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The Quakers in Malhamdale

John Hall (1637-1719) - An Early Local Quaker

John Hall was born in 1637 son of a local couple, John and Elizabeth Hall of Airton.  He was brought up in the Church of England presumably attending the church at Kirkby Malham and as he was educated, he possibly attended Kirkby Malham Grammar School which was founded in 1606 and which was sited between the Church and the present Vicarage.  Presumably his education lasted until he was 14 when he was apprenticed to a tailor serving the usual 7 years.  He then continued as a journeyman before setting up his own tailoring business.

He gained many customers including some wealthy and influential families for whom he was able to supply fashionable clothes of the times and he himself was described as ‘modish in apparel, sprightly and jovial in spirit’.  This was at the time when fashions became quite extreme after the restrictions and drabness of the puritan period.

But despite his success he seems to have been unhappy with his religious life and when a Quaker, Gervase Benson, had a meeting near to his home in Airton, he went along, but finding the meeting sitting in silence, he wandered off into the fields.  On returning later Gervase Benson was speaking and he leaned his head on the doorpost and listened to what he had to say and was moved to tears by what he heard.  Despite this he was still uneasy about sitting in silence at meetings so decided to go to one more meeting and if no one spoke, then he would not go again.  When he arrived the Friends were again sitting in silence but John was beckoned in to sit amongst them and during that silence he was convinced that this was the truth and so began his life as a committed Friend.

This commitment had a huge effect on his working life as a tailor.  Previously he had been happy to make stylish clothes and as was the fashion of the time for the wealthy, he would decorate them with lace and trimmings, but after his ‘convincement’ he felt this was totally against his principles.  At first he allowed his workers to complete these tasks but soon his conscience would not allow them to do the work either and he turned down such work and made his living by producing plain, serviceable clothes, unadorned by any trimmings.  He had reached this state of affairs after another ‘revelation’ in a meeting where he appears to have lost the use of his limbs and fallen to the floor, much to the ‘admiration of the spectators’.  These events were in the 1660s.

Soon after becoming a Friend there is a story recorded by his son that he was convinced he should go to the Church or steeplehouse, and face the preaching priest, this same priest that had been ministering when John attended the Church.  It is recorded that he stood by the priest and with a ‘steady countenance, silently fixed his eyes upon him’.  The priest was totally unnerved and asked the wardens to take him away.  But the wardens knew John – they knew him as an honest man, a good neighbour and business man, well liked in the area so they were reluctant to eject him.  But this did not satisfy the priest who allegedly said ‘If you will not come and take him away, I will take him away myself’.  So the wardens had no option but to remove him and the priest resumed his sermon.  But John was not finished.  He returned again to stand silently in front of the priest who by this time was so annoyed that he had John thrown out again and shortly sent the congregation away.  Whether it was the result of this incidence or of some other infringement of the religious rules, his son states that he had a horse confiscated, the one he used to visit other meetings in the area.

In 1682 the family moved to Skipton.  By this time John was married to Elizabeth Paytfield.  It is not known where they lived at first but in 1689 John bought a property off Caroline Square from Hugh Watkinson of Middle Temple, London, for £220.  The house no longer exists in that form but it is thought to be behind the block of shops currently housing Scope and Brown’s shoe shop now called Brookside, and part of the building exists.   Crow’s map of 1757 shows the piece of land as belonging to Hall and Wood’s map of 1832 shows the area as Quaker Place.  It is believed to be this house which John ran as an inn for 13 years but run on very strict lines not allowing music, singing or dancing and preaching the message of temperance.  But there was always room for visiting Quakers to stay.

During this time they were regularly prosecuted for their religious beliefs, failing to pay tithes and refusing to take oaths.  In 1682 he was imprisoned and taken to Knaresborough Sessions, fined and released, but so many of their possessions were confiscated that they had to borrow bedding, pots and pans in order for the family and servants to survive.  The following year in 1683 he was imprisoned again and appeared before the Quarter Sessions at Skipton, he and his wife were also charged twice more that year and he appeared at Knaresborough and Whetherby. 

The Act of Toleration in 1689 brought relief from the persecution and that same year John’s house was registered under the Act as a Quaker meeting place, and again in 1693.  The Act also allowed the building of Meeting Houses and in1693 John took out a lease for the building of the Skipton Meeting House.  John along with John Cowper, a fishmonger from Skipton leased land off the present Newmarket St from Samual Pollard on a 3000 year lease for the rent of one penny per year, and the Skipton Meeting House was built on the same site as it occupies today.  The central part of the building is just as it was then with the date stone over the door.  This must have given the Skipton Friends great satisfaction to have a dedicated place to meet.

John and Elizabeth suffered great tragedies in their family life.  They had 5 children, the first and fifth were both boys who died in infancy.  The second and third children were daughters who died within two days of each other of smallpox in 1693, aged 11 and 12 years.  It looked as if their only remaining child, David, then aged 10 would also die.   He was ill for five years suffering terrible effects of the disease and was initially unable to see clearly, speak or stand.  However by degrees he gradually recovered and eventually was able to continue his education at Ermysteds Grammar School.  It was said that after 5 years furthering his education, he would have been able to go to university but as his religion made that impossible, he put his education to good use by opening a Quaker School in Skipton.

The school opened in 1703 and operated in his father’s house.   It was a boarding school with anything from about 12 to 40 children, some coming from great distances.  The cost of tuition and board was £8 per annum.  The children were obviously frequent visitors to the Meeting House and some carved their initials on the back of the seats in the minister’s gallery – graffiti  from 1731!  But although the Friends had greater freedoms than previously, a certain priest in Skipton, Roger Mitton, tried for many years to get the school closed and in 1711 and again in 1714 David was taken to the Archdeacon’s Court for teaching school without a license.  Despite his efforts the school operated for 32 years.

During these years John attended many local meetings, he travelled around the county, went to the south of England and travelled to London several times to attend the yearly meetings, no easy task in the C17th.  He travelled on horseback and his inventory shows that at death he owned two mares, saddles and bridles.  He died in 1719 at the grand age of 82.  He was a reasonably wealthy man at his death, his belongings being valued at £63 left to his son David.  The inventory itemises the beds, chairs, tables etc which he owned, 11 beds and bedding, 13 chairs and various forms, and 8 tables, all of which would be needed as the building was still operating as a boarding school.  The house consisted of 9 rooms, outhouses, barns, stables, yards and gardens and alongside the furniture and two mares, there were also two cows and a calf.

The will stipulated that David had to provide a home for his mother, free of  any rent.  He specified that she was to be allowed the ‘parlour under the school chamber … together with a bed and bedding and other furniture and things necessary for such like housekeeping also the free use of the bakehouse adjoining the said parlour with all the utensils …’  However he added a note to the will that if at any time she were to dislike the said parlour, she was to be at liberty to choose a room out of the house which ‘she should think fit’  and enjoy the same privileges of furnishings etc.  She was also to be paid an annuity of £6 throughout her life.  She died in 1725.

So John, who had started his connection with the Friends in Airton, died as a prominent Quaker in Skipton, leaving us the legacy of the Skipton Meeting House where he was buried, and leaving a son, David, totally committed to furthering the cause of the Friends.  



‘Some Brief Memoirs of the Life of David Hall’ 1758

Notes from Geoffrey Rowley

Information from Richard Harland

Prepared for the Quaker Study Day at Airton Meeting House, March 2009 by Rosemary Bundy, Malhamdale Local History Group


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