Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - H for Fanny Henshaw

Frances Henshaw, usually known as Fanny, was born at Caldon Hall near Leek in Staffordshire in 1714 into a wealthy family but lost both parents before she was six years old. She and her elder sister were committed to the care of their uncle as guardian, who made sure that they were well educated according to their station and placed with a serious and observant Anglican family.

A wealthy family in the 1730s
As she grew up Fanny became more and more concerned with religion and was drawn to Quakers, as she says, ‘I felt a secret love and approbation of their simplicity and godly sincerity, though I had no great acquaintance with them, nor was much conversant with their writings, neither had been at more than two of their religious meetings, and those when I was very young; but the inward sense given me of them as a people, so conscientious in the converse and commerce amongst men, kept me from prejudice against them, nor durst I, like some of my acquaintance, (though in other cases I had as quick a satirical disposition as most) make this people the subject of ridicule , nor speak lightly of the spirit they professed, feeling in the interior of my mind it would be at my own peril, if I should so daringly and imprudently indulge my wit.’

In 1734,when she was just 20, the serious illness of her sister brought about a religious crisis in Fanny, As she says ‘I was ready to petition the Almighty in the secret of my mind, that she might be relieved if it were consistent with his will, and if one of us must suffer, that it might rather be myself than she, judging myself less timorous; but in the midst of these considerations, I was informed as certainly in my own conscience, as if it had been told me by a person of unquestionable validity and authority, that I must undergo a great work, and know a thorough change before I could be prepared for a happy death. A query arising in me what this could import and what this change must be, I presently had an answer uttered to my breast with great weight and solemnity to this effect – The change is this: Thou must with others bear the Cross in the closest way, and become a Quaker.’

When Fanny told her friends they were horrified and looked for reasons for her resolution. They suggested ‘that possibly it might be the good opinion I and our family...had entertained of a neighbour of ours who had sometimes been at the house, and done many acts of friendship for us, that had biased my judgement in favour of the Quakers’ principles; he being a strict Quaker and very conscientious in his whole conduct and conversation, which I thought was praiseworthy both in him and others. But I was very far from any personal liking or affection to him, though the report was soon spread that I was in love with him.’  

Fanny's friends tried hard to change her mind by argument, enlisting the aid among others of the poet
Etching of John Byrom
John Byrom and of William Law, the author of A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, who corresponded with her, but she remained firm.
After nearly two years of inward and outward struggle Fanny visited her guardian and convinced him of her sincerity and that she had come to her decision independently. As she says ‘The searcher of hearts who knew the strait I was in, wrought upon my uncle in my favour, and made him plead my cause with them that strove against me, and with a courage becoming his station, assert and plead for my just liberty of worshipping God in the way I believed to be right; saying I had as good a title to this liberty as any person, and none should abridge me of it and he stand by.’ Thus championed Fanny became a Quaker in 1736 when she was 22.

Titlepage of Law's A Serious Call
Perhaps unwisely, Fanny was recognised as a minister only a year later and began to travel extensively almost at once. All went well initially but she then encountered more opposition, this time from some Friends, because of her popularity, especially among young women. As with May Drummond, another convinced Friend, there was a fear that popularity might lead to spiritual pride.  By 1743 Fanny had reached a point of physical and mental collapse and her Quaker supporters recommended that she should be cared for by Grace Chamber of Kendal , an older woman minister who was both wise in the ways of Friends and skilled in medicine. 

Grace took Fanny into her home for an extended period, giving her rest, good advice and fresh and salt-water baths. Writing to Joshua Toft, a friend who was particular concerned about Fanny, Grace summed up the young woman's problem, ‘She has been quite overdone, both body and spirits, and the fever coming upon her in that low condition was beyond what her constitution could undergo without being borne down below measure, which is not easily recruited, there being need of both inward and outward helps. As divine providence has provided both for our souls and bodies so I conclude we ought to receive both in as much faith and thankfulness as possible we can.’

When she was on the road to recovery Grace also introduced Fanny to another young woman, Abiah
Leek Quaker Meeting House today
Sinclair, later Darby
, and the two became lifelong friends and travelled together in the ministry. Grace was instrumental in introducing Abiah, a young widow, to her second husband, Abraham Darby, and perhaps she also made a match between Fanny and William Paxton of Durham as the two couples married in the same year, 1745. Marriage and children (she and William had four sons) were good for Fanny, although she remained of a nervous disposition. The network of Quaker friendship centred on the Darby's home in Coalbrookdale also remained very important and supportive for Fanny both personally and for her Quaker ministry. Two years after William Paxton's death in 1753 Fanny married William Dodgson, also of Durham. In 1771 the family moved to Leek, Fanny's birthplace, but William died in 1775. Fanny continued to travel extensively in the ministry until she died at the home of her son William Paxton in Macclesfield in 1793 aged 78.

