It was perhaps inevitable that George Fox, who was to become the great force behind the foundation of the Quaker movement, should be drawn to Pendle Hill. As he wandered through 17th century England in search of Spiritual Enlightenment, tales of the supernatural reputation of Pendle must surely have reached his ears.
George Fox was born and grew up in Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire in the turbulent times leading up to the Civil War. At 12, he was apprenticed to a local tradesman, but he left home in 1643 to seek ‘the truth’, through listening to preachers and others, and developing his own ideas. He knew the Bible intimately, and it was central to his life, but he looked for other sources of inspiration too.
He came to believe that everyone, men and women alike, could encounter God themselves, through Jesus, so that priests were not needed. This experience need not be in a church: these ‘steeple houses’, and the tithes that supported them, were therefore unnecessary. Those who believed this became known as ‘Friends of Truth’.
He began talking to everyone he met about his ideas. He was soon in trouble with the authorities, and was imprisoned for the first time in Nottingham in 1649. According to Fox, the term ‘Quaker’ originated from a sarcastic remark by the judge in Fox’s second trial, in Derby, in 1650. in 1651, he was offered a commission in the army, but refused saying that 'he lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion for all wars'.
In 1652, he climbed Pendle Hill in Lancashire, where he had a vision of a “great people to be gathered” waiting for him. The beginning of the Society of Friends (Quakers) is usually dated from the day, soon afterwards, when Fox preached to large crowds on Firbank Fell, near Sedbergh, in Cumbria.
''As we travelled we came near a very great hilll, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered. As I went down, I found a spring of water in the side of the hill, with which I refreshed myself, having eaten or drunk but little for several days before.'' - From George Fox's Autobiography