Monday, May 06, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 18 - I for Isaac Crewdson

Kendal Quaker Meeting House
Isaac Crewdson was born in Kendal in 1780, the fourth child in a family of seven sons and two daughters. His parents, Thomas Crewdson and Cicely Dillworth were both from established Quaker families and Isaac was brought up strictly according to traditional Quaker ways and doctrines.

Isaac Crewdson
Isaac went into the prosperous family cotton business and in 1803 married Elizabeth Jowitt of Leeds and settled at Ardwick, Manchester. They had two children, a son who died in infancy and a daughter Margaret. Isaac was a prominent member of Hardshaw East Monthly Meeting and was recorded as a minister by them. Isaac was therefore at the centre of a close family and Quaker network where he might have remained, prosperous and comfortable, had it not been for troubling influences coming from America and from his own convictions.

Elias Hicks
A controversy had arisen among American Quakers between traditional 'Quietist' Friends who stressed the primacy of the Inward Light and Evangelical Friends who gave more weight to the authority of the Bible and to justification by faith in Christ. One party of traditional Friends were led by Elias Hicks of New York and in  time came to be known as Hicksites, while the other party were called Orthodox Friends. In America there were serious divisions and splits between the parties.

Isaac became convinced that the evangelical position was right and he was not alone in this. However his views gradually became more extreme. Joseph John Gurney, an influential Evangelical, says that around 1832 he remembered 'telling my friend Isaac Crewdson...that he and I had started our race from opposite points, had met, and crossed on the road.'

In 1835 Isaac published a pamphlet, A Beacon to the Society of Friends. This book was a systematic refutation of writings by Elias Hicks, couched in extreme terms which only served to polarise positions. In Isaac's view scriptural authority and authority derived from the Inward Light could not co-exist and he characterised the latter, upon which most of early Quakerism was based, as 'a delusive notion'.

Manchester Mount Street meeting house
The Beacon pamphlet precipitated serious disagreement and conflict among Friends. Even some of those who took an evangelical position themselves felt, like J.J. Gurney, that Crewdson was going too far and they tried to silence him rather than answer his published arguments. Some even burned his pamphlet rather than read it themselves or allow others to see it. In Manchester many Friends were reduced to tears by the debate and quite a few saw Isaac's treatment as persecution, even if they did not agree with him. Lancashire Quarterly Meeting did not know how to proceed so they appealed to Yearly Meeting. It appointed a committee to restore unity, a difficult task which they failed to accomplish. The committee, which contained several noted evangelicals including Joseph John Gurney, would not condemn Crewdson's doctrine but counselled him for 'practical' reasons first to withdraw his pamphlet and then to suspend his ministry - both of which he refused to do.

The next step was inevitable. In Manchester in1836 Isaac Crewdson and his wife, along with some fifty others, many of them members of his family, resigned from the Society of Friends. Families were painfully divided by the controversy and people were forced to take sides. There were other resignations, amounting to around 400 in all, in meetings throughout the country which included about 100 Friends in Kendal (one third of the meeting).

Isaac Crewdson in 1840
As part of their move away from traditional Quakerism many Beaconites felt that scripture required them to undergo water-baptism. Isaac was baptised and then officiated at several baptisms undertaken privately in the homes of sympathisers. Together with his brother-in-law William Boulton he founded a separate group who called themselves 'Evangelical Friends' but were generally known by Quakers and others as Beaconites, after Isaac's pamphlet. They first met for worship on 18 September 1836 at an infant school before opening their 600-seat chapel nearby in Grosvenor Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester on 17 December 1837. Here Isaac and William officiated and celebrated the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Evangelical Friends held a Yearly Meeting echoing the style of the official Quaker Yearly Meeting in London in 1837 and for a short while published a monthly journal The Inquirer.

Map of the Dissenters Cemetery
The controversy had a devastating effect on Isaac Crewdson's life. Because of the rifts in his own family he was obliged to retire from business and his health broke down. He died at Bowness near Lake Windermere, where he had gone hoping for a cure, on 8 May 1844 aged sixty four and was buried in the Dissenters Cemetery at Rusholme Road in Manchester (now Gartside Gardens) near his home.  The Beaconites did not flourish and their chapel, which was sparsely attended, was sold to the Baptists in 1844, the same year that Isaac died. Many of those who had resigned from the Society of Friends with Isaac moved on to join the Church of England. A substantial number joined the Plymouth Brethren and brought Quaker simplicity of worship to that movement.   

Perhaps if Isaac had not gone to such extremes in his views and expressed them so uncompromisingly or if the reaction to what he said had not degenerated into personal attack then a separation might not have taken place. After all at this time Evangelicalism was on its way to becoming the new orthodoxy for British Quakers. However it was perhaps the shattering effect of this comparatively small separation that held British Quakers back from fragmenting in the way that American Quakers did at this time.


quellecosebelle said...

Isaac and Elizabeth were 4xGt Grandparents of mine. Their daughter Mary (not Margaret) married Henry Waterhouse. My family owns the portrait in oils from which the print of Isaac was, I think, taken. (the high forehead of a colour reminiscent of cooked pastry gives him his family nickname - Pieface!)

Have you seen the contemporary account of the controversy called The Crisis of the Quaker Contest in Manchester (written from a Beaconite perspective)? It was a odd feeling when I read for the first time the texts of the resignation letters, printed as an appendix to that volume, including those of Isaac, Elizabeth and Henry and Mary Waterhouse. I thought - this is why we are not Quakers.

An interesting account, thank you.
Hugh Waterhouse (Sheffield, UK)

Patrick Bealey said...

This blog entry made a strong impact with me, and it's very helpful to my current project. (An e-book on marriage and Quakers.) I was stewarding at the Tapestry Museum in the autumn of 2016, where i first read of the devastating effect the controversy had on Kendal Quakers. I'm glad of your figures for the number who split off with Isaac Crewdson - they are higher than figures on Wikipedia and seem much more accurate.

What a turbulent time for Quakers the 19th century proved to be - people rushing to polar extremes! Well done.

In love and peace, Patrick Bealey, Castle Douglas Meeting