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Thomas Fell (1598–1658), was a lawyer, member of parliament and vice-chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.
Fell was born at Hawkeswell, near Ulverston. He 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, by whom he had nine children, and resided at Swarthmoor 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. In the following year, on the newly remoulded section of the local church, his name appears on the list of laymen for the presbytery of Furness. In 1648, Oliver Cromwell named him 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. From 1650–1 he was chosen as 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 George Fox, Fell hastened home and was met by Fox, who explained his doctrines. Although Fell never embraced Quakerism, he granted the use of Swarthmoor Hall for 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 worked the northern circuit with President John 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 favouritism toward Quakers made him 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. 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 Swarthmoor on 8 October 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.