Saturday, July 21, 2018

Lydia Rawlinson Lancaster

It is getting on for ten years ago that I started writing on this blog about Quakers in the past. I kept myself going with several Quaker alphabets and now I am continuing with this occasional series. I began with Grace Hall Chamber and I shall continue with one of her friends, Lydia Rawlinson Lancaster.

Lydia was born in 1683 at Graithwaite in Lancashire, near Lake Windermere, the seventh of the eight children of Thomas Rawlinson and his wife Dorothy, born Hutton. Brought up in a Quaker family, Lydia describes herself as one drawn to thoughts of God from infancy. Her father died when she was six and around this time she remembered being moved to floods of tears by the ministry of a visiting Friend. From the age of fourteen Lydia struggled with the conviction that she was being called to be a minister herself. She resisted this calling for ten years - a period which her contemporaries saw approvingly as a time when she grew in wisdom and experience but which she remembered as a 'long howling wilderness' of unfaithfulness.

Soon after the beginning of her ministry, in 1708, Lydia began to travel, at first to local meetings and then in 1710 as far as London. In 1712 she went to Ireland, in 1717 to Scotland and from 1718 to 1719 she visited America in the company of her brother Abraham’s wife, Elizabeth Beck Rawlinson (1670-1750). Lydia’s travels, although undertaken under a sense of religious duty, were however, as she says herself, '...sometimes pretty trying, not having such care taken at home in my absence as might have been desired.' She had married, in January 1707, Bryan Lancaster, a tanner of Kendal, when she was 23 and he was 20. There were no children of the marriage and there are hints in contemporary records of sorrows and affliction, some of it possibly financial, brought upon Lydia by her 'nearest temporal connexion', her husband.

In 1729 Lydia moved with her aged mother to Colthouse, near Hawkshead, a small rural settlement next to a Quaker Meeting House, but there is no mention of her husband on the removal certificate. Her mother died in 1737 aged 93 and by 1743 Lydia was evidently living at Colthouse with her husband. Bryan Lancaster died in 1747 aged 60.

Lydia’s ministry was generally acknowledged to be expressive and powerful, but her experience gave her another dimension for, as was said by her fellow Quakers, 'being instructed in sorrow she was favoured with a sympathizing heart and knew how to partake in the affliction of others'.

Throughout her ministry Lydia was a staunch supporter of  Quaker Womens Meetings for business at a local level. In 1746 she also put her name to a petition aimed at extending them to a national level, although this was not accepted and the Womens Yearly Meeting was not set up until 1784. Lydia was not concerned with the equality of women as such but wanted them to be encouraged to take up their religious duties as much as the men were. In her local meetings Lydia, drawing on her own experience, was both stern and encouraging 'particularly to the timorous and backward'. She was remembered for always bidding farewell to those women who made the effort to come to womens meetings with a sort of blessing, and she continued to attend  meetings herself right up to her last days.

At the end of her life Lydia lived in Lancaster, free from financial worries and, she says in a letter to her friend James Wilson, 'mostly alone, for that is what I most delight in and have done most of my time'. She still travelled in the ministry, taking long journeys in 1749 and 1754. In 1760 she and Grace Chamber, at the end of both their lives but 'green in old age', travelled together to Welsh Yearly Meeting, Bath, Bristol and London.

Lydia died in 1761 at the age of 78 at Lancaster and was buried in the Friends burial ground there. Lydia published nothing in her lifetime but her influence continued. Many years after her death, in 1840, her descendant and namesake, Lydia Ann Barclay, edited and published a selection of extracts from her letters, feeling that they might be of use to future generations.


No comments: