A CHAIN OF PRAYER THROUGH THE AGES IN FRESHFORD  The Carthusians The Carthusians, who built a Priory here at Hinton Charterhouse in 1235 were probably the strictest order of any.  Their one aim was to draw as near to God as possible, and they believed that this was best accomplished by an ascetic lifestyle, virtual solitude and by spending most of their time in prayer and meditation.  They followed St Benedict’s custom of seven offices a day (from the psalms: ‘Seven times a day I will praise Thee’), but five of them alone in their own ‘cells’ (cottages!).  They observed vigils, lauds, prime, terce and sext during the mornings and none, vespers and compline in the afternoons and evenings.  Between these offices their time was spent in private prayer, spiritual exercises and manual work in their cells or gardens.    So for over 300 years, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries there would have been an almost unbroken stream of prayer night and day as these monks kept in constant touch with God.   Some notes from Alan’s History of Freshford:   The Puritans (page 69 on) John Ashe was a Puritan and one of Freshford’s most famous residents; an MP for Westbury and one of the leaders of the Parliamentary party in Somerset.  At this time, in the build up to the Civil War, William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury was hounding the Puritans for (among other things) their strict Sabbath observance.  When there was a huge gathering of Royalists near Wells, Ashe and his colleagues recruited thousands of local men (no doubt including Freshfordians) to camp near Chewton Mendip.  Ashe describes how they spent the night in the open: ‘fasting and in the cold, and spent the time in prayers and singing of Psalmes…..Gentlemen, Captaines and others lay all night in their armes upon fursebushes in the open fields amidst the camp, the old knight (Sir John Horner) often saying that his furse-bed was the best that ever he lay upon’.   The Quakers (p. 75 on)   Until the coming of the Methodists the only non-conformists existing in the village were a group of Quakers. The movement was founded by George Fox in 1650 and was a more unequivocally Christian movement in their early days than now. In 1668 there was a small Quaker meeting in Freshford led by Henry Macy (a powerful and influential preacher) and Paul Hart.  Following an Annual Meeting of Somerset Quakers at Ilchester in September 1668 these two men were instructed to: ‘Visit Joseph Baker who walks unworthy of the way of truth ….. to enquire about Anthony Darling paying tythes and Robert Francis about paying tythes and about his marriage and other disorders…..and Henry Hurley reproved touching his revelling.’ Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 an act of parliament, the Act of Uniformity made it mandatory for all clergy not ordained by a bishop and not willing to use the Book of Common Prayer to be ejected form their livings.  In Somerset alone sixty two ministers were ejected, sowing the seeds of non-conformity. Freshford’s Rev William Thompson was not one of these.  In this action to separate the established Church of England, which had grown very lax, from the new ‘non-conformists’, paying tthes by the latter was forbidden, and Francis’ matrimonial problem could have been nothing more than being married within the established church, which was also forbidden. The Freshford Quaker meeting carried on until the mid-1670s, when it appeared to merge with the ‘Friends’ from Bath, and Bathford.    Methodists (p.91 on) The life of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism from 1703 – 1791 spanned the eighteenth century.  In this time he travelled a staggering 225,000 miles, mostly on horseback, and preached around forty thousand sermons.  In the light of this it seems amazing that his diaries record ten visits to the small village of Freshford.          At his first visit; ‘I rode to Freshford, three or four miles from Bath.  The house not containing the people, I was obliged to preach out of doors.  It was dark when I began, and it rained all the time I preached; but, I believe none went away’. His youngest brother Charles, also an ordained clergyman of the Church of England and the writer of some of the greatest hymns in the English language, assisted him in his work. Charles was based in Bristol at this time and visited Freshford on February 13th, 1750:       ‘I preached with a little strength at Bearfield and the next day with more at Freshford.  The spirit of the people helped me.  An old lady of fourscore received me into her house.  We spent the time in prayer and singing.  Stephen Naylor had another call to repentance….. I invited at night many burdened souls to Christ, and his healing power was present and refreshed every weary spirit.’   The Methodist gathering continued to prosper and outgrew its cottage base and was granted permission to use the ‘dwelling house adjoining the house of Thomas Bush at Shaston’ for services. In September 1767 John Wesley returned for his sixth visit:       ‘I was desired to preach at Freshford, but the people durst not come to the house, because of the smallpox, of which Joseph Allen, an Israelite indeed, had died the day before.  So they placed a table near the churchyard.  But I had no sooner begun to speak than the bells began to ring, by the procurement of a neighbouring gentleman.  However, it was all labour lost, for my voice prevailed, and the people heard me distinctly.  Nay, a person extremely deaf, who had been unable to hear a sermon for several years, told his neighbours with great joy, ‘That he had heard and understood all, from the beginning to the end’’.      The Rev William Haslam William Haslam had been running a mission church in the Avon Street area of Bath.  In 1861  overwork brought on ill- health and he was advised to ‘go into the country for five or six weeks’.  Freshford was recommended.    While staying in the village he conducted informal meetings in a vacant schoolroom.  Like Wesley before him, there was a certain amount of opposition to his preaching:          ‘Another day stones were thrown at the windows with disastrous effect, so that the people put up their umbrellas toward the side which was being assailed, well it was they did so, for the broken glass came against the outspread calico or silk, and cut through more than one of those shields’. The Rector invited him to preach in Freshford church, and on one Sunday ‘the church was filled end to end three times.  The sexton of the church, who was a hardened and very unlikely personage, was awakened.  He said that he did not know why he came to listen to the preaching, for generally he preferred to be outside when the sermon was in hand.  The sexton was troubled by his past demeanours, and eventually confessed to the stealing of lead.  He and his accomplices were sent to prison for twelve months.  On returning to Freshford he wrote to Mr Haslam of his experiences, and told him that during his time in prison he had learned to read and write.’   And also: Mrs Webb When Alan and I first came to Freshford in 1965 the first person we went to visit was a Mrs Webb, who lived in Vine Cottage in the High Street.  She and her husband had been missionaries in Burma with the BCMS (Bible Church Missionary Society).  Now widowed and living with her companion, she ran a weekly prayer meeting in her home specifically for Freshford.  I often wonder how much we are benefiting from the prayers of those faithful few all those years ago, even now. There must have been many other such groups down the years, totally unrecorded and about whom we know nothing.  It is good to think that we are part of a long line of Christian believers in this place.                                                                                                                                                                   MD