by Yvonne Drakeley
The Historical Background: In August 1652, George Fox, Founder of The Quakers, visited Lancaster for the first time as part of a preaching tour, to share his vision of the true path to understanding the will of God. After preaching in the town on Market Day and holding a meeting in the street on the Sunday morning, Fox made his way to the Priory Church for the afternoon service. All who attended Church at this time had the right to stand up and speak during the service and Fox used this to denounce the Puritan Minister, William Marshall, as leading the people away from God for his own benefit. This was an incendiary message in the intense religious and social upheavals caused by the event of the English Civil War, the last battle of which had been fought less than a year before Fox’s visit to Lancaster. To issue a challenge directly to the Minister, in Church in front of his Congregation was an extremely provocative act. Fox was physically thrown out of the Priory Church and chased through the town by a mob intent on stoning him. He was saved from physical harm by taking refuge in a house on St. Leonardsgate belonging to John Lawson, a Lancaster Grocer
My inspiration: George Fox’s visit and the reaction of the church authorities is a significant chapter in Lancaster’s story. The challenge of Fox’s message and actions to social certainties and the reaction of those in power created confusion and intense debate amongst local people. In this I saw parallels with a very recent episode in the town’s history. On 8th January 2012, attempts by members of the Occupy Lancaster group to bring the derelict Railton Hotel (itself just beyond the Castle Park area) back into use as a community resource lead to a large-scale Police action, forced repossession of the building, eviction and the arrest of those Occupiers in the building at the time. Much of the communication about Occupy Lancaster took place via the Occupy Lancaster page on the Social Networking website, Facebook. The posts for the 24 hour period when the above-mentioned events were taking place were particularly striking in their urgency, confusion and sense of outrage. This piece is an imagining of the kind of posts that Lancaster residents might have made on that Sunday in 1652 if they had access to mobile communication devices such as Smartphones and Social Media such as Facebook. I would like to thank Jenny Paull of Lancaster Quaker Meeting for providing information about John Lawson, George Fox and the early Lancaster Quakers. Thanks also to Zephyrine Barbarachild of Bailrigg Quaker Meeting and Occupy Lancaster for advice and support with my first attempt at writing creative nonfiction.
LANCASTER CITIZENS ONLINE, AUGUST 1652:
Posted: Sunday 10.30am
Market Trader: Going to be heading for afternoon service at Priory Church early today. That Preacher who got a big crowd on Market Day is due to turn up. Heard he’s caused a commotion in churches before and I want to make sure I can see and hear Minister Marshall if he does.
Posted: Sunday 11.03am
Ulverston Carriage Driver: Too right, it’s worth being there – could be quite a show! The preacher is George Fox. He stood up in service at Ulverston St Mary’s a month ago & told Minister Lampitt he was a “Deceiver of the people” and a “perverter of the right way of God”! Lampitt went right back at him, roaring hell and damnation. Congregation up in arms & Fox dragged from Church, roughed up & thrown over churchyard wall. Could’ve been a lot worse for Fox but everyone knew he was staying at Judge Fell’s place at Swarthmoor Hall and no-one wanted to get on the wrong side of the Judge, what with him being due to preside at the next Assizes.
Posted: Sunday 12.20pm
New Model Army Veteran: Friend Fox spoke for 2 hours this morning on the street. What a message – God is in all of us and Christ will teach us if we listen. No need for Churches, service, hymns and sermons. Church Ministers don’t know any more about God’s will than any of us – they get in the way of the Light and the Truth. They’re just in it for the money they get from the tithes us poor folk pay to keep them in luxury. Fox is gonna call Minister Marshall out in his own Church this afternoon, and about time too!
Posted: Sunday 12:23pm
Cheapside Butcher: Can this Fox do that? If he’s already told everyone he’s going to do it, won’t he be picked up and held to keep the peace?
Posted: Sunday 12:57pm
Ulverston Carriage Driver: We thought that in Ulverston. Fox was pacing about outside Church for ages so everyone knew what was coming, including Minister Lampitt but nobody stopped it happening.
