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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Fox's Pulpit

Fox's Pulpit, Cumbria.

My mate Dave said we should go to Fox’s Pulpit.  “There’s not a lot to see,” he said.  “But we should go.”  He was right, of course - on both counts.

Fox’s Pulpit is one of those curios of the British historical landscape.  It is about 3 miles north-west of Sedbergh in the county of Cumbria, on the side of Firbank Fell, and is where, on 13th June 1652, itinerant preacher George Fox (1624-1691) addressed a crowd of a thousand people and is said to have given birth to the Quaker movement.

Fox was one of any number of 17th century religious dissenters whose philosophical roots went back a hundred years or more.  Many would once have regarded them as heretical, ‘puritan’ or, later, ‘nonconformist’; today, some would call them Christian fundamentalists.  An obscure movement called the Seekers (I’m assuming this had nothing to do with Judith Durham) is often regarded as the forerunner of what became the Society of Friends, or ‘Quakers’ - after Fox told a Derby judge to “tremble at the word of the Lord”.  The Seekers believed that the established church was corrupt.  Fox himself rejected organised religion with its ceremonies and hierarchy of bishops; his belief was based on a personal relationship with God.  He had been wandering the land preaching, allegedly on Divine Instruction, for several years.  Earlier in 1652, on Pendle Hill some 50 miles to the south of Firbank, he is said to have had a vision commanding him to “sound the day of the Lord” to a great gathering of people.

Fox's Pulpit, Firbank Fell, Quakers, Cumbria

I was glad Dave was driving.  He knew where he was going for a start, which is always handy.  I reckon you also have to be in the right frame of mind and vehicle to tackle roads like the intriguingly named Shacklabank Lane, a narrow track off the A684 which obviously hadn’t experienced resurfacing for a decade or more.  This led us, past buildings out of another time, to our destination where we nudged into a gateway in front of some corrugated iron sheep pens and got out of the car.  The Howgill Fells gathered around us like a damp shroud; it was impossible to tell that the M6 growled with traffic just a few short miles to the north.

Disused burial ground, site of chapel, Firbank Fell.

Fox’s Pulpit sits a little back from the road, in open ground next to a disused burial ground where once stood a chapel.  The pulpit is an oddly shaped rock that looks rather like a large letter-box cut into the hillside.  We clambered to the top.  On that June day in 1652, Fox had been invited to address a meeting in the chapel.  He recalled, “While others were gone to dinner, I went to a brook, got a little water, and then came and sat down on the top of a rock hard by the chapel.  In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers.  It was judged there were above a thousand people to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and Word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours.”

It is hard to conceive of that large a crowd gathering in this place; where on earth did they all come from?  Understandably, it is said by some to be an evocative spot; a place of pilgrimage, even.  I thought it cold, bleak and rather sad.  There is little obvious trace of the chapel, which was ruined by storms in the winter of 1839-40.  The few remaining gravestones are forlorn reminders of lives long since gone.  It is a dead place; hard to picture it alive.  Yet people congregate here at least once a year, on the anniversary of Fox’s address.

Fox's Pulpit, religious dissent, Cumbria, North West England.

Dave posed, rather effectively, I thought, on the pulpit for me.  We mooched about, explored what looked like a sort of trackway behind the burial ground, tried to pick out where the chapel had once stood and failed to comprehend how a thousand people would allow anyone to talk for that long.

There’s a plaque on the pulpit, placed there in June 1952, 300 years after Fox’s oration.  It says:

“Let your lives speak.  Here or near this rock George Fox preached to about one thousand Seekers for three hours on Sunday June 13, 1652.  Great power inspired his message and the meeting proved of first importance in gathering the Society of Friends known as Quakers.  Many men and women convinced of the truth on this fell and in other parts of the northern counties went forth through the land and over the seas with the living word of the Lord enduring great hardships and winning multitudes to Christ”.

