Did you go to church last Sunday? Now I don’t mean the Methodist or Baptist Churches, or the United Reformed or Catholic. I mean your local Church of England parish church! The chances are that you didn’t. As a minister in the United Reformed Church I certainly didn’t.
Of course it does not matter very much. Three hundred and thirty years ago it mattered a great deal. It was an offence not to attend your local parish church, and you could be fined for not doing so. And people like me who met in a religious assembly not approved by the state could find themselves in prison!
In the book A Collection of the sufferings of the People called Quakers by Besse there are details given of Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends) who were persecuted for being Quakers and who would have nothing at all to do with the church by law established in England. Some were fined, others had their possessions taken sequestrated and yet others ended up serving gaol terms of up to six months. Among the Quakers so persecuted was a certain John Linfield who appeared at the Sessions in Horsham in 1662 after being whisked out of a Quaker act of worship. He was “fined and sent to prison, whence after two months (he was) removed to the House of Correction, and detained three months longer.” Poor old John found himself back in court three years later. This time in Petworth. His crime? Not attending the parish church! In 1683 a certain William Linfield was accused of taking part in a riotous assembly. With one hundred others he had taken part in a Quaker act of worship, which to call a riotous assembly stretches human credulity beyound breaking point!
How many other Quaker Linfields were hounded by law enforcement officers? Alas we do not know. Others must have suffered because, by all acounts, there were quite a number of Quaker Linfields in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in central, northern Sussex. For one reason or another these Linfields moved out of the Society of Friends sometime during the eighteenth century. We can only but guess as to the reasons. One may have been because of “marrying out”, that is marrying a non-Quaker, which automatically brought with it expulsion from the Society. Another may have been “marrying before a priest”, an offence which also brought with it expulsion. Quakers marriages were not, strictly speaking, legal marriages for quite a time. These marriages were entered into in Meeting Houses, but were not recognised by the State. In consequence Quaker offspring were regarded as illegitimate and all manner of inheritance issues for such children were highlighted because of this. Whatever the reason Quakerism and the Linfields parted company sometime in the eighteenth century.
There appears to have been a strong connection between the Quaker Linfields and the Society meeting in Ifield in Crawley. John and Peter Linfield were two such people. Both must have met with William Penn, after whom the American state of Pennsylvania is named. He often attended the Ifield Meeting House and the table and chair there are supposed to have been given by him from his house at Warminghurst.
The above named John of Ifield was the son of William of Horsham. He went to live at Ifield and his name appeared in the account book of that Meeting for the first time in 1689. “He was a tenant of the Meeting, and … must have lived in the cottage at the Meeting House, his rent being paid regularly until 1727. The last Linfield entry was in 1729, the year of John’s death, when his son Josiah paid the year’s rent.”
Which brings us back to a parting of the ways between the Linfields and the Quakers. I wonder what the reason really was.