Why would you ever leave?

The road to and from Oxton, Nottinghamshire, UK


Mr. Brooklyn and I are standing at the bar in a pub in Blidworth Bottoms. We’ve hiked by a field of horses and made our way through a part of the Sherwood Forest. “Can we sit in the dining room?” I ask the bartender.

“No. We’re full up,” she returns. Silence. 

“Could we order food?” I ask.

She nods solemnly and hands us a menu. Oh, did I say? We’ve no cell service or cash, and we seem to be staying overnight on a horse farm. We’re strangers in a strange land. (Skip on to the end if you want to know how the evening ended!)

“In the seventeenth century, the area in which the Quaker religion developed was described as ‘perfectly inaccessible by road.’ Remoteness was indeed one of the attractions. Some Quakers fled there to escape their persecutors.” – Albion’s Seed

The Journey

How did we get here? Two worlds collide: the once-in-a-lifetime Red Sox versus Yankees game in London AND perhaps the answer to a question that has been plaguing me: If you were my Quaker eighth-great-grandfather living in a beautiful town in England’s North Midlands in 1682, what would prompt you to leave?

Somehow I’ve convinced Mr. Brooklyn to return to our youth for this trip to England. We’d take the train and stay in Airbnb’s just like the bed and breakfasts of our youth! It would be fun! We’d visit Manchester, Ely (where the Pennine Way begins), Oxton, Nottingham, Haworth, Liverpool, and then go on to London! I’d gather information for a planned series of novels loosely-based on my Quaker ancestors. And he’d see the big game. He agrees.

Back at the Pub

I look around the room, wondering if any of the local residents are descendants of my ancestor Thomas Worth. Or perhaps they’re related to the tormentors who I’m imagining could have made him leave Oxton. They are eyeing us.

Did I mention? We are wearing our Yankees caps. At the bar. In a pub. I tell my hairdresser about this a month later (he’s from outside Liverpool). “Oh you can’t do that,” he said. “It’s the height of rudeness!”

“…we are a poor, unworthy and despised people, scattered amongst the rocky mountains and dern valleys of the high peak country.”

Near the start of the Pennine Way, Ely

A Poor, Unworthy, and Despised People

I did some research before the trip. While Thomas Worth lived in Oxton, Nottinghamshire (which is like a U.S. county), his future wife Isabella Davidson hailed from Derbyshire. I learned from David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed (if you are of Quaker or any English ancestry, please read it immediately) these shires, along with four others, made up the core of Quaker society in the late 1600’s.

Many of the people living in the North Midlands had descended from Vikings. In fact, some of the earliest Quaker practices can be linked with moots or open-air meetings, especially those at hilltop graves and standing-stones.

Quakers felt themselves alien from the schools and churches and courts and political institutions of the region. All these powerful entities, Albion’s Seed reminds us, remained securely in the hands of the ruling few. The theology of Quakerism arose from “an oppressed regional underclass which despised the foreign (to their Scandinavian Heritage) foreign culture that exploited them.” 

Crime in the 17th Century

The book also describes how “there was a sense of insecurity in this sparsely settled land. Isolated houses were attacked and robbed by roving nocturnal bands, and sometimes all the victims were brutally murdered to hide the crime.” Suspicion of strangers was very common. Wow. Poor Thomas.

On to Oxton

We awaken the day after our pub experience to the sound of the horses undergoing their morning exercise (just below the window where we’re sleeping). Still without mobile service, or a car, Mr. Brooklyn goes to knock on our host’s door. She’s kind. She asks one of her employees to drive us to Oxton where I’m praying they have Uber, or at least a cell signal.

“How long have you lived here?” I ask our driver. I have shied away from making conversation with drivers the past few years, given that my interactions with hired car drivers are either silent, very strange, or admittedly more for my benefit than theirs.

 “My whole life,” he answers.

“And your family?”

“Same.” He’s a man of few words, doing us a favor. I look at him: perhaps his eighth-great-grandfather knew Thomas.

He drops us off in front of St. Peter and St. Paul’s in Oxton which dates to the 12th Century. We walk into the silent, empty church.

St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Oxton

St. Peter and St. Paul’s

Thomas Worth was baptized in this church, but he left to become a Quaker. Even after joining the Friends (or Seekers as they called themselves earlier), Thomas probably continued to worship here in the church from time to time, lest he pay a fine.