The Society of Friends went on spread their message all over the world.  They were often regarded as eccentric, or with suspicion because they refused to swear oaths – including an oath of allegiance to the Crown.  They were abused, attacked and often imprisoned.  Fox himself is said to have been arrested sixty times and was detained in hideous conditions.  He travelled throughout Britain, as well as to the West Indies, America, Holland and Germany.  William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, became a close friend.  The story is that among many who were influenced by Fox that June day on Firbank Fell was Margaret Fell, wife of local Judge Thomas Fell, who married Fox in 1669, eleven years after her first husband’s death. 

Burial ground, Fox's Pulpit, Cumbria. bit about Britain.

Whatever our personal views and faiths, everyone can admire the Quakers’ respect for all other beings, their tolerance and belief in peace.  Quakers were conscientious objectors in both world wars.  I believe their influence on modern society has been disproportionate to their relatively small numbers.  Because Quakers were barred from universities and many professions, one natural outlet for them was in business.  A ridiculously large number of British businesses were founded by Quakers, including such household names as Barclays, Lloyds, Carr’s, Clarks, Cadbury, Reckitt’s, Rowntree, Fry and Terry’s - to name but a few.

Finally, I daresay there are some reading this who have been dying to point out, “But you can walk to Fox’s Pulpit!  There are some wonderful walks round there.  You don’t have to drive!” They are absolutely right and you will find those walks easily enough on other sites.  As I get older I find myself getting more and more like Jeremy Clarkson.

Check out InSPIREd Sunday for other places of worship from around the world.


41 comments:

  1. i was oohing and aahing over the stone walls! the old headstone is great, too.

    thanks for educating me on the origin of the quaker religion!

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  2. Great photo of your friend Mike! It's difficult to imagine somebody preaching to a large community in such a desolate looking place.

    Have a good week!

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  3. That's a great photo of Dave, in fact, all the photos are great but then they always are. I always take a mate when I go into Debenhams, something about the layout of department stores completely flumoxes me, I can never find my way out without help ...

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  4. Never heard of that place though I have heard of the Quakers. BTW you should try diveing down the M4 somtime, there are parts of that whch have not been resurfaced since then built it.

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  5. I had no idea this was where the Quaker movement got started. Fascinating.

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  6. On a misty day like this, the area looks beautiful- and at the same time drawn out of the distant past.

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  7. I can feel the damp in your photos. I had no idea this is where the Quaker Movement started. The photo of the mossy overhanging tree is wonderful!

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  8. A very beautiful place, but an unusual place to preach in!

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  9. What a fabulous place! Your photos have enticed me to add it to my 'To Visit' list.

    I had not heard of this little bit of history before so thankyou for your informative post :-)

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  10. It looks hard to find, but we'll try! I agree, it's hard not to respect Quaker principles - my great grandfather chose to follow their creed, though nobody else in the family did. I'd love to know why he chose to be become "a Friend".

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  11. It looks to be a dreary day but I love your pics!

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  12. The natural pulpit is amazing, a perfect place to begin a new religion! I had never heard of the origins of the Quaker movement, an interesting part of history. Great photos of the misty, eerie surrounds, very beautiful.

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  13. Beautiful pics for a dreary day. Nice, you take great pics.

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    1. Thank you - the camera must be better than I thought!

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  14. Interesting read today and beautiful scenery.

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  15. I don't think I've ever met a Friend. We elected one as president, and that didn't work out too well. I'm glad you made your drive, took your pictures, which gave me time to ponder. Cheers, Mac

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  16. Not a lot to see, but we should go! I love that. Beautiful photos...looks like you two had a wonderful time!

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  17. Your pal Dave does look splendid up there on Fox's Pulpit. He should pose for a bronze memorial. I always marvel at those who seem to come out of left field and yet garner so many followers! Something bloggers always wonder about. Anyway, that is just the type of place I have come to expect from and love about the British landscape. Always a good reason to rent a car.

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  18. Your story interfaces with mine because I have ancestors who left England and became Quakers either there or when they arrived in Philadelphia. Another wonderful thing about the Quakers from a genealogist's point of view is that they kept wonderful records. I enjoyed your story and the photos. That leaning tree looks pretty old.

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  19. You did win points with me for using the word "mate"! And teaching me that my favourite shoes and favurite chocolate have something in common!

