It was the faith of two US presidents and several prominent UK industrialists, yet the origins of the Quaker religion are little known today by people living in the English town where it began. However, a new heritage trail targeting the American tourist market is aiming to change that.
In 1647, George Fox, a cobbler, was walking past a church in the East Midlands when he received what he described as a message from God.
The son of a Leicestershire church warden, he had spent years wandering around an England torn apart by civil war and increasingly disaffected with the establishment church.
The vision of Christianity he received outside the church in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was deeply radical – God was within everyone and there was no need for priests.
Within a few years, he was preaching to large crowds – and provoking the persecution of the authorities who felt threatened by his anti-priesthood agenda.
“He was fed up with preachers and professionals setting standards, leaving out the poorest people,” said Ralph Holt, a historian.
“He couldn’t see how someone could go to college and get a certificate and come back somewhere between this land and God.”