Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Lydia Waring Hawksworth

Lydia Waring was the daughter of two Quaker ministers. Her father, Samuel Waring, born in 1691, was a mercer from Witney in Oxfordshire where in 1714 he married his first wife Eleanor and had three children (two daughters and a son) before she died in 1718. In 1721, when he was 30 and she was 24, Samuel married Deborah Hawkins of Alton in Hampshire and moved there. The couple had ten children, although the first two died in infancy, and Lydia, born in 1733, was the eighth of these and the fourth daughter.
Alton Meeting House, erected 1672

Samuel travelled a great deal in the ministry, mainly in the south of England, and diligently attended Yearly Meeting in London for upwards of 50 years. Deborah undertook responsibility for the care of their numerous family but she had been a minister since she was eighteen and continued her calling, mainly in the local area. Their home was a centre of Quaker hospitality and Lydia would have met many visiting Quaker ministers. It is likely that she, like her mother, received a 'guarded education' at home, learning domestic skills and reading the Bible and other approved religious texts.

It was not until she was 35, in 1768, that Lydia married Abraham Richard Hawksworth, a prosperous Bristol merchant, and moved into his house in Castle Green, the central commercial district of Bristol where many Quakers lived. In the same year Lydia's younger sister Ruth married another Bristol merchant, Thomas Rutter, so the two would have been neighbours.

Abraham was 39 when he married Lydia and by that time had become a strict Quaker, but in his younger days he had been more worldly and sociable, belonging to a Jacobite drinking club, the Nagg's Head Club, named for the tavern where it met. With maturity his interests turned to benevolent ventures, particularly for the poor and needy, and in 1766 he was appointed Treasurer of the Bristol Infirmary. Abraham was well-educated as well as wealthy and was said to understand seven languages, being much admired for his eloquence and learning.

Bristol Infirmary in 1765
Although they shared a generous disposition towards the poor, some of Lydia's friends wondered whether they were well suited. Her education was limited, although she was described as a woman of very good understanding. Her natural reserve made it difficult to get to know her and could give the appearance of pride, although her manner towards those she liked and could talk freely with was agreed to be very attractive. In the event though the marriage was cut short and the doubts of Lydia's friends became irrelevant.

Lydia and Abraham were married in February 1768 and in October Abraham contracted a fever. At first he seemed to be recovering but on October 29th he died, leaving Lydia a widow. Abraham was much mourned throughout the city and his funeral procession from Castle Green to Redcliffe Quaker Burying Ground, which was supposed to be private, passed through streets lined with mourners, their numbers at times making progress difficult. When the grave was reached, in the time of silent worship around the bier, Lydia laid her hand on the coffin and ministered publicly for the first time in a most affecting and heartfelt way.

Lydia was unexpectedly left to make a life for herself. She was now a wealthy woman with a position of independence as a widow. She had the support of family with visits to and from Alton by her mother, her sisters and other relations. She had friends in a close-knit Quaker community both locally and nationally. She also now had a position as a minister within the Society of Friends in Bristol and further afield.

Much of Lydia's travel in the ministry was as a companion and support to her old friend Catherine Payton, later Phillips. Catherine was five years younger than Lydia but had been a minister for much longer and was well known as a Public Friend. She often stayed with Lydia in Bristol both alone and with her husband William Phillips who she married in 1772.

Drawing of Catherine Payton Phillips
Catherine found Lydia 'a most tender affectionate companion' and praised her ministry, particularly in private family visits. Others might see Lydia as subservient to Catherine - James Jenkins (a critical witness) said that Catherine 'appeared as a bright star in the Heavens above us, and within the sphere of its attraction moved Lydia Hawksworth' - but the two women acted in mutual help and friendship. They had much in common. Both were brought up in Quaker families where both parents were ministers. Both were socially awkward and could give an appearance of aloofness, yet were open and affectionate to those they knew well and were loyal friends.

Lydia accompanied Catherine to Yearly Meeting in London in 1773 and again in 1775 when they spent some time resting at Alton with Lydia's newly-widowed mother Deborah. In 1776, when Deborah herself died, Lydia and Catherine travelled more extensively, to the North of England and then to Ireland.

In 1778 Lydia endured more family sorrows when her sister Ruth Rutter died at the age of 42 and she then spent much of 1779 as Catherine's companion. There are glimpses of further travels with Catherine in the following years and Lydia also attended all the local Bristol and nearby meetings. In 1783 her older unmarried sister Hannah came to Lydia's house for several months to be cared for in her last illness, dying in December. In April 1784 Lydia was so ill herself  with a 'putrid fever' that her life was despaired of, but she made a good recovery and set off for Yearly Meeting in London in May, ministering in Bristol Meeting before she went in a memorable manner.

In 1785 Lydia travelled to Truro for a meeting and then on to Redruth to stay for a rest with Catherine and William Phillips as she had done before. Unfortunately after a day or so William Phillips was taken suddenly ill and died so Lydia had to turn her energies to helping a fellow grieving widow.
Silhouette of Rebecca Jones

Back in Bristol Lydia continued to be generous to the poor and needy and to support travelling Friends, although her own health was not good. In 1788 she helped the American minister Rebecca Jones both spiritually and in practical ways. Rebecca lists 'gifts of love' which she received from Lydia including handkerchiefs, pockets, several guineas for coach and chaise hire and even an achromatic telescope costing two guineas, when a guinea then would be worth about £80 today.

However soon after Rebecca's visit in April Lydia left Bristol in failing health and went to be cared for by her older sister Deborah Townsend in London. It was here that she died of dropsy at the age of 55 in November, telling her sister, 'Don't mourn for me. I have a comfortable hope that my Heavenly Father will receive me into his kingdom.'

Lydia's will distributed her wealth between her relations and provision was also made for the poor of Bristol.  In a codicil she asks her sister Deborah to destroy all her remaining unanswered Letters of Friendship as she has no time to go through them. Lydia's body was taken back to Alton for burial so her life came full circle.
Alton Meeting House from the burial ground

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