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 Harpur Street 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.


Carol said...

Hi Gil

I am an archaeologist/museum exhibit developer working on a project about the life of William Bartram. We are creating a short 10 minute documentary describing his travels through the Southeastern United States from 1773-1777. Of course an important part of our story is the financial support John Fothergill provided to Bartram for his excursion. I have been looking for pictures of Fothergill and his garden and was very excited to find your blog. Would it be possible to get permission to use the portrait and the picture of Upton House? Thank you for your consideration. I will monitor your blog for a response and then contact you privately if it is feasible. Sincerely, Carol

Gil S said...

Hi Carol. I would be happy to help if I can. I have changed my profile settings so that it should now be possible for you to contact me by email. In friendship, Gil