May 212018

Today is the birthday (1780) of Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney), an English prison reformer, social reformer and philanthropist. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by Queen Victoria.

Elizabeth Fry was born in Norwich in Norfolk, England into a prominent Quaker family, the Gurneys. Her childhood family home was Earlham Hall, which is now part of the University of East Anglia. Her father, John Gurney (1749–1809), was a partner in Gurney’s Bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a member of the Barclay family who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Her mother died when Elizabeth was 12 years old. As one of the oldest girls in the family, Elizabeth was partly responsible for the care and education of the younger children, including her brother Joseph John Gurney, a philanthropist.

She met Joseph Fry (1777–1861), a banker whose uncle founded the Fry’s chocolate company, who was also a Quaker, when she was 20 years old. They married on 19th August 1800 at the Norwich Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St Mildred’s Court in the City of London. Elizabeth Fry was recorded as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1811. Joseph and Elizabeth Fry lived in Plashet House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829, then moved to The Cedars on Portway in Forest Gate, where they lived until 1844. They had eleven children, five sons and six daughters.

Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate Prison in 1813. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. The prisoners did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept on straw. She returned the following day with food and clothes for some prisoners. She was unable to personally further her work for nearly 4 years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties at the Fry bank, which Elizabeth helped extricate her husband from. Put simply, she had a strong sense of business, and her husband had hardly any. Fry returned to Newgate in 1816 and was eventually able to fund a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their mothers. Rather than attempt to impose discipline on the women, she suggested rules and then asked the prisoners to vote on them. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This association provided materials for women so that they could learn to sew and knit and then once they were out of prison they could earn money for themselves. This led to the eventual creation of the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners in 1821 She also promoted the idea of rehabilitation instead of harsh punishment which was taken on by the city authorities in London as well as many other authorities and prisons.

Elizabeth Fry also campaigned for the rights and welfare of prisoners who were being transported. The women of Newgate Prison were taken through the streets of London in open carts, often in chains, huddled together with their few possessions. They were pelted with rotten food and filth by the people of the city. The fear was often enough to make women condemned to transportation riot on the evening before. Fry’s first action was to persuade the governor of Newgate prison to send the women in closed carriages and spare them this last indignity before transportation. She visited prison ships and persuaded captains to implement systems to ensure each woman and child would at least get a share of food and water on the long journey. Later she arranged each woman to be given scraps of material and sewing tools so that they could use the long journey to make quilts and have something to sell as well as useful skills when they reached their destination. She also included a Bible and useful items such as string and knives and forks in this vital care package. Elizabeth Fry visited 106 transport ships and saw 12,000 convicts. Her work helped to start a movement for the abolition of transportation. Transportation was officially abolished in 1837, however Elizabeth Fry was still visiting transportation ships until 1843.

Elizabeth Fry wrote in her book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England that she stayed the night in some of the prisons and invited nobility to come and stay and see for themselves the conditions prisoners lived in. Her kindness helped her gain the friendship of the prisoners and they began to try to improve their conditions for themselves. Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry’s brother-in-law, was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.

Elizabeth Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a “nightly shelter” in London after seeing the dead body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820 on the streets. In 1824, during a visit to Brighton, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society. The society arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor and provide help and comfort to them. The plan was successful and was duplicated in other districts and towns across Britain. Elizabeth Fry also used her influential network and worked with other prominent Quakers to campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.

After her husband went bankrupt in 1828, Fry’s brother became her business manager and benefactor. Thanks to him, her work expanded. In 1838 the Friends sent a party to France: Fry and her husband, Lydia Irving, and abolitionists Josiah Forster and William Allen. They were there on other business but despite the language barrier Fry and Lydia Irving visited French prisons.

In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her program inspired Florence Nightingale, who took a team of Fry’s nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

In 1842, Frederick William IV of Prussia went to see Fry in Newgate Prison during an official visit to Great Britain. The king, who had met Fry during her previous tours of the continent promoting welfare change and humanitarianism, was so impressed by her work that he told his reluctant courtiers that he would personally visit the gaol when he was in London.

Queen Victoria admired Fry’s work and granted her an audience a few times before she became queen, and contributed money to her cause after she ascended the throne. Robert Peel was also an admirer, and passed several acts to further her cause including the Gaols Act 1823. The act was largely ineffective, because there were no inspectors to make sure that it was being followed.

