The Bathford Society

The Quakers in Bathford


Arising out of the turmoil of the Civil War, George Fox began preaching his ideas in 1647. His followers became known as the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers and were separate from the established Church of England. The mood of the Anglican Church and of the government at that time was such that the return of Roman Catholicism or any other dissenting religious group was feared and strenuously resisted. The Conventical Act of 1664 made it a crime for more than five persons to attend unauthorised religious meetings not according to the liturgy of the Church of England. Despite this, the Friends openly held meetings, usually in each others houses, risking arrest and imprisonment, to demonstrate their belief. The Toleration Act of 1689 relaxed this constraint so that it was no longer a crime to hold such gatherings, but meeting places had to be licensed by the bishop's court.

Meeting Houses in Bathford

The first house in Bathford to hold a license was that of Tristram Iles in 1694 but we have no record of which house this was. Monthly meetings were held in Bathford in 1719 at the house of Anthony Collett and again in 1725. Other local houses licensed for Quaker meetings were those of Henry Cannings in 1706, Peter Walker in 1716 and that of Anthony Collett again in 1731. The site of Henry Cannings' house was east of the Crown Inn. The whereabouts of the other two are not known.

Bath and Bathford are mentioned together in the records as having active groups of Friends, with meetings taking place in both locations. Bath Friends built their first separate Meeting House in 1696 in Marchant's Court, now known as Northumberland Passage. Although a Meeting House at Cumberwell was licensed, no record has been found of a special building dedicated as a Meeting House in Bathford. There appears to have been some laxness in the Bathford Friends at that time, which Richard Amsbury and Thomas Morley were tasked to investigate. Such a group was hardly likely to build its own Meeting House.

Bath Quakers' Burial Ground

Records and maps identify a plot of land at Bathford beside the Avon between Avondale House and the railway bridge (now under the end of the by-pass) as a Quaker burial ground. This was the first burial ground of the Bath Friends. The small plot of land, part of Pardis Close (later known as Paradise), was bought c. 1703 from William Fisher by two prominent Quakers from Bath, John Cowling and Edward Marchant. In 1734 ownership of the ground was transferred to 12 trustees, all of whom were tradesmen with businesses in Bath. The site may have been chosen by its proximity to the River Avon which would have allowed coffins to have been brought from Bath by boat, or simply because the land had become available.

The first recorded burial was of Catherine Tylee of Lyncombe and Widcombe in December 1703. The number of interments at Bathford from 1703 to 1845 was 241, with about two burials a year on average, rising to three per year between 1730 and 1750. Of all of these, only 11 were from Bathford itself, all from the Collett and Cannings families. The rest, with few exceptions were residents of, or visitors to Bath. In 1829 some land on Widcombe Hill was given to the Bath Friends and a burial ground opened there. This, and the imminent construction of the railway nearby would explain why the burial ground in Bathford had been virtually abandoned by 1836. It was sold in 1933/4 to the owner of Avondale House, Harold MacDonald and by then had become completely overgrown. It was compulsorily acquired by land exchange in 1993 as part of the Batheaston by-pass scheme.

Source: Bathford Past and Present

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