Lancaster nostalgia: Places of worship in Wray village

Friends' Meeting House, Hornby Road, Wray. This photograph of the former Friends' Meeting House, is illustrative of the simple and austere appearance of a typical Quaker building.
Friends' Meeting House, Hornby Road, Wray. This photograph of the former Friends' Meeting House, is illustrative of the simple and austere appearance of a typical Quaker building.

In the next few weeks historian David Kenyon takes a look at the history of places of worship in the village of Wray.

Church building came relatively late to the village, the nearest church being at Lower Tatham.

The people of Wray seemed reluctant to make this journey, preferring to spend their Sundays drinking ale and causing trouble.

In the early years of the 19th century Wray was an extremely lawless place, drunkenness was rife with fights and disturbances taking place in Wray’s many pubs and ale houses on a regular basis.

The local police had a difficult task in trying to maintain law and order, sometimes being attacked themselves.

In March 1833, the Lancaster Gazette reported: “Wray is absolutely dangerous for respectable persons to venture out after dark, especially females. There exists such a set of unruly persons whose conduct ought to be put a stop to by enforcing the law.”

The first place of worship in the village was the Quaker Meeting House, built in 1704 followed in 1840 by Holy Trinity Church.

Eight years later the Wesleyans built their chapel at the west end of the village.

Last to be built was the United Free Church in 1867.

In 1889 an article in the Lancaster Guardian stated: “Wray for a small and declining village is over-done with places of worship, certainly there has been a great moral and religious improvement since the days when the hat making business was at the height of its prosperity.

“The people as a rule are sober, well behaved and moral. A big improvement since the days when the drunkenness and rioting used to be common.”

The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakerism as it is more commonly known, is a pacifist Christian sect, which was founded in the mid-17th century by George Fox.

Quakerism stresses divine influences guiding the soul and rejects sacraments and formal ministry, with the word ‘Quaker’ said to come from the exhortation of its founder, George Fox, to his followers to, ‘tremble at the word of the Lord’.

The Quakers suffered much persecution for their religious beliefs as, during the 17th century, it was unlawful to practice any religion other than the liturgy and practice of the Church of England.

Many of Wray’s villagers were severely punished for their affiliation to the Religious Society of Friends.

For example, an 1889 Lancaster Guardian article, discussing the ‘Religious History of Wray’ recalls how in 1660 “Marmaduke Tatham of Botton, Wray and 269 friends were imprisoned in Lancaster Castle and sentenced to have their tongues torn out for refusing to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy.

However, this barbarous punishment was considered too horrible to be carried out and eventually Tatham and his friends were released. The article goes on to note how, “On another occasion Tatham’s goods were sold for an accumulated debt of £10 16s for tithes.”

Religious persecution, such as that suffered by Marmaduke Tatham was somewhat eased by the 1689 Act of Toleration.

This granted freedom of worship to nonconformists ie Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as baptists, congregationalists and quakers, but not catholics.

The Act allowed nonconformists their own place of worship and their own teachers and preachers, subject to the acceptance of certain oaths of allegiance and made it possible, under licence, to build meeting houses.

The Wray Quakers, being poor from repeated fines, were unable to raise the necessary funds to build their meeting house until 1704, some 15 years after the Act of Toleration was introduced.

However, in spite of this delay, it is evident that the Quakers were the first religious group to open a place of worship in the village.