Records : Nonconformity

Pages 249-252

Register and Records of Holm Cultram. Originally published by T Wilson & Son, Kendal, 1929.

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Among local documents are many papers relating to general politics and affairs of administration, sent to the Holm for the instruction of the authorities; in some cases the originals were copied by the clerk and kept for reference. With most of these a history of the parish need not concern itself, because they do no more than illustrate the history of England as a whole and they are found elsewhere. Of this kind is the series of instructions following the Act of 1581 and relating to measures taken against papal emissaries or 'friends of the king of Spain' and their possible supporters, the recusants. From such the Holm appears to have been free; in the return of Chancellor Dethick, January 1597, none are mentioned as belonging to this parish.

Nonconformity did not invade the Holm until the Commonwealth period. The first important movement was the formation of a branch of the Society of Friends. George Fox found 'a large Meeting' in 1657 as the result of pioneer-work by Robert Saull of Silloth and Simon Osmotherley, who had already "separated themselves from the national worship before the coming of Friends and kept meetings in their houses, being men zealous in their way and of those called Roundheads" (Beginnings of Quakerism, 1912, p. 121). In 1653 James Lancaster of Walney came " to the steeple house of Abbey Holm and declared ye truth to ye people. As he was going away the people followed him and were something rude, but especially Mr. Briscoe." A little after came William Dewsbury on the same mission; he was beaten and ducked in the river but William Lothwaite received him "and was convinced, and his wife, and others were soon convinced that day at Abbeyholm." William Lowthwaite was imprisoned for 31 weeks in 1660 for refusing the oath.

One of the most notable of the sufferers for the cause in its early days was Thomas Stordy of Moorhouse, a man of considerable property and a descendant of Janet Skelton, great-niece of Abbot Chamber (see the pedigree p. 152). In 1662 he went to visit friends in Carlisle gaol (the Citadel) and was detained on suspicion. The oath of allegiance was tendered to him, and as he refused to swear at all, he was subjected to the penalty of a premunire. The sheriff sold up all his real and personal estate, and he was kept a prisoner for ten years, after which he was released and his real estate was restored to him at the intercession of the Earl of Carlisle. A few years later he was prosecuted for absenting himself from church and thrown into prison, where he died in December 1684. His daughter married George, son of Mungo Bewley of Carlisle, also a prisoner for the cause (R. S. Ferguson, Early C. and W. Friends, 109f). These were not the only sufferers in the Holm; Besse (Sufferings of the Quakers, ii) mentions Hugh Stamper as imprisoned at Carlisle in 1655 and again next year for 21 weeks; and there are references in the ecclesiastical courts to presentments in 1670 of William Langcake, John Waite and John Pearson for failing to have their children baptized, and in 1675 of a number of Skeltons, Sauls and others for the same reason. Again, in 1680 John Saul, John Ostell and John Barne, of the Holm, were presented for refusing to swear in the manor court. In 1682 William Langcake, William Saul and John Waite had been for over three years in prison at Carlisle at the suit of Sir William Dalston, farmer of the tithes (Ferguson, p. 176). But on the whole it is observed that Quakers in the Holm were not so actively persecuted as elsewhere, and in 1689 their members were released from prison and the Society enjoyed much more freedom. From 1706 to about 1720 they complained of the animosity of a group, chiefly Pearsons and Robinsons of Wigton, who having been Quakers turned against their friends, and under the name of Ranters, disturbed meetings, broke windows and assaulted harmless individuals; but this had nothing to do with the legal aspect of the matter. In the eighteenth century distraint for tithes was still in force. It is said that from 1727 to 1788 goods to the value of £580 were seized in the Holm to pay tithes amounting to £346, the balance going for costs and loss on the forced sales.

Nevertheless Quakerism took firm root in the district. The Beckfoot meeting, begun in 1653, was able in 1735 to purchase a house and land, as we gather from a deed of 1819 referring to that property. The original purchasers were John Saul, Daniel Hayton and Robert Wilkinson, all of Beckfoot, and Thomas Ostle of Newtown, and the price was £35. It is probable that this transaction gives the date of the foundation of Beckfoot meetinghouse. Most of the inhabitants in the district lying along the coast from Dubmill to Blitterlees became attached to the Society, and even during the first quarter of the nineteenth century great resistance was made to the payment of tithes; in the recollection of some recently living, the auctioneer was brought in to effect sales on behalf of the tithe-farmer.

On the other side of the parish, at Kirkbride and Angerton, there was a similar colony of Quakers from about 1653. Their meetinghouse is mentioned by Quarter Sessions, April 9, 1698:—"These are to certify that at the request of certaine people called Quakers and by the p'sentment of the court p'suant to the late Act of Parliament hath ordered one house at Kirkbride lately built there upon a certaine piece or parcel of ground by Arthur Skelton and other purchasers for that purpose to be recorded for a Meeting house for their religious worshipp."

The Wesleyan chapel at Mawbray was opened on Oct. 12, 1843, at a cost of £140 15s. 3d. The local trustees (other than these from a distance) were Jos. Tremble, Jos. Thompson, Solomon Osborn, Michael Boyle and Jonathan Pape (information from Mr. B. Bell of Mawbray). At Abbeytown the Wesleyans met for some years before 1859, when a chapel was opened. The chief movers in the building were John Mann of Sandenhouse and William Osborne of Abbey, and the total expense, being £257, was raised by subscription. In 1909 this chapel was enlarged. At Silloth a Wesleyan chapel was built in 1875 at a cost of £860. The Wesleyan chapel at Foulsyke was opened in June 1889.

A Primitive Methodist chapel, seating 150, was built in 1868 at Silloth.

A Congregational chapel, seating 320, was built at Silloth in 1862. The ministers have been the Revs. H. Perfect, 1863; Joseph Thornton, 1871; J. Gordon, 1872; W. A. Wrigley, 1886; James S. Swan, 1895; R. W. Johnson, 1900; G. T. Carr in 1908; H. T. Wood from 1911 to 1915, and J. H. Morris from 1925. A little chapel with sittings for 150 was founded in 1833 at New Couper; it has always been under the care of the congregation of Aspatria (information from Rev. Philip Ashton, Carlisle).

A Presbyterian church of England was built at Silloth in 1884 at a cost of £1000, to which a manse was added for £800. The ministers have been—Rev. John Brown, M.A., 1884-1919; Rev. William Kidd, 1920-22; Rev. J. G. Wiley, 1923-26 and from May 1927 the Rev. Richard Downes, by whom this information is given.