Creating a world without war cataloguing project begins

Jill at work

Jill, project archivist for FAU-FRS cataloguing project

I joined Friends House Library in January 2020 as Project Archivist.  Over the next 2 years I will be working on a Wellcome Trust Funded project to catalogue the World War Two archives of Friends Ambulance Unit (1939-47) and Friends Relief Service (1943-48) to make them more accessible to researchers.

Through this blog I’ll be giving updates about the project’s progress, as well as sharing stories about interesting records I discover along the way.

I decided that the first collection to be tackled should be the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) archives, as it is smaller in size and more straightforward to catalogue. It comprises 47 boxes of material dating from 1938 to 1989. The material is in various formats: files of correspondence, reports and minutes, (some packed too tightly into their original, now unsuitable, 1940s boxes), personnel records, Convoy and Section records from areas of operation (particularly good for China), newspaper clippings, accounting records, drafts of chapters for the official history of FAU, camp diaries, journals, newsletters, bulletins, pamphlets, photographs and films.

Above is a snaphot of some items to show the range of material within the collection: documents in a variety of languages, printed items, photographs, personnel records etc.

The first weeks were spent getting to know the collection by undertaking a brief box listing, paying attention to the condition of the material for conservation planning. Fortunately, the collection seems to be in pretty good condition apart from the fragility of some of the wartime stationery used in the correspondence files and one or two volumes which need more than just basic conservation treatment. The box listing also allowed me to pick up on some files which have privacy/data protection issues, which will be given more consideration later.

The box listing has given me an overall view of the archives and some good pointers to how to approach its cataloguing. A general picture of the various functional bodies within the FAU has emerged, and thanks to some traces of the original filing systems, it has been fairly easy to spot how the record series were originally kept and what functions of the FAU these records reflect. Reading through the Accessions folder for this collection, the old handlists, and a few documents in the FAU files, a clear picture emerged of how the archive was formed from multiple deposits of records between 1947 and 2014.

Luckily for us, the men and women of the FAU had decided even before the war had ended to write a history of the Unit as a record of its achievements and its contribution to the Quaker ideal of pacifism in action. This published official history of the FAU written by A.Tegla Davies, Friends Ambulance Unit – the story of the FAU in the Second World War 1939-1946 (published in 1947) is very readable and includes much detail which is useful in helping me understand the FAU’s organisation and administration.

The next step was to read through all the series of minutes of the FAU’s governing body – its Council, Trustees and of its major Committees – Executive, Staff Meeting, Finance, Publicity and Advisory which contain a wealth of information on the evolution of the FAU’s administration and some snippets of information which were unknown, for example that the FAU attempted to find someone to act a records-keeper-cum archivist, but the Executive Committee sadly reported that ‘no suitable person could be discovered for the position of Archivist’ among its members. [FAU Executive Committee Minutes, 2 Oct 1945 Minute 3571].

All the information gathered from these initial tasks has been written up into a file of notes on the provenance, custodial history and administrative history which will lay the groundwork for the top-level catalogue entries when the cataloguing stage begins.

Having completed these initial tasks of taking intellectual control of the FAU archives, I feel confident that the next stage of careful arrangement of the collection can soon go ahead.

My first impressions of the collection, following the box listing and background reading, was of admiration for the courage and commitment of this group of men and women putting their pacifism into action, doing all they could to relieve the suffering of soldiers and refugees alike in the worst war zones imaginable.

I was struck by what a democratic body the FAU was and how its members constantly strove to organise themselves in the most simple and efficient way to undertake their tasks of medical, ambulance, transport, relief and rehabilitation work, often in the most primitive and physically challenging conditions at home in the Blitz of 1940-41 and then further afield in the war zones.

From an archivist’s perspective, it has been a pleasure to find the administrative history of the FAU so well-documented. I noted with interest how important the documentation and reporting of their work was to the FAU, in the constant and detailed correspondence, official and personal, between overseas Sections and Headquarters.

When the FAU focused on the winding-up of the war-time Unit, its Executive Committee considered what method should be adopted for sorting Unit records and preserving those of permanent value.

It was agreed ‘Basic’ files should be compiled by areas, containing records which should be preserved. The selection should be undertaken by a member with intimate knowledge of each area.  Other papers should be destroyed forthwith. An immediate start should be made with areas in which the Unit’s work has been closed and which has been covered by the Unit’s Historian. [FAU Executive Committee Minutes, 4 March 1946, p 142]

In the final days of the organisation, the following report appeared in the Unit’s last information bulletin:

At Gordon Square [FAU headquarters in London] there has been much desperate activity to ensure that we leave everything neat and tidy by 30th June, when the Last Trump is due to sound.  Operation Huddle involves the closing of the… Ladbroke Grove and Onslow Gardens… hostels, the cessation of the Chronicle, Information and Transport offices, and the amalgamation of Overseas and Personnel with Welfare. The fires have been constantly alight with discarded files – the scandal at Bab-el-louk [FAU HQ in Cairo], the small talk at Rome [HQ in Italy], memories of Whitechapel [London hospital and relief work in the Blitz] and Kutsing [China Convoy HQ] and Vlotho [HQ in Germany] – all have perished in the flames, all save a modest four crates containing basic records for posterity.  When the smoke cleared away, we could make out the infant phoenix of FAU Post-War Service, which will continue to occupy 4 Gordon Square. [Fortnightly Information No. 226, 26 June 1946, p. 3]

That need for rapid and ruthless clearing out of files explains some gaps in the records.

The project’s progress was interrupted in March, when Friends House and the Library had to close because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Working from home has presented new challenges. More research, planning and writing have to take the place of working with the physical records until we can get back to the Library. I’m looking forward to beginning the sorting and arrangement of the FAU archives and returning the files to their original order as far as is possible.

