Lancaster nostalgia: The Woods family

Ian Woods stood in front of Gunnerthwaite farm house, where HIS mother Ruth Barker Woods was born. Public Sunday meetings were held in kitchen, the tall window pictured on the far left.
Ian Woods stood in front of Gunnerthwaite farm house, where HIS mother Ruth Barker Woods was born. Public Sunday meetings were held in kitchen, the tall window pictured on the far left.

Upon researching his family history, Ian Woods came across some surprising discoveries into Lancaster’s past and how people’s deep felt convictions changed the world.

The history began with Mr Woods’s mother, Ruth Barker Woods, who was born at Gunnerthwaite farm, Arkholme, and was both pleased and surprised with some of the gems which turned up.

Her grandfather, James Barker, was born at Dacre in the North Lake District, and moved to Gunnerthwaite in the 1860s from Ravenstonedale, Cumbria, founding a family which is well settled in the area.

Mr Woods found his search led him down a side path to a very interesting find when he accidentally stumbled upon information about a Lancaster Quaker family named Beakbaine.

The family lived and farmed at Gunnerthwaite from the early 1600s until 1788. An online family chronology describes Thomas Beakbaine 1720-1788, as “The Last Master of Gunnerthwaite.”

In 1661 Beakbaines from Gunnerthwaite were also imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for dissent, as recorded in “Early stages of the Quakers in Lancashire” written by Rev B Nightingale.

They are among a list of other dissenting Quakers from Carnforth, Capernwray, Kellet and Arnside, listed as “Thos. Beckbaine and John Beckbane of Gunnerthwaite.”

But it was the story of Mary Beakbaine, 1674 – 1754 which left a lasting impression on Mr Woods.

Mary was born at Gunnerthwaite farm, Arkholme, on December 26, 1674. As recorded in the Quaker births, deaths and marriages, on November 28, 1710, she was married to William Baldwin, of Gisburn, at Yealand Quaker house, near Warton, where her family worshipped, and where some members were buried, including the above mentioned Thomas Beakbaine. In 1712, they had a son, John.

Prior to their marriage, William had taken much interest in the teachings of George Fox and felt called to spread the good news.

In 1709 he sailed to the new world with a companion William Wilkinson to preach in the newly forming colonies of Rhode Island, Baltimore, New York, New England, Boston, Salem, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia.

Travelling was dangerous and distances were far. Congregations were small and trouble was always at hand, but they were also heartened by the love and warmth of the people that came out to hear.

The trip of 1709 is described in “The Travels of William Baldwin.”

In 1714, after much thought and prayer, William Baldwin emigrated to The New World with his wife Mary, and their son, John. They sailed out of Liverpool to Philadelphia and settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

William continued preaching and was well liked, but in 1720 he fell ill to a mysterious illness and died.

At the time he owned a 500 acre tract of land which had been secured by William Penn from the Delaware Indians, where the current town of Hilltown stands.

His son, John Baldwin came to inherit the land when he was 22-years-old. Like his father, he also became a successful minister and married Elizabeth Pusey.

However, in 1746 he came down with a violent strain of smallpox, and died at 34.

Meanwhile, in 1723 Mary Beakbaine-Baldwin got re-married to a Quaker called Ellis Lewis, who had emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1708 from Merionethshire, Wales. They moved to Delaware in 1749, but Ellis died the next year.

Mary Beakbaine-Baldwin-Lewis died in 1754, aged 80 and is buried in Chester county, Philadelphia.

Mr Woods said: “When I think of attending Sunday school meetings (open to the public) as a child at Gunnerthwaite farm, I remember all too well the long kitchen with uneven whitewashed walls and large curing hooks hanging from the beams.

“The stone floor was cool with a flight of badly worn stone steps through into a parlour room next door. At the front there was a pedal organ with a collection box sat on one of the large round candle holders.

“Some of the wooden benches were old, I remember one in particular that was riddled with woodworm and seemed like it was hand-made, the seat carved flat with an ancient tool like an adze.

“Had that been used (sat on) by the Quakers and passed down with the house?

“The preacher’s table stood against the fire place with a huge gold clasped bible sat on top, while people sang from Methodist hymn books.

“Everything was so stark and earnest, reminiscent of a scene from antiquity, and I can only wonder, was that what it was like when Mary Beakbaine lived at Gunnerthwaite, before she sailed to Philadelphia?

“Did William Baldwin ever come to see her and set foot in the kitchen?

“I will never know, but it makes me shudder and step back in awe to think I have glimpsed against the life of one who lived so long ago and helped to lay a foundation for what would become the United States of America.

“Meetings are no longer held at Gunnerthwaite, but I searched out my family history and these things seem a part of my identity.”