Taming The Phoenix – Cirencester & the Quakers 1642-1686

by Brian Hawkins
William Sessions Ltd, York, England. 1998 ISBN 1 85072 205 6

This book deserves to be better known as it is a mine of fully-referenced information about Siddington in particular, and Cirencester, Nailsworth and other parts of Gloucestershire.

It deals with Quakers and other dissident groups in great and very interesting detail. At the heart of the story is the Roberts (alias Hayward) family of Siddington and the problems the authorities were faced with when dealing with them and their fellow Quakers, Muggletonians, Anabaptists, Levellers and the like who refused to pay tithes, rent or even to doff hats in church. They were cruelly punished for the disobedience their faith demanded and they suffered dreadfully for it.

Descriptions such as, ‘threatened with execution and stripped by the common soldiers … beaten … two days and nights they were kept herded in the parish church without food or water … before being roped together … to march to Oxford.’ … ‘without stockings on our legs or shoes or hats, many having no doublets and some … without Breeches’ in cold weather. Chilling – and all depressingly familiar.

But it was to stop – according to the Declaration of Breda which promised religious tolerance, a prelude to the 1660 restoration of King Charles II. Alas, the persecution continued. A fascinating read.

Charles Roberts’ fine house still stands at Siddington and at its rear, the Quaker burial ground, (now closed), which has recently had its Cotswold stone wall finely restored. Unfortunately, though packed with names, the book does not have an index but it is hoped to produce one ere long. Review by Alan Merryweather.