Fry died from a stroke in Ramsgate, England, on 12th October 1845. Her remains were buried in the Friends’ burial ground at Barking. More than a thousand people stood in silence during the burial at the Ramsgate memorial. Following her death, a meeting chaired by the Lord Mayor of London, resolved that it would be fitting “to found an asylum to perpetuate the memory of Mrs Fry and further the benevolent objects to which her life had been devoted.” An 18th-century town house was purchased at 195 Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney and the first Elizabeth Fry refuge opened its doors in 1849. Funding came via subscriptions from various city companies and private individuals, supplemented by income from the inmates’ laundry and needlework. Such training was an important part of the refuge’s work. In 1924, the refuge merged with the Manor House Refuge for the Destitute, in Dalston in Hackney, becoming a hostel for girls on probation for minor offences. The hostel soon moved to larger premises in Highbury, Islington and then, in 1958, to Reading, where it remains today.

I searched Mrs Beeton and found this anecdote on prisons and punishment, rather typical of Victorian humor, followed by her recipe for baked ham, which I think would make a fine dish in honor of Elizabeth Fry (although I would love to sneak in a bar of Fry’s Turkish Delight in honor of her husband’s uncle).


HOG NOT BACON. ANECDOTE OF LORD BACON.—As Lord Bacon, on one occasion, was about to pass sentence of death upon a man of the name of Hogg, who had just been tried for a long career of crime, the prisoner suddenly claimed to be heard in arrest of judgment, saying, with an expression of arch confidence as he addressed the bench, “I claim indulgence, my lord, on the plea of relationship; for I am convinced your lordship will never be unnatural enough to hang one of your own family.”

“Indeed, replied the judge, with some amazement,” I was not aware that I had the honour of your alliance; perhaps you will be good enough to name the degree of our mutual affinity.”

“I am sorry, my lord,” returned the impudent thief, “I cannot trace the links of consanguinity; but the moral evidence is sufficiently pertinent. My name, my lord, is Hogg, your lordship’s is Bacon; and all the world will allow that bacon and hog are very closely allied.”

“I am sorry,” replied his lordship, “I cannot admit the truth of your instance: hog cannot be bacon till it is hanged; and so, before I can admit your plea, or acknowledge the family compact, Hogg must be hanged to-morrow morning.”


  1. INGREDIENTS.—Ham; a common crust.

Mode.—As a ham for baking should be well soaked, let it remain in water for at least 12 hours. Wipe it dry, trim away any rusty places underneath, and cover it with a common crust, taking care that this is of sufficient thickness all over to keep the gravy in. Place it in a moderately-heated oven, and bake for nearly 4 hours. Take off the crust, and skin, and cover with raspings, the same as for boiled ham, and garnish the knuckle with a paper frill. This method of cooking a ham is, by many persons, considered far superior to boiling it, as it cuts fuller of gravy and has a finer flavour, besides keeping a much longer time good.

Time.—A medium-sized ham, 4 hours.

Average cost, from 8d. to 10d. per lb. by the whole ham.

Seasonable all the year.

Oct 192017

Today is the birthday (1609) of Gerrard Winstanley founder of the True Levellers or Diggers whose history and exploits get resurrected periodically by various revolutionary factions. I first came across him and his cause via Ringolevio by Emmet Grogan. [Worth a read if you want less glitzy hype and more down-to-earth (literally) insight into the hippie culture of San Francisco in the 1960s.] Winstanley’s life and works are astonishingly inspirational, although potentially depressing. Here’s my aphorism du jour in honor of Winstanley: WHEN YOU REBEL AGAINST “THE SYSTEM” THEY WILL BEAT YOU DOWN:  REBEL ANYWAY !!!!!

Winstanley was born in the parish of Wigan, then part of the West Derby hundred of Lancashire. He was the son of an Edward Winstanley, mercer. His mother’s identity remains unknown and he could have been born anywhere in the parish of Wigan. The parish of Wigan contained the townships of Abram, Aspull, Billinge-and-Winstanley, Dalton, Haigh, Hindley, Ince-in-Makerfield, Orrell, Pemberton, and Upholland, as well as Wigan itself.

Winstanley moved in 1630 to London, where he became an apprentice and ultimately, in 1638, a freeman of the Merchant Tailors’ Company or guild. He married Susan King, the daughter of London surgeon William King, in 1639. The English Civil War, however, disrupted his business, and in 1643 he was bankrupt. His father-in-law helped Winstanley move to Cobham in Surrey, where he initially worked as a cowherd.