Fanny left a memoir of her convincement, which stresses the lack of influence which individual Quakers had on her and the strength of her Iward Guide, written partly before her first marriage and partly afterit, the two sections being signed with her different names. It was published after her death, but not without problems. According to William Phillips, the Quaker printer, writing in 1808, it was approved for publication by Second Days Morning Merting in 1794, but was suppressed by Meeting for Sufferings on the advice of William's father and Morris Birkbeck in their role as 'correctors pf the press' because of discoveries they had made 'of a certain kind of spiritual pride.' A revised version was eventually published in 1804, but this shows that doubts about the possible influence of Fanny Henshaw as a convinced Quaker remained even after many years.


Monday, April 07, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - G for Guidance

Sitting in meeting, considering what my next alphabetic blog post might be, it became clear to me that I should write about guidance.

There have been many times in my life when I have needed help with finding what to do or where to go next. I have often brought my perplexity into the silence of worship (sometimes with others and sometimes by myself) and waited for guidance. Help has often come, not always immediately or in the form in which I have expected it. I may be guided to speak to someone, to undertake a new project, to read something or just to continue waiting.

Where does this guidance come from? In the third of our Advices and Queries we are asked to encourage in ourselves a habit of dependence on God's guidance for each day. I'm not sure that I manage the everyday part but I know that I am asking for and receiving guidance from God, my Inward Guide as well as my Inward Teacher. The guidance I receive is gentle but insistent. I am free to ignore it and I often do, but if I follow, however hesitantly, then it is my experience that 'way will open.'

Although I live in quite different times, when I seek for guidance I feel at one with the travelling Friends in past centuries waiting to be guided to the right ship in which to embark on the dangerous ocean and ignoring many others that appear quite suitable to the outward eye. I know that I am waiting for guidance in the same way and from the same source, however foolish and deluded I may seem to some.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - F for Ann Fothergill and family

Carr End Farm
Ann Fothergill was born in 1718 in her family home, Carr End Farm, in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. She was the only daughter and youngest surviving child after her mother died in childbirth when Ann was a year old. Ann had four older brothers - Alexander the eldest who was destined to inherit the farm, John who became a famous doctor, Joseph who went into business in Warrington and Samuel who, while also in business, was one of the most famous Quaker ministers of his age.

Countersett Meeting House
Ann's father John travelled extensively in the ministry and the children were brought up at first by a family friend and later by a stepmother who their father married in 1729 when Ann was eleven. They attended the nearby Countersett Meeting and mixed mainly with other local Quaker families.  Ann remained unmarried and took on the role of 'daughter at home', looking after her father until he died in 1744 and then her stepmother until her death two years later. At this point, when her brother Alexander and his family took over the farm, Ann moved out and went to stay with her brother Joseph in Warrington. She had inherited very little from her father and so had to rely on the support of her family. While Joseph gave her a roof over her head her brother John, who was doing well as a doctor with a growing practice in London, settled £100 on her to fulfill what he believed to be their father's wishes.

Dr John Fothergill in 1740
By the end of the 1740s, although there had been talk of at least one suitor, Ann was still single and, turning thirty, seemed set to remain so. At the same time her brother John was also single, in spite of a few half-hearted attempts to change his station, and felt himself increasingly in need of a good housekeeper. He was established as a leading medical figure in London and had published his classic work on sore throat in 1748. He had just taken over the house in Gracechurch Street where he had previously been a tenant, had servants and, as he told his brother Samuel, was 'determined to know as little of housekeeping as possible.' In 1749 he was seriously ill and it may have been that experience which led him to suggest to Ann that she should join him and take over the running of his household.

Ann arrived in Gracechurch Street in 1750 and although she found life in London a great contrast to what she was used to she also found her brother a kind companion. She wrote to her eldest brother that John 'often orders some little thing or other to recruit my constitution, and endeavours to inspire with cheerfulness and ease, as he apprehends, and not without grounds, my spirits has long been borne down with various causes to my, he thinks, great disadvantage.'

The circles in which her brother moved were cosmopolitan and quite different to those Ann had been used to and although wishing to please him she was determined not to change too much. As she wrote to Alexander, 'Singular I am and so I hope to continue in my dress. The antic folly I observe does not excite me to imitate. Brother's extensive acquaintance and esteem exposes me at present to a pretty deal of company.'

