Friday, March 29, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 13 - G for the three Sarah Grubbs

One of the problems of researching Quakers of the past is their habit of marrying within other Quaker families and of using only a small stock of first names. This often leads to a situation where contemporaries are given, or acquire on marriage, the same name. For the sake of clarity therefore this week I am going to try to distinguish between the three Sarah Grubbs. Sarah Pim Grubb (1746 – 1832), Sarah Tuke Grubb (1756-1790) and Sarah Lynes Grubb (1773 – 1840) were connected both by time and place.

Sarah Pim was born in 1746 at Mountrath in Ireland, the eldest of the fifteen children  of John and Sarah Pim. Her father was a rich Dublin wool merchant and she was related through both her parents to most of the prominent Quaker families in Ireland. In 1771 the family moved to Tottenham in Middlesex where they  mixed in fashionable Quaker society in and around London. Writing to friends in Ireland Sarah noted that the English Quakers loved finery whereas the Irish retained the ‘plain’ dress but entertained lavishly. 

River Suir at Clonmel
Sarah moved back to Ireland in 1778 when she married John Grubb (1737-1784)  a flour miller of Anner Mills, Clonmel, co. Tipperary and entered the circle of wealthy Quaker families who controlled Clonmel's milling industry in its golden age. Although some in this circle lived, as the visiting American Quaker William Savery said, ‘like princes of the earth’  the Grubbs chose to live plainly and their comfortable home, Anner Mills, for years provided hospitality to numerous travelling Quaker ministers. 

Main Street Clonmel
Their happy marriage was ended prematurely with John Grubb's death from overwork in 1784. At this point  Sarah chose to take her husband's place and run the mills herself, with the support of her brother Joshua, a prominent Dublin banker and her sister Elizabeth Pim. She entrusted the care of her five small daughters to Sarah Lynes who came from London in 1787 and of whom I shall say more later. Sarah Pim Grubb found that business, and contact with the country people, raised her spirits. She made a success of the business through strict integrity, and a policy of always using cash when buying in, and selling at low rates rather than giving credit. 

Possessed of great clearness of mind and a powerful character, Sarah Pim Grubb was also a person of warm human sympathy and benevolence. She did what she could to alleviate widespread local misery caused by poverty and drunkenness, and she was quick to sen aid to those afflicted by the 1798 rising. She was much concerned with education and helped to fund Newtown School in Waterford. This combination of success in business and social concern won her the nickname the Queen of the South. She died, leaving a fortune of over £100,000, at Anner Mills in 1832 and was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Clonmel.

Sarah Lynes was born in 1773 in Wapping, London and attended the Friends school in Clerkenwell. From here, at the age of fourteen, she went to Ireland, as I have said, to look after the children of Sarah Pim Grubb of Anner Mills, Clonmel. While in this household she experienced the stirrings of a call to the ministry and first spoke in meeting, with great reluctance, when she was seventeen. Four years later, in 1794, she was recorded a minister by Co. Tipperary MM and began to travel in the ministry in Ireland, encouraged and supported by her employer. In 1797 she returned to London, started a school with her sister and continued her extensive travels. She spoke whenever she felt called, often in the open air and in all weathers one result of which was an increasing deafness.

A Quaker Wedding by Percy Bigland, 1896
It was thus as an experienced and seasoned minister that, in 1804, she married John Grubb of Clonmel, the nephew of her old employer. This became evident during the ceremony in Isleworth meeting house. As one of her friends, Elizabeth Dudley, wrote, ‘Sally like a notable woman, went into the [ministers] gallery after the ceremony and was largely engaged to the people, many not Friends being present; she then took her seat beside John again...’ The marriage was a happy one as John had nothing but admiration for his Sally’s gifts and supported her throughout the nearly forty years they had together. They went to live in Ireland for fifteen years but then Sarah felt that God was calling her back to England so they and their four children returned.