There were many factions at work during the period of the three related English civil wars. Commonly in the history books that students read in school, the civil wars are portrayed as a time of battle between Cavaliers (Wromantic but Wrong) and Roundheads (Repulsive but Right). The times were much more complex and turbulent than this simplistic generalization allows. This was a period in English history when everything was potentially up for grabs. Factions vying for supremacy included the Royalists who supported King Charles I; the Parliamentary forces led by Sir Thomas Fairfax who would later emerge under the name of the New Model Army; the Fifth Monarchy Men, who believed in the establishment of a heavenly theocracy on earth to be led by a returning Jesus as king of kings and lord of lords; the Agitators for political egalitarian reform of government, led by John Lilburne, who were branded “Levellers” by their enemies; and the True Levellers, generally called “Diggers” because they planted crops on common land, led by Gerrard Winstanley. Whereas Lilburne sought to level the laws and maintain the right to the ownership of real property, Winstanley sought to level the ownership of real property itself, which is why Winstanley’s followers called themselves “True Levellers.”

Gerrard Winstanley published a pamphlet called The New Law of Righteousness in 1648 that was a call to action. He based his cause on Acts, 2: 44 & 45: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Winstanley argued that “in the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another.”

Winstanley took as his basic texts the Biblical sacred history, with its affirmation that all people were descended from a common stock, and with its skepticism about the rulership of kings, voiced in the Books of Samuel; and the New Testament’s affirmations that God was no respecter of persons, that there were no masters or slaves under the New Covenant. From these and similar texts, he interpreted Christian teaching as calling for the abolition of property (that is, land) and aristocracy.

Winstanley wrote: “Seeing the common people of England by joynt consent of person and purse have caste out Charles our Norman oppressour, wee have by this victory recovered ourselves from under his Norman yoake.” I’m not sure that the Anglo-Saxon kings were much better in this regard, but I get his point. His theme was rooted in ancient English radical thought. It went back at least to the days of the Peasants’ Revolt (1381) led by Wat Tyler, because that is when a verse of the Lollard priest John Ball was circulated:

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

In 1649, Winstanley and his followers took over vacant or common lands in Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Kent, and Northamptonshire and began cultivating the land and distributing the crops without charge to their followers. The Council of State received a letter in April 1649 reporting that several individuals had begun to plant vegetables in common land on St George’s Hill, Weybridge near Cobham, Surrey at a time when food prices reached an all-time high. The complaint reported that they had invited “all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes.” It was also claimed that they intended to pull down all enclosures and cause the local populace to come and work with them. “It is feared they have some design in hand.” In the same month, the Diggers issued their most famous pamphlet and manifesto, “The True Levellers Standard Advanced.”

At the behest of the local landowners, the commander of the New Model Army, Sir Thomas Fairfax, duly arrived with his troops and interviewed Winstanley and another prominent member of the Diggers, William Everard. Everard suspected that the Diggers were in serious trouble and soon left the group. Fairfax, meanwhile, having concluded that Diggers were doing no harm, advised the local landowners to use the courts.

Winstanley remained and continued to write about the treatment they received. The harassment from the Lord of the Manor, Francis Drake (not the famous Francis Drake, who had died more than 50 years before), was both deliberate and systematic: he organized gangs in an attack on the Diggers, including numerous beatings and an arson attack on one of the communal houses. Following a court case, in which the Diggers were forbidden to speak in their own defense, they were found guilty of being Ranters, a radical sect associated with liberal sexuality (though in fact Winstanley had reprimanded Ranter Laurence Clarkson for his sexual practices). Having lost the court case, if they had not left the land, then the army could have been used to enforce the law and evict them; so they abandoned Saint George’s Hill in August 1649. After the failure of the Digger experiment in Surrey in 1650 Winstanley temporarily went to Pirton in Hertfordshire, where he took up employment as an estate steward for the mystic aristocrat Lady Eleanor Davies. This employment lasted less than a year after Davies accused Winstanley of mismanaging her property and Winstanley returned to Cobham.

Winstanley continued to advocate the redistribution of land. In 1652 he published another pamphlet, The Law of Freedom in a Platform, in which he argued that the Christian basis for society involves the abolition of property and wages.

By 1654 Winstanley was probably working with Edward Burrough, an early leader of the Quakers, later called the Society of Friends. Winstanley is assumed to have been a Quaker from then on since his death was noted in Quaker records. However, his Quakerism may not have been very strong as he was involved in the government of his local parish church from 1659 onwards – though it should be noted that it is not unknown for committed Quakers to retain strong ties to other religious traditions, even including priesthood. He may have been buried in a Quaker cemetery.

Winstanley believed in Christian Universalism, the doctrine that everyone, however sinful, will eventually be reconciled to God; he wrote that “in the end every man shall be saved, though some at the last hour.” His book The Mysterie of God is apparently the first theological work in the English language to affirm this universalism.

