Founding of Uxbridge Meeting

Beginnings of the Quakers in England

The founding of the Quaker Meeting in Uxbridge came at a critical time in history.

There had been over a hundred years of change in religious toleration, from times when it was dangerous to be a catholic to times when it was dangerous to be a protestant and back again. Uxbridge had been protestant since the time of Edward VI, and three martyrs were burned at the stake on Lynch green in 1555 in the reign of the catholic "Bloody" Mary, as a warning to the town.

There had been the civil war, which seemed essentially to be a fight over money and religion, with the Puritan Roundheads on one side and the Royalist Anglicans on the other.

Half the people who lived in an urban environment lived in London, and Uxbridge was just 15 miles from Tyburn as the coaches rattled. The town was the first posting stop on the road out to Oxford, where the Royalist contingent had been based during the Civil war, and Uxbridge had been a Parliamentarian headquarters itself.

Many people believed that they were living in the end times of the bible, and that the end was literally nigh. They were seeking the truth, because they believed they might soon be called before God to account for themselves.

It is hard to obtain good information about the time when Meetings started in Uxbridge or Woxbrugge as it was sometimes still called then, because it was dangerous to meet if you weren't an Anglican. By 1657 there were already a thousand Quakers in prison in England.

It is believed that Edward Burrough, one of the Valiant Sixty first members of the Quaker movement, was responsible for the first meetings here. Certainly by the time George Fox berated the people of Uxbridge in a letter sent in 1659, there had been a Meeting established for some time.

Charles II had signed a promise of religious toleration before returning to the throne in 1660, but had instead introduced the Clarendon Code, a collection of acts which made it dangerous and difficult to be a Quaker - or come to that a Catholic, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Ranter or a Jew - in England.

These acts banned people outside the Anglican communion from military or public office, and made the Book of Common Prayer compulsory in English churches. A fifth of the clergy refused to comply with the latter, and were therefore turned out of their livings. By 1662 there was a considerable number of non-conformist groups meeting in and around Uxbridge, and three of these were Quaker meetings.

The Conventicle Act and Five Mile Act, sought to prevent people outside the Church of England from holding religious meetings or coming to preach in towns. As Quakers were then often challenging the established way of doing things, refusing to pay tithes, travelling on Sundays, or "First Day" to get to meeting, they were constantly in conflict with the authorities and frequently thrown into prison, with their property confiscated.

Being the first posting place on the road to and from London meant that Uxbridge received a lot of visitors who were on their way to somewhere else. Many Quakers visited the town and attended meetings here, including George Fox and William Penn.