In her family circle Sarah was characterised as ‘highly humourous’ but this side of her was seldom shown in her public minister’s role. Hers was a prophetic gift and she was often moved to warn against what she saw as the dangers to the Society of Friends in a very trenchant and outspoken manner. As a Quietist she saw herself as acting only as a mouthpiece for God’s word, not speaking in her own words or will. The targets of her strictures  were mainly the Evangelical party led by J.J. Gurney, who she saw as too much given over to worldliness and money-making to be proper leaders for Quakers. She also feared that their greater emphasis on education  for ministry and on Bible study would lead them to depend more on their own intellect than on patient waiting for the Inward Light.

Over the years, in the private reports of Friends, we hear Sarah’s words ringing out in Yearly Meeting after Yearly Meeting. In 1807 she ‘was led particularly to address those who were as the great men in the world, querying in a very emphatic manner whether they were not more solicitous to have their heads stored with knowledge and their purses with money than they were to have their hearts replenished with heavenly treasure.’ 

Joseph John Gurney
By 1836 the Evangelical party had become dominant in the Society of Friends in Britain and the Quietist, traditional cause seemed all but lost. Sarah was not silent however and YM in 1838 saw her, two years before her death, ill but still determined to repeat her message of warning one last time. John Southall describes her as ‘altered in appearance, she is much, very much thinner, but her eye has its wonted brightness, her manner is lively and her voice good, her address was perhaps even more than usually plain spoken, though it was not such as ought to have given offence to a single human being.’ Doubtless some were offended, but Sarah Lynes Grubb was only being true to that call to the ministry which she had heard fifty years before. As she said at that last YM, ‘You may perhaps be thinking it is only a poor insignificant woman who is teling you what she thinks, and you will not receive it, but it is not the instrument but the power from which the words proceed that ought to be looked up to.’

Between Sarah Pim and Sarah Lynes comes Sarah Tuke. She was born in 1756 in York, the second of the five children of William Tuke (1732-1822) and his first wife Elizabeth Hoyland. When Sarah was four years old her mother died but when she was nine Esther Maud Tuke became her stepmother. She and her siblings always gratefully acknowledged Esther’s tenderness and care for them and the fact that she treated them no differently from her own three children. 

Sarah struggled when young with her natural vivacity of disposition but when she was sixteen she helped her step-mother to care for John Woolman, the American Quaker minister, in his last illness and his example of resignation and faith made a great impression on her mind. She long remembered his words to her, 'My child, thou seems very kind to me, a poor creature. The Lord will reward you for it.' Sarah first appeared in the ministry, after much hesitation and agonising, in 1779 at the age of twenty three and at once embarked upon extensive travels in the ministry which continued for the rest of her life. At first she accompanied her step-mother into Westmoreland and Cumberland and in the same year went with another relation to Cheshire and Lancashire.

In 1782 Sarah married Robert Grubb [1743-1797] of Clonmel, who had lived for some time in York, and they settled at the village of Foston ten miles away, but almost at once Sarah left on a visit to Scotland with Mary Proud of Hull which she found 'a painful exercising time.' On her return Sarah settled into a domestic life which involved frequent travel, sometimes with her husband, but also with female companions. In 1786 Sarah accompanied Rebecca Jones of Philadelphia on a visit to Wales  “rendered arduous by the ruggedness of the country and the road being partly over the tops of very high mountains.” Next year Sarah went, again with Rebecca, to Ireland, but she also found time to act as Clerk of the Womens Yearly Meeting in London in both 1786 and 1787. During this time Sarah began to feel called to leave the security of York and her beloved family and in 1787 she and Robert moved to Ireland and settled near Clonmel. In 1788 they went with other Friends, including George and Sarah Dillwyn of America, to Holland, Germany and France.

Although she had no children of her own, Sarah had decided views on education. She believed that children needed both discipline and respect and should be taught useful skills. In York in 1784 she had helped her step-mother to establish a school for girls and when they moved to Ireland she and Robert founded Suir Island girls’ school at their home on the same principles.