Posted: Sunday 1.08pm
Know Your Rights Lancaster: Fox was acting within the law in Ulverston Church and can do the same at Priory Church if he chooses to. Under the laws of our Commonwealth, instituted by Parliament after the execution of that traitor king, any citizen has the right to speak in Church. Fox can’t be detained for doing it and definitely not for only saying he’s going to do it.
Posted :Sunday 1.09pm
New Model Army Veteran: Thanks Know Your Rights Lancaster for clearing that up. I didn’t take up arms to defend the liberty of the common man and end up with a bullet in the thigh at Marston Moor so that I’d be living in a country where a man can be detained for using his legal rights to bring the Truth to set the people free.
Posted: Sunday 1.10 pm
Priory Elder: Minster Marshall is God’s representative in this town. He is ordained to hear the word of God and explain it to the ordinary folk. This preacher Fox and his ilk are the messengers of the AntiChrist, come to tempt the unwary from the paths of righteousness. All Godly citizens should be at the service this afternoon, ready to expel this demon from our Church and our town and to keep us all safe in the ways of the Lord.
Posted: Sunday 1. 22pm
Puritan Purist: On my way to Church, Priory Elder. I’ll knock on a few doors and make sure everyone’s there today. Got to stop this lunatic blasphemer from spreading his nonsense. Who does he think he is – God speaking to him directly indeed!
Posted: Sunday 1.50pm
Priory Elder: ALL GODLY MEN! IT IS YOUR DUTY TO COME TO THE PRIORY CHURCH NOW!!!!! THE ANTICHRIST FOX IS IN THE CHURCHYARD!!! WE MUST DEFEND GOD’S HOUSE AND PEOPLE.
Posted: Sunday 2.23pm
Church Street Baker: Anyone know what’s happening? Just coming out of my door when knocked flying by big ruffian running full-tilt down the hill. Next thing half the town’s running down the street after him, shouting & throwing stones. What’s he done?
Posted: Sunday 2.25pm
Cheapside Butcher: What’d the fugitive look like?
Posted: Sunday 2.32pm
Church Street Baker: Wild man off the hills in leather jacket and breeches. Definitely not local. Is he a wanted man?
Posted: Sunday 2. 34pm
Cheapside Butcher: It’s that Quaker Fox! Last seen outside Priory. Something’s kicked off in Church!
Posted: Sunday 2.47pm
Market Trader: Where’ve you been Church Street Baker & Cheapside Butcher? You missed the church service. Minster Marshall stood up for sermon when Preacher Fox (the leather-clad wild man ) stood up and started shouting about Truth and Light and Steeplehouses and Hirelings. Marshall was having none of it – starts bellowing that the AntiChrist was amongst us, and beseeching all men of good faith to act in defence of God’s people. Fox called Marshall a False Christ and then it really kicked off! Priory Elder and rest of them Holy Bouncers grabbed Fox and dragged him out. He’s still shouting about the Scriptures and there’s total chaos in the pews – praying, weeping, couple of fainters. Punches flying at Fox and then at those who hit Fox. From what I could hear over the racket, Fox was getting a right pasting once they got him out the doors but he broke free and legged it.
Posted: Sunday 2.48pm.
Priory Elder: The Lord gave us Elders the strength to drive the AntiChrist from God’s house but the evil one was slippery. The righteous must rise to smite him. CALLING ALL GOD-FEARING CITIZENS TO MAKE THIS BLASPHEMER PAY FOR THE FILTH HE SPEAKS.
Posted: Sunday 2.50pm.
Cheapside Butcher: But where’s he gone?
Posted: Sunday 2.51pm
Church Street Baker: heading towards Stonewell when he shot past mine. My guess is that he‘ll be getting out of town – up Leonardsgate or Moorgate most likely.
