Early Quakers in Tottenham

George Fox and Tottenham

George Fox visited Quakers in Tottenham in 1689. He had been in London.

<blockquote>”But I found my body would no longer bear the city; wherefore, … I went to Tottenham High Cross and from thence to… Winchmore Hill, and to Enfield; spending three weeks among Friends thereabouts, and had Meetings at all those places.”</blockquote>

Fox visited Tottenham Friends again in 1690. By 1691, Tottenham Monthly Meeting was formed.

Tottenham 1700

Tottenham village was relatively near to London and communication with the City may have been an important consideration for settling here. Rural and quiet, Tottenham village was also far enough away from London to be peaceful and a pleasant place to live. It also had a reputation for being a healthy place.

The village consisted of one long street, about two miles long, with houses irregularly arranged, interspersed with beautiful gardens and with many fields and meadows. There were numerous large mansions and houses, some of which the wealthier Friends bought and lived in with their families.

An early Tottenham Quaker

Reference to Quakers in Tottenham prior to 1689 is hard to come by. One early Tottenham Friend appears to have been William Briggins, a Tottenham tobacco merchant and brewer. His son Peter kept a diary. In it he recounts how his father was imprisoned for visiting Gracechurch Street Meeting some time in the 1670s.

Extract from Peter Briggins’ diary, recounting his father’s imprisonment for attending a Quaker Meeting in Gracechurch Street.

“about ye year 1670 [my father] married an ainchant woman near 60 years of age [his second wife]… About yt time was laws made to prosecute those yt frequented Religious Meetings, & as ye Informers coming, ye person yt preached slipt away by a private door & my father made his escape as others did but he thought at that time to goe to ye Quakers Meeting at Gracious Street [Gracechurch Street] & see how it faired with them & he got under ye womens gallery in a corner that he might not be seen… After a little time came the Mob and Informers with a band of Soulders… and William Bailey stood still preaching till they hawled him away”. When Bailey was brought the Lord Mayor with his hat on, the mayor plucked it off saying “You give no honour to governors?” Bailey asked “Doth thy honour consist in taking off the hat?” The mayor answered yes and angrily trod the hat under his feet. Bailey replied “Then thou treadest thy honour under foot”.

It was this quiet defiance that impressed William Briggins and convinced him that “that was worth suffering for, which boare them up and above and over their sufferings”.

“In those days of Tryall it was so ordered that ye Citty Trained band of Soulders were appointed to goe out in armes every 7th day in ye Afternoon & take possession of all Meeting Houses. We met in ye Street near our meeting doors and when Friends opened their mouths by way of testimony they would hawle them into ye meeting or into ye Exchange where a guard was kept and at noon or evening they were had before a Magistrte who commonly fined them or sent them to prison. My Father and I was taken out of hither Court next Lumber Street (Lombard Street) with severall other friends and had before Sir John Peake who committed my father to prison but I being young (tho’ tall of my age) after detaining me severall hours they let me goe home. But by reason of my Father’s much and close confinement in Nugate &c he was much Impaired in his health.”

Finally, on 27th May 1688 “he lying very still and departed this life & layed down his head in a great deal of peace & comfort and an assurance of his eternal well-being for ever.

” It is not clear if Peter himself was a Quaker, but thirty years after his father’s death, Peter wrote in his diary “My wife went to Tatenham and agreed to give £16 a year and agreed to have ye Linen home”. She was offering to do the laundry for the meeting house.

Tottenham in the 17th century

Seventeenth century Tottenham was very different from Tottenham today. A number of rich Londoners had large country retreats here. Bruce Castle (the oldest building still standing in Tottenham) was probably built in 1568 for a visit by Queen Elizabeth. It was substantially altered in the 1680s by the Coleraine family whose arms appear on the north side.