Respectability

George Fox wrote in his journal:-

At the first convincement when Friends could not put off their hats to people, nor say you to a particular, but thee and thou; and could not bow, nor use the world's salutations nor fashions nor customs - and many Friends being tradesmen of several sorts - they lost their custom at the first, for the people could not trade with them nor trust them. And for a time people that were tradesmen could hardly get money to buy bread, but afterwards when people came to see Friends' honesty and truthfulness and yea and nay at a word in their dealing, and their lives and conversations did preach and reach to the witness of God in all people, and they knew and saw that they would not cozen and cheat them for conscience' sake towards God:- and that at last they might send any child and be as well used as themselves at any of their shops, so then the things altered so that the inquiry was where a draper or shopkeeper or tailor or shoemaker or any other tradesman that was a Quaker: then that was all their cry, insomuch that Friends had double the trade beyond all of their neighbours: and if there was any trading they had it.

Nevertheless the period 1690 to 1760 was in many ways one of decline. As the first generation of Friends passed away the Meeting increasingly consisted of birth-right members rather than those converted by a life-changing experience. John Stephenson Rowntree wrote in 1859 of the period as one of the diminished effusion of the Holy Spirit, while William Braithwaite considered that the Society established a strong organisation and lost something of its soul.

At first there was no formal membership - Quakers were those who regularly attended Meeting for Worship - but some problems made a clear definition necessary. Each Monthly Meeting helped any Friend in need so that no Friend had to rely on parish relief. Every application for help was examined by the Meeting, and while no Friend was allowed to suffer real want, neither was idleness indulged or any extravagance tolerated. In 1712 the Meeting considered the case of Thomas Rowland whose family had been assisted for some time. It was reported that they had more and better goods than seemed appropriate, and visitors were appointed to inspect the house. Very little was found that could be spared except a pair of wheels, an old plough and some husbandry tackle. These were sold, to recover in part the money which monthly Meeting had spent on two pounds worth of wheat.

Eligibility for relief depended on membership, and the procedure for joining was increasingly clearly defined. By the end of the century any new convert could apply to Monthly Meeting, or Monthly Meeting itself would take the initiative, and visitors were appointed to meet with the applicant and report back. The children of Friends were automatically members. Thus people were either 'birthright' Quakers, or they became members by 'convincement'.

From the beginning there was a need for discipline. Surrounded by other sects, such as the Ranters, whose message licensed immorality, it was necessary for Friends to witness to their Inward Light by the innocence of their conduct. [Friends today often speak of the Inner Light, but the phrase used in the early days was 'the Inward Light of Christ'] They knew that their opponents were ready to publicise any difference between their profession and practice. Friends whose conduct was inconsistent with Quaker morality ('disorderly walkers') were first reproved privately, then publicly, if necessary, and finally, if they did not respond, they were disowned. Any Friends whose actions had brought the Society into public disrepute, but who had repented, were required to publish papers of condemnation of their acts. Those who would not or could not conform again to the testimonies of the Society were disowned. The Book of Disownments makes both sad and tedious reading. Friends could be disowned for abandoning the Society or behaving immorally, paying tithes, employing a substitute in the militia, marrying out or bankruptcy. Bankruptcy may have been a misfortune, but Friends were considered at fault if they entered into any commitment which they could not absolutely guarantee to fulfil.

By far the most common reason for disownment was marrying out. The determination of early Friends to avoid the 'hireling priests' forced them to establish their own marriage ceremony and this received legal approval almost immediately, but it was only legal when both parties were Quakers. Marriage out was penalised because it had recognised the authority of an Anglican priest. Friends had limited opportunities to meet prospective marriage partners within the Society, so many married out. The marriage of first cousins was prohibited by Quaker rules, but not by the laws of the land, so others left to marry in church. Those who remained were less likely to marry than outsiders, and those who did marry created a complex network of intermarried families.

Disownment was in many ways not as harsh as it may sound. Those who were disowned were free to continue attending Meeting for Worship, and many did so, but they were not allowed to take part in business meetings or to give money to the Society. The law gradually made allowances for Quaker peculiarities, but such concessions as being allowed to affirm rather than give evidence on oath were not open to the disowned, many of whom still retained their Quaker tenderness of conscience about such matters.

