucester in 1660 (or 1662) with two other Friends after being
taken from a meeting at Shortwood for by this time meetings for
worship other than those in the established Church were forbidden.

The middle years of the 17th Century were a time of great social,
religious and political turmoil in England. All over the country, people
were questioning the authority of the establishment – King, Church
and Parliament. Many were seeking religious freedom and turning
away from the domination of the established church with its
doctrines and obligatory observances coming together as Ranters,
Independents, Puritans (or Baptistis) and Seekers.
On to this scene came George Fox with his unique message that the
Church was a barrier between God and the individuals; that Christ
had come to teach his people himself, that the light that led to salvation was in each individual’s own heart, if they would only turn to it and follow it.

Fox set off in 1648 on a lifetime of travelling round the country
(and, much later, abroad) preaching “the Light of Christ within”
and in 1654 the ‘Valiant Sixty’ - some of them women – set out in
pairs to take the Quaker message throughout the country.
It was the visit of Humphrey Smith one of this band of preachers,
which brought Nailsworth Friends Meeting into being.
In about 1655 “....came the said Humphrey Smith to Naylsworth and
had meeting at one William Beales, where had been a meeting for
some years of a people called puritans or Independents, a seeking
people to know the way of truth, and most of these meeters came to
hear Humphrey Smith and were mightily affected with him, believing
it was the way of truth; and many in and about Naylsworth were
convinced ...And in a very short time after ....many more....who was
received with great ....gladness, and a meeting was some established
at Naylsworth.”

At first they met in the houses of different Friends – three times a
week – until around 1680 when it seems that the building which is
now the Meeting House began to be used for meetings.
The exact date of this is in doubt; the Abstract of title Deeds V.26
mentions 1695 as land being acquired by Richard Wilkins and others
for the purpose of building a Meeting House upon.
But there is also an entry in January 1668 referring to a Declaration
of Trust of Robert Silvester and others declaring premises to be
for a Meeting House for the people called Quakers. Abstract of Title Deeds
Vol.26 In May 1671 – a quarter acre, part of the ground known as
Cockshoot at Shortwood was given to Richard Smith and others for a
burial ground – 52 perches surrounded by a wall with an iron gate
The P.M. Minutes for 1914 – 1924 record repeatedly the need for
this wall to be repaired yet again.
But in 1684 this ground was recorded as ‘leased for the term of one
thousand years’.
In 1689 – a further piece of land was added to it on lease for 850
years. Sold to Frewins in 1715.

One of the early Friends was Richard Smith who became a highly
respected member of the Meeting. He “had been a soldier for many
years, but soon after friends came about he was convinced and layd
down his Arms, and came and dwelt at Naylesworth”.
But these were difficult times for the Quakers. Over the next 30
years they were constantly under suspicion of treasonable activity,
falling foul of one new Act of Parliament after another. Although
they were innocent of any designs against the state, their behaviour
rendered them “awkward customers” in the eyes of authority.
They refused to take the Oath of Allegiance, holding that Christ
taught them that their Yea should be yea and their Nay nay; they
held that all men were equal in God’s eyes, so addressed all persons
of whatever rank as “thee” and “thou”; they refused the customary
“hat honour”; they refused to pay tithes; they continued to hold
their meetings for worship when the law forbade them; they
inveighed against not only ministers of the established church but
also any preacher whom they believed was not guided by the ‘Light of
Christ within’; they roamed about the country preaching and often
living rough and were arrested as vagrants; and when fined by the
courts for any of these misdemeanours they refused to pay the  fines because they held that the courts were unjust. It is hardly
surprising that many of them frequently landed in prison, where they
were often treated appallingly and where many died.

On the 17th March 1660, a Justice of the Peace went to Nailsworth
with soldiers and arrested eleven Friends “some from their houses,
others from their business in the street and some from a meeting”
They refused to take the Oath of Allegiance and they were sent off
to Gloucester Goal – Robert Hall, Robert Langley, Robert Silvester,
Richard Smith, William Beale senior, William Beale junior, John
Wakeley, Daniel Brown, Benjamin Deane, William Wilkins and William
There is an intriguing footnote to this entry “Some of the prisoners
being weary in travelling to Gloucester and one of them near 80
years of age, the Constable in civility would have let them lodge at
an inn the first night....but an officious man, one Captain Powell,
would not suffer it but obliged them to go immediately to prison”.
There is no record as to which of the eleven was the old man, or
whether he survived his time in the terrible conditions of the goal.
We know that some of the others eventually gained their release as
their names appear in the minute-books at a later date.
And the further imprisonment of Robert Silvester, Robert Hall and
Samuel Clift in 1662 is recorded in Besse’s Sufferings.

A number of small Meetings were established in the district during
these years – people meeting in private houses to worship together
in silence. Then in March 1668 George Fox came to Gloucestershire
and held a meeting at the house of Nathaniel Cripps, a Quaker
magistrate at Upton just outside Tetbury and it was here that
Nailsworth Monthly Meeting was set up, comprising Cirencester,
Painswick, Stinchcombe, Tetbury and Nailsworth meetings.

The following year Fox visited Nailsworth and he records in his
journal how he was confused with a Presbyterian preacher John Fox.
Once a month representatives from these Meetings came together
at Nailsworth to “wait upon the Lord” and “inspect into the affairs
of the blessed truth”.

The Nailsworth Monthly Meeting minutes date from 1668. Much of
the business recorded was concerned with applications for a
certificate of marriage. Since Friends would not go to a priest to be
married, the Monthly Meetings undertook the authorisation of
marriage, and this they did with great care – enquiring into the
applicant’s “clearness of any other commitment”, their parents'
consent, and it was this carefulness which led to the government –
when marriage became a matter of law – accepting marriage in the
manner of Friends as a legal commitment, as it still is today.

Another matter dealt with by Monthly Meeting was the behaviour of
individual Friends, who were to be ‘spoke to’ about anything which
might bring Quakers into disrepute.
In 1673, Matthew Ball, about his taking wood that was not his; called
to ‘confess his fault and give satisfaction for the same’.
In 1675, the widow Anne Clift for ‘disorderly walking....keeping
company’ with Hugh Hill.
6th month 1677 ‘Robert Langley should speak with John Hayward and
Richard Townsind and acquaint them that it is the desire of Friends
of this meeting, that they should be at the next men’s meeting to
have a controversie ended betwixt them and Robert Silvester’.
The following month ‘The said controversie ....being heard by Friends
it was the sense of the meeting that what had happened between
them, as concerning words that had formerly passed, should all be
passed by, and for the further never to be mentioned any more, unto
which they gave their consent’.