There was little time for Sarah to rest. In 1790 she and Robert, together with the Dillwyns, went again to travel in the ministry on the continent, in France, Holland, Pyrmont and Germany. When Sarah returned she was physically exhausted and ill but, pausing only to visit her family in York for a few days, she went straight to Dublin for the Ireland Half-Yearly Meeting to report on her travels to Friends. Returning home still weak and unwell she stayed only two weeks before travelling to Cork to attend Quarterly Meeting. Here she collapsed and after ten days illness died on 8th December 1790 at the age of thirty four. After her untimely death several of her writings, on religion and education as well as her journal, were published.  

How did their contemporaries distinguish between the three Sarahs? They did not add their original surnames as I have but instead used a different convention. If two women had the same first name and one had a second name they were known by that, so Priscilla Hannah Gurney (1757-1828) was so called to distinguish her from another Priscilla Gurney who was also a minister. If either woman was married however then her distinguishing second name became that of her husband, so Sarah Tuke became Sarah R Grubb or Sally Robert and Sarah Lynes was called Sarah J Grubb or Sally John. In the same way Elizabeth Fry is sometimes referred to as Elizabeth J Fry to distinguish her from another contemporary Elizabeth Fry. Occasionally a Quaker man would also change his name to distinguish himself from a namesake. When Elizabeth Fry's brother Joseph Gurney began working for the family bank at the age of seventeen he added John to his name to distinguish himself from his uncle Joseph, a senior partner, becoming known as J.J. Gurney.

The three Sarah Grubbs had much in common as well as their names. A dedication to the Quaker ministry, an interest in education and residence in Ireland, in particular Clonmel, also linked them together.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 12 - F for Friends House

Friends House front on Euston Road
Friends House garden
Friends House in Euston Road, London is the very imposing headquarters of Quakers in Britain. With a vast columned entrance facing Euston station and a more modest arched entrance facing a garden at one side it is familiar to generations of Quakers arriving for meetings or to visit the bookshop, cafe or restaurant. It is a busy hub for Friends from all over the country, as it houses the Library and the central offices of Britain Yearly Meeting, but also for a wide variety of other groups.

Liverpool Meeting House by Lidbetter
The building was designed by the Quaker architect Hubert Lidbetter (1885-1966). He was born in Dublin but educated in England and was just starting out in practice after spending the four years of the First World War in the Friends Ambulance Unit when he entered the competition to design a new home for Quakers in London in 1923. The project was finally finished in 1927 and he was awarded a bronze medal for his design by the Royal Institute of British Architects, which led to other commissions including new meeting houses at Birmingham Bull Street in 1933 and Liverpool in 1941.

Over the years the exterior has hardly changed but the interior has been refurbished and decorated in various ways. The simple lines of Lidbetter's original vision still remain and seem to me to combine a Quaker simplicity with a sense of scale. This is particularly the case in the main room, the Large Meeting House, where sessions of Yearly Meeting are held three years out of four. This room is about to undergo a transformation which will radically change its appearance and there are many, including myself, who look forward to the result with some trepidation.

1934 book by Elfrida Vipont
Many Friends who have visited the building regularly over the years as I have feel very much at home there. I have worked in the Library, both behind the desk and in the reading room, have sat on a variety of committees all over the building and have been coming regularly to Yearly Meeting since the 1970s. I therefore have a sense of being part of what goes on at 'the centre' when I am in my local meeting as well as when I am in Friends House.

Friends House has never been a stranger to controversy. Many have questioned the necessity for such a large building on such a valuable plot of land and have asked whether Quakers might be better moving to a different place or sending different parts of the administration to different places. No resolution has been found however and Friends House remains as good a centre for the Society of Friends in Britain as is possible at the moment and Lidbetter's building continues to make its presence felt on the Euston Road.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 11 - F for Ruth Follows

Basket makers in 20th century Castle Donnington
Ruth Follows was born on 7 January 1718 in Weston, Nottinghamshire, the sixth of the seven children of  Quaker parents, Richard Alcock (d. 1757), and his wife Ruth (c.1687-1738). Although brought up as a quaker, Ruth was thrown off balance for a while after her mother’s death. As she puts it, 'I left her counsel behind me, trod her testimony under my feet and took a large swing at vanity’ but soon realised her fault and returned to the fold. Her reformation was aided by her marriage, aged about 23, to George Follows (c1717-1803), who she calls ‘a young man far more worthy than myself’. They lived in Castle Donnington, Leicestershire where together they struggled to gain a basic living at George’s trade of making baskets out of osiers (rushes) and Ruth gave birth to four sons.  

