22 August 2022

350 years of Quaker
meetings and burials
in Sheffield and York

The Quaker Meeting House on the corner of Saint James Street and Vicar Lane in Sheffield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

When Horace Walpole visited Sheffield in September 1760, he wrote: ‘I passed through Sheffield, which is one of the foulest towns in England, in the most charming situation. There are 22,000 inhabitants making knives and scissors; they remit £11,000 a week to London. One man there has discovered the art of plating copper with silver. I bought a pair of candlesticks for two guineas. They are quite pretty.’

Walpole’s candlesticks were of Sheffield Plate. The man he referred to was Thomas Boulsover (1705-1788), a Sheffield cutler who is best remembered as the inventor of Sheffield Plate in 1743. He discovered that when silver and copper were put together and the silver melted, the fusion of the two metals produced an ingot which, when rolled out into a sheet, had all the virtues of a single metal.

One of the leading cutlers in Sheffield at the time, Robert Sutcliff, was also a prominent Quaker and businessman. The few Quakers whose names appear in the history of 18th century Sheffield exercised an influence out of all proportion to their number. They included cutlers such as Robert Sutcliff, Thomas Colley and George Crapper.

During my visits to Sheffield and York last week, I visited the two cathedrals in Sheffield, Church of England and Roman Catholic, the sites of three former synagogues in Sheffield, and a number of churches in York. In addition, I also visited the Quaker Meeting House near the cathedrals in Sheffield, and a Quaker burial ground in York.

Quaker meetings have been held in Sheffield since 1668 … a plaque at the entrance to the Meeting House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Quaker meetings have taken place in Sheffield since 1668. Within 20 years of George Fox, the founding figure among Quakers, bringing his radical message, Quaker meetings sprang up at Tickhill, Balby and Woodhouse, followed by Upperthorpe and Sheffield in 1668-1669.

The Shaw family lived at Brookside and its neighbouring farm, The Hill. George Shaw bought the Brookside estate from Richard Rawson of Hatfield House in 1649. GeorgeShaw, and his father, Robert Shaw , and his brother, William Shaw of The Hill, welcomed George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends or Quakers, to their home on several occasions between 1652 and 1660.

The Shaws suffered harassment from the curate of Bradfield for not paying their tithes, until 1684 when a verdict was given against them and they had to pay damages and costs. When George Shaw died in 1708, he was buried in Bowcroft Cemetery where his tombstone records, ‘He suffered much for bearing testimony against payment of tythes.’ The Bowcroft cemetery at Stannington was used by one family only – the Shaw family of Brookside and The Hill, who were buried there between 1708 and 1731.

Meanwhile, Sheffield Quakers bought land for a burial ground off Broad Lane in 1676, at what is now a vacant lot beside McCague’s Garage. At that time Quakers in Sheffield met for worship at sites like this or in their own homes.

Land and buildings for a meeting house and stables were eventually bought in 1707. This was situated on the west of Scargill Croft, off Hartshead, now the top end of Meeting House Lane. An orchard was then bought as a burial ground on the east side of Meeting House Lane and, over the next 100 years, various meeting houses were built on this site.

At one point, the Meeting House had seating capacity for up to 800 people. A Friends’ Adult School building, seating 500, was added in 1871. However, during the bombing raids in the Blitz in World War II, the main buildings were gutted by fire in December 1940.

Friends met in temporary accommodation until 1947, when Sheffield Council erected a temporary wooden building on the site of the old adult school.

Eventually, the whole site was bought for redevelopment with land exchange and a grant from the War Damage Compensation Scheme. A replacement meeting house was built on High Court, on the south side of Hartshead in 1964. This, in turn, was bought for redevelopment, and the Society of Friends moved into the present Sheffield Quaker Meeting House on Saint James Street in 1991. Friends House on Hartshead was never actually redeveloped.

The Quaker Meeting House on Saint James Street fits into the character of the Cathedral Conservation Area in Sheffield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The present Quaker Meeting House at 10 Saint James Street, Sheffield, on the corner with Vicar Lane, is a fine piece of architecture, fitting into the character of the Cathedral Conservation Area. Sheffield Central Meeting is large, with up to about 60 people attending on Sundays.

