Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tudor Manor, Meeting House and Home of the Quakers, Swarthmoor Hall

Sitting on the outskirts of Swarthmoor, near Ulverston, there stands a building that is often forgotten about, Swarthmoor Hall. The Hall has such an important and interesting history that it really should be visited more!

Swarthmoor Hall, now covered in a less than flattering pebbledash render, was built in about 1568 by George Fell. George's son Thomas, who was a lawyer in London, married Margaret Askew, a Furness women, in 1632. Soon after their marriage they took up residence in the hall. Some years late in 1642 The English Civil War broke out. During the War Thomas Fell was on the side of the Parliamentarians and held several important positions in the North. Within this period Margaret became a Seeker. The Seekers were a 17th century religious group of which many were becoming part of in Cumbria and the North. Due to Thomas's involvement in the Civil War he often had to leave Swarthmoor to travel, this continued after the war had finished. It was on one of his absences in 1652 that a man named George Fox visited Swarthmoor Hall. Fox, while at Swarthmoor, convinced Margaret and her family of the truth as seen by him and his followers. When Thomas returned to the Hall he met with Fox and he granted permission for Fox and his followers to meet every Sunday in the great hall. This was the start of the Religious Society of Friends, more popularly known as the Quakers.

From 1652 Swarthmoor Hall became the base of Fox's work and was the centre of Quakerism, helping spread the new religion though the North. Meetings between Friends were held at the Hall until 1688 when Fox was given the Meeting House nearby, on the now appropriately named Meeting House Lane. This meeting house is still in use today by the Society for meetings and worship. You can easily find the meeting house by foot or by road and it is certainly worth a look, although public access is prohibited you can see it from the pavement and road.

Although allowing meetings at his home Thomas Fell never became a 'Friend'. He would though, in his later life, listen in on the meetings from the parlour. He no doubt had an interest in the Society and would want to keep an eye on what was taking place within his home. In 1658 Thomas died. Upon his death the Hall was left to his Wife Margaret, now a keen member of the Quakers. Today Margaret is often referred to as the 'Mother of Quakerism' and with good reason. Her passion for the religion led her to visit London in 1660 where she endeavoured to persuade Charles II to implement his promise of religious tolerance. It was through her persuasion that some 4000 friends were released from prison. Margaret herself was held in prison at Lancaster Castle in 1664 for refusing to stop holding Quaker meetings at Swarthmoor. In 1668 Charles II gave her a free pass and on her release she traveled South to visit other Friends being held in prison. She even married Quaker fonder George Fox who was busy spreading the religion though England and to America.

Through out their marriage Fox stayed at Swarthmoor Hall for around 4 years in total. In this time he dictated some of his journal and wrote many letters. He also undertook many interviews here. Fox sadly died in 1691 leaving Margaret a widow for the second time in her life. Margaret continued her work with the Quakers until her death in 1702. Upon her death she was laid to rest with Friends in the Quaker burial ground on Birkrigg Common, something we have spoken about in a previous blog. There she still lies to this day and a plaque commemorating her is attached to the wall of the burial ground.

Swarthmoor Hall itself is a beautiful Tudor Manor House with many interesting features of the time both inside and out. There are wonderful mullioned windows across the house with some impressive bayed windows on one side, originally believed to be the front of the house. On this side there is also a wooden balcony on the first floor, a set of wooden stairs may once have risen to this platform. Above the door that leads to this balcony there is a well carved piece of sandstone forming the lintel which is worth a look. Within the building there is oak paneling galore, a rather interesting travel bed and staircase as well as many other features. We won't go into any detail about the interior of the Hall, you will have to visit for that!

Swarthmoor Hall is one of those hidden gems in Furness, many don't realise it is there but once you have found it you regret having not found it sooner. It is a tranquil and lovely place to visit with not only the attraction of the Hall but of some well kept gardens. It is a shame that such a significant building, the birth place of Quakerism, is today a largely forgotten place not often visited by tourists or locals alike, so why not take a trip yourself?

If you would like to visit the Hall then check out their website for opening times and events -www.swarthmoorhall.co.uk

The next Hidden Heritage blog will be online from February 4th and will be looking at two lost sites of Barrow.

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