For more information on when the Library will reopen, check our website:


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Belsen remembered – working with the Holocaust Educational Trust

Friends Relief Service pamphlet c.1945

Friends Relief Service pamphlet c.1945

This year there are several anniversaries coming up, but some of the most poignant, and perhaps relevant in today’s world, are the 75th anniversaries of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. These anniversaries remind us of the world’s horror in 1945 when the full extent of the Nazis’ persecution of Jews and others was revealed, and help us reflect on what conditions in society had made these crimes possible.

Earlier this year we were pleased to contribute to an episode of BBC’s Songs of Praise, which commemorated the liberation of Auschwitz. The programme featured interviews with Ruth Barnett, who came to England on the Kindertransport, and Quaker Peace & Social Witness peace activist Marigold Bentley, filmed in the Library reading room.

Last year we started working with the Holocaust Educational Trust on a powerful project run jointly by the Trust and UCL’s Institute of Education, which is bringing around 1500 schoolchildren to the site of Bergen-Belsen this February and March. Belsen 75 ( has put together learning packs for the children to prepare them for this visit, featuring some material from The Star, the weekly magazine published by Friends Relief Service workers to update Quakers about their work.

A team from Friends Relief Service were among the first British relief workers to accompany the British Army into Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. When the FRS team arrived, six days after the Army had got to the camp, they were faced with unimaginable conditions. Thousands of dead remained unburied, and around 40,000 people still living in the camp were suffering extreme malnutrition making them vulnerable to infectious diseases. The conditions were such that the Army would not let the women workers enter the camp for some days.

For some of the team, the conditions they witnessed tested their pacifism, leading them to think at points that they should have supported the use of force to stop Hitler; for most of the team however these thoughts were short-lived and throughout their accounts, they speak of the need to temper reactions to these crimes so the whole German populace were not blamed.

The decision to go into the camp with the Army had taken some deliberation and negotiation, as the Army had issued a non-fraternisation order to all British relief workers in Germany, meaning they were not meant to speak or communicate with the German public. Quakers fought against this, and for a time simply ignored it until the Army relented. Their work was always carried out with a sense that they were trying to create conditions in which future wars would not happen, and they knew recrimination would not pave the way to peace.

The pamphlet below shows a relief workers’ dictionary translated into French and German.

We were very happy that the Belsen 75 project thought the Quaker involvement was an important part of the story for these young people when learning about the liberation of the camp. The spirit of reconciliation shown by the FRS team in the face of these terrible crimes is a message as important in today’s world as it was in 1945.

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Women’s History Month

Since March is Women’s History Month, we’re taking the opportunity to highlight some blogposts that have appeared here on Quaker Strongrooms over the years, in case you missed them. And over on Facebook we’ll be bringing you some glimpses of women’s history highlights from the Library collections during the coming weeks.

Last year we blogged about the position of women within the Society of Friends, the role of separate women’s meetings, and the struggle for women to have a voice in the Society: As 17th century Quakers had argued for women to be allowed to preach, and women Friends had a reputation for fearless ministry, this was a surprise even for some Quakers!

Womens Two Weeks Meeting Minute book 1779-1783

Womens Two Weeks Meeting. Minute book 1779-1783

In an earlier Women’s History Month blogpost we gave readers a whistle-stop tour of resources for women’s history in the Library: Whether it’s records of women’s Quaker meetings, pamphlets by seventeenth century women writers, unpublished manuscript diaries, letters and papers, or photographs, there’s a wealth of primary source material. In the blogpost we also listed a few helpful secondary sources for each century.

Quaker meeting attributed to Heemskerk F070

The Quaker Meeting, oil painting attributed to Egbert van Heemskerk, late 17th century (Pic F070)

Other blogposts have focused on some remarkable Quaker women.

Margaret Langdale (1684?-1742) was an early 18th century travelling minister. We pieced together evidence about her travels to Ireland, Holland and America and identified her as the author of a unique broadside in Dutch:

Broadside by Margaret Langdale, about 1717

Margaret Langdale, Aan de Inwoonderen van de Steden Leeuwaarden, Harlingen, en Workum in Friesland, en Medenblik in Noord-Holland. Published about 1717 (Vol. D/48)

Anne Knight (1786-1862) was a social reformer and feminist. A carte de visite photograph from 1855 among her papers (MS Box W2) inspired our special collections curator to blog about her:

Anne Knight, photograph by Victor Franck, c.1855 (MS BOX W2)

Catherine Impey of Street (1847-1923) campaigned against racial discrimination and published a pioneering magazine, Anti-Caste from 1888 to 1895:

Twentieth century women have been particularly well-represented on the blog, especially those who contributed in the field of humanitarian relief and peace, thanks to the focus on World War One and its aftermath in recent years. A single blogpost from 2016 describes the contribution of three of these women – Joan Mary Fry, Elizabeth Fox Howard and Francesca Wilson – and details what primary and secondary sources on them you can find here in the Library:

Joan Mary Fry

Joan Mary Fry (1862-1955) (Pic F91)

Two other twentieth century women whose personal papers – letters, diaries and notebooks – are held by the Library are Dorothy Henkel (1886-1983) and Hilda Clark (1881-1955). We have been very lucky to have these papers catalogued by two trainee archivists, who kindly wrote about their subjects for the blog here: and

We hope you enjoy the blogposts – feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. And look out for our Facebook page updates over the next few weeks.

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Theatre: some collection highlights

We hope you enjoyed our blog post back in October exploring some of the many works of fiction in our collections. Returning to the theme, we’d like to focus this time on drama. You might not necessarily think of theatre when you think of our collections at Friends House Library. Our collections do, however, include fascinating items that reflect the changing attitudes of the Society of Friends to the dramatic arts from the 17th century to the present.

During the early days of Quakerism theatres were closed, having been banned at the start of the civil war in 1642. Although some were reopened in 1660, many religious groups were still hostile to drama. It wasn’t just the content of the plays they objected to but the whole experience of going to a playhouse. Early Friends too criticised the nature of plays and playhouses. Influential members of the Society, including William Penn in No Cross, No Crown (1682) and Robert Barclay in his An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678), wrote against them.

