Finding Samuel Fothergill

Samuel Fothergill (1715–1772) was a Quaker minister who spent a large part of his life in Warrington. Quakerism, formally known as the Religious Society of Friends, is a religious movement that is almost 400 years old. The movement grew out of Christianity and its members believe there is something transcendent and precious in every person. In 2018, Elaine Green completed a Masters’ dissertation on the life of Samuel Fothergill and based on her research, she has written the following article for members of Warrington History Society and others who may be interested in her findings.

Signature of Samuel Fothergill (extracted from Memoirs of the Life and Gospel Labours of Samuel Fothergill, G. Crosfield, London, 1843).

For my Masters dissertation in 2018, I researched the life and works of Warrington Quaker, Samuel Fothergill. My studies focussed on his 18th century Quaker theology and how that played out in his church life. Once completed, I found myself wanting to know more about his life in Warrington. I had plenty of ideas, but when I decided to write out his life story, I found I had to make some assumptions of detail I didn’t in fact possess.

I judged that Warrington History Society members were likely to know more, and I was fortunate enough to correspond with one member, Harry Wells, whose knowledge filled the gaps in my imagination. These are some of the results of our research ‘conversation’.

I placed Samuel with his wife, Suzanna Croudson, at 48, Sankey Street. The grocer’s shop was eventually taken over by family member, George Crosfield. I was unable on my own to site that address along today’s Sankey Street. Harry was able to assure me that the old street numbering had not been completely lost in the modern developments and the site could be located. In my story I had invented that 48 stood at the corner of King Street, but Harry pointed out that, in Sam’s time, 48 would have been 56 and located just above the first ‘E’ of STREET on the 18th century map. He was also able to tell me more about this substantial three-storey building with outhouses and delivery yard, so my imagined fictional description now reads:

‘Our shop, which we extended and, in part, rebuilt during our years there, stood amid the row of shops and houses along the north side, between Golborne’s Lane and King Street. Our building was quite narrow, but tall and stretching back deeply to storehouses and beyond to our stables, carriage house and vegetable garden. To one side of the building was the carriage and waggon entrance, a general thoroughfare, leading to a yard for deliveries and dispatches. The front shop window just caught the more open aspects of the street towards Market Gate, as well as the alleyways and Ashtons Lane that ran between more shops and an inn on the opposite side of the street down to various kitchen gardens, small piggeries as well as newer more fashionable houses.’

One thing that Harry and I have struggled to find out is what happened to the grocery business between 1773, when wife, Suzanna Fothergill died and 1777, when George Crosfield, a family relative, took over, following completion of his own grocer’s apprenticeship. Harry had found a Ruth Fothergill who moved to Warrington at about this time from Kendal and wondered if there was some family connection. I have found that, oddly, there were a number of Fothergill family streams in the Cumbria-Yorkshire region that were seemingly unrelated to one another. I find this as mysterious as Harry clearly does, but from death registration it is evident that Ruth, unmarried, was a Presbyterian with no Quaker links. I also know from my other studies of Samuel Fothergill that he was so closely connected within Quaker trading that he would have resisted turning to a Presbyterian or Unitarian for such support. So I remain in doubt on this point and ignorant of what happened to the business in those lost years.

One of Samuel’s brothers, Joseph, married Hannah Kelsall in February 1735 and traded as an ironmonger. I describe him as at that time forging pins, files and tools from his home in Bridge Street, alongside weavers of sacking, canvas and sailcloth, candles-makers, tanners and a brewhouse. I go on to say that his business grew with the manufacturing expansion in the town, first leasing a workshop by the Horse Market, then,

‘He owned a now large ironworks off the Horse Market, employing around 140 men, and so, although held in high regard in the town, he had a great deal of burdensome responsibility and physical toil.’

I asked Harry if he knew of any further information about Joseph, whom I assumed had cut quite a figure as ‘ironmaster’ in the town. Harry was more cautious about this, since he could not find any record of Joseph, other than that he was known as an ‘ironmonger’. This title even appears on his death certificate, as if his business changed little during his lifestyle. I took my information about his employing 140 men in ‘an iron industry’ from a piece of research published in an article in the Friends Historical Society Journal in 2005 by Christopher Booth, entitled ‘The Quakers of Countersett and their Legacy’. I conclude that Joseph may well have described himself as an ironmonger, but there is some suggestion that he grew a business that then disappeared until ironworking was better known in the town, around Foundry Street and Cockhedge in the following century.