Posted: Sunday 2.54pm
Stonewell Carpenter: Bloke in long leather coat ran past here & onto Leonardsgate with gang of Godly in hot pursuit. They’re throwing stones and anything they can find in his direction. Ridiculous – someone could get hurt.
Posted: Sunday 3.03pm
Leonardsgate Candlestick Maker: Amazing! Preacher Man ran up here and disappeared into Grocer’s shop next to mine. Been in there 5 mins and no sign of him coming out. Grocer Lawson shut the door and barred the shutters! Can’t hear any noise coming out of the place.
Posted: Sunday 3.05pm
Leonardsgate Candlestick Maker: Now got half of Priory congregation outside Lawson’s. Priory Elder and Puritan Purist calling all sorts of damnation down on him and demanding that Lawson sends him out.
Posted: Sunday 3.06pm
Cheapside Butcher: Fox is in John Lawson’s shop!! What’s come over Lawson to be sheltering a blasphemer?
Posted: Sunday 3.08pm
Market Trader: there’s more to this than meets the eye. I was there when Preacher Fox finally knocked off the Preaching at the Cross on Market Day (what a relief that was – man’s got a voice that could crack windows at 50 paces!). Grocer Lawson had already been standing listening for hours but still stayed to talk . Lawson & Fox headed off in direction of Leonardsgate as it got dark. Any further developments outside his shop Leonardsgate Candlestick Maker?
Posted: Sunday 3.08pm
Puritan Purist: The AntiChrist Fox has bewitched Lawson! Friends and Neighbours, come and pray and draw the evil one out!
Posted: Sunday 3.10pm.
Leonardsgate Candlestick Maker: Big crowd outside Lawson’s now. Minister Marshall has arrived. Him and Priory Elder praying at top of their voices, beseeching Almighty to draw out the evil spirit from Lawson and to smite the Blasphemer. Half the crowd joining in the praying but New Model Army Veteran and others trying to shout them down. Still no sign of Fox or Lawson.
Posted: Sunday 3.15pm
New Model Army Veteran: All Friends of the Truth should come to bear witness to this disgrace. So-called Men of God throw a true Christian out of Church, chase him through the town throwing rocks and now they’re threatening a citizen in his own home. Minister Marshall, Priory Elder and the rest of them are not men of God – their actions today prove that they are the agents of the AntiChrist, not Fox.
Posted: Sunday 3.13pm
Cheapside Butcher: Grocer Lawson is throwing in his lot with the Quakers eh? Guess he won’t be delivering any more sacks of flour and oats to Puritan Purist, Priory Elder or Minister Marshall’s.
Posted: Sunday 3.17pm
Church Street Baker: he must have been bewitched to risk losing the custom of the town’s big houses for the sake of some wild-eyed Preacher Man who looks like he sleeps in the hedge.
Posted: Sunday 3.22pm
Stonewell Carpenter: things are never going to be the same for John Lawson again.
What happened next? John Lawson did shelter George Fox in his shop and was so convinced of the rightness of Fox’s message that within a matter of months he was himself travelling through the Northwest of England as a Quaker missionary. He was arrested for preaching in Cheshire in 1653 and sent back to Lancaster to be imprisoned in the Castle – the first of three spells as a prisoner of conscience. George Fox was to be sent for Trial at the Lancaster Assizes in October 1652 following allegations of Blasphemy by, amongst others, William Marshall, the Minister he had confronted in the Priory Church. Lawson remained a Quaker for the rest of his life, as did other local people who witnessed the events of Fox’s first visit to Lancaster. The religious persecution of Quakers abated from the 1670s onwards and John Lawson was able to re-establish his position as a member of Lancaster’s business community, going on to expand from Groceries to Trading through the Port, so founding one of Lancaster’s many Quaker Merchant family businesses. He died in 1689 and was buried in the Quaker Burial Ground at Golgotha village on the outskirts of Lancaster. His tombstone remained there until the 1950s, when it was removed to Lancaster Quaker Meeting House for safekeeping and still stands in the porch to this day.