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BOWKER, Alice (?-1697) – A Wickhamford Quaker

The Quaker Burial Register for the Evesham/Alcester area includes the following entry:

“Alice Bowker of Wickhamford buried the third day of the 12th month called February 1696”.

In the Julian calendar the New Year began on 23rd March, so in terms of the Gregorian calendar we now use, this date would be 3rd February 1697.  The surname ‘Bowker’ also appears in the Wickhamford records as ‘Booker’ and was the commonest name in the Parish Registers in the 1500s and 1600s.  Both versions are used here.

When money was being raised in the 1660s for the restoration of the Church of St John the Baptist, an annual levy was apportioned between parishioners.  Anyone who refused to pay was presented to the wardens of the Archdeacon’s Court.   One persistent non-payer was a widow, Alice Booker.  According to notes made by Rev. Peter Braby in 1966, John Booker had already shown himself to be anti-establishment and in 1665 the churchwardens had presented him for absenting himself from the church for three years and refusing to pay any dues to the Minister, William Millington.  The Quaker burial records mention a Jonas Booker being buried on 7th of the last month of 1668.  This was 7th March 1668 (or 1669 in the Gregorian calendar) and this may have been the Latinised name of Alice’s husband, John, although Wickhamford was not mentioned in the Quaker Register. 

In 1674, the churchwardens presented Alice Booker, widow, for not paying her money for the church levy of 3d.  Two years later the Diocesan Registry records show that she had been excommunicated and still refused to pay the levy.  By 1684, she had been excommunicated for eleven years and was still refusing to pay. Another record shows that, in 1676, an Alice Booker of ‘Wichenford’, a widow, was imprisoned at Worcester. This was probably a mis-spelling of ‘Wickhamford’.

The Evesham Quaker Meeting House is in Cowl Street and it has a burial ground behind the house.  The Quakers, or more correctly ‘Friends’, were founded by George Fox in the mid-seventeenth century and members were subjected to considerable persecution.  They met in each other’s houses for quiet worship and were frequently arrested and sometimes thrown into prison.  As persecution decreased, the Quakers of Evesham felt confident enough to build the Meeting House in Cowl Street, in about 1676.  It was later rebuilt in brick in 1698, but the burial ground was not used until 1721.   As Alice Bowker died in 1696, her place of burial is unknown.

Alice Booker’s will was Proved on 26th April 1697, but much of the detail is now illegible.  Her effects were valued at £10-0s-0d and the beneficiaries included a William Bird.  

The Bowker/Booker residents of Wickhamford 

Alice Bowker was married and widowed and Jonas/John Bowker/Booker died in 1668/9. Her maiden name would only be known if her marriage to John Bowker was found and this is not the case.  There are two possible baptisms for the John Bowker in question in Wickhamford, in 1613 and 1624.  The first was on 22nd June 1613, whose father was Thomas; there is burial for a John Bowker on 13th February 1620, but no age or relationship were recorded. The second baptism was on 3rd July 1624, whose father was William.

Anne Field

There is one other mention of Wickhamford in the Quaker Burial Register.  “Anne Ffield of Wickhamford buried 11th day of ‘yber’ 1703” – the month is unclear but is almost certainly October, as Anne Field’s will was proved on 25th October that year.  Probate was given to William Turner, who was also a beneficiary.  He lived in Wickhamford and had a number of children baptised there (1689-1706).  A codicil to the will named Dorothy, Sarah and Ann ‘Chang’ as other beneficiaries.  The surname has almost certainly been mis-transcribed. There was a marriage in the village in December 1680 of an Ann Chance.

There are no other records of Wickhamford inhabitants having Quaker connections until the late 19th century/early 20th century, when a few residents attended the Society of Friends Meeting House which was built at Badsey in 1894, most notably the Thorne family.

Tom Locke – February 2021

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