Map courtesy of Warrington Museum

I set the destruction of the Warrington bridge in 1745 in the middle of a winter night, when the townsfolk all come out in response to, as I had it, an explosion. Harry had to set me right on a few points in this bit of my story. First, there was no explosion, but the middle arch of the bridge was dismantled by hand. I kept the event to the middle of the night but the nature of it had to be slightly rewritten. I also had the militia turn their pistols on the crowd, but, as Harry explained, they were more likely to have been muskets. I adjusted that too and so my episode reads:

‘Suddenly, within but yards of the bridge itself, the militia men, some choking on clouds of dust, made to halt the ragged crowd. There was the smell of dust and wood burning on the air.
Against the black, moonless sky, illuminated only by burning torches before and unfamiliar small flames behind, the numbers of the military milling around was itself alarming. Amid a continuing noise of falling masonry, the thunderous crashing of heavy water and the accompanying chaotic shouts of townsfolk and military, I called across to where I now lost sight of Joseph.
“Art thou safe, Joseph? I no longer see thee….!” ….. At that moment, the militia men raised their muskets and pointed them straight at the bewildered crowd. An officer stepped forward to shout to the crowd to stay back:
“I command you under the authority of the Earl of Derby, to stand back! Go back to your beds! The bridge has been destroyed to defend the town against the Jacobites, by order of the Duke of Cumberland! Go home, or we shoot!”’

I refer a number of times to the second newssheet to appear in Lancashire, ‘The Eyres Weekly Journal and Warrington Advertiser’. I place the Eyres bookshop and press near the Horse Market. Harry was able to confirm that this was not far off, but more precisely on the east side of the street by Market Gate.

I understand the town to have been one that attracted different post-Reformation faiths. I describe a tension in relations between Charles Owen, the Presbyterian, later Unitarian Minister (now Cairo Street Meeting House) and the Quakers, but also some later collaboration between the Fothergills and John Seddon of the dissentors’ Academy. Samuel’s brother, Dr John Fothergill was also a friend of Joseph Priestley. I could find no direct links between the Quakers and the management or investment in the Academy in Warrington, even though a few Quakers were students there. The most prominent example in my story is the anti-slavery campaigner, George Harrison, who was sponsored to study for a time there after he had finished at the Quaker school at Penketh.

Harry speculated that a Thomas Barnes, one-time student at the Academy and later its Rector, might have been a Quaker. Certainly Barnes was the name of a Quaker family in Sankey who worshipped at Penketh, but I have not been able to connect the Academy Thomas Barnes, another Unitarian, with the Sankey family.

I have Samuel frequently travelling by coach to London for religious meetings. He set out from the ‘Red Lion’ and I have transported him, over an estimated number of days, via Leek, Newport Pagnall and St Albans and later, by ‘The Flying Stage Coach’. From Dublin via Holyhead, I take him to stay at the ‘Kings Head’ in Conwy before crossing the Gowy to Chester, then through Frodsham (and the ‘Bear’s Paw Inn’). With the exception of my own imaginings about the stop at Newport Pagnell on the route to London and my assumed coaching road from Holyhead, the other locations along Samuel’s routes have been taken from the memoirs collated by George Crosfield (1843).

Samuel’s gravestone (copyright Elaine Green)

Harry rightly pointed out that there were easier ports to access from Dublin than Holyhead, such as Liverpool. I have checked back in my own notes to find that Samuel and other Quakers chose the Holyhead-Dublin crossing. On this occasion, they sailed to Dublin from Pennsylvania and were delayed because of privateers in the Irish Sea. After further delay in Dublin, Samuel sailed to Holyhead.

Such enquiries only lead to others, of course. I have contacted a Friend in Wales, who is also an historian, to ask how he believes my ministers would have travelled from Holyhead to Chester, and I shall adjust my ‘facts’ according to his reading of the possibilities. I am also still keen to find out what happened to the Fothergill grocery business in 1773 and I am grateful to Harry Wells for the suggestion that I read the last wills of some of my characters.

I thank Harry very much for sharing with me in our exchanges his knowledge of what was happening around my protagonist in Warrington in the 18th century. It makes for a much better story!

Elaine Green, 2021.