Creating a world without war: project completed

We are delighted to announce that we have completed the core work of the Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue and preserve the records of the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) and Friends Relief Service (FRS) from World War Two. 

Both collections have been repacked in conservation grade materials, and fully catalogued on our online public access catalogue to make them accessible for research. 

We are very grateful to the Wellcome Trust for funding this work, and their support during the pandemic, and also to our heroic project archivist Jill Geber who managed to maintain a positive attitude throughout, when the pandemic made this project seem at times impossible. 

One of the most important, and satisfying elements of this project was the conservation work. Parts of these collections were completely unfit for use due to their fragility, and most of the collection was in danger of becoming unusable due to the damage being wrought by rusting metal fastenings. Paper was crumbling in some parts, and due to overfilled files and boxes, a lot of the material was under strain.  

Despite the huge setback of not being able to work with the collections for much of 2020, Jill managed to repack the collections, cleaning paper, removing damaging fastenings, transferring into archival quality files, protecting individual documents with melinex sleeves where required, and packing all into acid-free boxes within the project timeframe. One mind-boggling figure which demonstrates the size of the job is the number of brass staples used across the collections: over 9,000! The photos below show the difference which has been made; ensuring these collections suffer no further deterioration.

An example of a file before conservation work. Note dirt at edges of paper, rusting metal fastening causing damage to paper, dirt on file cover making it difficult to handle.
A file after conservation work. The paper has been cleaned with a smoke sponge, delicate pages placed within plastic sleeves, all fastenings removed and papers enclosed in an archive quality folder.

The cataloguing work was the other major task, made no less difficult by the complexity of Quaker organisations; FRS had no less than 12 main committees, some with sub (and sub-sub-) committees, and attached departments for each committee, plus extra departments not governed by committees (phew!). They needed organizational charts to keep track at the time, and Jill created a few herself trying the understand how both organisations functioned. 

One of the attempts at an organisational chart for FAU to help arrange the catalogue series

Both collections are now available on the online catalogues under the below links. Under these top levels records, you will see the hierarchy browser where you can expand to see the whole collections. 

Friends Ambulance Unit World War Two catalogue

Friends Relief Service World War Two catalogue

These collections provide a huge amount for researchers. From detailed insights into day-to-day life in evacuation hostels for children and the elderly in Britain, to high level discussions about how this work influenced development of social services theory for postwar planning; from accounts of incredibly varied medical work in the field in China and North Africa, to eyewitness testimony to the destruction left behind in mainland Europe, and the tangled chaos of the postwar political scene, there is huge scope for new research as well as much for the family historian and those with general interest in humanitarianism and World War Two.

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Restore and renew: the Library refurbishment project

Library moodboard

We took the decision in 2020 to try to use the closure of the Library of the Society of Friends due to the pandemic as a positive opportunity, and use the time to carry out some long overdue refurbishment work on our reading room. While there was some necessary maintenance work such as painting and upgrading window blinds, we also thought about how to futureproof use of the room and expand the potential for holding events, creating an ambitious programme of work. We want to share the story so far.

The last major refurbishment of the Library was in 1993. At that time the room had been subdivided to allow staff working space as well as reader space and the decision was taken to strip this out and return the room to sole use for readers; this was also aimed at returning the room to look more like its original design when Friends House opened in 1926.

We have given similar thought to this major refurbishment, knowing it may be another 20-30 years before another opportunity arises to refurbish and change fixtures and fittings.

Inspired by the fabulous photograph of the Library as it was when Friends House first opened in the 1920s, we decided to lift some carpet tiles and see if the original wooden floor beneath was intact… was, albeit with some sections removed for electrical wiring. We took the decision to restore the wooden floor which will be the centerpiece of the refurbishment programme.

Photo of the Library from the 1920s

We considered how the space in the room is being used currently and what improvements might be made, taking into account ideas for outreach, events we have held in the past, and other colleagues in Britain Yearly Meeting who use events spaces. While protecting a research space is paramount for our service, we also want the Library to be a space that works for other stakeholders, including Quakers during Yearly Meeting and on visits to Friends House.

With that in mind we are removing some of the larger fixed pieces of furniture to create a more flexible space for events. We look forward to Quakers and colleagues sharing creative ideas about events and activities the room could be used for.

Continuing the theme of creating a more welcoming space for all, we are replacing the enquiry desk with something less imposing and accessible for all users, and hopefully installing glass paneled doors so people can see what’s on offer from outside the Library.

Achieving this programme of work in a listed building, while at the same time protecting our collections from the inevitable dust, debris and paint, is a huge task, not made any easier by our current reduced access to Friends House and Covid-safe working practices. We have removed many of the more vulnerable and valuable collections from the room for their protection including a nervous day with art handlers removing sculpture from the high alcoves in the room!

Removal of statue from high alcove

As always with building works, unforeseen setbacks have occurred including the need to update wiring in the room, as well as the supply issues which we have all heard about in the news. We are learning a lot about the challenges our Facilities team face in their work, increasing our admiration for their positive, can-do attitude!

We also have a huge game of Tetris to fit collections back into the room and our basement storage with reduced shelf space which will keep us occupied for the next few months.

We are grateful for the patience of our readers during this time, and currently hope to be able to welcome readers back to the new and improved space in early 2022. Keep an eye on the Visit the Library page on our website for further updates closer to the time.

We are now going onsite more frequently and have some access to collections, so invite researchers to get in touch and see what we can do to support their research.