Tradition had replaced an adventurous response to the Inward Light. The 'plain dress' of the original Friends remained unchanged, but the nature of the Testimony was subtly different. The simple, practical clothes of one generation became a uniform for subsequent ones and the obligation to take on the uniform when joining the Society created a barrier to membership. They refused 'hat honour' and insisted on referring to one person as 'thee' rather than 'you'. Originally such behaviour was regarded as highly offensive to a population for whom he niceties of social distinction were important, but eventually it became merely quaint - a Quaker mannerism. Even more harmful was the testimony against art, music and literature.

In other ways, Quaker distinctiveness had its advantages. Most Friends had no time for the predominantly classical education of the day, they were not eligible to attend the universities, and the Test Acts disqualified them from most public offices. This restricted them to fields in which they excelled, business and science.

It was about the year 1700 that the Rickman family came to Lewes. They may have been related to the Rickmans at Arundel who had suffered in the persecutions. During the next century and a half they, their relative and their employees dominated Lewes Meeting. Dates of birth and death are given after many of the name quoted later in an attempt to distinguish between different people with identical names. The habit of giving the eldest boy the first name of the father or grandfather adds to the confusion. In an age of high infant mortality it was common to use the same name for successive children until one survived to carry on the tradition.

John Rickman (1715-1789) who married Elizabeth Peters is one of the first of the dynasty in Lewes. He was a brewer and the freeholder of the Bear Inn in the Cliffe, immediately to the West of Cliffe Bridge. At that time the Cliffe was not part of Lewes proper, and the Bear Inn was in practice the Town Hall, as well as the centre of the Lewes wool trade. At that time Quakers had no objection to alcoholic drinks, apart from spirits, although they actively discouraged drunkeneness. Nevertheless some very unquakerly activities took place there. In 1775 the celebrated midget, Margaret Morgan, who stands only 31 inches high at the age of 17 years was exhibited, and in 1780 there was a performance of the Beggar's Opera.

His eldest son, Richard Peters Rickman (1745-1801) succeeded him, and appears in the records not merely as inn-keeper and brewer, but also as banker. Richard is one of the few who 'married out' and not merely escaped being disowned, but eventually became one of the key figures in the meeting. Friends were usually aware of any courtship taking place, and warned those likely to 'marry one not of our persuasion' against taking such a step. A Friend who persisted in this was so clearly setting himself against the meeting that disownment was inevitable. On 5th June 1767 he married Mary Verrall (1749-1818) in Cliffe Church. Friends were apparently not expecting this, since there is no minute of Friends appointed to visit him, but a minute dated 14th June 1767 reads:

Whereas Richard Peters Rickman by misconduct hath incurred the censure of this Meeting, this Meeting appoints John Snashall and Daniel Burns to Treat with him and make their report to the next Monthly Meeting. Further visits were paid to him, and in April 1768 he sent to the Meeting a Letter of Condemnation for his Past Crimes and misconduct. The Lewes Minutes usually distinguish between breaches of the rules of the Society and 'crimes', so the use of the word 'crime' here may be significant. The reported birth of a son in 1767 suggests that there was a reason for the hasty marriage. In May 1768 the Friends appointed to wait on Richard Peters Rickman having given a satisfactory account of his behaviour which together with his Steady and Consistent deportment and also his paper of Condemnation, Friends hath restored him in fellowship and Communion and he is himself reinstated as a Member of our Society.

The youngest son of John Rickman was Thomas 'Clio' Rickman (1760-1834). As a boy he spent much time in the company of Tom Paine who lived in Lewes from 1768 to 1774, a friendship which cannot have been welcomed by Friends. When the Meeting had 'reason to apprehend' that he had the 'intention of marriage with a person not of our society' they warned him against 'any process of this nature', but he married in Cliffe Church in 1783 and was disowned soon afterwards.

Lower writes of him in 'The Worthies of Sussex':, He lived for many years in Marylebone Street, London, where he carried on the trade of bookseller. He published two volumes of poems besides occasional pieces. His habits, manners and personal appearance were very peculiar, and it has been said that he was the original from which the well known comic-character of 'Paul Pry''was drawn. His verses never surpass mediocrity, and often descend to bathos. His lasting work is his biography of Tom Paine, but even this bears the marks of his eccentricity. The end-papers advertise his other works, including The Atrocities of a Convent in three volumes, and describe a patent signal trumpet which he had invented. We know from a newspaper advertisement that his works could be bought from Miss Rickman's bookshop near the bridge.