There is a second, smaller Quaker meeting in Sheffield at Nether Edge in rented premises at Shirley House on Psalter Lane. Nether Edge Meeting has a typical attendance of 10 to 15.

Both meetings have their main meeting for worship from 10.30 to 11.30 each Sunday, and the two meetings are closely linked, sharing many activities.

The two Sheffield Quaker meetings, together with Balby (Doncaster) Meeting and Hope Valley Meeting, which meets at the Quaker Community in Bamford, are grouped together as Sheffield and Balby Area Meeting which meets regularly as the co-ordinating meeting of Quakers in the area. The original Balby meeting, one of the world’s oldest Quaker Meetings, dates back to ca 1652.

The grave of the Quaker abolitionist John Woolman in the burial ground in Bishophill, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In York, I visited the Quaker Burial Ground in Cromwell Road, Bishophill. This burial ground opened in 1667 and closed for burials in 1854. It is now managed by Friargate Quaker Meeting House and leased as a garden to the York Housing Association.

Four of us entered the garden by the residents’ gate to see the headstones, repositioned around the perimeter walls of the garden. The burial ground was bought on 1 November 1667, was extended with an adjoining garden in 1823, and closed for burials on 11 December 1854.

By the mid-19th century, the now-distinctive form of Quaker headstones – small, round-topped, identical in shape and size – had been widely adopted to reflect the Quaker belief in the equality of all humans in life and death. Dates were originally inscribed in numbers only to avoid using names of days and months derived from the names of pagan deities.

However, some of surviving headstones in Bishophill predate this custom. The headstones are fixed along the edges, amongst old brick walls, lime trees, terraces and flower beds.

The surviving headstones include are those of the American Quaker John Woolman (1720-1772), a prominent spiritual writer and an early abolitionist, who came to England seeking Quaker support for the abolition of slavery but died of smallpox in York in 1772.

Other headstone we saw include those of the American lawyer and grammarian Lindley Murray (1745-1826) and his wife Hannah (Dobson) Murray (died 1834), and William Alexander (1768-1841), businessman, educator, bookseller, publisher and author, who wrote under the name Amicus.

Here too are the graves of several members of the Tuke family, a family of Quaker innovators involved in establishing Rowntree’s Cocoa Works, the Retreat Mental Hospital, one of the first modern asylums, and three Quaker schools, Ackworth, Bootham, and The Mount. They include: Elizabeth (Hoyland) Tuke (1729-1760), who was born in Sheffield, Esther Tuke (1727-1794), founder of The Mount School, Henry Tuke (1755-1814), Mary Maria Tuke (1748-1815) and William Tuke (1733-1822), who founded The Retreat.

The burial ground in Bishophill closed for burials in 1854 and was succeeded in 1855 by the large Quaker burial ground shared with The Retreat in Heslington Road and still in use. Although the burial ground is now closed for burials and the interment of ashes, the scattering of ashes may be arranged.

The burial ground in Bishophill includes the graves of many prominent York Quakers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Monday 22 August 2022

A reredos on a side altar in Lichfield Cathedral … the Welsh-language title ‘Bryn Calfaria’ in Vaughan Williams’s work means ‘Mount Calvary’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Lichfield this morning to take part in the first stage of the three-day Lichfield Peace Walk from Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, to Saint Chad’s Church, Stafford.

Today’s stage of the walk visits Lichfield Cathedral and a number of sites in Lichfield, including the Garden of Remembrance in Beacon Street, the site of the former Franciscan Friary, and Beacon Park Peace Garden, before setting off along Cross in Hand Lane to Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Farewell. Many of the walkers expect – appropriately – to hold small wooden crosses as they walk along Cross in Hand Lane.

But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it’ (Matthew 23: 20) … the altar and sanctuary in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, the starting point of the three-day Lichfield Peace Walk this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading at the Eucharist in the Lectionary of the Church of Ireland this morning is:

Matthew 23: 13-22 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 13 ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 ‘Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.” 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, “Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.” 19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.’

