This doodle of two entwined birds was drawn in May 1670 while recording the names of an illegal gathering in Kingston Upon Thames. The image is on the back of a document held in the Kingston upon Thames archives. It is a simple line sketch, using one stroke of a quill and ink pen, creating the wings and feathers. The image is full of movement, life and tenderness. Are they love birds, or parent and fledgling? They look at each other in the eye, whilst in full flight, one falling beneath the other. There is a simplicity to the image, as is the nature of doodles. Confident with his strokes, the artist knew exactly what he was drawing. The artist was a clerk, the recorder of proceedings and the doodle looks like a writing exercise, practising the strokes and lines of a quill pen. The feathers are made of letters, “s”s, “g”s and “f”s. Maybe this was a sketch he had been practising since childhood and had the image off to a tee.
On the front of the document is the list of names. The names are those of Quakers who met illegally. The meeting took place on the 19th May 1670, in the Hand in Hand, an inn that belonged to John Fielder, a prominent Quaker in Kingston. Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, would meet to worship God, in meditation outside of the official practised religion. That is, not in a church or led by an official of the Church of England. The people on the list includes Henry Penfold, Fielder and daughter, Dwight White and his wife, Richard Webb, Thomas Burchott, Thomas Guinness and wife, John Brown of Sunbury, John Stephens and wife and Son, John Spaw and John Bradley.
From the 1650s through to the 1680s, there were not any official Quaker meeting places, so the Friends met in their own houses. There were regular meetings at the Hand in Hand. John Feilder, who owned the inn, was a wealthy business man, a miller and landlord. Feilder had fought for Parliament in the Civil War and was “dangerously wounded” in the head during the capture of Farnham Castle. He was one of the early founding Quakers with connections to George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends. Fielder was active in the movement throughout his life and donated considerable sums of money to Quaker cause, the Quaker community, the poor and funds to establish the “Quaker Utopia” in Pennsylvania.
Along with others, Fielder’s name regularly crops up in documents, being fined and on occasions, sent to prison. He was one of the “elders” and a man who obviously would stand up, fight for his beliefs and go to prison. Another eminent Kingston Quaker was Stephen Hubbard. He was a cordwainer and ran his business from Cooks Row on the east side of Kingston Market Place. The records show that he was also arrested for attending Quaker meetings, fined £20 for not attending worship in the church and, in one incident, beaten.
In England between the 1650s – 1680s, Quakers were persecuted. Initially they were arrested on grounds of blasphemy. The first acts of Parliament against them came in the 1660s. These acts made it illegal for anyone to refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown and to hold conventicles. These meetings, outside of the auspices of the Church of England, were the very basis of the Quaker movement and belief. For Parliament, the Quakers posed a threat to the establishment.
By the 1670s Quaker conventicles were held regularly and Quakerism was spreading throughout the country. Parliament was alarmed by this and passed another act, which included powers for justices to break into premises where unlawful meetings were held and to request the help of the militia in preventing or dispersing such meetings. This came into effect on 10th May 1670 and was acted upon immediately.
In Kingston, the Constable and Headborough started to prevent meetings taking place and punishing those within them. Usually meetings were turned out of buildings and people fined. Where the meetings continued in public places, for example on the streets, the officials would use force.
The punishments were recorded by the Quakers in the Great Book of Sufferings. Beginning around 1660, Ellis Hookes, clerk to the Quakers, copied countless accounts into two volumes of the “Great Book of Sufferings.” Recording sufferings into the Great book lasted for over a century and filled another forty-two volumes (Hawkins). At the time, it became an advocacy tool for action against religious persecution. Today, we can see what happened across the country, including Kingston. The examples below are from the Great Book of Sufferings. I have taken them from JSL Pulford’s book on the Quakers in Kingston, 1973. These all relate to incidents in 1670, which is the same years as the meeting in the Hand in Hand.
The Friends were usually fined, sometimes a payment with money, sometimes with possessions. In the space of a month, Stephen Hubbard had well over 80 pairs of shoes and boots confiscated. In one case a Cheshire cheese was taken by the soldiers as payment. Poorer members of the Friends were particularly punished, as they could ill afford to lose their possessions and unable to replace them.
“J. Watson and W. Wakelin by the assistance of Charles Browne Ensigne and some Souldiers with him, who under a pretence to search for Armes took from Christopher White a poor man two pairs of Sheets worth about 20s for a Fine of 10s for being at a Meeting.”
Imprisonment was also used as a means of harassment and on one occasion, four Friends were put into the “Cage” where beggars were usually put.
The militia used force and violence. “Captain Edwad Brett’s soldiers came and brought sticks and struck the Friends in a cruel manner and punched them with their carbines on the Brests and Backs. Christopher White was punched on the breast so hard that blood burst out of his Nose”. Many others were “sore for a great while after and one received such a cruel blow on the heade and Shoulders that it made him reel an was scarce able to stand.”