As well as these texts, our collections include other examples of pamphlets and addresses written by Friends urging people not to frequent theatres.

An Appeal to Men and Women of Reason by Sophia Hume (1765)

An Appeal to Men and Women of Reason by Sophia Hume (1765)

An Address to the Citizens of Bristol (1739)

An Address to the Citizens of Bristol (1739)

John Field even wrote to Queen Anne herself on the subject in 1703:

Officially too, the Society of Friends warned against the dangers of play-going. As the earliest printed Book of Discipline from 1783 warned against the reading of novels, so it also urged Friends to “avoid sports, plays, and all such diversions, as tending to alienate the mind from God, and to deprive the soul of his comfortable presence and power”.

In 1788 a letter was issued by Meeting for Sufferings regarding a recent act that had been passed allowing justices to grant licenses for stage entertainments. Three weeks’ notice was required; this, the letter explained, “may give such friends as reside in the jurisdiction time to interfere”.

Turning to the dramas themselves, our collections generally fall into two categories: works written by Quakers and works that feature Quaker characters. Not surprisingly given Quaker feelings towards theatre at the time, our earliest material falls into the latter category and not all the depictions are entirely flattering. Ezra Kempton Maxfield, writing on Quaker appearances in English stage plays in the late 17th and 18th centuries, observed that “the attitude of playwrights toward Quakers varies all the way from the simply humorous to the downright malicious”.

According to Kempton Maxfield, the first reference to the Quakers in a play was in The Country Innocence, or the Chambermaid turned Quaker by John Leanerd, published in 1677.

In 1921, in an article about the Library, when it was still situated in Devonshire House, the Society of Friends’ former headquarters, Anna L. Littleboy noted of its contents:

The anti-Quaker literature is large in bulk and very curious and interesting. It is not all serious argument or even invective. Sometimes it takes the form of poetry…and there are quite a number of satirical plays, which would make an  interesting study, such as The Country Innocence (1677), The Fair Quaker of Deal (1710), The Quaker’s Opera (1728), and others, most of which are scrupulously catalogued as “Adverse”.

The Quaker's Opera by Thomas Walker (1728)

Misgivings about theatre continued well into the late 19th century, as demonstrated by a series of articles called ‘Quakerism and Recreation’ in the Friends Quarterly Examiner in 1882. But opinions were beginning to soften. Philip Thompson, author of the first of the articles, argued that, “there is assuredly nothing immoral, or opposed to religion, essential to drama in the abstract. And whatever room for improvement there may be, I venture to think that the stage as a whole does not deserve the stigma that has been fastened on it by a large proportion of religious people.”

We even see Friends venturing into writing plays. Arthur E. Tregelles (1835-1911), for example, produced several historical dramas published in the last decade of the 19th century.

Three historical plays by Arthur E Tregelles: The Commonwealth and King Charles II (1891), Queen Elizabeth (1890), King Charles I and King James I (1890)

These trends continued and developed in the twentieth century. As the reputation of the playhouses themselves improved, so Friends saw the medium as a way to explore their values. For example we have a number of plays exploring peace and pacifism:

A sure sign of an acceptance of drama was its use in Quaker schools as demonstrated by this script from Ackworth School in 1910, performed to celebrate the history of the school.

The 1925 edition of Christian Practice included a full page on Drama which explained:

The dramatic faculty, which is latent in every child and is strongly marked in gifted persons, is one which, with due discrimination and under appropriate conditions, may rightly be developed, and the dramatic art is one by which performers and spectators alike may gain a truer insight into human life, a deeper appreciation of its meaning, and wider sympathy with mankind. Friends have refrained in previous generations from supporting the theatre, and even from encouraging the amateur performance of plays, having been led to take this attitude because of the undesirable associations of the stage, the doubtful characters of many plays, and the dangers connected with the actors’ profession. The position has however been considerably altered by the endeavours of the profession itself, and many of its supporters, to make the drama a more healthy and valuable factor in social life. In some respects the old objections still hold good. Undesirable plays are numerous. Yet the drama is also being used for the representation of aspects of life, gay and serious, in such a way as to make it a healthful means both of entertainment and of education. Friends who go to see plays should feel it laid upon them to make a careful choice and to support the good.

Friends continued to feature as characters in plays as well and we have works by some well-known dramatists. Both of the examples below feature George Fox as a character.

This has necessarily been a very brief overview of the Library’s drama collections. If you’d like to carry on exploring you can use our online catalogue to search for plays and publications on the subject of theatre-going. Use the “Expert search” screen to search for publication type = plays, or subject = theatre, narrow your results to a particular period, or combine with other search terms. And for some handy hints on using the catalogue, check out our catalogue search tips here.

Further Reading

Philip Thompson, ‘Quakerism and Recreation I’. In Friends’ Quarterly Examiner, vol. 16, no. 61 (First Month 1882), pp. 130-138.

Anna L. Littleboy, ‘Devonshire House Reference Library’. In Journal of the Friends Historical Society, vol. 18 (3-4) (1921), pp. pp. 66-80. Available online:

Ezra Kempton Maxfield, ‘The Quakers in English Stage Plays before 1800’. In Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 45 (1) (March 1930), pp. 256-273.

Frederick J. Nicholson, Quakers and the Arts (London: Friends Home Service Committee, 1968).

Tamara Underiner, ‘Plain Speech Acts: Reading Quakerism with Theatre and Performance Studies’. In Religion, Theatre, and Performance: Acts of Faith, ed. Lance Gharavi (New York & Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).






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Dr John Fothergill

Reading about 18th century Quakers, there is one person you are almost certainly going to come across at some point – Dr John Fothergill. He was at the centre of Quaker activity throughout his life, involved with peace, prison reform and poor relief projects. He also made significant contributions in medicine and botany and his list of friends and acquaintances reads like a who’s who of the 18th century. The Library has a significant collection of his correspondence and other archival material about him, as well as copies of many of his published works.