Today’s reflection: ‘Bryn Calfaria’

For the next three days I am listening to Vaughan Williams’s ‘Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes,’ and this morning [22 August 2022] I am listening to the first of these preludes, ‘Bryn Calfaria.’

These three organ solos are based on Welsh tunes that Vaughan Williams had already arranged for hymns in the English Hymnal, which he edited with Canon Percy Dearmer.

Vaughan Williams’s father, the Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams, came from a family of Welsh origins that had distinguished itself in the law.

The composer first published these organ preludes in 1920 and dedicated them to Alan Gray (1855-1935), who was the organist of Trinity College Cambridge (1892-1930) when Vaughan Williams was an undergraduate there.

Gray’s liturgical compositions are for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Holy Communion in The Book of Common Prayer, including an Evening Service in F minor, a setting of Holy Communion in G, several anthems, including ‘What are these that glow from afar?’, and a collection of descants to various hymn tunes. He also composed a number of items for organ, for violin solo, and for voice and orchestra to religious and secular texts, including three choruses from Rupert Brooke’s 1914.

Vaughan Williams studied the organ under Gray at Trinity, and was regarded as one of his less talented students, although he also studied under Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford.

James Day tells how Gray once wrote to Sir Walter Parry for advice about his student, saying he could never trust Vaughan Williams to play a simple service for him without some dread as to what he might do, despite his considerable knowledge and taste on organ and music matters generally.

His mother’s cousin Henrietta ‘Etty’ Litchfield (1843-1927), a daughter of Charles Darwin, once wrote that the young Vaughan Williams ‘can’t play the simplest thing decently … They say it will simply break his heart if he is told that he is too bad to hope to make anything of it.’

Nevertheless, with Gray’s patient help, Vaughan Williams passed his exams to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO) in 1898, and received his Doctorate in Music (MusD) at Cambridge the following year.

These three organ preludes are Vaughan Williams’s tribute as a grateful student to Alan Gray. As James Day says, ‘they bear witness to a gentle, patient and thoughtful man.’ They may be modest pieces, but they are found in the repertoire of many churches, colleges and cathedrals.

The first of these preludes, ‘Bryn Calfaria,’ is based on the tune of that name by William Owen (1813-1893). This is the tune Vaughan Williams harmonised for the hymn ‘Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour’ in the English Hymnal in 1906 (No 319; see New English Hymnal, 296 ii), although in the Irish Church Hymnal it is used instead for ‘Hark! The voice of love and mercy’ (No 221).

William Owen began his working life at the age of 10 as a labourer in the Welsh slate quarries. He published his first hymn tune at the age of 18, and went on to publish a collection of his own hymns and anthems in the two-volume collection Y Perl Cerddorol (‘The Pearl of Music’) in 1852-1854. He conducted several choirs and was the Precentor or Choir Conductor at Caeathraw Chapel.

The tune ‘Bryn Calfaria’ was first published in the second volume of Y Perl Cerddorol in 1854, and was written for a Welsh hymn, ‘Gwaed dy Grfoes sy’n cody i fyny.’ It first appeared in an English collection of hymns in 1906 when it was harmonised by Vaughan Williams for ‘Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour’ in the English Hymnal. It made such an impression on Vaughan Williams that he wrote he later wrote this Organ Prelude which conveys its austere and solemn grandeur.

The Welsh-language title, ‘Bryn Calfaria,’ means ‘Mount Calvary,’ which adds to my reasons for listening to this composition on this early morning as I prepare to walk along Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield later today.

The Garden of Remembrance in Beacon Street, Lichfield … one of the stopping places on this morning’s leg of the Lichfield Peace Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Monday 22 August 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘The Pursuit of Justice.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Javanie Byfield and Robert Green, ordinands at the United Theological College of the West Indies.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief) in these words:

Let us pray for those who are of minority faiths, who are persecuted for their religion or beliefs. May the world become a more tolerant and inclusive place.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The site of the Franciscan Friary in Lichfield … one of the stopping places on this morningy’s leg of the Lichfield Peace Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org