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The Early Ostles

Ostles are documented as having been living in the north-western part of Cumberland (now Cumbria) since the early sixteenth century.

This part of the county is quite unlike the area known to tourists. There are no lakes or mountains. The terrain is flat and marshy with wide horizons and a wonderful view across the Solway Firth to the Scottish hills.

In 1150, Henry, a son of David, King of Scots, founded a monastery here. The Abbey was known as Holm Cultram and was a daughter house of Melrose Abbey. Part of the Abbey survives as the Parish Church of Abbeytown.

Along with all the other monasteries in England, Holm Cultram was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538. On dissolution, a list of the tenants of the Abbey lands was drawn up and this contains the earliest reference to a member of the Ostle family. A William Ostell (the original spelling the family name) held a small farm at Newtown, about 4 miles (6Km) west of the abbey, "for a term of eighteen years entering there upon in the 29th year of the reign of our sovereign lord King Henry VIII at a rent of ten shillings and six pence per year"1

Perhaps an ancestor of William had a job at the Abbey which accounted for his name. It would be nice to think that he worked in the HOSTEL and looked after visitors. Many Cumbrians do drop their 'h's and this could be an explanation for a rather curious surname.

There are records of several other Ostles around this time. In 1566, a Jarrot Ostle died leaving four children: John, Robert, Ellen and Richard. The manor records of Holm Cultram list families living in Silloth, Causeway Head and Blitterlees.

Proper parish records began some years later. In 1588, a George Ostle married Alice Swaile in the old abbey church. It seems they had two sons called Robert and George. This George moved to a larger farm in Newtown in 1664. The manor court fixed his rent at one guinea (£1.05) twice the value of his old place. 2

The original Latin parchment granting George entry to his new farm.

George, who died in 1672, had a son called Thomas. Thomas married a Frances Langcake of Plasketlands, a farm two miles away, in 1664. They farmed at Newtown and built themselves a new house there. The old door lintel bearing their initials can still be seen in the barn at the present house, now known as West Farm. It is still owned by the family and, although rented out to tenants for a time in the mid twentieth century, Tommy Ostle continued to farm there until his death in 1978 and it is presently worked by Kevin Clark, a nephew of Tommy's son, John.

A Cumbrian Clay Daubing.
The original farm at Newtown probably looked much like this one, dating from 1666, photographed at Curthwaite in the 1940s; the Newtown door lintel (below) is very similar.

Thomas and Francis had ten children. After forty years of research, it still seems that all Ostles now living are descended from this couple. Their eldest, George, died in infancy. John, their second son, also died at an early age. Their third son was called Joseph. These three boys were all baptised at Holm Cultram church, but their remaining seven children were never christened. In fact very few Ostle children were baptised over the next hundred years because, between October 1670 and the birth of their daughter Mary in 1672, Thomas and his wife became Quakers and, from this point on, the history of the family is inseparable from that of The Society of Friends and its growth in the area.

The first member of the Society to visit the area was James Lancaster of Walney who, in 1653 "came to the steeple house of Abbey Holm and declared ye truth to ye people. As he was going away, the people followed him and were something rude, but especially Mr Briscoe. A little after came William Dewsbury on the same mission; he was beaten and ducked in the river but William Lowthaite received him and was convinced and his wife, and others, were soon convinced that day at Abbeyholm"3

George Fox at Abbeytown

Also in 1653, George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, had visited Carlisle where he had been imprisoned for seven weeks for "preaching the truth in the great Worship House (The Cathedral) after the priest had ended his sermon". In 1667, Fox himself preached at Abbeytown4 so Thomas may possibly have heard him on this occasion. The Friends were soon holding open air meetings on Mawbray Bank even having a wedding there in 1665 but Thomas does not appear in the list of witnesses for this event 5.

The Friends soon fell foul of the law as a result of their beliefs. Thomas Stordy of Moorhouse, whose daughter, Ruth, was to marry Thomas and Frances' fourth son Jonathan, had already been imprisoned at Carlisle and, in 1679, Thomas Ostle himself was sent to jail at Carlisle for non-payment of tithes. The following year, John Ostle of Blitterlees, who was probably a cousin of Thomas was also to suffer imprisonment for his beliefs. John had been summoned along with three of his Quaker neighbours, Thomas Splatt, John Saul and John Barne, to serve on a jury at the manor court. The four Friends refused to take the juror's oath and were thrown into prison at the Citadel in Carlisle. It is not clear from the records how long Thomas spent in prison but John died there in December1694. 6

Quaker women in prison

Thomas' wife, Francis, gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1682 and there is also a record of a Quaker wedding in his house during that year but Thomas may well have been a prisoner at the time. The arrangements for keeping prisoners at Carlisle during these years seem to have been very strange indeed. Most of the Quakers were not imprisoned at the Citadel for long and appear to have served most of their sentence at the gaoler's house in Castle Street.

One famous prisoner for the faith, John Banks, used to preach from a window in this house to those coming to services in the Cathedral and was, seemingly, allowed to hold large meetings for Friends in the courtyard. He was permitted out into the town to buy provisions and took advantage of these trips to attend Friends' meetings and complained bitterly when the Turn-key, who accompanied him, dragged him back to the gaoler's house when he began to speak.4

Under such loose arrangements, Thomas may well have been able to continue raising his family while a prisoner. We do know for sure that he was in prison in 1688 and, since there is no reference to a further offence, he may still have been serving the sentence given him nine years earlier. In 1688, Thomas' fellow prisoners at Carlisle were:- Mary Saul, William Glaister, Thomas Drape, Anthony Skelton, William Bouch, Arthur Skelton, John Biglands and Thomas Wilkinson, all imprisoned at the suit of Thomas Lowther of Lowther. Several other Quakers were in jail at the suit of George Fletcher. These included two members of the Senhouse family, later to become prominent coal-owners in West Cumberland.6 Over the next fifty years, Ostles were to marry into almost all the Quaker families mentioned here.