Dr John Fothergill

Dr John Fothergill. Print published by Edward Hedges, 1781 (Library ref: MS Vol 337/67)

John Fothergill was born in Wensleydale in 1712 into a well-known Quaker family. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather had been imprisoned in York for refusal to pay tithes, and his father was a well-travelled “publick friend”. John himself remained a faithful member of the Society of Friends until his death in 1780, serving as clerk for London Yearly Meeting, paying for the publication of the Purver Bible (the “Quaker Bible”), and founding Ackworth Quaker school.

Ackworth School

Ackworth School (Library ref: Pic Vol II/185)

He had initially seemed destined to be an apothecary, apprenticed to the Quaker Benjamin Bartlett at Bradford. Bartlett quickly recognized his pupil’s ability, however, and suggested that he attended medical school instead. As a Quaker, Oxford and Cambridge were closed to him, so he attended Edinburgh University, graduating in 1736 and then moving to London to practice.

Studying at Edinburgh instead of the English universities initially put the young doctor at a professional disadvantage – he was ineligible for a fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians – but he went on to become one of the most successful and well-respected doctors of his day. His writings on angina, diphtheria, trigeminal neuralgia (also known as Fothergill’s Disease), and migraine were considered groundbreaking and he gave the first known lecture on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

His medical opinion was respected. He was considered for the role of Royal Physician, but his religious beliefs ruled him out. When Catherine the Great was looking for a British doctor to inoculate the Imperial court against smallpox, it was Fothergill that the Russian ambassador approached, and Fothergill who recommended his friend Thomas Dimsdale.

Quakers used their network of connections to gain his advice. In the letter below, Fothergill is replying to his friend Mark Beaufoy, who had forwarded him a letter from William Phillips of Redruth, Cornwall on behalf of one J. Higman. Unfortunately we don’t have the original letter describing the ailment, so we only have Fothergill’s suggested prescription – tar water, dandelion sap and sea-bathing.

Letter from Dr Fothergill to Mark Beaufoy suggesting treatment for J. Higman's complaint

Letter from Dr Fothergill to Mark Beaufoy suggesting treatment for J. Higman’s complaint, 1772 (Library ref. MS Vol 337/67)

Like many other 18th century men and women of science, including Quakers, Fothergill was interested in the study of natural history. He collected insects and shells (his collections now form part of the Hunterian Museum), botanical art (his collection was bought by Catherine the Great and is now in Russia), and plants (his herbarium is now in the Natural History Museum). He bought Upton Hall estate in Essex and created an extensive botanical garden, with over 6000 species of plants and a 260ft greenhouse. This garden became what is today West Ham Park.

Plate from The Works of John Fothergill (1784)

Plate from The Works of John Fothergill (1784)

His interest in botany led to him being part of a large scientific network that included Sir Joseph Banks, William Hunter and the American founding father Benjamin Franklin. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and sponsored other Quakers in their botanical endeavours. The Library holds several pieces that illustrate this, including a bill from William Bartram for plant collecting on Fothergill’s behalf,

Receipt for plant collecting payment signed by William Bartram

Receipt signed by William Bartram, American plant collector, 1773 (Library ref: MS Vol 337/19)

and the only extant letter by the young Quaker botanical illustrator, Sidney Parkinson, written while accompanying Captain Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific.

Letter to Dr Fothergill from Sydney Parkinson Portfolio 20.46

Letter to Dr Fothergill from Sydney Parkinson, 1770 (Library ref: Port. 20/46)

Fothergill had sponsored Parkinson, and went to great trouble to assist in the publication of his drawings after his death.

The primary strength of the Library’s Fothergill collections are letters between John Fothergill and his family, most of whom were also Quakers. It is through these letters that we can see the influence of his sister Ann Fothergill on his life. John never married, and Ann moved in with him to look after his three houses. Several of the letters are to or from both John and Ann, and there are also a number of letters by Ann about her brother, particularly following his death, when she was managing the dispersal of his estate.

The Library also holds published works, correspondence, diaries and commonplace books of other members of the Fothergill family, most famously the diary of John’s niece Betty who described her uncle as someone “who delights in making young people chearfull”.

As well as achieving professional success, Dr John Fothergill was “beloved & respected” by those around him. His life was one of energetic engagement in wide scientific and philanthropic affairs of the time, reaching far beyond the confines of his own religious society.


Further Reading

Chain of friendship: selected letters of Dr John Fothergill of London, 1735-1780, ed. Betsy C. Corner and Christopher C Booth (Oxford University Press, 1971) [includes a number of Fothergill’s letters from the Library’s collection]

Hingston Fox, Dr John Fothergill and friends: chapters in eighteenth century life (London: Macmillan, 1919)

Betty Fothergill’s journal, 1769-1770, ed. Elizabeth Francis Diggs (Ph.D. thesis – Columbia University, 1980)

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Quaker fiction: some collection highlights

Following the popular recent blogposts on fictional Quaker characters over on the Quakers in Britain blog  we thought we’d highlight some of the wide range of fiction written both by and about Quakers that you can find in the Library here at Friends House.

The Library collects two categories of fiction: books featuring Quaker characters, and books written by Quakers. The publications cover a wide period – from Regency era anti-slavery stories to 21st century young adult fiction by authors like Sally Nichols – in a range of genres and forms. The collection is a valuable resource for exploring both how Quakers have been represented and how they have represented themselves and their views.

The Negro slave: a tale (1830), title page

The Negro slave: a tale (1830)

The oldest fictional work in the collection is Bentivolio and Urania, by Nathanael Ingelo (1673), a book of religious instruction delivered as fiction. [Picture] This contains a reference to well-known Quaker James Nayler, making him one of the earliest Quaker characters to appear in a work of fiction. Most of the collection, however, dates from the beginning of the 19th century onwards.