The Anglican Church Persecuted Quakers

Anglican clergy found their income threatened by Quakers who refused to pay church or “steeple taxes.” Friends were jailed and many had property seized as retaliation.

Plaque honoring the Sons of Oxton in Oxton Church

But Now?

The Church eventually recognized the “Sons of Oxton” who made their way to Pennsylvania. I walk about the church to find plaques and scrolls from the 1950’s honoring those very Quakers who’d refused to honor clergy with tithes or recognition. I’m excited to see Thomas’s name on a scroll.

The image of God appeared before her and said, ‘If I restore thee, go to Pennsylvania.’”

A reason to go to Pennsylvania?

Thomas may also have felt the need to “show Quakerism at work, freed from hampering conditions.” Other Quakers, in experiences that might be described as callings, came to America as a result of spiritual experiences. Jane Hoskins, a young Quaker, ill with a deadly fever, found that the “image of God appeared before her and said, ‘If I restore thee, go to Pennsylvania.” Perhaps Thomas found himself a “servant of God’s will.” 

On the streets of Oxton

“The Quaker grave is this way!” I yell to Mr. Brooklyn as I hike off in the direction of the Green Dragon. 

While I’m out of earshot, he meets up with Adrian Todd who is biking through town. Adrian knows everything about Oxton and Mr. Brooklyn buys a copy of “Hidden Oxton,” Adrian’s video in the local Post Office The P.O. also turns out to be the local convenience store and source of information about Oxton. 

Adrian is wonderful and tells Rob that if we want to know more about Oxton, we should contact Colin Ashmore. Writing this blog, I was sad to learn that Colin had died in the fall of 2020. 

Robert Sherbrooke’s Table Tomb

Quakers in Oxton

In the fall of 2019, I had a great conversation with Colin to try to understand what Thomas Worth’s Oxton may have looked like.

As I understand it, in the 1600’s, Main Street was nonexistent. Water Lane was the main street, a road with a stream next to it. The stream ran into a pond, in front of the Old Sherbrooke Hall. A stone wall ran along the street.

Colin told me about Robert Sherbrooke, a Quaker active in the early 18th Century. The Sherbrookes were major landowners in the Oxton area. After Thomas left for America, Sherbrooke raised funds to build a Meeting House. He also left money to the poor Quakers, including funds to build a school. Eventually, Friends in the area moved on––to America, or out of the faith. Their numbers were small and because so many women married out of the faith, they eventually faded away. 

Reunited, Mr. Brooklyn and I head to Robert Sherbrooke’s table tomb. Though there is a vault for the Sherbrooke family in St. Peter and St. Paul’s, once you were a Quaker, you couldn’t be buried in the churchyard or church. So Robert Sherbrooke is buried just across from the Green Dragon. This area became the site of the Quaker Meeting House in the 1700’s.

On to Nottingham for the afternoon! Our mobile phones spring to life in front of the Post Office and we’re able to Uber to Nottingham and then back to the farm. I’m already sad my trip to Oxton is over.

On board the Welcome for a Holy Experiment

In 1682, William Penn made a return trip to America on board the ship Welcome. Thomas and Isabella made the arduous journey with Penn, a third of the passengers succumbing to smallpox. Upon arriving in the New World, Worth was granted 150 acres of land in Darby, Pennsylvania, a richness he never would have experienced in England. Quakers balanced the dangers of the trip against a huge economic incentive: for the modest sum of 20 pounds, a family of four together with a servant would receive passage plus 500 acres of land in Pennsylvania.

Horses, Blidworth Bottoms

Back to the start: New Friends!

By the end of that first night at the pub, we’re surrounded by the local young-ish people. Staring at our hats, they all start talking about New York! Many have visited NYC, some several times, but some haven’t travelled far from home. They tell stories about the Big Apple while we nod in appreciation of shared experience. We’ve visited the ATM, eaten some great pub food, and now hike our way back to our cozy room at the horse farm. Why would you ever leave?


All about Oxton: https://myoxton.org/about-oxton/oxton-history/i-lived-in-a-village/chapter-2/

Quakers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

Published by katehornstein

Writing about young Quakers, religion, and romance over 350 years in England and America

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