Fox’s travels in the Midlands and the North

Over the next few years Fox travelled around the Midlands and Yorkshire, preaching widely and, it has to be said, noisily – more than a few people were offended by his words challenging the authority of the local priests and him telling people that the scriptures needed to be read ‘in the Light’ seeking not the literal meaning of the words but seeking the same spirit which inspired the writers of the words. Whereas Quakerism today enjoys relatively good relations with other churches and faiths, to George Fox and his followers the entire church whether Catholic or Protestant was apostate – it had ‘fallen away’ from true worship of God and discipleship of Christ. Fox’s mission was nothing less than to teach the whole world the error of its ways. On one memorable occasion he and a group of followers held what in modern times would be called a demonstration by taking their shoes off and shouting “Woe unto the bloody city of Lichfield” outside the cathedral there.

By 1652 he had arrived in the North West of England, in Lancashire, and found himself climbing Pendle Hill. Here he had another vision, looking northwards to the Lake District seeing “a great people to be gathered”. Gradually as word had spread around about his gifts for speaking and preaching he had begun to attract quite a following, as many people who shared his disillusionment with mainstream religion found what he had to say made sense to them, or ‘spoke to their condition’ too. Wherever he went his reputation preceded him, and by the time he arrived at Firbank Fell near Sedbergh to preach more than a thousand people had turned up to listen to him, many of them part of the group called the Westmorland Seekers who were basically looking for a leader such as George Fox to organise them into a more cohesive body. It was this event which set the seal on the growing movement, and this was when things really started to take off. Because of the importance of this area, Lancaster and the Lake District is affectionately known to British Quakers today as 1652 Country.

One of the people who heard him during his time in the district was Margaret Fell, and she and her husband Thomas Fell, a judge at the time, were so impressed with what they heard that they invited George back to their house to stay during his time in the area, and held public meetings for worship there for any who wished to attend. If George Fox is the father, Margaret Fell is generally hailed as the ‘mother of Quakerism.’ It was her organisational skill which helped devise the structure of Quaker preparative, monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. The way we conduct our business meetings has largely persisted with only minor variation. Fell’s organisational expertise is also credited with helping Quakers to survive long past the English Civil War period, whereas most of the other similar religious and political dissenting groups such as the Levellers and the Ranters died out fairly quickly after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In 1669, 11 years after Thomas Fell died George and Margaret were married, and together they devoted the rest of their lives to the nurture of the movement which by then was on the way to becoming an established and solid organisation.

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