The Religious Society of Friends, better known as “Quakers”, were founded in the North of England in the mid-17th century by George Fox, their name possibly originates from Fox telling a magistrate he was appearing before “to tremble (or ‘quake’) at the name of God”.
During the Commonwealth under the leadership of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and his son, who succeeded him in 1658, the Quakers were allowed to worship freely.
However, after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 the Quakers were systematically persecuted for their beliefs under the Quaker Act of 1662 and the Conventicle Act of 1664 whereby Quakers and other Non-Conformists could be punished by heavy fines or imprisonment. Not until the passing the Toleration Act In 1689 the freedom to legally worship restored.
Quakers were to be found in the small towns and rural areas of East Kent by the mid-1650’s and congregations were at this time recorded in Dover, Canterbury, Wingham, Sandwich, Deal and Nonington.
During those early years the parish of Nonington appears to have had some importance as a Quaker congregation and was the venue for Quakers monthly meetings. In February of 1664 the Register of Independents, Anabaptists and Quakers held at Canterbury Cathedral recorded ten Quakers in Nonington. However, some twelve years later in 1676 the parish was recorded as having nine non-Conformists amongst whom were two Anabaptists , two Browns, three Quakers and two Independents. Possibly the fear of persecution led some Quakers not to register with the risk of prosecution leading to their keeping their beliefs secret. Unfortunately I have as yet to discover the names of any of Nonington’s Quakers or where the monthly meetings were held.
Amongst those who attended meetings in the parish of Nonington was William Penn, a prominent Quaker and the founder the Province of Pennsylvania in the then British American colonies. In 1681 William Penn received a very large grant of land consisting of the present states of Pennsylvania and Delaware in settlement of debts owed to Admiral Sir William Penn, his father, by King Charles II. William Penn’s journal entry for 16th October, 1672 records his attendance at a Quaker meeting in Sandwich and an overnight stay at the house of Thomas Loutens and the entry for the 17th October reports “The next Day we departed thence to Nonington , where we had a Meeting mostly of Friends, it being their Monthly Meeting; from thence we came that Night to Deal, and were lodged at Tho: Holimans”.
Nonington appears to have retained its importance as a Quaker meeting place until 1691 when it was proposed and subsequently agreed that the East Kent Monthly Meeting should be held in turn in the towns of Canterbury, Deal, Dover and Sandwich rather than always being held at Nonington. After this change of venue I can as yet find no reference to any other meetings in Nonington or to Quakerism in Nonington.