Wednesday July 06 2022



Village History

One man versus 50 women!

Posted on December 19 2019 at 10:37:15 0 comments


Sean Tomás Beag, Barnt Green’s Quakerwarden, describes an encounter with the village WI.

Did you know that we Friends have been in the heart of Barnt Green village for 124 years – and we aim to stay.

We discussed it, asking members this question: “We’ve been here 110 years; do we want to stay another 100?”

The “Hope so” went round the circle. . . it was a big fat yes.

We erected a new noticeboard. Figuring that our village was not informed by our old sign that said “Friends Meeting House”, our new sign reads “Quaker Meeting House”.

I was asked recently by one of our dancing girls to give a talk on Quakers in Barnt Green.

“Dancing girls”. . . let me explain: 124 years ago, a Quakerman, John Gibbons, who lived up in Shepley Road, bought land in the middle of the village and on it built a hall.

Friends used it as a place of worship on a Sunday. During “plain days” this “Tin Tabernacle” became the hub of village life – Band of Hope, pre-school, that sort of thing.

When I came to Barnt Green in 2010, there were 14 groups using our facilities: art classes, choirs, fitness. . .

The Keep Fit ladies exercised to music such as Abba, and in unison they looked to me very happy and fit. And it seemed to me that these girls were dancing.

Nicknames stick. “Quaker” is a nickname – it has nothing to do with porridge oats.

Fast forward to 2019. Thursday, September 19, to be exact. I was going about my business when, outside Tesco, I met a mate of mine. When I told him where I was off to, he screamed: “Are you mad?”

“You reckon?” I said.

“Yes, yes I do. You must be mad going down to the Baptist hall to speak to a bunch of women – they will gobble you up and spit you out.”

“Stop it now,” I told him.

“Listen, mate, seriously, ask any man. . . would he go into a room full of WI women? Don’t say I haven’t warned you!” he replied.

We parted company and I walked down Hewell Road slowly, very slowly. Of course I was afraid. Terrified, in fact.

But I must do the thing I fear. My religious upbringing drives me to do the thing I fear and the death of fear is certain.

I entered the lions’ den. There was not just a couple of dozen women waiting, as expected. There were over 50 of them.

The dancing girl who had invited me greeted me, all smiles. Was she preparing to throw me under a bus – moreso, was she going to feed me to the lionesses? Gulp!

Nervously, I began my talk about Quakers in Barnt Green. . . but it didn’t flow. All the while I was waiting for a sneak attack. One of you women is going to attack me with a smart, witty question and I will stumble and the pack will devour me.

But it never happened. My English ladies were just that. The poise a man has to earn the gentleman title – these Barnt Green women had it in bucketsful. So full of grace, they were indeed gentlewomen.

I rambled on and on, waiting for an attack that never came. Suddenly the talk was over and the women applauded. I joined them for tea and cakes and then I walked back up Hewell Road, relieved.

Next day I met my Tesco pal.

“How’d it go?” he asked.

I said: “Do you know – the WI do not have male members and I now understand why. They are a happy band of sisters, mothers, aunts – and did you know that the Women’s Institute is a charity?”

No, neither had I – and no, they did not let me off the hook. There is no hook. Women are from Venus, men from Mars – ‘nuff said.

Regrets. I have a few. I regret not being a better speaker. I wasted too much time waiting for an ambush and I failed to tell them the wider Quaker story.

I should have mentioned Cadbury, Rowntree, Fry, Harris the paintbrush maker, Nobel Prize winners, slavery abolitionists, Pennsylvania, Lloyd’s, Barclays, Judi Dench, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, Uncle Tom Cobley an’ all. . .

But I did mention that “You cannot love to live if you cannot bear to die”. And I failed to nail the Quaker thing. So before I close, let’s nail it.

Back in 1640, our founder, a George Fox, gathered English folk together and questioned. He set up a belief system that refused to take oaths. Let your yea be yea. We were truth sayers. We gathered as friends of the truth.

He was flung into gaol for refusal to conform. A dissenter who kept coming back to court, time and time again. The court judge, on seeing Fox before him yet again, bellowed: “Listen, I am your judge–”

Fox interrupted; “You are not my judge. God is my judge. . . and when you meet him, in his presence, you will quake.”

“Aah, so you are a quaker, are you?” said the judge. Fox stayed silent and the name stuck.

Friends meet each Sunday at 10.30am for to worship God. Stella from the WI came along recently – thank you, Stella. Maybe my talk wasn’t so bad after all.

Would I talk to a bunch of women again? 50 women in a room with only one man. Not on your life!

No more but my love,

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