A family works at stripping osiers
Gradually it became clear to Ruth that she was being called to become a Quaker recorded  minister, as her mother had been before her. She struggled against this conviction both because her children were still young and because she knew that few working-class Quakers of very limited means like herself travelled in the ministry, but eventually she accepted the responsibility at the age of thirty.

Osier basket
For much of the next forty years Ruth travelled extensively throughout Great Britain, often leaving her children in the care of her always supportive husband and writing long and affectionate letters home. She usually travelled with younger women ministers who derived much support from her company. In 1761-2 and again in 1782-3 she visited Ireland and was particularly troubled by what she saw as Friends’ excessive worldliness there.

Ruth’s ministry sometimes lay in silence, directing those who came to hear her back within themselves to dependence on Christ the Inward teacher rather than on human ministry. On other occasions, when she perceived a fault, Ruth spoke out as ‘a sharp instrument in the Lord’s hand’, although she was always encouraging to the faithful.  

18th century Newfoundland
Two of Ruth’s sons, George (1742-1766) and Joseph (1751-1809), gave her considerable cause for anxiety by their youthful wildness, keeping bad company and drinking heavily, but both reformed under the steadying influence of Friends. Joseph worked for three years for a Quaker master in Newfoundland and on his return to England settled down in the family business. He became a Quaker minister himself and in 1793 accompanied his mother on one of her last journeys in the ministry.

Castle Donnington in the 19th century
Towards the end of her life Ruth became increasingly infirm and after a journey to Yearly Meeting in London in 1795 remained at home, receiving visiting Friends and faithfully attending local meetings. She had a wide network of friends who valued her and her name is often mentioned in their correspondence and journals. James Jenkins, not known for his charitable judgments on his fellow Quakers, described Ruth as ‘highly esteemed both as a minister and as a woman extremely amiable in private life'. He also says that she ‘was one of the most musical preachers I have ever heard - even in old age she used to exalt a clear strong voice into strains of delightful melody.’ George Follows died in 1803 and five years later, on 3 April 1808, Ruth died, aged 90, and was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Castle Donnington.

Ruth Follows’ spiritual autobiography and letters were assembled after her death and published twenty years later, in 1829, at the instigation of those who still valued her memory as Memoirs of Ruth Follows. Extracts from this book and some unpublished letters can be found in the anthology Strength in Weakness.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 10 - E for Equality

Equality as a Quaker testimony derives from the conviction, as George Fox put it, that there is 'that of God in every one'. As with the other testimonies, to peace, truth and simplicity, equality is a work in progress which we do not always live up to either individually or corporately.

When I think of equality in a Quaker context what first comes to my mind is equality between women and men. It is often said that there has always been equality between men and women in the Society of Friends, but this is only a partial truth. While in general there has been spiritual equality, Quakers have often retained the temporal attitudes to the roles of the sexes that have been part of the world in which they lived and live. There are examples of this scattered through the biographies that I am writing as part of the Quaker Alphabet.

Back in the 1980s I was a member of the Quaker Womens Group and helped to write and present the QWG Swarthmore lecture Bringing the Invisible into the Light at Yearly Meeting in Exeter in 1986. The fact that Quakers had sometimes fallen short in their testimony to equality was one of our themes and we encountered a very hostile reaction from some quarters for daring to question an accepted truth.

There are other areas in which Quakers have not always managed, consciously or unconsciously, to be true to their testimony to equality. Friends in Britain have exhibited some racist attitudes as Lilamani Woolrych found when she was a Joseph Rowntree Quaker Fellow in 1993 and published in her report Communicating across cultures.

