Thursday, March 02, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - V for Verses

As I said in a much earlier post, Friends in the past have felt ambivalent about both reading and writing poetry. Some, like Mary Southworth Mollineux, did write in this form but only on serious subjects and they hesitated to publish their work widely or under their own name.

In the 18th century poetry was often copied by Friends into commonplace books for their own use. This might be written by Quakers but works such as James Thomson's The Seasons were also popular. As the century progressed a few Friends ventured into the public domain with their poetry. In 1794 Catherine Payton Phillips published The Happy King; a sacred poem which was addressed to George III. The main subject of the poem is to urge the monarch to do away with slavery and was part of mainstream Quaker campaigning at this time. In her Memoirs Catherine states that when she became a minister she stopped any reading other than the Bible, but perhaps towards the end of her life she allowed herself more latitude, as her poem is very much in the contemporary style.

In later times many Friends wrote poetry and even published it, although like W. C. Braithwaite's volume it was often referred to, self-deprecatingly, as Verses. There were Quaker poets, such as the Americans Walt Whitman and John Greenleaf Whittier but it was only in the 20th century that this became an acceptable description in the UK. Poets who are Quakers do not always identify as Quaker poets but a modern anthology has recently been published. A Speaking Silence; Quaker poets of today came out in 2013 and was advertised as the first of its kind for over a hundred years.

So what is the difference between poetry and verses? Is one more serious than the other? There is certainly a continuing tradition of both forms appearing in local newsletters and blogs and both are now equally acceptable. I would like to end this post with an extract from a verse published in 2007 by the Sheffield Quaker Simon Heywood which is part of another tradition - verse which pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of Friends - usually in a loving spirit.

I'm a lonely little Quaker
and I'm feeling very small.
I'm the clerk of Monthly Meeting
and there's no-one here at all.
I've got all the minutes drafted
and I'm ready with my pen
but the sense of Monthly Meeting
is they've stayed at home again...

If it wasn't for the Quakers
in the Quaker burial ground
then I'd be the only Quaker
for a hundred miles around,
for the buses stop at seven
and there's something on TV
and this month it's nominations
and there's no-one here but me.
I could minute they're prevented
but they never said what by.
I'm a lonely little Quaker
and I think I want to cry.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - U for Undercliffe

Undercliffe House was the home of John and Christiana Hustler of Bradford and their family. John was born in 1715 to Quaker parents in Bolton. His father was a farmer but also a wool merchant and John served an apprenticeship as a woolsorter and stapler. The family business flourished during the 1740s and John was very active as a merchant in Bradford, dealing not only in wool and worsted cloth but in coal, some from his own mines. He became very prosperous and lived at Bolton Hall, part of whose grounds became what is now Peel Park.

In 1763, when he was 48 years old and well established, John married Christiana Hird, aged 31, a minister and the daughter of another prosperous Quaker. They moved into Undercliffe House which John had built in a healthier situation than Bolton Hall, further up the hill above the city. It was a large establishment and Christiana made it a home for their six children and a place of hospitality for many visiting Quaker travelling ministers.

John was very influential in transforming Bradford into a modern city. He was a prime mover in opening out Bradford centre, building the Piece Hall and suggesting the construction of New (now Market) Street. In modern times his contribution was recognised by naming a street, Hustlergate, after him. He was also a leading promoter of the Leeds and Liverpool and later the Bradford canals, known at that time as 'the navigation'.

This business often took him to London where, according to one fellow visitor to Dr Fothergill's house, he could talk of nothing else. Betsy Fothergill confided to her diary '[we were] entertained in the manner I expected - the course of rivers, the situation of hills, etc etc - and in short, "the Navigation" spun out into its different branches, was the continued subject. It is a common maxim that extremes can never last but J Hustler is an exception to this general rule, for he has continued the pursuit of this favourite scheme for near two years past, with an ardour that rather strengthens than declines.'

Joseph Wood
While John travelled on business Christiana remained at Undercliffe and dispensed generous hospitality to Quaker  visitors. Joseph Wood came to stay the night in 1774 and says 'John was gone from home but his Wife was remarkable, open, free, so that we spent the evening very agreeably together, and she having just received a Letter from her brother Benjamin Hird who was then on a religious visit to friends in Scotland was so kind as to read it to me which was very comfortable...' 

As her children grew Christiana felt free to travel in the ministry not only locally but further afield. In the 1780s Christiana accompanied Rebecca Jones on her travels around the country but they often returned to Undercliffe for periods of rest and recuperation. In 1788 on her return to America Rebecca fondly remembered 'that hospitable retreat called Undercliffe, where I have been often received, kindly cared for and tenderly treated, far beyond my deserts.'

John died in 1790 and Christiana in 1811 and they were both buried in the Quaker burial ground in the city centre. Undercliffe passed to their sons but eventually the house was demolished and the estate sold. In 1851, as part of a national campaign to remove graveyards from city centres where they were becoming a health hazard, 26 acres of the estate were acquired by the Bradford Cemetery Company and Undercliffe Cemetery was established.
Removals stone showing John and Christiana Hustler
 The cemetery was divided between anglicans and non-conformists and was run as a commercial enterprise. The first interment took place in 1854 and then in 1855 an Order in Council closed many of the overcrowded central burial grounds, including the old Quaker graveyard. The Society of Friends purchased a small section at the back of the newly opened cemetery and re-interred the disturbed remains, including those of John and Christiana Hustler, in one large grave. This and subsequent graves were marked with uniform stones laid flat on the ground, a contrast to the many lofty and elaborate monuments surrounding them.

Undercliffe cemetery

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - T for Truth

In these days of post-truth and bare-faced lies in public discourse I am convinced that it is more than ever important for Friends to stand firm in their testimony for the truth in whatever form that manifests itself.

When I went to work in Friends House Library in London and first consciously encountered Quakers, one of the things which most impressed me was the carefulness with which my questions were answered. I was often required to wait while a sufficiently truthful answer was thought about and given and I learned to love that weighty pause.

I learned to be careful in my own speech, not always to say the first thing that came into my head and to be as accurate as I could be. Knowing that this carefulness and respect for the truth was a basic testimony of Quakerisn made it more attractive to me.

Another part of the testimony to truth and also to equality showed itself through not using titles, but calling oneself and others just by name. There were some problems with this at work and with banks etc. but I persevered. Respect can be shown in other ways than in using the 'vain titles of the world' for as Fox put it 'True civility stands in truth'.

We may have different views of the truth, especially when exploring our spiritual lives, and those different views deserve respect. Listening with an open mind and expecting to be listened to in the same way are both ways of finding truth and can bring us closer together in that true civility.

Telling the truth and being careful not to repeat lies that are maskerading as truth are both vitally important to me. That was true before I became a Friend but it is even more so now. Whatever the accepted norms of the wider society may become I know that Truth matters and I shall continue to try to speak truth to power as well as in my everyday life.