Ann soon settled down and took charge of her brother's comfort, cooking Yorkshire oatbread and other dishes, looking after the running of the house and entertaining his many visitors, both Quakers and others. She also kept up an extensive correspondence with her family and friends from which it is evident that, as her spelling reflected her speech, she retained her Yorkshire accent even after many years in London.

Silhouette of Samuel preaching
One of her most constant correspondents was her brother Samuel. He had been so wayward in his youth that his father had almost despaired of him but he underwent a religious experience which convinced him of the truth of the faith in which he had been brought up and became a travelling Quaker minister. In 1754 he felt moved to make a religious visit to America and travelled from Warrington to stay with his brother John. In Gracechurch Street he met John Churchman, an American Quaker who had agreed to travel with him, and Ann accompanied the two of them to Gravesend and saw them embark. In the two years that followed Samuel's travels were long and arduous and the correspondence between the brothers and sister was extensive. It was with relief that they welcomed him back to London in 1756.

Upton House
Dr John Fothergill's practice was increasing and his household was becoming more prosperous as well as much busier. The doctor found it difficult to refuse a patient and although some unkindly said that he worked in pursuit of wealth others knew that his main motive was the good of others. Ann too was increasingly busy and complained that she could hardly find one uninterrupted quarter hour. They decided that a change was needed and in 1763 moved to a property at Upton in Essex where Dr Fothergill created a botanical garden with an unrivalled collection of American plants, many of them medicinal. Ann created a peaceful home at Upton but it was still too near London for the Doctor to be able entirely to escape the demands of his patients. They looked for somewhere further away and nearer to the rest of their family and in 1765 found it in Lea Hall, a small country house near Middlewich in Cheshire, 150 from London and within easy reach of Warrington. For the rest of their lives together John and Ann spent two months each summer here in order to rest and, as the Doctor put it 'to recover the power of recollection.'
Lea Hall, Middlewich

After another two years Ann and the Doctor made another move, from Gracechurch Street to HarpurStreet in Bloomsbury. They hoped that this would allow John to take a greater part in the business of Friends than he had been able to before but fitting out and decorating a new house meant a lot of work for Ann. She wrote to Samuel that nothing was finished when they moved in and 'we share our house and is long like to do so with different classes of workmen, joiners, carpenters, painters, plumbers, smiths &c.' However Ann was happy with the move and content with her lot, grounded in calm stillness which allowed her, as she told Samuel, to 'be in solitude in the streets of London'.

Ann needed her inner calm as the daily life of the Fothergill household remained frenetically busy with visits from family, friends and visiting dignitaries such as Benjamin Franklin. The Doctor found it impossible to rest or to work less as he grew older. As the years went by both he and Ann became more prone to illnesses and family difficulties such as Alexander's debts and Samuel's death in 1772 hit them hard.

Winchmore Hill Meeting House
In 1779 Doctor Fothergill fell seriously ill and needed surgery. He recovered from this and was soon back in his usual hectic routine, as described by Ann. 'He is embarked as much as ever from early to very late as usual. Sometime home to a hasty dinner betwixt 4 and 5 o'clock and out again 'til 9 or near 10 at night and some days without any dinner out as late - and of consequence up writing 'til betwixt 11 and 12.' Ann too became ill and spent two weeks at the spa at Buxton. It was a pleasant surprise to her that for once her brother put his business on hold to stay with her. They had one more quiet summer together at Lea Hall but at the end of 1780 Doctor John became ill again and died just after Christmas at the age of 68. He was buried at Winchmore Hill Quaker burial ground and Ann's circumstances changed once more.

Ann took charge of her brother's considerable estate and arranged for Upton and Harpur Street to be sold as well as the Doctor's extensive collection of books. She was also concerned to settle her 'family' of servants into new employment. Ann herself was comfortably provided for and moved into a smaller house, 68 Great Russell Street, just opposite the British Museum. Here she had the companionship of her nieces and also kept up her tradition of hospitality, providing dinner twice a week for strangers who attended Westminster Meeting. In 1790 she was one of the subscribers to the new Meeting House at Winchmore Hill and when she died in 1802 at the age of 84 she was buried there beside her brother.

The story of the Fothergill family has been told through their correspondence in the aptly titled book 'Chain of Friendship' and Ann's place in it has been fully researched in an article by Christopher C Booth on which I have drawn extensively for this blog post. Ann and her brother were mutually dependent and allowed one another to live fuller lives than might have been possible had they remained alone. Ann's extensive surviving correspondence and references to her in the writings of others are witness to the lasting value of her life.