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Quakers in Clifton

25 Church Street - Holly Cottage - August 2009
25 Church Street - Holly Cottage - August 2009

The Society of Friends are colloquially known as the Quakers. It is known that the Stotfold and Clifton Monthly Meeting began in 1667 and ran until 1748. It is not known where the regular meeting house was but there was definitely a meeting in the village by 1706.

Visitations by the Bishop of Lincoln to Bedfordshire in the early 18th century give some idea as to the number of nonconformists in each parish from returns made by the vicar or rector. Former County Archivist Patricia Bell has compiled returns from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002). In 1706 the parson recorded that the parish had about fifty families, only one of which was Quaker, nevertheless: "There is a Quakers meeting house in the parish". Six Quaker families were noted in 1706: "The Quakers meet once a fortnight, Susannah Saunders chief speaker".

By 1712 two families were recorded as Quakers "These last meet once in 3 weeks". These widely varying numbers of Quaker families and differing accounts of meeting times seem to portray an Anglican clergyman not interested enough to get the numbers right (Philip Oddy replaced Thomas Cooke in 1708), or that the Quakers were secretive in their allegiance, fearing persecution - or, perhaps, both. Between 1711 and 1717 returns gave a total of two Quaker families with meetings every three weeks at which sixteen to twenty people attended: "Teachers uncertain". By 1720 the number was down to one family again.

Clifton meeting house was part of the Pulloxhill Monthly Meeting from 1748 to 1764. The meeting house and burial ground in Clifton was discontinued in 1764 but we know where they were. A cottage owned by John Arch and occupied by Thomas Medlicott, then George Neal was sold in 1807 to the Rector, Rev.Daniel Stephen Olivier for £105 [WJ135]. This cottage, today's 25 Church Street, Holly Cottage, was identified as having previously been the meeting house.