Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fell, Thomas

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FELL, THOMAS (1598–1658), vice-chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, born in 1598 at Hawkeswell, near Ulverston, was the son of George Fell, a gentleman of ancient Lancashire family. He was admitted student of Gray's Inn in 1623, called to the bar in 1631, and practised successfully for several years. In 1632 he married Margaret Askew [see Fell, Margaret], by whom he had nine children, and resided at Swarthmore Hall, near Dalton-in-Furness, his paternal property. In 1641 he was placed on the commission of the peace for Lancashire, when some royalists were removed, and in the following year he was appointed one of the parliamentary sequestrators for the county. In 1645 he was elected to parliament for the city of Lancaster, and on the remodelling of the church in the following year his name appears on the list of laymen for the presbytery of Furness. In 1648 he was made by the Protector a commissioner for the safety of the county, and in 1649 he was nominated vice-chancellor of the duchy and attorney for the county palatine. In 1650–1 he was chosen a bencher of Gray's Inn, and is recorded as being at that time a judge of assize for the Chester and North Wales circuit. Fell was considered a leading puritan in the district of Furness, and practised hospitality with his wife's assistance. When, during his absence on circuit in 1652, the family was converted by Fox, Fell hastened home and was met by Fox, who explained his doctrines. Although Fell never embraced quakerism, he granted the use of Swarthmore Hall for the Friends to meet in, and frequently sat in an adjoining room with the door open, so as to afford them the protection of his presence. His wife says, ‘He was very loving to Friends.’ In 1652 he went the northern circuit with President Bradshaw. In 1653 he was, with certain other justices, directed to prevent royalists landing or gathering in Cumberland or Lancashire, and at the end of that year he was, with Bradshaw, appointed a commissioner for reviving the duchy jurisdiction at Westminster. In 1654 he was appointed one of the commissioners for keeping the seal of the county of Lancaster. From a letter written to him by Thomas Aldam in 1654 it appears that his favour to quakers had made him very unpopular; but in 1655 he was directed to proceed to London to determine cases in the duchy court at Westminster. For several years before his death Fell withdrew from parliamentary life, disapproving of the Protector's assumption of authority in civil and religious matters; and although Cromwell is believed to have made several overtures to him, he still declined to take any active part in the government. He died at Swarthmore on 8 Oct. 1658, and was buried in Ulverston Church by torchlight. The record of his burial states that he was chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He left one son and seven daughters, one of whom, Sarah Fell, a quaker minister, was noted not only for her beauty, but also for her eloquence and knowledge of Hebrew. She married one Mead. By his will Fell founded the Town Bank grammar school at Ulverston, and left a number of legacies to the poor.

[Webb's Fells of Swarthmore; Sewel's Hist. of the Rise, &c., of the Friends, i. 160, ii. 360; Margaret Fell's Brief Collection, &c., 1710; Baines's Lancashire, vol. ii. 2nd ed.; Barber's Swarthmore Hall and its Associations; Swarthmore MSS.; Calendar of State Papers, Dom. 1649 p. 297, 1653 p. 291, 1654–5 pp. 53, 168; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 142, iv. 187, &c., vi. 223.]

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