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Quakers in Cranfield

This page was written by Sally Williams

Note: this account of Quakerism in Cranfield has drawn on the book by Joyce Godber, Friends in Bedfordshire and West Herts, published in 1975 by White Crescent Press Ltd, Luton.

Early references to Quakerism in Cranfield describe Joshua Wheeler, of the village, as a leading light. He was at one of the first meetings in the area when William Dewsbury came to Bedfordshire in 1654, probably meeting at Beckerings Park, Ridgmont, the home of John Crook. Further meetings were held over 3 days in 1657 and 1658 where Quakers came from all over England. The gathering was so large that the meeting had to be moved outside to the orchard.

The following year James Lancaster and 2 men from Westmorland were arrested at Cranfield and committed to Bedford Goal. This precipitated a visit from George Fox who also went to Beckerings Park. In 1658, Fox and many others gathered at Beckerings Park when a National General Yearly Meeting was held. John Crook began to preach and with others is known to have visited Cranfield in 1659 when meetings would have been held in private houses.

By the 1670s, Cranfield has a Meetinghouse for Friends which is described as a cottage provided for an elderly or infirm Quaker to live in, with part reserved for meetings and some adjacent ground for burial.

Despite some liberalism of religious thinking, persecution of Quakers continued and in 1685 9 Friends were arrested near the Meetinghouse and committed as rioters.

The Toleration Act of 1689 passed by William and Mary allowed nonconformists to worship provided the place of the meeting was registered with Quarter Sessions or the Archdeanery. In April 1690 Cranfield registered a Meetinghouse at Gossards Green (SP 960 435).  This stood at the north western end of Gossards Green adjoining Meeting House Close.  It was closed in 1849 and demolished in c.1866 after being used as a cottage.  A burial ground, in which about 17 adults and several children are buried, adjoins the site of the meeting house.  The last burial was in c.1860.  [CRT 170/5/7] [HER 10065/66]

In 1904, the land containing the burial ground was let to Edward Anstee for 10 shillings by Wm Rogers Chantler & Fra[ncis] Littleboy (2 of trustees) - land at Gossards Green, Cranfield, for some years occ by Wm Lancaster, & including disused bur gd [burial ground]; tenant to keep fences & hedge in repair & not disturb graves. [FR24/7/24]

It is reported that “the whole site is now let for a hen run at 10/- per annum.”

The Wheelers of Cranfield

Two notable Quaker families at Cranfield were the Wheelers (who also owned land at Marston Moretaine) and the Hartwells.

Joshua Wheeler, who died 1712 and his son also Joshua, died 1749 feature in a number of old documents in the care of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service:

In 1677 Alice Wheeler gives power of attorney to her son Joshua. [AD 949]

in 1672 Joshua Wheeler of Cranfield and a John Wheeler of Marston Moretaine are mentioned as having the assignment of 4½ acres of land in Marston Moretaine at Hogg Close and Grove Close for 500 years. [BS732]

In 1687 Joshua Wheeler is mentioned in the assignment of a mortgage. [BS633]

In 1691 the same area of land in Marston Moretaine is mentioned in a conveyance lease and release for £120 by Joshua Wheeler and his wife Constance to a John Richardson of Ampthill. [BS733]

In 1691/2 John Wheeler and his wife Constance together with others are respondents in a case against Robert Parker, plaintiff in respect of 10 acres of pasture in Maldon, Marston Moretaine, Wootton and Elstow. [BS745]

Joshua Wheeler, the son appears as a signatory to a documents for the sale of property in 1741. [BC346] Joshua is described as a Headborough, which was a type of legal official. He also appears as a trustee of the will of Richard Hartwell.

The Wheeler family home was at Boxhedge Farm and there remains a Quaker burial ground in the garden, surrounded by a box hedge. Bedfordshire parish records show the burial of Elizabeth Harvey in August 1696 in this burial ground. Several members of the Wheeler family are also buried here. [HER 10050] [F G Emmison (Ed). Bedfordshire Parish Registers. Vol. XXVII, Cranfield]

The Hartwells of Court Road

 Hartwell Farm

Hartwell Farm, Court Road. Photograph by Sally Williams

The Hartwell family lived at Hartwell Farm in Court Road. The building, dating from the 17th century survives and the burial ground is on the property (or as Richard Hartwell describes it “in my orchard”). [HER 10063]

The will of Richard Hartwell, who died on 16th June 1739, is particularly interesting. It shows some significant bequests to family and friends: £10 to the poor of Cranfield and an allowance for a relative Josiah Hartwell to undertake an apprenticeship. The will also leaves funds to establish a charity and names the trustees. The charity established almshouses to accommodate 6 poor unmarried people of whom 3 were to be Quakers. [X272/80]

Will of Richard Hartwell of Cranfield: To be buried in the family burying-place in own orchard; Recites that on 6 Jan. 1724 he surrendered to the use of his will all copyhold messuages & lands held of the manor of Cranfield;

To sister. Sarah Warr, wife of James Warr of Cranfield, household goods & furniture; To Thomas Simmons of Stoke Golding, Bucks., £20; To Jason. Warr £20;

To William Richardson of Turvey Park, £5, or to his son Sam.; To each hired servant £5;

To the poor of Cranfield, £10;

To Josiah Hartwell (son of Richard, late of London, oilman), £30 at age 14, to apprentice him; & £100 at age 21; to 2 daughters. of same, £10 p.a. till 21; then £50;

To trustees: (who may purchase land) Joshua Wheeler, Cranfield; Thomas. Simmons, Stoke Golding; Doiley Marks, N. Crawley; Lewis Bartrem of Wootton; Thomas. Cooper of Newport Pagnell, grocer; Residue of estate in trust, paying interest to sister. Sarah; on her death each one is to have £20; They are to place 6 poor unmarried people (3 being Quakers) (the other 3 such as do not receive collection from parish) in the house in Cranfield where tenant Ralph Pooley dwells, or in any other of testator's houses, except the one he dwells in; each such person is to have a new garment annually of cloth stuff or serge, and 100 faggots, and is to receive 2s. weekly; Any balance is to be applied to such charitable uses as the greater number of the trustees shall see fit;

When the trustees are reduced to 3, 2 new trustees shall be added (Quakers); Witn. Jn. Cripps, Jn. Peter, Wm. Goodred.

2 December 1734. codicil, leaving payments to servants to discretion of sis. Sara and of exors.; Also leaving further sum of £100 to Jas Warr; Also to kinsman Wm. Leverett of Newport Pagnell & sis. Eliz. £5;

Witnessed. Wm. Brown, Hen. Hobbs, Ann Richardson.

The Bedfordshire archives contain a record of the surrender out of court to Richard Ward, deputy steward of the Manor of Cranfield by James Warr (who survived the other trustees of 1726) of a cottage & garden in Bourne End, Cranfield to the use of James Warr, Samuel Richardson, John Gunnis, Nicholas Adams, Nicholas Morris, John Morris, John Bennell, Richard Austin, in trust for a meetinghouse for Quakers (but a person charitably appointed by the trustees may dwell therein)

In April 1750, a new trust deed records the death of all the original trustees except James Warr [FR24/7/15]