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[With Illustrations by the Author. Read February 4, 1878.]
SOMEWHAT more than two hundred years ago, when that
unwholesomely-merry monarch, Charles II., ruled over England, and was doing his best to set a brilliant example of moral corruption before his people,—at this time, George Fox, 'sometime shoemaker and assistant cattle dealer, son of "Righteous Christer," a Leicestershire weaver, was travelling to and fro throughout the length and breadth of the land, inculcating, both by precept and example, a purity and simplicity of life and faith sadly at variance with the tenets and practices of that period of formal religion and gross licentiousness.
Fox, believing himself to be specially commanded of God to the work, went forth fearlessly and boldly proclaiming plain truths, without dread of powers or priests; and, as a natural consequence, suffered greatly and was persecuted continually.* Of these travels and persecutions for truth's sake we can to-night only take note of one incident in particular, the circumstances attending which are recorded at considerable length in his journal, and which involved somewhat serious consequences. This was his arrest at Armscott;
* I may here recall to mind that his preaching commenced at Dukinfield and Manchester,
and his account thereof is so quaint, graphic, and picturesque, that I shall make no apology for quoting his own words. It occurred in the latter part of the year 1673. He says:
After I had stayed some time in London, labouring for some relief and ease to Friends in this case, I took leave of Friends there and went into the country, with my wife [he had married a widow, Margaret Fell] and her daughter Rachel, to Hendon, in Middlesex, and thence to William Penn's, at Rick. mansworth, in Hertfordshire, whither Thomas Lower, who married another of my wife's daughters, came next day to accompany us in our journey northward, After we had visited Friends thereabouts, we passed to a Friend's house near Aylesbury, and thence to Bray Doily's, at Adderbury, in Oxfordshire, where, on First-day, we had a large and precious meeting, Truth being well spread, and Friends in those parts much increased in number, two or three new meet. ings were then set up. At night, as I was sitting at supper, I felt I was taken; yet I said nothing then to anyone of it. But getting out next morning, we travelled into Worcestershire, and went to John Halford's, at Armscott, where we had a very large and precious meeting in his barn, the Lord's powerful presence being eminently with and amongst us. After the meeting, Friends being most of them gone, as I was sitting in the parlour, discoursing with some Friends, Henry Parker, a justice, came to the house, and with him one Rowland Hains, a priest of Hunniton, in Warwickshire. This justice heard of the meeting by means of a woman Friend, who, being nurse to a child of
his, asked leave of her mistress to go to the meeting to see me; and she speaking of it to her husband, he and the priest plotted together to come and break it up and apprehend me. But from their sitting long at dinner, it being the day on which his child was sprinkled, they did not come till the meeting was over and Friends mostly gone. But though there was no meeting when they came, yet I being in the house, who was the person they aimed at, Henry Parker took me, and Thomas Lower for company with me; and though he had nothing to lay to our charge, sent us both to Worcester jail by a strange sort of mittimus; a copy of which here follows.
This mittimus was addressed "to the constables of Tredington, in the said county of Worcester, and to all constables and tithingmen of the several townships and villages within the said parish of Tredington, and to the keeper of the jail for the county of Worcester," ," and orders them to "convey the bodies" to "the county jail of Worcester aforesaid." Accordingly to the jail they went forthwith, George Fox, and Thomas Lower "for company."
Fox expected they would be released at the next quarter sessions, to be holden at the end of the year; but it was not until after fourteen long months of worry and anxiety, and being bandied about repeatedly between Worcester and London, that he got his discharge. Yet he might have been released much earlier had he chosen to sacrifice the smallest jot or tittle of his inflexible uprightness of principle. It is pleasant in this connection to note, from sundry indications in the journal, that the indolent and voluptuous king apparently entertained a considerable respect for the sturdy preacher, and on this occasion would willingly have had him released if he would have accepted the kingly pardon. Fox, however, stoutly maintained that as he had committed not offence he could not be pardoned. The king could do no more, and Fox therefore waited until, as he says, "after I had suffered imprisonment a year and almost two months for nothing, I was fairly set at liberty upon a trial of the errors in my indictment, without receiving any pardon, or coming under any obligation or engagement at all."
So ended the Armscott episode.
If it has interested you half as much as it interested me, you will, I think, have no difficulty in understanding how, when I received information last autumn that "John Halford's" house and the barn were still standing, that the house was a fine old grey stone mansion, that the atmosphere was delightful and the
neighbouring scenery good, and that it was only a few miles from Stratford-on-Avon, I, without much anxious consideration, decided to pitch my artistic tent there for a season. Thither, in September, I went, and will endeavour briefly to describe to you what I found.
Armscott is a little village in the parish of Tredington, and about nine miles from Stratford-on-Avon. It contains, possibly, thirty houses; but some of these are of superior stamp, large, wellbuilt of grey stone, with great stone barns, indicative of wide and extensive farming operations and prosperous times in days gone by. John Halford's, now known as the Old Manor House, is the principal, and is a strong, substantial mansion of Elizabeth's time, calculated to withstand, with ordinary care, the wear and tear of many a generation yet to come; that is so far as the walls are concerned, for the inside is woefully disappointing, and accords with the shorn glory of the large estate which once appertained to the house. It is still owned by the Halfords (a family said by tradition to be as old as the Conquest), but the estate has dwindled and sunk until only about thirty-five acres remain, and these and the mansion were in the market for sale when I was down there. At the present time it is occupied by some Stratford friends of mine as an accommodation farm.
Judging from the exterior, you would expect to find much to interest you inside-some good oak panelling or carving, an old staircase possibly, or some fine chimneys. But no. That these were there is very evident, but the vandalism of a not very remote generation has denuded it of nearly all that was picturesque, and churchwardenized it in the most approved style. The hall has lost its staircase, the parlour its panelling, and the great chimneys are filled up with modern iron grates. The parlour has still its oaken floor, and the windows, very fortunately, were not easily spoiled, but nearly all else is gone. There is one fine piece of carved panelling, perhaps ten feet by six feet, used to eke out a temporary wooden partition, in one of the bedrooms, and I found some oak panelling helping to make up the wall of a shed in the farmyard. Everything bears upon it the stamp of the family's decay. The walls of the great barn (one hundred and thirty-five feet by twenty-six feet) in which Fox preached, are as firm and strong as ever, but the thatched roof is all worn and full of holes. There