Quaker Legacy in Wensleydale and Swaledale


Above: Quaker Houses at Bainbridge

For several months I have been immersed in researching the fascinating  history of the Wensleydale and Swaledale Quaker Trust.

The persecution of Quakers in the late 17th century has left a surprising legacy in Wensleydale as the heritage exhibition at Bainbridge Meeting House from September 17th to 19th celebrates

The sufferings Quakers endured – including being imprisoned for not paying church tithes – led to the wealthier members of the Religious Society of Friends such as Francis Smithson of Richmond remembering the poor and homeless in their wills.

Smithson and his nephew, lead mining agent Philip Swale, left land (Smithson’s at Carperby) which provided the funding for Trusts in their names. By the late 18th century there were five Trusts as others left land and property in their wills.

These five trusts have now been incorporated into the Wensleydale and Swaledale Quaker Trust. This has inherited eleven houses for rent in Wensleydale, some dating back to the 17th century.

Quakers in the 17th century had a significant impact upon local architecture one of the best examples being Countersett Hall where the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), George Fox, stayed.

Countersett Meeting House dates back to 1710 at a time when that hamlet was mainly inhabited by Quakers who helped to finance the construction of the ‘Quaker Bridge’ at Semerwater. Hugh Dower will be at that Meeting House from 2pm to 3pm each day September 17th to 19th to talk about the Quakers at Countersett.

There’s still a lot more research I want to do about the Wensleydale and Swaledale Quaker Trust – but first I wanted to create a broad view of the impact of Quakers on these dales for the exhibition. I plan to be at the exhibition each day so will try, with others, to answer any questions.  There will also be a notebook in which visitors can write comments or share their memories.

One who already has done so is Pat Daykin who, with her husband, ran the Victoria Arms at Worton for many years. She has recalled how, as a young teacher in 1956-7, she helped the pupils at Bainbridge School walk to Bainbridge Meeting House to have their dinners.

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