Impromptu
to
THOMAS PAINE.

At Paris, July 1802.

Franklin, your old and faithful friend,
Who wit and truth did always blend;
With energy would oft' declare,
"Where freedom is, my country's there"

And you as oft' would make reply,
while genius sparkled in your eye,
(That eye, where wit and judgement keen,
And brilliant intellect are seen)
"Where freedom is not, that's my land,
"And there I'll live, and make a stand

Against what tyranny has plann'd.
By this good rule, my friends I vow,
Your station is most proper now;
Nor need you any further dance,
Indeed you're quite at home in France.

Tom Paine was not a Quaker, but as some books dealing with his time in Lewes are in error about his Quaker connections, some clarification may be in order. His father was a Quaker, and his mother an Anglican. There is no record of his attending Quaker meetings while at Lewes. Some books report that Samuel Ollive, with whom he lodged, was a Friend, but they are not correct. Samuel Ollive attended Westgate Chapel where his son was the minister. Throughout his life Tom Paine vigorously criticised the Quakers, yet he sometimes suggested that their faith was more reasonable and closer to his beliefs than that of other denominations. He wrote The only people who, as a professional sect of Christians provide for the poor of their society, are people known by the name of Quakers. These men have no priests. They assemble quietly in their places of meeting, and do not disturb their neighbours with shows and noise of bells. Religion does not unite itself to show and noise. True religion is without either.

When the National Convention in Paris debated the possible trial and execution of Louis XVI, Paine's speech was interrupted by Marat. "I deny the right of Thomas Paine to vote on such a subject; as he is a Quaker, of course his religious views run counter to the infliction of capital punishments." It is interesting to note that Paine had the reputation of being a Quaker, and did not take the opportunity (if he had one) to correct the statement. He forcefully advanced many of the causes close to Friends, including the abolition of slavery. While his diagnosis of the causes of war is close to the Quaker point of view, he was not a pacifist.

In his will he wrote I know not if the Society of people called Quakers admit a person to be buried in their burying ground, who does not belong to their Society, but if they do, or will admit me, 1 would prefer being buried there; my father belonged to that profession, and I was partly brought up in it. The American friends refused this on the grounds that it was not their custom to permit memorial stones, and that it was likely that his admirers would wish to raise a stone in his honour, contrary to the Society's ruling on burying grounds at that time.

John Rickman had another son, Joseph (1749-1810), who was apprenticed to Mr Ridge, a surgeon at Lewes, and then went to Maidenhead where he practised as a druggist. Joseph's son Thomas (1776-1841) was born in Maidenhead. At the age of 18 he drew and coloured 5000 toy soldiers which he cut out and arranged in front of architectural backgrounds of military buildings. He trained as a surgeon and apothecary in London, and in 1791 he rejoined his father who had returned to Lewes, practising medicine in the Cliffe. In 1802 Thomas fell in love with his first cousin, Lucy Rickman (1772-1804). He was warned against a possible breach of the rules of the Society, but informed the visitors that both himself and his cousin had seriously considered the matter and did not think it likely that the connection would be broken off. They married in Cliffe Church (below), and when they were disowned they left Lewes.

Joseph Rickman left the Quakers and held forth as a street preacher in most of the principal towns of the kingdom, and particularly in the metropolis, with a degree of eccentricity bordering on insanity.

For a while Thomas worked as a clerk in commerce and insurance, and in his spare time he studied architecture. At that time the term 'gothic' was used indiscriminately to describe any ancient building. In 1817 he published his Attempt to Distinguish the Styles of Architecture, and for this he devised the names Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular which have now passed into general use. In 1818 Parliament provided a large sum for the building of new churches, and although he had no previous practical experience the church commissioners employed him in the construction of more churches than any other architect of the time. In 1835 he returned to Lewes for the funeral of his brother John in the Friends burial ground, but as he had joined the Catholic Apostolic Church he was no longer acceptable to his old Quaker friends.