More recently Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel have looked  at the record of American Quakers in this area in their 2011 book Fit for Freedom, not for Friendship and found it less than perfect. Although Quakers worked to right the wrongs of African Americans they were uncomfortable about living with them as equals or accepting them as full members of the Society of Friends. Black Friends were expected to take their place on the 'back benches' and had to fight for full acceptance as members.

In the same way lack of equality related to social class or educational differences was and perhaps still is an issue among Friends. When the Adult School movement was at its height among Quakers in the 19th and 20th centuries some of the working-class pupils wanted to be
An application form for Quaker Associate Membership
come Friends but it was felt that they were not ready for full membership and a new category, associate membership was created for them. No doubt the Friends concerned thought they were being kind but
they were not accepting these people as equals.

I feel that it is important for Friends to recognise that we have failed to live up to our testimony to equality in the past and may be failing always to live up to this and other testimonies today. If we do not recognise this we run the risk of falling into the trap of self-righteousness. It is salutary to remember that Quakers are no more perfect than the rest of humanity and never have been.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 9 - E for Solomon Eccles

A consort of viols by Freyse, German, mid-17th century

Solomon Eccles, sometimes called Eagle, was born around 1618 in London where his father was a professor of music. Solomon became a composer and taught the virginals and viol, making a good living from his profession. Although brought up in the established church Solomon was dissatisfied and, following the spirit of his times, pursued religious truth through several different denominations, becoming a Presbyterian, an Independent and a Baptist before being convinced by Quakerism around 1660.

Title page of A Musick -Lector
On becoming a Friend Solomon came to see  music making as a vanity which he must renounce. He sold all his books and instruments for a considerable sum but then began to be afraid that they might injure the morals of the purchasers. He therefore bought them back and burned them publicly on Tower Hill. To support himself Solomon learned the trade of a shoemaker. In 1667 he published a tract A Musick Lector:OR,The Art of MUSICK that is so much vindicated in Christendom, discoursed of by way of Dialogue, between three men of several judgments. [a musician, a Baptist and a Quaker]

Like other Friends at this time Solomon was given to preaching not only by words but by acting out his message through 'signs'. In 1662 he sat in the pulpit of a church making shoes in order to show that it was not a special place. He was thrown out of the church but  returned the next day, this time reaching the pulpit by jumping from pew to pew. After this startling demonstration he was, perhaps unsurprisingly, arrested and imprisoned.

Perhaps Solomon's most famous 'sign', reported by both Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe, was to walk naked or semi-naked with a pan of fire and brimstone balanced on his head, threatening passers-by with the fate of Sodom if they did not repent. Solomon began acting out this 'sign' in London in 1665 so that some saw it as a prophecy of the Great Fire, but he continued with it in 1667 in Scotland when he denounced the worshippers in a Catholic church and later in Cork, where he exhibited himself stark naked and was flogged through the town and expelled.
Solomon Eagle, 1843 (oil on canvas), Poole, Paul Falconer (1807-79) / Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust

Although his actions seem extreme Solomon was very clear that he was only acting as God commanded him and against his own will. In 1677 he wrote, 'I can truly say this, that I have strove much and besought the Lord that this going naked might be taken from me, before ever I went a sign at all.'

Solomon Eccles was not solely a person of extremes. George Fox trusted him and took him to the West Indies in 1671 where Solomon was very useful in organising Quakers in Barbados and Jamaica. In 1672 he went to New England but was arrested at Boston and banished. Solomon came back to England in 1680 and died in Spitalfields in London around January 1682 aged about 64. His three sons did not follow their father into Quakerism and all became musicians.

Solomon Eccles was much more than an eccentric but rather, as William Sewel who knew him well, said 'an extraordinary zealous man and what he judged evil he warmly opposed, even to the hazard of his life.' In the present day the story of Solomon Eccles has inspired the American Quaker Jon Watts to write a song about him.