Local Quaker History
The Religious Society of Friends or Quakers was founded by George Fox in the 1650s. He was born in the Leicestershire village of Drayton in the Clay, now called Fenny Drayton. He had tremendous courage and moral strength, an energetic preacher, he travelled tirelessly all over the country, urging people to the Truth. He spoke vehemently against the established churches and their hireling priests and he was often abused, arrested and imprisoned. He returned many times to Leicester inspiring and joining meetings in Swannington, Sileby, Wymeswold and Melton. The people were called Friends of the Truth, becoming the Religious Society of Friends, which is our official title. The term, Quaker, was originally a term of abuse, given by a Judge who derided the people who said they quaked for fear of the Lord.
Swannington had an important role because it was an early site of the industrial revolution and the coal from North West Leicestershire later became the basis for the prosperity of Leicester. In 1654, Friends in Swannington held a regional conference, which together with others around England would eventually coalesce to become London Yearly Meeting, now Britain Yearly Meeting.
From the beginnings of the movement, Friends recognised that there was “that of God” in every person. This led them, and us, to understand and promote equality. Across Britain, they were heavily persecuted for their refusal to attend Church of England services, to pay tithes, to doff their hats or swear oaths. Slowly the persecution reduced but, by the 19th century, they were still barred from universities and from most professions. Some became industrial entrepreneurs and bankers whose success resulted from their honesty and integrity. Notable were Cadburys, Rowntrees and Frys making chocolate, Colmans making mustard, and Barclays in banking. In 1709 Abraham Darby successfully smelted iron ore with coke and his grandson Abraham Darby III built the first Iron Bridge at Coalbrookedale in1778. Other Quakers, such as Elizabeth Fry, became famous for their work with the disadvantaged, prisoners, the poor, the mentally ill.
In the early 19th century, Leicestershire’s industrial activity was based on coal with which some Quakers were involved. The Ellis family (after whom Ellistown is named) played a part in commissioning George Stephenson to build one of the earliest railways to take coal from Swannington to Leicester.
In Loughborough there was a meeting house on Dead Lane. The house disappeared in the early 1800’s and Dead Lane itself disappeared, first under the bus station and now under The Rushes.
In the 20th century Friends met at the WEA’s Crest House on Park Street. In the 1950’s they became involved in the building of John Storer House which opened in 1956 with Friends as one of the first hirers.
A number of times the Meeting has considered getting our own building. In 1989 Winifred Matthews left a bequest which was offered to Loughborough Friends. The money was used to build the care home George Hythe House at Glenfield instead.