In the 17th and early 18th centuries two men lived in Bridport, apparently unrelated, but with same forename and surname. This has caused some problems for local historians who have confused the two men.
The men were both named Daniel Taylor, but they belonged to different religious sects. This was at a time of religious upheaval and conflict, resulting from King Henry VIII having earlier decided that this country should no longer be part of the Church of Rome. This eventually resulted in fines for people not attending the established Church of England and also for not taking the sacrament several times annually. Break away sects were obvious targets to be reported to the local authorities and one of these was an Independent (or Congregational) Meeting which was established in a loft in Barrack Street, then known as Stake Lane, off East Street, Bridport. Another was a Quaker Meeting in a barn in South Street, almost defiantly opposite the Parish Church. Both of these meeting places were broken into and damaged by religious zealots. Richard Downe the Minister of the Independent Meeting and several of his flock were imprisoned for illegal worship. Mr Strode of Parham “a zealous loyal person at Lyme Regis” destroyed the seats and pulpit of the Meeting House in the late 17th century, according to Basil Short in A Respectable Society.
The other non-conformist meeting at the Friends (Quaker) Meeting House also suffered being broken into and damaged, from Friends reports. Daniel Taylor, a Quaker, was fined or imprisoned twenty times for his beliefs according to The Friends Book of Sufferings. He was spied on and reported to the authorities by a William Bond, who was eventually killed by Monmouth’s men at Lyme Regis, whilst spying on them. Whilst in prison Taylor sent back money for the poor of Bridport. Under the rule of Cromwell things were possibly a little easier for protestants, but in some places Cromwell’s army stabled their horses in parish churches and desecrated the fabric. Daniel Taylor permitted the Quakers to meet in his barn, later giving it to the Friends Meeting, with a trust fund for its maintenance.
It is believed that the Quaker Taylor served briefly on a “Ship of War” and then became a tobacco cutter before settling in Bridport, marrying a widow, Hannah Nicholls, widow of Elias in 1668. The Nicholls were mercers or drapers and once Hannah married Daniel Taylor the business prospered and they leased property in West Street, Bridport as business premises. They became owners of the Bull Inn in Bridport, Porch House and other buildings in South Street, and farms in the Marshwood Vale, Little Dunster, Bluntshay and Knap. Rent from the Bull Inn paid for a schoolmaster for 12 poor children and dwellings adjacent to Porch House were later given as an Almshouse. Taylor also gave a plot of land in South Street as the first burial ground for the Quaker meeting.
The Independent Daniel Taylor is believed also to have been a mercer, owned land where their meeting house stood and is described as a deacon of their meeting. In 1742 his wife accused the minister, the Rev. Thomas Collins of not believing in the Trinity which resulted in 200 members withdrawing from the meeting. Those staying with Collins eventually became Unitarians, subsequently building “The Chapel in the Garden” on the north side of East Street. The original or Old Meeting as it was still called had a congregation of 400 in 1788 and eventually became the United Church with a new building on the south side of East Street. Some members of the Independent Churches attended the parish church for communion at least once a year which permitted them to become members of the Corporation Council, one becoming a bailiff and some were also Church Wardens. As cottage industry became factory based, several of the Independents became “Captains of Industry”.
Two articles on apothecaries’ trade tokens show one with pestle and mortar and the legend “Danyell Taylor” and “in Bridport 1666 – D.T. 1/4d”, but it is difficult to say which, if either, of the two Daniels is represented. Despite the prolific Quaker records, considerable confusion relates to Quaker Daniel, probably due to hearsay history over 300 years. Hannah had two boys, John and Elias, before she married Daniel and they were referred to as “sons in law”, whereas we would now say “stepsons”. This led to their wives being confused as Daniel and Hannah’s daughters. Another suggestion that Daniel married again in 1679 to Mary Swaisey is clearly wrong since Hannah did not die until 1705. A plan of the old burial ground shows Hannah and Daniel (died 1714) side by side. Other reputed children have also been claimed erroneously for the Quaker Daniel. To add to the confusion Quaker Daniel referred to various named people in his will as “cousins, brothers”, etc. It is possible that some of these may have been from the family of Daniel of the Independent Meeting.
This article is based on one I wrote for Notes & Queries for Somerset and Dorset March 2001, which includes further detail and a bibliography.
Bridport History Society has no meeting in July or August.
Cecil Amor, President, Bridport History Society. Tel: 01308 456876.