In 1657 Winstanley and his wife, Susan, received a gift of property in Ham Manor, Cobham from his father-in-law William King. This marked Winstanley’s restoration to “normal” social status locally and he became waywarden of the parish in 1659, overseer for the poor in 1660 and churchwarden in 1667–68. He was elected Chief Constable of Elmbridge, Surrey in October 1671. These offices on the face of it conflicted with Winstanley’s apparent Quakerism.

When Susan died about 1664 Winstanley was paid £50 for the land in Cobham and he returned to London trade, whilst retaining his connections in Surrey. In about 1665 he married his second wife Elizabeth Stanley and re-entered commerce as a corn chandler. He died in 1676, aged 66.

Among other things that Winstanley wrote was a ballad recorded by Chumbawamba (of “I Get Knocked Down” fame), “The Diggers’ Song”

Winstanley has inspired numerous songs over the years including Leon Rosselson’s “The World Turned Upside Down” – covered by numerous artists and made a hit by Billy Bragg:

Stone soup is the obvious recipe of the day. If you don’t know the story of stone soup – look it up. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to invite friends and neighbors around for a big pot of soup. Each should bring one ingredient for the soup pot. There’s no recipe, as such, of course. The point is to bring people together to share a meal based on what each person contributes. Socialist soup !!! Of course, in any gathering of people there is the occasional misfit; so with stone soup. Be a little circumspect concerning some ingredients. I make a soup I call “Chuck Everything in a Pot” which is my version of “Refrigerator Soup” that is, making do with what you have on hand.

For me, the essence of a good stone soup is not to cook it to death, and not to add all the ingredients at once. If you use pasta, for example, add it near the end and cook only until al dente. Usually you’ll have a lot of vegetables, but treat them kindly also. Most don’t need long cooking. However . . . to be true to the story you need to start with water only. Without a stock base you could end up with a bland soup. My solution is to use meat bones to start. If you simmer them for several hours with onions or leeks you will have a good base for your vegetables. If you’re vegan or vegetarian you will have to start with some flavorful vegetables and simmer them for a long time. Onions, leeks, and mushrooms would be a good combination for starting out. Tomatoes can tolerate long cooking also.


Jun 012016


On this date in 1660 Mary Dyer, born Marie Barrett, an English and colonial North American Puritan turned Quaker was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. She is one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs. While her place of birth is not known, she was married in London in 1633 to the milliner William Dyer. Mary and William were Puritans who were interested in reforming the Anglican Church from within, without separating from it. Because the English king, James VI & I, and parliament increased pressure on the Puritans, they left England by the thousands to go to New England in the early 1630s. Mary and William arrived in Boston by 1635, joining the Boston Church in December of that year. Like most members of Boston’s church, they soon became involved in the Antinomian Controversy, a theological crisis lasting from 1636 to 1638. Mary and William were strong advocates of Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright in the controversy, and as a result Mary’s husband was disenfranchised and disarmed for supporting these “heretics” and also for harboring his own heretical views. Subsequently, they left Massachusetts with many others to establish a new colony on Aquidneck Island (later Rhode Island) in Narraganset Bay.


Before leaving Boston, Mary had given birth to a severely deformed infant that was stillborn. Because of the prevailing theological sentiments of the time concerning such a birth, the baby was buried secretly. When the Massachusetts authorities learned of this birth, its facts became public, and in the minds of the colony’s ministers and magistrates, the “monstrous” birth was clearly a result of Mary’s “monstrous” religious opinions. More than a decade later, in late 1651, Mary Dyer went by ship to England, and stayed there for over five years, becoming an avid follower of the Quaker faith that had been established by George Fox several years earlier. Because Quakers were considered among the most heinous of heretics by the Puritans, Massachusetts enacted several laws against them. When Dyer returned to Boston from England, she was immediately imprisoned, and then banished. Defying her order of banishment, she was again banished, this time upon pain of death. Deciding that she would die as a martyr if the anti-Quaker laws were not repealed, Dyer once again returned to Boston and was sent to the gallows in 1659, having the rope around her neck when a reprieve was announced. Not accepting the reprieve, she again returned to Boston the following year, and was then hanged to become the third of four Quaker martyrs.


I’ll leave you to delve the details of Antinomian Controversy, free grace theology, and whatnot if you are interested. This happens to be an interest of mine, personally and professionally, but I don’t need to inflict a theological debate on you. What I will comment on, however, is the gross religious intolerance of the Massachusetts Colonial Puritans. It boggles the mind that Puritans who left England because they were not free to practice their religious beliefs, should turn around and be as intolerant of others as their former masters, whom they were fleeing, had been. But it makes sense, particularly in light of many current religious beliefs in the U.S.