In the following year, "the generality of the people called Quakers were set at liberty by means of the Act of Grace granted by King William and Queen Mary after their accession to the throne." Thomas was among those set free. He died, at home, in 1701. Frances survived him by seventeen years. At least five of their ten children survived them.

Their fourth son Jonathan became a prominent minister in the Quaker movement. He married Ruth Stordy and moved to Moorhouse in 1705. The fifth son, Daniel, married Agnes Sibson of Thurstonfield and farmed first at Newtown for three years before moving to Goody Hills. His descendants moved first to Ribton near Great Broughton and then to Dearham near Maryport where many of them became coalminers.

Mary, their eldest daughter, married John Beeby of Bowscales and Sarah married David Martindale of Allonby, a member of another local Quaker family.

Their third son, Joseph, continued to farm at Newtown. The evidence seems to suggest that as a young man he left home and/or the Quaker faith. During this period, for which no records have yet been found, it seems probable he married someone called Jane and had two sons: Thomas, around 1698 and Jonathan, two years later. His father may have had a very low opinion of him at this time as, in his will, he leaves Joseph only half-a-crown. However, as the eldest surviving son, he would inherit the copyhold on the farm at Newtown. He must have returned there but, perhaps, not until after his father's death in 1701. He built an extension to the farmhouse in 1721, putting up a new lintel bearing two Js and one O, indicating Joseph and Jane Ostle.

He then became a good Quaker as can be seen from the "Sufferings" book of Holm Meeting which contains this, (one of many similar entries) where Joseph has goods confiscated by the authorities because of his refusal as a Quaker to pay his tithes:

Joseph Ostle had taken from him by John Barwise, Warden and Thomas Chambers, Constable for ye use of John Brisco and Wm Barnes, farmer to one of the colleges of Oxford for fifteen shillings and sixpence demanded and five pence costs, goods worth one pound, ten shillings.

Sheila Pearson, neé Ostle has sketched the scene. Fred Mantey, a family historian with connections to both the Chambers and Barwise Officials in this case, suggests that, despite the differences caused by beliefs, there was little or no acrimony between neighbours, even when one of them was acting in an official capacity and writes:-

I have an image where John B and Thomas C arrive at Joseph's house:

"Now then," says John to Joseph, "you know why we are forced to come here. You must either pay thy tithes or we will be forced to take and sell some of thy goods."

"Come on Joseph," says Thomas, "pay the rotten tithe and we shall have done of this whole sad business!"

"Sorry friends," replies Joseph, "but thou will know that because of my beliefs I will not pay one farthing towards the wages of that hireling priest in the Steeple House at t'Abbey and, despite our friendship, I will not be moved in this matter. A Quaker's yea is his yea and his nay is his nay."

"Well Joseph, we are obliged by our office to take and sell sufficient of your goods to cover the amount owed," says John, "and you may not resist us otherwise you will suffer the full penalty of the law." Joseph replies, "Aye, neighbour, I understand that very well. Oh, dear! I have accidentally left a harrow, a good kist and a snipt mare before the house. I suppose that thou will be taking them as they are easily available. Oh, dear!"

"Aye, Joseph, we will indeed restrain these goods and we will trouble thee and thy family no further." says John. "By the way, my good wife, when she knew that I would be visiting with thee, insisted that I bring over this, one of her game pies which we know you like."

Thomas swiftly interjects, "My good wife, thinking the same, insisted that I bring thee this small basin of cheese as we have made too much for our needs this week."

"Well, thanks to thee neighbours. Thy gifts are indeed welcome and I would be obliged if you would enjoy the hospitality of our house before thou must leave," says Joseph. "Come In, please."

Although little is known of Joseph's wife, Jane, she is one of only two members of the family to have had Testimonials prepared by The Society of Friends on their deaths.7

It reads:-

Jane Ostle was born in the year 1671, was educated amongst Friends and received a gift of the ministry. Her doctrine was sound and reasonable, often exhorted Friends to Love God and to love ye unity one with another, and her conversation was exemplary and agreeable to what she preached. She visited Friends' meetings in some counties adjacent to where she lived, as also in Scotland, where her service was well received.

In the time of her last sickness, which was about three weeks, she seemed to be very much resigned in mind to the disposal of the Devine hand and she was in a very sweet frame of mind, many times to the great comfort of several that visited her.

She departed this life on the 25th of the 5th month 1747 and was buried on the 27th of the same in Friends' Burying Ground at Beckfoot in Abbey Holm in Cumberland to which meeting she belonged, aged 76 years, a minister near 40. Read and approved by our Quarterly Meeting here at Whitehaven the 14th of the 2nd month 1748. [signed] John Dockray.

The Friends' Burying ground at Beckfoot
The old meeting house, in the background, has been converted into a bungalow. Virtually all the Ostles mentioned lie here. None of their graves are marked.

Joseph Ostle died in 1737. Each of his sons went on to found long dynasties. Thomas produced a line of farmers and solicitors. Jonathan's family spread far and wide.

© MMVI, J. Peter Ostle

1. Holm Cultram Rentals, 19th Century copy, in possession of family.
2. Deeds of West Farm Newtown , in possession of family.
3. Quoted in Grainger & Collingwood: Register and Records of Holm Cultram, 1929.
4. R.S. Ferguson: Early Cumberland & Westmorland Friends, 1871
5. Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, Vol. VII/2
6. Besse: Sufferings of the Quakers
7. Testimonial of Jane Ostle, Library of Friends' House, Euston Rd., London

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