Nathaniel Ingelo, Bentivolio and Urania, in six books (1673), title page

Nathaniel Ingelo, Bentivolio and Urania, in six books (1673)

Until late in the 19th century the Society of Friends, in common with many other religious groups, officially disapproved of most forms of fiction. Friends believed that reading stories, novels, and plays could have a damaging influence, giving false ideas about life and inspiring artificial emotions, contrary to truth.

The earliest printed version of the Book of Discipline (1783) offers the following advice, under the chapter heading “Books”:

This meeting being sorrowfully affected, under a consideration of the hurtful tendency of reading plays, romances, novels, and other pernicious books, it is earnestly recommended to every member of our society, to discourage and suppress the same.

Amelia Opie, a very popular writer at the beginning of the 19th century, felt compelled to give up the novel form when she became a convinced Quaker in 1825. She did, however, continue to publish poetry and short moral tales, which were more acceptable.

Amelia Opie, Tales of the Pemberton family. 2nd ed (1826)

Amelia Opie, Tales of the Pemberton family. 2nd ed (1826)

Following the example of Jesus and the parables, fiction with an avowedly moral or educational purpose was the only sort that was considered appropriate reading, and it is this type of book that forms the bulk of the Library’s fiction collection. The majority of these books were aimed at a young audience.

Unsurprisingly religion and moral conduct were popular themes, including re-tellings of biblical stories [Picture Happy Sunday Hours by Robert Bird] and fictionalised biographies of well-known Quakers

Plate from: L. V. Hodgkin, A Book of Quaker saints (1917)

Plate from: L. V. Hodgkin, A Book of Quaker saints (1917)

Some publications illustrated temperance and pacifist principles through fiction, including The Olive Leaf magazine, published by Anna and Henry Richardson which contains poetry and stories for children.

A page from The Olive Leaf, vol. 1 (1844)

A page from The Olive Leaf, vol. 1 (1844)

Another popular topic was the natural world. Black Beauty, one of the best-selling books of all time, was written by Anna Sewell (who was born a Quaker and buried in Lamas Quaker burial ground near Buxton, Norfolk, though she had resigned her membership), explicitly to educate the reader on the welfare of horses. This was followed by similar works by other Quaker authors such as Vic, the autobiography of a Pomeranian dog by Alfred Cooper Fryer  and Only a Cat! a story-pamphlet by Catharine Sturge.

Alfred Cooper Fryer, Vic: the autobiography of a Pomeranian dog (1880), front cover

Alfred Cooper Fryer, Vic: the autobiography of a Pomeranian dog (1880)

Catherine Sturge, Only a cat. 2nd ed. (1890s)

Catherine Sturge, Only a cat. 2nd ed. (1890s)

There were also more lighthearted animal stories that taught some basic zoology, such as Stories of Animals, intended for children between five and seven years old by Maria Hack (1820), a small book of beautifully illustrated short stories that tell the reader something about the animals in an amusing way, somewhat like Kipling’s Just So Stories.

Some of the earliest novels for adults in the Library collection were written by authors who grew up as Quakers but left the Society as adults to pursue other religious beliefs, and then began novel-writing. Sarah Stickney Ellis, educationalist and advocator of the idea that a woman’s primary duty was as mother and home-maker, wrote novels such as Family Secrets, or hints to those who would make home happy (1841).

Like Sarah Stickney, William Howitt was educated at Ackworth Quaker school. He married another Quaker, Mary Botham, and together they pursued a career as writers, publishing prolifically. The Howitts also published their poetry in a literary annual called The Gem, which features poems such as this one by Boodles founder James Kenney.

The gem: a literary annual (1830)

The gem: a literary annual (1830)

Quaker attitudes to literature have long since changed, and the arts are embraced as another source of light and inspiration ( Since the 20th century Friends have been writing in a variety of forms and genres: examples held by the Library include horror, science fiction and historical romance.

Janet Whitney, Intrigue in Baltimore (1951)

Janet Whitney, Intrigue in Baltimore (1951)

Margaret Thomson Davis, Scorpion in the fire (1977)

Margaret Thomson Davis, Scorpion in the fire (1977)

Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (1988)

Olaf Stapledon, Star maker (1988)

William Fryer Harvey, The Beast with five fingers (1928)

William Fryer Harvey, The Beast with five fingers (1928). Copy with author’s MS dedication

Two of the most interesting authors in our collection had served in the Friends Ambulance Unit. William Fryer Harvey, author of well-regarded ghost stories, and Olaf Stapledon, philosopher and science fiction writer. Harvey’s most famous work, The Beast with the Five Fingers, was made into a film starring Peter Lorre. Stapledon invented the concept of the Dyson sphere, an idea that has inspired many other science fiction writers.

This blogpost has only scratched the surface of the Library’s fiction collection. Try searching the online catalogue ( if you want to find out what books the Library holds by a particular author, or browse novels in general, or see a full list of books with Quaker characters in particular. (Hint: if these links don’t work in your browser, copy and paste them into the address bar)

We’re planning a companion blogpost on Quakers in drama later this autumn: watch this space!


Further reading

Anna Breiner Caulfield, Quakers in Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography (Northampton: Pittenbruach Press, 1993).

Nancy Jiwon Cho, “Literature”, in The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism, ed. Stephen Angell and Pink Dandelion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) pp. 69-87.

James W. Hood, “’Novel Reading and Insanity’: Nineteenth-Century Quaker Fiction Reading Practices”, in Quaker Studies 23(1) pp. 3-24. Available online here:

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Creating A World Without War: new project to open up World War Two research materials

LSF FRS stationery Help War Victims

Friends Relief Service letterhead

In the week that many have been commemorating the start of World War II 80 years ago, we have some news to share about an exciting new project to open access to some of our key collections from that period.

