At the birth of a faith

Local news
Local news

Todmorden Antiquarian Society member Malcolm Heywood gave a talk on the Quaker life of John ffeilden of Todmorden Hall.

It was based on his Day Book which details his daily activities for the 11 years 1723 to 1734. As a master clothier he had a thriving business and he allied this to his role as a Quaker minister.

Slides began the talk, telling briefly of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, his vision on Pendle Hill in 1652 and travels whereby he founded many groups.

Malcolm recounted the growth of Quakerism locally from its beginnings at Mankinholes in the early 1650s to the building of its first Meeting House at Shewbroad in 1696 and its rebuilding in 1785, which followed the strong growth of Quakerism locally during the 18th century.

Early Quaker ministers were fearless, itinerant evangelists who regularly fell foul of the authorities as they preached their message of a simple faith based on the Light of Christ and the Bible - at total odds with the ceremonies of the established church.

Thomas Taylor, a Quaker minister instrumental in creating the meeting at Mankinholes, was set upon and beaten up whilst preaching at Colne.Until the Shewbroad Meeting House was built, local Quakers met in each others’ houses, including Pilkington Farm at Mankinholes with its burial ground; Hartley Royd in Stansfield; Shore (Fold) with its own burial ground; Rodhill Hey (Rodwell Head); Todmorden Edge and others. In 1664 laws against such meetings were enacted and the authorities punished those hosting or attending them. Fines were punitive.

Malcolm explained how John ffeilden was growing up in these times, being born in the late 1660s. His parents Joshua and Mary lived at Bottomley, where he and his five brothers and sister were brought up as Quakers.

From 1689 the restriction on meetings was lifted. At this time John became a Quaker minister, not a preaching minister but a travelling minister visiting many of the Quaker meetings in the north. He was a member of the Brighouse Monthly Meeting, to which Mankinholes belonged, and a delegate from there to the Quarterly Meeting at York. On one occasion he went to the Yearly Meeting at London, the return journey, on horseback, taking him three weeks.

Malcolm also told of the strict rules which Quakers were expected to obey and gave local examples of how couples, including John ffeilden and Tamar Halstead, were vetted before being sanctioned to marry.

John was extremely diligent in his Quaker work. Only a few weeks before his death, he set off for the Yearly Meeting at Lancaster, clearly grateful for the company of his nephew Joshua. His Day Book uses the ‘old style’ calendar, where the New Year began on March 25. Quakers also used numbers for days of the week and months to avoid using names of pagan gods. John’s death is recorded as 20.3.1734, which to us is May 26. He was buried at Shewbroad and his wife Tamar followed him nine months later.