Shoes, chocolates and peace

Most people probably know Street, Somerset, for Clark’s Village, a diverse shopping centre, where you can buy, inter alia, Clark’s shoes. Did you know, however, that the Clarks, who are Quakers, were also very influential in the politics and planning laws in the neighbourhood?  Michael Eavis, founder of the Glastonbury festival, admits to being grateful to the Clark family for allowing him to ‘get away’ with the festival.  Eavis attributes the establishment of his festival to the Quaker and Methodist non-conformism in the area; nowhere else would it have been permitted!

The Quakers came to the West Country in 1655, after the Civil War, and George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Friends or Quakers, established a ‘Meeting’ there in 1656.  Quakers refused to take oaths, nor would they pay tithes, as they did not wish to support the established Church of England.  As they also refused to fight, being peace-loving, and worshipped in silence, without rituals or sacraments, they were considered as seditious and many of them found themselves in the hoosegow in Ilchester.

As many Quakers settled in Street, they had a graveyard, which now lies under Clark’s Village car park, between NatWest and Living Homes.  Clark’s Shoes was one of many Quaker firms that started in the nineteenth century; in 1821, Cyrus Clark went into business with a Quaker cousin, who was a fellmonger, wool-stapler and tanner.  A fell-monger (not a rock climber) was a dealer in hides or skins, especially sheepskins, while a wool-stapler was a dealer in wool.   So you should be grateful to both trades on a chilly night when padding about the house in Sheepland’s Moccasins .

The welfare of their workers was paramount and the family, instead of indulging in luxuries with their profits, ploughed the money back into the company.  Quakers were and are renowned for their scientific discoveries (Joseph Lister the British surgeon, pioneer of antiseptic surgery), contributions to education and charitable works.  The Living Homes premises were once the site of a Quaker ‘Board School’, built with money earned by supplying boots to soldiers in the Crimean War.  Clark’s is the third largest shoe business in the world, after Nike and Reebok.

The Greenbank Pool in Street was also built and donated by a Quaker Clark in 1937 and was intended as a swimming baths for women and girls; the men swam naked in the River Brue.

Many notable, philanthropic families are Quakers, one being the Frys.  They made the first chocolate bar in 1847 and the Cadbury family (Quakers!) produced theirs in 1849.  You may be surprised to learn that Barclays Bank was started by a Quaker, John Freame and another in 1690.  The business became associated with the name Barclays in 1736, when Freame’s son-in-law, James Barclay, became a partner.

The actors James Dean and Dame Judy Dench were/are Quakers.  When asked why she chose to attend a Quaker school and thereafter convert to Quakerism, Dame Judy replied that she liked the uniform (and has enjoyed dressing up ever since, we are happy to say).

Released On 18th Jul 2018