The Wellcome Trust have given us funding for a new project: Creating a world without war: pacifist approaches to humanitarian relief in World War II and after. The project aims to catalogue, preserve, and promote the papers of the Friends Ambulance Unit (1939-1946) and the Friends Relief Service (1943-1948). The project will involve recruiting a dedicated Project Archivist who will not only do the hard work of cataloguing and repacking the collections so that they are accessible to researchers, but will also be able to devote time to promoting the collections widely and creating related resources such as subject guides, exhibition materials, and more.

Working with the Wellcome Trust involves a focus on promotion of these collections to the academic community, and particularly to academics researching health and the history of medicine. This work has already started, with a successful working group on emotional responses of relief workers, led by Dr Suzan Meryem Kalayci, held at Oxford University in March. Several of the academics present offered their support for this project: some who had worked with these collections in some way before, and some who were excited to hear about them for the first time. Dr Toby Kelly (University of Edinburgh), who worked with us on the Conscience Matters exhibition at National Museums Scotland, wrote the following about these two archive collections:

 The archives are an invaluable source for all people interested in the history of medical humanitarianism. They are globally significant…I can think of few sources, anywhere in the world, that provide such a nuanced, complex and personal record of what it is like to work in the medical humanitarian field in periods of war and conflict.

We were incredibly grateful for, and definitely buoyed up by, the strength of support we received from researchers, and from groups such as Quaker Memorial Service Trust. We hope that by opening up access to these collections and promoting them widely, exciting new possibilities for research will emerge.

FRS Team 2

A Friends Relief Service team set sail for Europe


Friends Relief Workers pinning on badges at Friends House

The ‘Quaker Grey’ uniform set Quaker relief workers apart from other relief agencies who agreed to wear khaki uniforms. This was one distinctive feature Quakers insisted upon in line with their testimony to Peace.

We will also be looking to engage Quaker communities, Britain Yearly Meeting staff and other public user groups to use the collections in creative and innovative ways.

We learned a lot during the World War I centenary about the wide variety of people who are interested in pacifist responses to war, medical work in conflict zones, historical treatment of refugees, and the many other topics that relief records can illustrate. We want to build on the success of our World War I digitisation project, which made the Friends Ambulance Unit World War I personnel cards freely available online, and part of this project will involve identifying new avenues for digitisation.


Many associate the Friends Ambulance Unit with overseas work in conflict zones, and tales of derring-do in far flung places such as China and the Middle East, however many FAU members carried out more prosaic, but no less needed work in Britain. This was quite wide ranging, from hospital work, setting up rest centres for evacuees and those who lost their homes through bombing, to manning Citizens Advice Bureaus to help people with wartime regulations, and gaining access to provisions.

We hope to start recruitment for the Project Archivist soon, and we will no doubt be introducing them on the blog shortly after – watch this space!

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Respected Friend? Women and equality in the Society of Friends

Quaker women in history have a reputation for being bolder and more publicly visible than their contemporaries, being involved with preaching and publishing from the very beginning of the movement. Until the end of the 19th century, however, the members of the main Quaker decision-making groups were men. Female Friends were considered spiritually equal, but there was vocal opposition to giving them any earthly authority. The current display in the library gives a timeline of key events in Quaker women’s history, beginning with the meeting of George Fox and Elizabeth Hooten – considered by some to be the “first definite event in Quaker history” – and ending with the merging of men and women’s Yearly Meetings in 1908.

Library display: timeline of key events in Quaker women’s history

The view that women could speak on religious matters, travel to preach and publish their thoughts was revolutionary in the 17th century when, in some circles, it was taught that women had no souls. It became a defining characteristic of the Society of Friends and intensified their persecution as permitting women to behave in this unconventional way was a very visible difference. Richard Farnworth (1625-1666) published the first written defence of women’s preaching by a Quaker in 1654. This established, using scriptural evidence, the spiritual equality of women. Farnworth’s pamphlet was followed by others, most famously Margaret Fell’s “Women speaking justified, proved and allowed of by the Scriptures” in 1666.

That same year George Fox set out his administrative system for the Society of Friends. Local worshipping groups would send representatives to a Monthly Meeting to handle matters of finance, discipline and membership. Monthly Meetings would send representatives to a Quarterly Meeting, who would in turn send them to London Yearly Meeting, ensuring the Society as a whole was going in the same direction. Women were not usually included in these Meetings, leading to a separate system of Women’s Meetings being developed.

It is generally thought that George Fox had the idea for Women’s Meetings – he certainly promoted them – but evidence suggests that Margaret Fell was central to their establishment. Women’s Meetings were administrative meetings that paralleled, and were subordinate to, the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings. They enabled women to participate in practical decision making without being talked over by men. They had responsibility for areas traditionally associated with women: charity work in their local area, the moral behaviour of other women and marriages.

The first all-female Meeting had actually begun a decade prior to this, and formed a pattern for the work done by other Women’s Meetings. London’s Box Meeting had responsibility for helping the poor and needy in the city and its suburbs. It was the only Women’s Meeting not to be accountable to male Friends. Its name comes from the collection box used to gather funds to support the work.

Women's signatures from Box Meeting records

Box Meeting MSS 13 (3)

A group of Quakers led by Thomas Wilkinson and Thomas Story were against George Fox’s administrative system in general, and targeted Women’s Meetings as a focus for their attacks. They considered them to be unscriptural and unnecessary, objected to the women having authority over marriages and suggested that women Friends should leave the work to the men and go home and wash dishes, echoing criticisms of Quaker women from outside the Society.

James Lancaster berated the dissenters “You that stumble at Women’s Meetings and think yourselves sufficient as being men: what was and is it that makes thee sufficient? Is it not the Grace of God, and hath that not appeared to all men and to all women?”

The Wilkinson-Story faction was unsuccessful in putting a stop to women’s meetings, but women’s role in church government continued to be strictly limited, thanks to a combination of contemporary attitudes and fear of criticism from the Quakers’ opponents.