The minute books of the 18th century are, on the whole, remarkable for their lack of variety. The most common entry is a list of the names of Friends attending, a note that the meeting was held 'in a good degree of love and unity', followed by announcement of the place of the next meeting. The more spectacular events such as disownments stand out from these modest statements so much by contrast that it is easy to be totally mistaken about the proportions of one to the other. The following extracts from the Woman Friends Monthly Meeting minute book are from the period 1767-1784, but could have been drawn from any time in that century. Although men's and women's meetings were both conducted in a business-like manner, the records reveal that the women clerks were far less literate than the men.

At a monthly meeting held at Gardener's Street the 13th of the 11th month 1768 were present - Sarah Rickman, Aley Rickman, Sarah Winton.

John Horne and Sarah Rickman laid their intentions of marriage before this Meeting. Two friends, viz Rebecca Rickman and Aley Rickman were appointed to inquire into the Clearness of Sarah Rickman, agreeable to the good order established.

{Gardner Street is now part of Herstmonceux, a village which has its name spelled in 26 different ways in local records.)

At a monthly meeting held at Lewes the eleventh of the 12th month 1768 were present - Ann Rickman, Ann Burns, Margret Shaw and several others.

Samuel Rickman reported the results of the inquiry respecting Sarah Rickman's clearness, which was, that the Friends appointed found her clear of all others, and free to pursue her intentions, consistent with the order among Friends, so she appeared with John Horne, and they both declared their mind to be same as at last meeting relative to their purposed marriage.

Our next Monthly Meeting to be held at Brighthelmstone if the Lord permit.

At a Monthly Meeting of women Friends Brighthelmstone the 9th of the 1st month 1780:

There was present

of Brighthelmstone - Jane Mitchell, Tabitha Hilton, Elizth Likeman, Mary Osborn, Mary Mitchell

of Lewes - Mary Rickman younger, Ann Rickman, Mary Rickrnan elder

of Herstmonseux - none.

Mary Rickman elder reports her delivering the money collected at Last Meeting 1 pound, 11 shillings to the Quarterly meeting and that the Friends of Arundel and Chichester was wrote to desiring them to double their collections for next quarter also a verbal message was sent to the Friends of Horsham and Ifield. Letting them know the Friends of Brighthelmstone, Herstmonseux and Lewes have doubled theirs this last quarter as it was proposed the proceeding quarter held at Horsham - also that the Quarterly Meeting was held at Lewes in a good degree of love and unity - our ensuing Monthly Meeting to be held at Lewes if the Lord permits.

At a monthly meeting of Women friends held at Lewes the 7th of the 12th month 1783.

There was present

of Lewes - Ann Burns Elizth Rickman Susanna Cruttenden Mary Rickman Elizth Newnham Elizth Martin Mary Rickman of Barcomb and several others

of Brighthelmstone - Jane Mitchell Sarah Glaisyer

of Herstmonceux - None

Our Friends Elizth Martin and Mary Rickman appointed to attend the Ensuing Quarterly Meeting of Woman Friends of Arundel.

'This meeting appointed our Friends Elizth Rickman and Susanna Cruttenden to visit Mary Grantham - a person who has attended Friends meetings several years and appears of a sober orderly conversation - and report to our next monthly meeting whither they find her desirous of becoming a member of our Society.

We also collected at this time and paid a bill for cleaning, etc to the Meeting house.

                                      s   d
Thirteen shillings and four pence    13 - 4
and five shillings to the woman       5 - 0
for taking care of the key

At a Monthly Meeting of Women Friends held the 8th of the 2d month 1784.

The old meeting House was thought unfit Therefore Friends adjourn till next month.

At a Monthly Meeting of women Friends the 14th of the 3rd month 1784

There was present

of Lewes - Ann Burns Elizabeth Rickman Susanna Cruttenden Elizabeth Martin Mary Rickman Elizabeth Newnham and Mary Rickman of Barcombe

Brighthelmstone - Jane Coates and Sarah Glaisyer

Herstmonceux - None

The friends appointed to visit Mary Grantham report they did visit her and found her desirous of becoming a member of our Society and there being no objection Friends receive her as such.

There was collected at this time 7 shillings - 4 of which was sent to the woman who cleaned the old meeting house and 3 was sent to the other woman who took care of the key - to pay them in full.

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