AN UNUSUAL PILGRIMAGE
 

Under the heading of “An Unusual Pilgrimage,” the issue of “The Friend” for 8th August 1930 carried a report of the first Sturge Pilgrimage, written by Helen M. Sturge. This was later modified and used as the introduction to the paper “The Sturges and Early Quakerism,” written by her sister, Elizabeth Sturge, and subsequently privately published as a small book. This article reproduces the original account.

“An interesting and perhaps unique kind of event took place on Saturday, July 19th, when a party of over sixty members of the Sturge family and its congeners met together to visit the homes and graves of their ancestors, not far from Bristol. The idea originated with the Birmingham branch, who invited their cousins in Bristol and Somerset to make the pilgrimage with them.

“The day was perfect and a little before 1 o’clock the company gathered from all directions at Almondsbury, a village set on a hill from which there is a magnificent view over the Severn, with the Welsh hills beyond. An amusing half-hour was spent in making acquaintances, for many of those present were strangers to one another. Blood, however, even when derived from a common ancestor who was born so long ago as 1722, continues to be thicker than water, and before very long the cousins of all degrees were on the very best of terms and, with the assistance of labels, were learning to put names and faces together. Luncheon was then partaken of, kindly arranged for at the Monmouth Hotel by Wilson H. Sturge, of Birmingham, and his brother Edward P. Sturge of Hampstead. It was decreed by our hosts that no one must sit by a nearer relation than a third cousin, and great was the scandal when a husband and wife were found seated together! They were obliged to shelter themselves under the excuse that they came separately to the festivity from different directions!

 

At the close of the meal we were asked to stand up by families, the better to make our selves known. There were Sturges from Birmingham and London, Sturges from Bristol, Tanners, Gayners, Cotterells, Goodbodys, Artiss’s, Warners, Clarks and Clothiers from Street, Graces, a Hollings and a Rowntree. Lunch over, a paper was read on “The Sturges and Early Quakerism,” prepared by Elizabeth Sturge, of Bristol, from a study of early Monthly Meeting minutes. Owing to recent illness the author was not present to read it herself, but she joined the party later at tea.

“Under the guidance of one or two members who had carefully gone over the ground beforehand, the party started the pilgrimage in fourteen cars. Through beautiful and intricate lanes we drove to the fine old manor house, dated 1605, at Gaunt’s Earthcott. This is believed to have been built by Thomas Sturge, the earliest name on the family chart, and several generations of the family succeeded him there. The present owner patiently allowed the whole company to stream over the house, and the owner of another beautiful old house at Elberton, where Joseph Sturge, the philanthropist and sixth of the name, was born, was similarly gracious. The house has a rare well staircase of oak, of a kind seldom seen; and on one of the doors is a fleur de lys, which takes us back to the period when England still professed to have a claim to the Kingdom of France!

“Other family houses were at Olveston, but the chief interest there is the old meeting- house, where George Fox preached. To this village he brought Margaret Fell a week after their marriage in Bristol, and here one hopes they spent a peaceful honeymoon before they parted, to go to their separate labours and imprisonments.

“Most of the early Sturges were buried at Hazel, a lovely and peaceful spot buried in trees, far from the madding crowd of motors on the high road to Gloucester. Here the party stayed some time, examining, amongst other things, the curious old stones adorned with skull and crossbones, which, as recorded in the old Monthly Meeting minutes, were protested against by one James Sturge and several others, among them his nephew, James Stirredge – the form of the name assumed in Somerset. Fortunately, however, they did not succeed in getting them abolished, although it was laid down that in future stones must only have initials and dates carved on them. Here lie John Player, born in 1724, and his daughter, Mary, who died in 1878, their joint lives thus covering a hundred and fifty-four years. Here lies also the lover, whom tradition says she did not marry because he was an “infidel.” Neither of them ever married - he lived near her and, it is said, used to read to her in their old age, until, both over ninety, they were laid to rest in this quiet spot - a touching little romance.

“Notwithstanding its peaceful aspect, Hazel was once the scene of a curious, almost comic, episode. One day in 1713 the door was found to have been left open and a number of cattle and hogs were grazing inside and doing much damage. On enquiry, it was found that they had been driven in on purpose by a man named Thomas Smith, who averred the ground was his property. On being interviewed, he declared that it formerly belonged to his wife’s family and he considered that it ought to have been part of her jointure. “Friends,” said he, “had had the use of it for nothing for long enough, and now they would have to pay him rent.” He proceeded to fix a lock on the door so that no one could go in without applying to him.

“All this is gravely set forth in the minutes of the Monthly Meeting held at Sodbury in April, 1713, at which Thomas Sturge and two other Friends reported the unsatisfactory result of the interview they had had with Smith. As a matter of fact, the ground really belonged to Friends, who had bought it more than fifty years before. The property had been placed in the hands of trustees, to one of whom - William Rogers - the deeds had been entrusted for safe-keeping. The trustees were now all dead, including William Rogers. For some reason this man had taken offence at something Friends had done, and in a fit of temper had thrown the document in the fire, set his foot on it and burned it. Smith knew that Friends were the rightful owners, but took advantage of the difficult position in which they were to make this claim. The position was, in fact, very difficult, and continued to be so for many years. The Monthly Meeting decided to take counsel’s opinion as to what they could do.

“In the end some compromise was arrived at, but it was only temporary, for thirty or forty years afterwards the trouble broke out again. This time it was a man named Adams who claimed to be the owner. The meeting deputed the Joseph Sturge of the day and two others to try to get a deed of conveyance arranged. Apparently they did not succeed, for in 1779 it is once more reported that one William Churchus “have broke open the door at Hazel and put his own lock on.” Friends were not to be beaten, however, but promptly sent three of their number to take his lock off and put on one of their own. It was several years before the ghost of the missing deed was finally laid, and Friends were able to obtain formal possession.

“Having completed the round, the party proceeded to Woodhouse, the beautiful home of Dr. Basil Harwood, the eminent musician, whose mother was a Sturge. He and his wife most kindly entertained us to tea, and the expedition ended with the group being photographed on the lawn. The ages of the company ranged from three weeks to eighty-two years. The oldest members, Joseph Sturge of Birmingham (seventh of the name in direct line), Elizabeth Sturge, of Bristol, and J. Edmund Clark, of Street, were seated in the centre, with the youngest member, Christopher Harwood, aged three weeks in the arms of Elizabeth Sturge. That the ancestors might not be forgotten, one of the youthful members held the bust of Joseph Sturge of anti-slavery fame, in front.

“So ended a day which will long be remembered by those who shared in its interests and pleasures.”

 
H. M. S.