In 1700, although Women’s Monthly and Quarterly Meetings had been established for some time, there was no official Women’s Yearly Meeting. Female Friends had been regularly gathering and writing epistles during London Yearly Meeting, but this year they were told to stop, as they had not been given permission to meet. It was suggested that women who had concerns should take them to a public meeting, although they should be careful not to speak too much or take up time that male Friends could be using to speak.

The women continued to meet in an unofficial capacity and began to work on establishing an official Women’s Yearly Meeting. Much of this work was prompted by American Friends who had Women’s Yearly Meetings already. A proposal was submitted to London Yearly Meeting in 1753, and was rejected, although epistles were sent to all constituent Meetings suggesting they set up Women’s Meetings if they didn’t already have them.

In 1765 the unofficial Women’s Yearly Meeting decided to try a different tactic; they proposed that Quarterly Meetings should report to the official Yearly Meeting on the activities of their Women’s Meetings. This issue was considered “too weighty” to be decided that year, and when it was raised again in 1766 the request was turned down. It was suggested that the informal Women’s Yearly Meeting didn’t have sufficient women Friends of “suitable ability” to carry out the work.

Silhouette of Esther Tuke (1727-1794)

Esther Tuke (1727-1794)

Women were finally given permission to hold their own Yearly Meeting in 1784, when a group of nine women, led by Esther Tuke took another proposal to London Yearly Meeting. It was, however, stressed that “such a Meeting is not to be so far considered a Meeting of Discipline as to make rules”.

This quote highlights two of the issues that Women’s Meetings faced. Firstly, that many male Friends were reluctant to cede any authority to a woman. Anna Price went with Martha Routh to inform London Yearly Meeting of the Women’s Meeting’s deliberations in 1793, and recorded the following:

“a certain young man who was fearful we should be too much set up, and convey too much encouragement to Women’s Meetings. He spoke to M[artha] R[outh] who was a match for him. I said nothing, but was painfully sensible that the life which was in Christ and may also be in us, was not so in dominion in the Men’s Meeting as I thought we had witnessed it. Deep inward wailing and conflict of spirit was much maintained by many through our various meetings, but painful is the jealousy of Men Friends.”

The second issue was that Women’s Meetings actually ended up doing very little. Men’s Meetings continued to make all the decisions, including in areas for which the Women’s Meetings allegedly had responsibility. Many Quaker women viewed the work of Women’s Meetings as “make-work” and chose to invest their time in anti-slavery, temperance or other humanitarian causes instead.

Women’s Yearly Meeting, in Illustrated London News (June 1843)

In 1873 there was a conference held to discuss the state of the Society of Friends. Women were not permitted to attend, a situation which stirred up many heated letters in The Friend, discussing women’s ineligibility for service on Meeting for Sufferings (the Quaker executive body), the fettered nature of Women’s Meetings and correlating the topic with the wider issue of women’s suffrage.

“It is quite evident that a meeting convened from all parts of the country to discuss the “state of the Society”, in which women are unrepresented, lacks an essential element for its completeness; and I have little doubt that in a few years we shall regard their exclusion from a mere deliberative meeting of this kind is but a relic of that barbarous tone of thought with respect to differences between the sexes, made by man and not by God, of which so much still remains in the public opinion and in the legislation of this country”, Alfred W. Bennett, Grasmere, Eighth Month 17th. Published in The Friend September 1873.

Despite this, and two minutes from Bristol and Somerset Quarterly Meeting in 1884 and 1895, it wasn’t until 1896 that London Yearly Meeting officially recognised women as equal to men and declared them to be eligible to serve on Meeting for Sufferings.

Note recording the presence of women at Meeting for Sufferings 1898

Marginal note in the minutes of Meeting for Sufferings, June 1898

50 of the 87 new members of Meeting for Sufferings in 1898 were women. One of these women, Anna Littleboy, is quoted as saying “while kindly and courteously received, it was evident that the presence of women was not exactly welcomed by most of the older members, and the clerk impressed upon them that the meeting was for the conduct of business and not for speeches”.

Further Reading (all available in the Library)

Bacon, Margaret Hope. “The Establishment of London Women’s Yearly Meeting: A Transatlantic Concern”. In Journal of the Friends Historical Society, vol. 57(2) (1995). Available online:

Britain Yearly Meeting. Quaker Faith and Practice. London: The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 2013. Available online here:

Fox, George. This is an encouragement to all the Womens-Meetings in the world…. London, [1676].

Kunze, Bonnelyn. Margaret Fell and the Rise of Quakerism. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1994.

Martin, Clare J. L. “Tradition Versus Innovation: The Hat, Wilkinson-Story and Keithian Controversies”. In Quaker Studies, vol. 8(1) (2003). Available online:

Peters, Kate. Print Culture and the Early Quakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Pullin, Naomi. Female Friends and the Making of Transatlantic Quakerism, 1650-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Rowntree, Henry J. “George Fox and Women’s Liberation”. In Friends’ Quarterly, vol. 18(8) (1974) pp.370-376.

Shaw, Gareth. “The Inferior Parts of the Body”. In Quaker Studies, vol. 9(2) (2005). Available online:

Trevett, Christine. Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century. York: Ebor Press, 1991.


Timeline pack

During Yearly Meeting many Friends requested copies of our timeline display to use in their Meetings. We now have available a pdf pack which includes the display text, some related images and discussion questions. If you would like your free copy of this pack please email us – – and we will send it to you.

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Yearly Meeting 2019

Here in the Library, we are all recovering from a busy and productive Yearly Meeting in Friends House held over the bank holiday weekend. Yearly Meeting is the annual gathering for Quakers from around the country to come together to discern the direction of travel for the Society of Friends, and take decisions that affect the Society at a national level.

When it is held in Friends House, we use it as an opportunity to invite Friends into the Library, who may not usually get a chance to visit us, and to highlight some of the support services we can offer Quakers, from help with their libraries and meeting records, to support for outreach and exhibitions.

