A resident of the nearby Warminghurst Place in Sussex, William Penn the prominent Quaker and founder of Pennsylvannia and Philadelphia - the city of brotherly love - was very much involved in the idea, in 1682, of acquiring a local property to become a formal Quaker Meeting House. This was the earliest time that Quakers could meet in a fixed place: prior to that, persecution meant that members of the Society of Friends met in each other's homes, or even in the open.
Another Quaker, John Shaw, was given the task of finding a suitable building "for the service of truth in [these] parts"; but, with Penn away in America, nothing was done for many years. It was not until 1691 that, following the passing of the Act of Toleration in 1688, John Shaw finally put up the £53 needed to buy 'Little Slatters', which later became known as the Blue Idol in the 19c. The purchase of the meeting house must have delighted Penn..
However, the years from 1665, when he was twenty one, to that time had been particularly hard, and continued to be so; he was persecuted for his beliefs, both before and after the Toleration Act and spent considerable time in prison. His personal life too was tragic; he lost his wife and five of his eight children between 1673 and 1696. A reprieve, won from King William (of Orange) in 1694, and a new wife and family, must have gone some way to make amends, but one can only wonder at what cost.
Best known for founding the state of Pennsylvania (named, in fact, after his father), Penn was a deeply spiritual man. His idea behind the new colony was to create a haven for those suffering religious persecution. His principles on the subjects of law, defence, and slavery, ensured that the new state was a gentle and safe place to live. Despite having no military protection, the Quaker community was never attacked by the indigenous population. It seems that the Indians respected the Quaker way of life and, particularly following the Great Indian Treaty, left them in peace.
Penn never quite managed to settle in America, despite his desire to do so. Continuing political trouble at home kept him in England. The only peaceful phase of his life was during his final four years, which he spent at Jordans, in Buckinghamshire. He died in 1718.
This is the stone, in Thakeham, West Sussex , marked with a very small plaque, Where William Penn used to stand to preach to the congregation. Photos here from a visit by a member of the Blue Idol Meeting.
The site is in danger of being lost due to some local housing development.
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