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  20. It's interesting that George Fox spoke for three hours at the first Quaker Meeting, and then the Quakers went on to have Silent Meetings where sometimes no one speaks at all! It's s lovely spot and as you say, hard to imagine that a thousand people could be found to gather there.

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  21. This is all so fascinating. I wish I could visit these sites but thanks to your fantastic camera work, and words that paint a picture, I feel like I'm there too. I can't imagine sitting still for 3 hours. At my age I would have had to excuse myself at least twice. *grin* So I can agree with you about driving instead of walking. My husband's HOLE family, and a few others, of England where Quakers. They immigrated to Ohio and Illinois. His HUDSON's where Church of England.
    (PS: We're Top Gear UK fans too. "What can possibly go wrong ..." lol)

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  22. Awesome photos and some places you just go to because you can

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  23. What a great photos. Love your blog :D

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  24. Marvelous photos illustrating this fascinating bit of history. Thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you Mike. There is a small, very picturesque little town called Waterford not too far away from where I live, that was originally founded by the Quakers. We also had two presidents from Quaker families, Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover.

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  25. Beautiful countryside and fascinating story! I do agree, it is hard to believe so many people would hang around for 3 hours to hear him preach. He must have been very effective!

    Thanks for stopping by my site. Yes, I do love catching inappropriate attire especially when I have the camera handy.

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  26. Hi Mike, I enjoyed reading about this little slice of history - my ancestors were Quaker and settled in Plymouth, Mass. in the 16th century. The family splintered off into other religions over the years, but we have a small cemetery in Plymouth on private land. I have a lovely family in my town (Washington state) that are Quaker still, so apparently the faith is still alive. I have a wonderful cookbook and biography of a Quaker settlement in Pennsylvania that was published in the 1980's. It is so interesting to read about the founder and see where he preached. Perhaps desolation kept the listeners from being distracted. :) Lovely photos of the windswept trees and countryside - interesting post.

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  27. An interesting and beautiful historic place.

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  28. Fascinating history. I see someone from the US has mentioned that Richard Nixon was a Quaker.
    I don't think he really lived up to the preaching of that faith!!! ha ha.
    Cheers
    Aussie Col

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    1. I didn't know Nixon was a Quaker; most amusing!

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  29. Looks like God's country to me. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  30. Yea, you know what I'm going to say, I've never heard of it either.
    The weather looks typically like the last time I passed through the area and I must stop treating the A 684 as a link road on to the M6.
    A fascinating history of the Quaker movement with links to modern big business. I pass a Quaker room quite often and wonder what goes on in there these days. My Father once attended a service in his younger days to see what it was like, he said that it was an hour of silence in prayer and following a rustle or two everyone got up and left.

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  31. very cool history. i enjoy stone walls like that ... how the grave stones hold up like that. i never knew Richard Nixon was a Quaker... we have friends that are. very fun or interesting culture or style. ( :

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  32. Oh wow I would love to visit that place someday!!

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  33. Your mate Dave looks quite impressive. Enjoyed reading your very interesting post. The trees in your 3rd picture look as if they've taken a battering by the wind.

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  34. Interesting post, and I like the picture of Dave.

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  35. This was so fun, I like your description of your drive out there too. Let our lives speak, that is the way to live. As for the Quakers, they go far back into some of my ancestors, as I've lately discovered! I feel honored!

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  36. My mother and father are both buried in a small Quaker cemetery outside the tiny village of Norwich, Ontario, where they lived their entire lives. The Quakers did indeed travel far and wide!

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  37. There may not be a lot to see, but I love the beauty that there is to see! A fascinating post, Mike, I really appreciate it.

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  38. I have great admiration for Quakers or Friends.
    I knew of George Fox but not of Fox's Pulpit, that he had a three hour oration there and that people come here on the anniversary to remember it. Good.
    Nowadays, three minutes is about the limit of anyone's attention, if it is that long.

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  39. Not too much like Jeremy Clarkson, I hope. :)
    What a delightful green trackway that is in the fourth picture down

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.