Quakers in Nidderdale

Quakerism in the Nidderdale Valley, North Yorkshire. (1652-1950).The Quaker Walkers of "Netherdale" and Knaresborough

Monthly Meeting.(1779 -1958).


Quakerism developed from the teachings of George Fox and attracted men and women often of independent means and minds, weavers, small farmers and yeoman who lived in the Nidderdale. All were searching for a more meaningful form of religion and religious worship. By about 1652 a"settled" meeting was set up in the Skipton area of North Yorkshire. In the same year Thomas Taylor (1616-1681) an "ancient priest" from Skipton became an early convert and ministered in Nidderdale following on to Westmorland with George Fox. Christopher Taylor, brother of Thomas ministered in Dacre, Hartwith and Felliscliffe. A very early convert living in Harefield, Pateley Bridge was William Settle, who died 1661. By 1669 Knaresborough M.M. had two Preparative meetings, one at Skipton and a second at Knaresborough. In the early years the Quaker meeting was known as Netherdale Meeting.


A refusal to pay tithes, swear the Oath of Allegiance and take off a hat saw Quakers branded as trouble makers and therefore at odds with the local Magistrates. They were persecuted by heavy fines, imprisoned and had goods sequstrated. Fox and other notable men of that time, including the highly regarded Judge Fell met with Charles I also with Oliver Cromwell on many occasions to put the Quaker cause. Though they had a sympathetic hearing nothing improved their lot. Difficult times were experienced by Quakers and other Non-conformists.

In 1662 at Quarter Sessions at Wetherby, 81 peope were summoned by warrents, for their absence from the parish church, all were sent to York Castle gaol. "John Spence of Moneth Hill (Menwith Hill, Nidderdale)laid down his life in the Castle of York for testimony of truth against the oppression of tithes, the 4th day of the sixth month, 1696".

Burials, Meetings and Marriages.

As Quakers regarded a Church as a "steeple house" and a place to verbally challenge the priest they had to find their own meeting place and burial ground. Many early Quakers were buried in land belonging to another Friend. In 1668 John Levens was "buried in his own orchard". William Readshaw, died 1689 and was buried "besides the orchard at Beckwithshaw". Both men were Nidderdale Quakers. Meetings were often held outside, often in orchards or on the hill side, groups of four or more people meeting in a building was an offence.

In 1605 two closes of land High Leys and Wood Close on Dacre pasture were demised to Marmaduke Hardcastle for 1300 years. On August, 27th 1697 it belonged to George Gill who in an Indenture gave it into the trusteeship of Peter and Thomas Hardcastle, Miles Oddy, John Danson, Isaak Whitelock, John Dogson, Bartholomew John Weatherhead and Robert Hardcastle of Ripley; all Quakers. Burials may have occured prior to this date as above the doorway carved in stone is the date 1682. Alice Oddy was the first recorded burial in August 1688 and George Gill the last in 1842.

Twenty five Quaker burials were recorded at "Nidderdale Friends Burial Ground" between 1658 (Jane Simpson) and January 1670 (Margaret Settle) which may have refered to Hardcastlegarth. From December 1670 Quakers burials were recorded on land next to Hardcastlegarth. This was made available in 1688 when a lease was made between Peter Hardcastle the younger and Peter Hardcastle the elder for a pepper corn rent for a period of 1000 years. The last burial there was Hannah Stothard in March 1876.

Toleration Act 1689 and Founding fathers.

By 1689 the Act of Toleration allowed Meeting Houses to be Registered as places for worship. On 25-7-1689 Quarterly Meeting at York asked John Moor, William Siggswick, William Readshaw, George Myres, Peter Hardcastle and Miles Oddy to attend the October sitting of Quarter Sessions at Knaresburgh and register their house for worship. Thus one might regard Peter Hardcastle of Hartwith, Miles Oddy of Netherdale, Peter Moore of Bewerly, John Myers of Beckwithshaw and William Readshaw of Farfield House as the founding fathers of "Netherdale Meeting". Other prominent names at this time were the families of Buck, Bradley, Gill, Moor, Patrick, Theaker, Dodgson and Spence.

Dacre Meeting House.

At the Pontefract Quarter Sessions held April 1697 a "new erected house in Dacre-cum-Bewerley " was "recorded as a place for religious worship". Quakers built on land at Dacre pasture north of the burial ground which they had aquired from George Gill in August 1697.

Not only was Peter Hardcastle's house used as a Meeting House with a burial ground near by but it was used twenty four times for Quaker marriages, the first being between William Whitelock and Dorothy Rhodes in 1660, the last being in 1720. Other marriages were recorded at Henry Settle's, Marmaduke Lemin's, Robert Smith's, Miles Oddy's, Peter Moor's, and William Readshaw's.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth centuary the Hardcastle families were playing a lesser role and the Spence family of Hartwith, Birstwith and Darley were now playing a major role in the continuance of Quakerism in Nidderdale. In July 1779 at Dacre Meeting house the marriage took place of Rachel Spence and Robert Walker. Robert came from Brighouse M.M.the son of Robert and Hannah Walker. From this union came twelve children, five who married and produced thirty five grandchildren. The last of the Walkers died in Birstwith in 1958.

A new Meting House requested at Darley

As we have seen Hardcastlegarth was well used for worship, burials and marriages and the same can be said for the Dacre Meeting House. But it seems that Quakers from the two sides of the Valley separated by the river Nidd experienced some difficulty in coming together for meetings for both worship and business. In November 1798 Friends at Netherdale Meeting were asking Monthly Meeting for a "more centally placed" Meeting house. They quickly raise £50 amongst themselves but thought another £200 would be necessary. By 1880 local donations had made available £75 but estimates had risen to £250. Though used in 1802 the records show Darley Meeting House was "finished 10th mo.8th 1804" and had cost £345; Millemium Dome and Scottish Parliament buildings come to mind!

Darley Meeting House and Burial Ground was used by a small group of Quakers, just under half were of the name Walker and out of sixty three burials in Darley twenty six were from that family. The first burial was Hannah Walker in 1803 and the last was Benjamin Walker in 1891, this writers great grandfather.

Loss of Members.

Around 1860 several of the Walker families left the district one to Ellenthorpe Hall, Boroughbridge, two to Hay-a Park, Knaresborough and others to Canada. Quaker numbers just prior to this date were around fifty so the Meeting was much reduced. Individuals who were not Members of the Society of Friends were always welcome to Meeting and were known as Attenders. From the Meetings library records it would seem that upwards of ten individuals were in this catagory. Some of these long standing Attenders were given permission to be buried in either Hardcastlegarth or Darley Quaker burial grounds.

Closure of the Meeting House.

By 1874 Meeting for worship was held weekly at the home of Thompson Walker at East View, Birstwith. The library records point to the growing problem...."Owing to meetings not now being held in the Meeting House at Darley there have been no books lent". In 1876 we read "...a few books lent to our neighbours".

The Meeting closed for weekly meetings and the few members left went to Harrogate Meeting. A stage was reached when once a year the Meeting House was opened and used for Monthly Meeting. At the last such Meeting by father also named Benjamin Walker was present. He said;-

"The hour long meeting for worship past in silence, probably in reflection of the lives, stuggles and successes of those who continued to "Keep bright the chain".

In 1950 the Meeting House was sold but the burial ground remains in the hands of the Society of Friends.

By September 2004 the Meting House was re-sold for development and with it the burial ground. This writer was instumental in seeing that all the Quaker grave markers were transfered to Dacre Friends burial ground.