14 July 2002
There was a hint of nostalgia in the air, in Ashfield Car Park as Bill Mitchell with unmilitary precision, effectively matched up members to drivers.
First port of call was Brigflatts where we were entertained by the Warden - Melvyn, a relatively young man (very young by NCHT standards).
The Quaker Movement
The early Quakers believed fervently in the equality of man. This meant that God's laws were to be followed rather than the laws of the land. There was to be no doffing of hats, no payment of tithes to the Church, and no oath of allegiance to the King. In the mid 17th Century the movement was very popular, especially in the rebellious north - and to combat the threat the Conventicle Act was passed in 1670, making it illegal for more than 5 people to meet. In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed to largely undo the effect of the 1670 Act.
The Burial Ground
He explained that the relatively small burial ground had been bought in 1656 for 10 shillings - at that time the Quakers were despised by the Establishment, who regarded its followers as anarchists. The last burial had taken place as recently as September 2001. Although there are only 78 headstones, there are records of 770 burials. After 100 years the graves can be reopened, the surviving bones moved to one side, making room for the arrival of a "fresh" body.
Since Victorian times the number of Quakers in UK has remained at around 15,000, although many more people will come to the Meetings without actually "signing up". Nation-wide there are around 250 Quaker burials each year.
At the end of the 16th Century the village at Brigflatts was a thriving fairly self-sufficient community of about 75 people, relying principally on the weaving of flax, as a cottage industry. There was a blacksmith, a tinsmith and most of the houses were of wattle and daub. There was a Village Green and a pond. Those stone houses, which were built in the 100 years after 1675 were all built so that the front of the house would face towards the South. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution the face of the village altered, in that the Cottage Industry could not compete with the modern machines, and most of the flax workers left the village - many of them went to work at Farfield Mill (See below)
The Meeting House
The villagers built this in 1675 on a cooperative basis. The land was bought for the princely sum of 10 shillings. Initially the building just consisted of 4 walls, a soil floor, a stone roof (no ceiling) and a large fireplace in the western wall. The Meetings must have been very uncomfortable, because in 1881 a raised wooden floor was installed. There was and is a gap of 34 inches between the underside of the floorboards and the earth. This was installed to allow water flowing to and from the adjacent village pond, without wetting the feet of the Members!
In 1710 a raised bench was built for the benefit of the Minister and 4 years later the gallery was made, along with an internal sheep dog pen, (a small area for the shepherd's dogs to occupy whilst their owners were at worship). This has a stone floor - much easier to clean up than the adjacent wooden floor. The ceiling was constructed in 1715 and 24 years later wooden panelling was fixed to the west wall for the benefit of the lathes who congregated at that end of the building for their business meetings - an early 18th century W.I.
2. FARFIELD MILL
The convoy then moved on through Sedbergh to Farfield Mill, about a mile out of Sedburgh on the road to Garsdale. The four storey Mill had been built in the 1830's by the prosperous Dover family, powered by a water wheel - a solid sturdy very early example of Victorian enterprise. There was an exhibition explaining the cloth making process, and this was complimented by a demonstration in weaving by a university student.
Most of the party enjoyed an excellent - albeit slowly produced meal.
3. SEDBERGH SCHOOL
Onwards the caravan marched to Sedbergh School where we were shown around by an eminent "Old Boy" from within our midst - Bryan Braithwaite-Exley.
We were shown the School Chapel, (built in 1897 at a cost of £7,826.12s lid) in the perpendicular style of architecture to replace an earlier wooden building (which later became part of a Working Men's Club in Tebay).
When Bryan was a pupil, he used to go to the Chapel on a Wednesday and three times on a Sunday and the building was lit by gas and natural light The west end was extended in 1959 to accommodate the growth in numbers of pupils, but otherwise there had been remarkably few changes to the building since Bryan's early days.
We went on to see the War Memorial Cloisters, to commemorate the former pupils, who thed in both World Wars. Sadly the Cloisters are now in a bad state of repair, partly owing to the fact that the stone was "weakened" when it was cleaned some years ago and partly because of land movement. An application for financial help has been made to English Heritage. We also saw the separate memorial to celebrate the three Old Sedberghians, who in 1941 were awarded the Victoria Cross.
4. MIDDLETON HALL
Our final call was to this late 14th Century fortified Manor House, nestling just off the road from Kirkby Lonsdale to Sedbergh. It comprises a central block, with wings at either end and is surrounded by a huge wall forming an inner and outer courtyard. The outer wall is thought to have been damaged by the cannons from Cromwell's men, which were fired from the other side of the Lune valley in Killington. We marched into the large lofty room where the Lord of the Manor and his lady wife would sit on a raised dais both when Court was being held or when they were simply dining. The group then crowded into the not quite so spacious withdrawing room, lined for the most part with 17th Century panelling. Our leader was tickled by the inscription carved above the doorway — venturum exhoresco them — I dread the coming day — Bill mused that the day in question must have been the author's own wedding day.
The Hall was for three hundred years from the mid 1300's the home of the Middleton family. After the Civil War it was sold and since that time there have been many owners. It now forms part of the Middleton estate and is let to David and Linda Watson, who are tenant farmers.
5. THE HEAD
After 21 years Bill Mitchell has decided to call it a day, so far as the yearly outing is concerned. What better a place for the curtain to fall than at "the Head" where Roy Gudgeon gave a very warm and emotional vote of thanks to our Master of Ceremonies? Bill responded with a few witticisms, as was to be expected, and he is clearly going to miss all the worry associated with organising the days out. Having said that who will he be persuaded to wear the shoes, which probably only fit his amazing feet? Watch this space...