William Penn

William Penn

Quaker author & preacher, statesman and founder of Pennsylvania. Closely associated with Jordans Meeting House and lived in Rickmansworth for 5 years.

Link with the Chilterns

Closely associated with Jordans Meeting House in south Buckinghamshire and lived in Rickmansworth for five years.


14th October 1644


30th July 1718


William Penn was born into the British Establishment, the son of an Admiral who received an extensive education including Oxford University and an academy in France. After the Plague in 1665 he was sent by his father to manage the family estates in Ireland. Here he encountered the Quakers and attended their meetings. When he refused to give up the Friends he was disinherited and spent the next few months with the Quakers in Buckinghamshire, meeting his future wife Gulielma Springett.

Penn courted Gulielma in the lanes around Jordans, near Chalfont St Giles in south Buckinghamshire. He worshipped regularly at Jordans Farm, along with George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. He later contributed to the cost of building the Friends Meeting House in Jordans in 1688.

Penn was imprisoned a number of times for preaching Quakerism. In 1672 he and Gulielma were married and set up home in Basing House, 46 High Street, Rickmansworth. He continued preaching and his home accommodated many other preachers on their travels. In 1677 he and his wife moved to Sussex.

The persecution of Quakers continued and the idea of creating a settlement in America began to grow among them. In 1681 William Penn obtained a grant of a territory there from Charles II. He wanted to call it ‘Sylvania’ but the King insisted on adding the name Penn in honour of William’s late father.

William spent two years in Pennsylvania from 1682-1684. He drafted its constitution, one of the best and most reasonable ever, and designed the new city of Philadelphia. He returned to England in 1684. In 1699 he went back to Pennsylvania for another 2 years before returning in 1701. He died in 1718 and was buried in the cemetery of the Jordans Meeting House, next to his first wife Gulielma and second wife Hannah.

Further Information

Quakers in Britain has more information about William Penn and his works.

Grid Reference


What you can visit

Jordans village – as well as the Meeting House you can see Old Jordans Farm, the site of the first Quaker Meetings, and the Mayflower Barn, reputedly built using timbers from the Mayflower ship that carried the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World. Both the Farm and the Barn are in private ownership.

Three Rivers Museum, Rickmansworth – this is located in Basing House, home to William Penn for five years and contains displays about his life.