Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) began with a Leicestershire weaver’s son, George Fox, who was born in Fenny Drayton in 1624. Fox’s Journal mentions his five visits to Coventry, four of them during the years of the English Civil War. In the mid-1640s he ‘took a chamber for a while at a professor’s house’ in Coventry (a ‘professor’ being someone who publicly professed Christianity). In 1645 he came again, to visit a Dr Cradock, so as to have a serious conversation. This was disastrously unsuccessful as Fox accidentally trod on a flower bed and Dr Cradock flew into ‘a rage, as if his house had been on fire’.
Fox also recorded an important insight that he had ‘about the beginning of the year 1646’ as he was nearing the city gate (presumably the Cook Street Gate). In 1649 he visited prisoners in Coventry gaol, ‘Ranters’ who had been imprisoned because of their religion. Then, when he visited Coventry in 1655, he ‘found the people closed up with darkness’ and, worst of all, his former host ‘was drunk, which grieved me so that I did not go into any house in the town, but rode into some of the streets and into the market-place’.
By 1668, however, many Coventrians had become Quakers and they purchased a burial ground just outside the Hill Street gate. As Charles II had ordered the walls to be breached in 1662, there was probably plenty of good stone waiting to be repurposed. To my inexpert eye it looks as if some of this was incorporated in the front wall of what is the present Quaker Meeting House garden.
Near the back wall (which divides the site from the former Meeting House on Lower Holyhead Road) are four stone slabs. One of these re-positioned gravestones is Joseph Cash’s. Together with his brother John, he founded Cash’s, the company that survived the 1860 crash in the silk ribbon market to produce woven silk pictures and millions of name tapes.
Like George Cadbury in Birmingham, the Cash brothers were Quaker philanthropists. In 1843, along with Charles Bray, Joseph Cash co-founded the Coventry Labourers’ and Artisans’ Friendly Society to provide allotments for working people and he also set up a small school. Cash’s three-storey weavers’ houses on Kingfield Road still survive – as does the Cash’s brand, thanks to the Hong Kong-based global Jointak Group Limited.
Professor Eleanor Nesbitt, CovSoc member