What comes to mind for me are the speculations of the cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinsky who argues that the “first effective occupance” of a colony creates a permanent imprint for future generations. His arguments are a little too circular for my tastes, but I think there is a valid core to what he says. His thesis was put to me as a graduate student of folklore in this way: North Carolina was first settled by the English and so has an English feel to it nowadays, whereas Louisiana was first settled by the French and so has a French feel to it. The flaws in the argument are self evident. Louisiana was colonized by the Spanish before it was French.  Why is there not more Spanish influence? Why is there not more Dutch influence in New York? Zelinsky focuses on the word “effective” here in circular manner. These attempts at colonization were not “effective” because they were swamped by later arrivals. In brief what he ends up saying is that the cultures of these “effective” colonists lasted, because they lasted !!! Enough said. My take on the whole debate is somewhat different. I see a certain strain of Puritanism and intolerance as everlasting in the United States, which is deeply ironic given the initial reasons that the Puritans fled England, and the underlying values of tolerance of the American Revolutionary and Independence movement.

The fact is that the Puritans were not tolerant by nature. They were convinced of the rightness of their beliefs to the point that they wanted everyone to be like them. Oliver Cromwell is the poster boy of this stance. “I think plays and dancing will lead to Hell, so NO ONE may go to plays or dance.” Well, the English eventually told him what they thought of his ideas. Over time the English proved to be more tolerant than the people they expelled. The North American colonies were not founded on toleration, they were built as bastions of intolerance: places where individual sects could practice their own brands of belief but where dissent was not allowed.


The Independence movement of the 18th century was not rooted in religious freedom but in economic and, hence, political realities. The French ideals of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity are all well and good, but it scarcely needs to be pointed out that these “ideals” were promoted in North America by slave holders who saw women as second-class citizens who could not hold property and could not vote. In order for the colonies to be united in opposition to England there had to be some compromises. The colonies valued their individual natures and their individual freedom from each other as much as they wanted freedom from England. Thus, federalism was born – a monster child if ever there was one. Under a federal system, states are free to pass laws on certain matters as long as they do not conflict with the overarching laws of the central government. How this works – or doesn’t – can be seen in the history of Supreme Court judgments; the Supreme Court exists to make sure that state law does not conflict with the (universal) Constitution.

The American Revolutionary War could not have begun without the colonies first being united against a common enemy. This political reality, and not the founding principles of the original colonies, undergirds the idea of religious tolerance.  The notion that there was to be no religious test for public office ensured that separate sects would not be disenfranchised nationally, not because one group valued the beliefs of others.  They didn’t. For political purposes, the founding fathers enshrined religious tolerance in the Constitution.

Back we come to Zelinsky. The founding ideas of Puritanism and intolerance still cling tight to segments of the population. Papering over the cracks in the federalist compromise won’t hide that fact. To this day there are segments of the population in the American South that believe that the Northern states had no right to abolish slavery in the Southern states, and that the Civil War was a gross miscarriage of justice.


Mary Dyer was a deliberate martyr for the cause of religious freedom and individual rights, and her name is not well known enough. Her stillbirth was not her fault and she should not have been stigmatized for it. Neither should she have been imprisoned, sentenced to death, and banished from Massachusetts for her beliefs. The fact that she could have lived out her life in another colony was not good enough for her. She kept defying laws and death sentences imposed on her by returning to Boston because she believed that these laws were unjust and hoped to change hardened hearts by her death – a true emulation of Christ (i.e. Christian).  We do well to remember her on the anniversary of her death.


Given my Christian allusions, lamb seems like an appropriate dish for today. Here is a period English recipe taken from The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight In Preserving, Physick, Beautifying, and Cookery (1675)

To make a Lamb Pye.

First, Cut your Lamb into pieces, and then Season it with Nutmegs, Cloves, and Mace, and some Salt with Currans, Raisins of the Sun, and Sweet Butter; and if you will eat it hot, when it is baked put in some Yolks of Eggs, with Wine-Vinegar and Sugar beaten together; but if you will eat it cold, put in no Eggs, but only Vinegar and Sugar.

You can fill out the instructions without too much trouble. It’s a typical 17th century mélange of meat and dried fruits with sweet spices. You’ll need a flaky pastry crust for the top. I’d be inclined to add some stock to the vinegar for additional flavor, but the fruit, sugar, and vinegar combination is a good sweet and sour mix. The egg yolks act to thicken the gravy. You can use flour instead if you wish, but eggs are richer.