Early Quaker History

from THE HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS IN RADNORSHIRE. 1895, John Jones, Baptist Minister at Llandrindod Wells

The Quakers, of Society of Friends

THE denomination of Nonconformists usually called Quakers, or Friends, began in England about the middle of the seventeenth century. George Fox is supposed to have been the founder of this denomination of Christians. The justly celebrated W. Penn and R. Barclay gave to the denomination a more regular form.

Dr. Rees says ‘The first Quaker in Wales was Thomas Holmes, but nothing more is known of him than that he was very active in disseminating his principles, and that he had been several times imprisoned. In a short time he found himself surrounded by a large number of fellow- labourers, such as John ap John, of Wrexham; Francis Gauler; Richard Davies, of Welshpool; Charles and Thomas Loyd, of Delobrau, near Llanfyllin, and several others of less note. These people traversed the country with remarkable diligence, and succeeded in making their peculiar views so generally known that by the end of the year 1660 there was scarcely a locality in any Welsh county, excepting Carnarvon and Anglesea, without adherents to their sect.’ The Quakers, or Friends, were from the beginning most pro-nounced and determined Nonconformists. On this account they had their full share of persecution and suffering.

After the restoration of Charles II to the throne there were forty Quakers in Cardiff Gaol at the same time, and twenty in the gaols of the counties of Denbigh and Flint. Large numbers of Quakers were imprisoned in Merionethshire, and 650 of their cattle seized. The prison at Montgomery was so full of ‘Independents, Baptists, and Quakers, that the gaoler was obliged to put some of them in the upper garrets. Some of the Quakers of those times were intolerant themselves; they tried to force their religious opinions and practices on others. They made it a point to disturb the religious services of their neighbours by standing up, sometimes in the midst of the sermon, to contradict the preacher; and even during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper they annoyed the communicants by rising one after another to speak.’ This was mistaken zeal. The Apostles themselves did not disturb the worshippers in the Jewish synagogues. At one time there were many Quakers in Radnorshire.

The Quakers in this county, in common with their brethren in the other counties of Wa1es and in England, had their full share of persecution. Mr. B. J. Elsmere has kindly furnished me with the following account of the Friends in Radnorshire. I give the substance of a letter which I received from Mr. Elsmere. He says: ‘I am sorry that we’ (the Friends) ‘have no written history that I know of dealing with this county alone, but it is often referred to in the journals of George Fox, Richard Davies, John Griffith, Besse’s "Sufferings of the Friends," and many others. The deeds of the Pales Meeting-House date back to 1657. The said deeds are in a safe at Leominster, also other deeds of other property in the county, several of which are grave- yards either sold or lost to the Society by not being looked after. The graveyard at Llanyre, according to the Register of Friends, has 120 graves in it, but now nothing is to be seen of it but the mark of the old fence. George Fox first visited the county in that year’ (1657), ‘but the first Welsh Friend was convinced in 1654, John ap John by name, who was before a Congregational minister. He became an earnest minister among the Friends in Wales. George Fox visited Radnorshire three times.

In 1660 the meetings were broken up by soldiers armed with swords. One Friend had his head cut open. In the year 1683, at the monthly meetings held at Pales, many of the Friends were driven like a flock of sheep over the hills to Knighton and im- prisoned. One Morgan Watkin, a Radnorshire man, was an itinerant preacher among the Friends. He was im- prisoned in London for preaching the Gospel among the Friends. He was kept in prison until he died. Different Friends had their property sold for tithes and Easter offer- ings which they refused to pay. Others were heavily fined for not attending Divine worship in the parish churches. Friends’ meetings were held in many farmhouses. Meetings were held at Radnor, Pales, Llanyre, Llandewy, Rhayader, Talcoed, Glascwm, Newchurch, Maesyrhelem,’ and other places.

The Friends must at that time have been numerous in Radnorshire and in other parts of Wales. How they declined and became so few I know not. For the last seventy years there was no regular meeting-house of the Friends in Radnorshire except the Pales, in the parish of Llandegley. Formerly two highly-respectable families named Edwards lived at Walton, in the parish of Old Radnor. They were members of the Society of Friends. They used to worship in a small building standing by the roadside in the village of Walton. There are none of the family left in the neighbourhood. Formerly only a very few persons attended Divine worship in the Pales meeting-house. The worship was conducted in the quiet, silent way peculiar to the Friends of olden times. Some years ago ministers belonging to the Society of Friends came from a distance and held mission services at Pales and at Penybont. Those services, repeated year after year, led to a revival and enlarge- ment of the cause of the Friends in the neighbourhood. Some members of the Calvinistic Methodist church at Penybont left that church and united with the Friends. A Friends’ meeting-house has been erected near Penybont. Friends’ meetings are held in the Lower Assembly Room at Llandrindod Wells. A new iron meeting-house for the Friends has been erected near their graveyard in the parish of Llanyre. Previous to the erection of the Friends’ chapel near Penybont, they held meetings for several years in the iron room adjoining the Severn Arms Hotel.

The present generation of Friends in Radnorshire conduct their meetings pretty much in the same way as the Primitive Methodists do. This change in their method of conducting Divine worship has probably been conducive to the revival and en- largement of the Friends’ cause. Mr. B. J. Elsmere, in a lecture which he delivered at the opening of the new meeting- house in Llanyre, said that some of the graveyards belong- ing to the Friends were sold to the Baptists. I am not aware of the Baptists having purchased any graveyards belonging to the Friends. After I wrote the history of the Baptist Church at Maesyrhelem, I found the following account in the ‘History of Radnorshire,’ by the late Rev. J. Williams, M.A.: ‘About one mile north-west from Crye- hallt, the family seat of Evan Stephens, Esq., stands a con- venticle belonging to the religious denomination of Baptists, called the New Chapel, erected in the year 1805, on the spot where formerly the Society of Friends, or Quakers, had a meeting-house and burial-ground attached. On the decline of the latter Society, and the remaining members of which having abandoned the place, the former took pos- session of the ground, and founded thereon a neat chapel, which in 1814 was endowed by Mr. Williams, of Maesy- rhelem, in this parish, with several acres of excellent meadow- land on the bank of the river Ithon.’ It is strange that there is nothing said in the account given me of the origin of the Baptist cause at Maesyrhelem of the Society of Friends having had a chapel and burial-ground there. The statement that the Baptists took possession of the burial- ground which had belonged to the Society of Friends cannot be correct. The site for the chapel and the burial- ground was given by Mr. Williams, of Maesyrhelem. If this ground once belonged to the Society of Friends, it must have come into Mr. Williams’ possession by purchase or heirship.

Dr. Rees, in his ‘History of Nonconformity in Wales,’ says: ‘The Society of Friends is now the smallest of all the Nonconforming denominations in Wales.’ A respected Friend has favoured the author with the following state- ment: ‘The meetings of the Society of Friends in Wales are five. The number of members 127, besides a few in scattered places; the total would certainly be under 150. They are mostly located in Radnorshire and Glamorgan- shire.’ Dr. Rees says: ‘These good people in the last half of the seventeenth century and in the first half of the eighteenth were numerous in Wales, and all of them suffered the most cruel persecutions; but by their suffering and philanthropic activity they did as much, if not more, than all the other denominations to secure to the inhabi- tants of Wales the liberty and the privileges which we now enjoy. Small as their number now is, there are still among them some of the most excellent characters, worthy of their eminently good forefathers.’ This account was written before the recent increase of Friends in Radnorshire.

This page updated on April 6, 2009