“And it has become the practise for soldiers to come and beat and punch Friends in a Cruel and Barbarous manner, a particular account of which will be too much to insert here”
Thomas Saunders, Constable in Kingston, tried to enter search John Fielders house, which Fielder refused without a warrant. When presented with one, Fielder still refused entry claiming the warrant was not legitimate. Robert Bonus, corporal in the militia (Captain Bett’s soldiers again) threatened Fielder with violence, threatening to “break your neck down again”, “rub his Rogue Bones”, and held up his stick at him to “pick his Teeth.”
There were regular beatings by the troopers, often turning Friends out onto the street and following them beating them “about the heads and backs.”
Through our eyes, the persecution of the Quakers was extreme and unjust. The violence took place before any trial. They were not an obvious threat to society or the country, but this was 347 years ago and the country was unstable. What this level of persecution does highlight to us what intolerance brings. It allows officials to make instant judgements and carry out on the spot punishments in homes and on the street; militia to use violence and weapons on undefended people as a way of suppression. The Quakers stood up for their beliefs and what they believed as being their rights and their practise in worshiping God. Their crime was not worshiping in the way the state ordered. A way of worship that was created by a human being, not a deity.
There is much more in in the Great Book of Sufferings from around England. Individual, sad, personal stories can be drawn out it, as well as the heroic stance for belief.
Back to the Doodle
The doodle was done by someone who was recording the proceedings. To me, the doodle implies the artist was not engaged with what was going on. Was he bored? Did he have contempt towards the Quakers? Perhaps we can take this as reflecting societies’ views, or at last part of society. Alternatively, his disconnection and contempt with the proceedings may have been aimed at the legislation itself and the doodle represents sympathy with the Quakers.
This was at a time of political and religious uncertainty. There was not religious freedom and the reason these birds exist is because of that. The birds represent so much more than a bored clerk and doodle. They represent,
- Religious freedom
- Freedom fighters
- Change in society
In 1689, William III and Mary II ascended the throne and granted freedom of worship to all Protestant dissenters. The persecution dried up, Quakers became accepted, respectable and into the next century prospered, going on to the lead the industrial revolution, one of the most fundamental changes in recent world history.
This piece is for all my friends and colleagues in Kingston, Seething, Surbiton and Berrylands. Fond adieu my friends.
The list of names we see in this document is not the only meeting held in the Hand in Hand. They were regular and there is an array of official documents of this period relating to religious persecution the Kingston archives.
The Hand in Hand document is found in the archives of Kingston upon Thames. The reference number is KE2/7/12/7.
Pulford, JSL, 1973, The Quakers in Kingston, unpublished.
This is well worth reading if you wish to expand upon this subject. It is available in the Surbiton reference library and the Kingston History Centre (see link above).
There is much around the Great Sufferings of the Quakers. If you wish to carry out primary research, then it is probably worth visiting the Quaker archive and library https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/library
You can search records online http://quaker.adlibhosting.com/search/simple
Here is the Library’s blog: https://quakerstrongrooms.org/2012/06/06/quaker-sufferings-records-an-embarras-de-richesse/
There is a good BBC radio programme on George Fox, founder of the Quakers. It is worth a listen. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bzdc1
The Great Book of Sufferings.
I found Kristel Marie Hawkins thesis very useful to understand the Great Book of Sufferings.
Hawkins, Kristel Marie, 2008, Sufferings and Early Quaker Identity: Ellis Hookes and the “Great Book of Sufferings.” Thesis, University of Miami University.
It can be viewed on microfilm at the Library of the Society of Friends.
Post-script – More Sufferings.
From Pulford, Appendix B p.39 – 42.
Several cases of Hubbard having shoes confiscated. – Rob Norman Headborough took from Hubbard twenty five pairs of shoes worth about £4. Later that month Thomas Edmons Headboroguh took 45 pairs of shoes.3 pair of Boots, 7 sides of sole leather worth about £13
Friends were kept out as before in the street where Came the Trooper and Drove friends away beating and strieking them in a Cruel and unhaman manner.”
… one of ye Troopers full of Invy came and punched & strook Thomas Birkett (in the meeting list above) very sorely, when there was but 3 onely mett. Their malice and envy has swollen them beyond ye bounds of their own allowance which is that 4 may meet by ye law, which indulgence is oftern urged by them for a proof our obstinacy (as they term both) yet contrary to Law they bet this man very grievously, when only he & 2 women were mett together.
The images of KE2/7/12/7 are used by kind permission of the Kingston Museum and Heritage Service. Here’s the full image, which includes part of the scanner behind it.