It was into this atmosphere in 1624 that George Fox was born a weaver’s son, in the small village now known as Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire. Like a growing number of his contemporaries as a young man he found little in current religious practice to sustain his own spiritual needs. The last straw came for him in 1643 at the age of 19, when he was at a county fair and met up with a group of ‘professors of religion’, one a cousin, who tried to persuade him to join with them in a wild drinking session. He was so horrified at what he saw as a grave hypocrisy in the behaviour of leaders in the mainstream church and in his own family that on the 9th of September he left home in search of a better way.
His lengthy journeys and countless interviews along the way left him with few answers other than the fundamental one that a training in theology at Oxford or Cambridge (then the major seats of learning primarily for priests in the Church) didn’t really give anybody a true grounding to preach about what the spiritual life is really all about, and he was barely any better impressed by what the leaders of the dissenting groups had to say either. For four years he travelled around, until one day in 1647 at the pit of depression as a result of his lack of success he had a vision, what might be described as his ‘conversion experience’: “And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, `There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy” – ie, he realised he had been looking in the wrong places and asking the wrong people all this time anyway. If he wanted to know God properly no church or priests or ministers could teach him any more than he could learn for himself, and the way for him to know God was through a personal and direct relationship with Christ rather than mediated by the local priest. For its time, when the Church had as much if not more political, social, and economic power as the Crown, this was an extremely radical view to hold. Thus in 1647 in the English Midlands was Quakerism founded.