Friends House Library Poster

We also open our doors as a quiet space to escape the hustle and bustle in the rest of the building, and this year, had a table of reading materials from our collections, and from the Library in Woodbrooke, based around the theme of the weekend for anyone who wanted some inspiration.

Yearly Meeting this year was exploring the theme of privilege and how this impacts climate justice, diversity and inclusion. This made for an interesting reading table with books ranging from ‘This changes everything: capitalism versus the climate’ by Naomi Klein to a zine on welcoming people who identify as non-binary.

We also had a thought provoking display inspired by the theme, which traced the acceptance of women into Quaker meetings for business. While Quakers have a good reputation for women’s rights and equality, our display highlighted some surprising dates on its timeline. George Fox was radical in encouraging women to have their own business meetings, and women were allowed to preach in Quaker meetings from the 17th century, which again was revolutionary for the time; however women only joined the main constitutional Yearly Meeting in 1908, showing that Quakers were not that far ahead of the rest of society in valuing women’s voices as equal to men when it came to actual decision making.


Many Friends who visited were surprised by the timeline and it certainly started some interesting conversations!

The highlight of our weekend was undoubtedly welcoming the children from the Children’s Programme into the Library for the first time. We had two groups, 5-8 year olds, and 8-11 year olds, and as always when we welcome children to the Library we enjoyed their surprising questions, and the random things that take their interest! Book sniffing was en vogue with the 8-11 year olds; and the Great Books of Suffering provoked an interesting conversation about why Quakerism fell foul of the law in the 17th century with the 5-8 year olds.

They took inspiration from some of the posters in our collection, related to the theme of the weekend, and came up with some of their own posters featuring recurring symbols of doves, trees, rainbows and globes.

The children’s programme was focusing on caring in response to the theme of the Yearly Meeting; we created a small display about caring for refugees for them, which gave us an excuse to get out a teddy bear! Jack Hoyland distributed the pattern for these teddy bears in the 1930’s so people could make their own for the child refugees from the Spanish Civil War. Although the children enjoyed this 80-year-old bear, there were some unhappy customers as we hadn’t got out our 100 year old bread roll for the display… time!

Teddy full display

Yearly Meeting is always a nice opportunity to meet some of the donors of material that we have only conversed with over the phone or by email, and also to see some of our regular readers and writers. Judith Roads popped in to give us some copies of her new book on Quaker minuting, and some other visitors told us about forthcoming books we should keep an eye out for.


Judith Roads new book

We hope everyone enjoyed the weekend as much as we did!

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Conscience Matters: new exhibition in Edinburgh

Last month an exciting new exhibition telling the story of World War II conscientious objectors opened at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle. Conscience Matters is the result of a partnership between National Museums Scotland, and a University of Edinburgh project led by Dr. Toby Kelly, and features material from our collections.

LSF CBCO 2_25 Registering as CO

CBCO pamphlet (Library ref: 051.54 [CBCO 2/25])

Discussion and planning for the exhibition started in 2016, so it is satisfying for us to see the project finally complete and open to the public.

The exhibition uses some material from our Friends Ambulance Unit and Central Board of Conscientious Objectors pamphlet collections, displaying some FAU badges, medals and medical supplies, and focuses on one FAU member in particular, Peter Tennant.

Peter Tennant was with the China Convoy section of the Friends Ambulance Unit during World War II. From a prominent Scottish family, before the war he had been working in London housing associations. While working with the FAU he was part of the group who became trapped by the advancing Japanese army in Burma, and were forced to walk a treacherous escape route to India with the American General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell. His photo albums from his time in China show both a fascination with the street life and landscapes of China, as well as documenting the people they treated and their illnesses (sometimes with graphic detail!).


Page from one of Peter Tennant’s photo albums (Library ref: MSS 1013/2/0041)


Page from one of Peter Tennant’s photo albums (Library ref: MSS 1013/1/0053)

Peter Tennant went on to a varied life after the war, working again in housing, then in farming and forestry. Towards the end of his life, he became involved with peace work in Northern Ireland.

Tennant was chosen as the museum wanted to focus on Scottish stories; after consultation with his family, we arranged for his FAU photo albums to be digitised, so that some of the images could form part of the display. The exhibition also looks at other Scottish COs including Scottish author, Fred Urquhart, and poet, Edwin Morgan.

Peter Tennant display in situ.jpg

Tennant material on display in the exhibition

A Scottish Friend went along to the opening night and had the following to say:

The exhibition is in a relatively small space but it is expertly produced to give maximum information, without clutter. It gives an overview of conscientious objection in World War II, with further details presented through  individual stories, including that of Scottish Friend Peter Tennant, who joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. Interactive technology allows access to documents, letters, photographs, poems and artwork which enrich the experience and throughout the exhibition there are several references to Quaker work and there are Quaker memorabilia on display. The exhibition is well publicised and I think it will succeed in opening up public awareness and understanding of part of our history which is often overlooked. It is well worth a visit and the views from Edinburgh Castle ramparts are spectacular!

We have been increasingly engaging with opportunities to loan material from our collections to other institutions for exhibition. As we do not have a dedicated gallery or museum space at Friends House, it is a great way of ensuring material, especially our artworks and objects, can be displayed and viewed. It is also a wonderful chance for people in other parts of the UK to see our material – so far, Edinburgh is the furthest journey our items have made!

We believe these projects are a vital tool for public engagement.  While they take a lot of time and energy to plan and implement, we can enjoy the knowledge that large numbers of people are seeing items from our collection, in a way that would not be possible at Friends House. The visitor numbers for Edinburgh Castle last year were over 2 million! If even a small proportion of those visitors view the exhibition, we have reached many people, from all over the world, with stories of Quaker war resistance.

The exhibition runs until January 2020. We hope it will raise awareness of the peace work of Friends, and of the collections available for research here in the Library. For more information, see the NMS website here:

Quaker relief badge

Quaker relief badge, circa World War II

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