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Building back better after times of crisis

Normally around this time of year we would be on a stall at the annual History Day run by the Institute of Historical Research at UCL, which gives researchers a chance to meet staff from libraries, archives, museums, and publishers, and gives us all a chance to eat free sweets and collect postcards, bookmarks and other freebies from the different stalls!

This year the event has moved online and there is a programme of online talks which you can check out here: History Day has teamed up with this year’s Being Human festival; Britain’s festival of the humanities which happens every autumn. The theme of this year’s Being Human festival is New Worlds which feels timely given the current global situation. This blog is our contribution to that theme.

Quakers, among others, are talking about the current coronavirus situation and the opportunity it gives us to Build Back Better. This made us think about times in the past when Quakers have similarly sought to turn a crisis into a moment of reflection and opportunity to create a New World on peaceful and more equitable grounds.

Both World Wars in the 20th century were experienced as unprecedented upheavals for society at the time with total breakdown of normal life for many directly involved. Quakers during both wars saw the opportunity provided to rebuild society in a positive way, and we are going to focus on some ideas that feel equally relevant to conversations around building back better today.

World War I was characterised by some Quakers as a failure of the capitalist system, and of empire.  A number of Quakers were self-described socialists while others would have shied away from this label, but they all saw the system in place in Britain at the outbreak of WWI as containing untenable inequalities of wealth and power.

Quakers established a committee, in 1915, to look at these inequalities called the War and Social Order Committee which produced a manifesto: Foundations of a True Social Order in 1918. You can read their manifesto here:

War and Social Order conference report, 1921 Library reference: Box 245/12

Their feelings about the system which had created the climate for global war are summed up in the following quote from Friends Social Union to the Quaker Yearly Meeting in 1915. Reading this quote, it struck us how one could change the word ‘war’ for ‘pandemic’ and apply this to today’s situation.

“The War has brought home to us a grave sense of our personal and corporate responsibility for the social welfare of our country. It is humiliating to find ourselves able to do so little to alleviate the social evils which the war has revealed….Some have become entangled in habits which they find it impossible to simplify without serious injury to the classes whose services they have accepted easily and thoughtlessly…..Others, again, have discovered in their own lives and conduct the same spirit of competitive self-seeking, which in larger spheres and on a wider scale leads to the disastrous cycle of war and war preparation…..As employers, consumers, and investors we are all of us bound up in a network of relations between trade, commerce, finance and national diplomacy, from which we cannot as individuals, break free.” Report of the Friends Social Union to Yearly Meeting 1915

The last sentence applies as much to the newly industrialised world, dependant on problematic empires, of 1915, as it does to today’s globalised consumer-based world dependant on underpaid labour and modern day slavery.

Quakers had some practical suggestions which still resonate today. One was the idea of a ‘state bonus’ which was similar to the idea of a Universal Basic Income being trialled in countries around the world today. This proposal was developed by Quaker couple Denis and Mable Milner who were among the first theorists in Britain to argue for the concept in their publication Scheme for a state bonus: a rational method for solving the social problem(1918).

There were similar ideas around living wage, and workers’ co-operatives so workers could have a real share in the dividends they helped create. Quakers wanted a system that “knows no restriction of race, sex or social class” with materials and land regulated so as to serve the greatest need.

Again although this sounds radical, most of the Quaker activities after the war were more reformist than radical in character and always eminently practical. Quakers were leaders in the Adult School movement which wanted to lift people out of poverty through education, and started a government backed allotments programme which focussed on the alleviation of poverty in industrialised areas. Quaker employers were known for trying to create fairer conditions for their employees although there were not many examples of workers’ co-operatives among the big Quaker businesses.

The War and Social Order Committee became the Industrial and Social Order Committee and continued its work until the early 1960s. We have not had the opportunity to study its later work in much depth (and are not currently onsite to access our collections!) but the organisational history on our catalogue record is possibly revealing. The minutes from Meeting for Sufferings, the corporate body which created committees and laid them down considered, in 1956, that the committee’s work was too ‘unpractical’ and the committee complained of being underfunded. This could mean many things but it could possibly reflect the tension between more radical socialist members of the Society of Friends and those who did not identify as Socialist – was the Committee too polemical?

Meeting for Sufferings goes on, in 1957 to say:

It [the Industrial and Social Order Committee] would need to “work in close association with any committees already in existence which are concerned with particular aspects of the social order, e.g the Penal Reform Committee (qv), the Friends Temperance and Moral Welfare Union (qv). Under present circumstances, the Industrial and Social Order Council will need to keep in touch with the Peace Committee (qv), the East-West Relations Committee (qv) and the Race Relations Committee (qv), since the national and international aspect of the industrial and social order must be reviewed together

Again, this could show an admirable understanding of the intersectional nature of economic justice, or a reluctance to focus on changing economic systems and directly political campaigning.

Obviously there was major disruption to the ideas around development of the new social order by World War II. Quakers had gained a lot of experience in relief work before and after World War I, and World War II would see them become an effective, modern, and influential humanitarian organisation working alongside bodies such as Save the Children and Oxfam. By the end of the war some Quaker humanitarian workers were given influential positions in bodies which looked at how to rebuild better after the devastation of war.

Around two thousand young, full-time, active, keen, men and women pacifists joined the Friends Ambulance Unit and Friends Relief Service organisations during WW2. They were utterly opposed to war as the way to resolve international disputes. They were convinced that damage done by war brought about the worst suffering, not only on those who fought in its battles, but also on the millions of civilians who were caught up in it. They volunteered to work directly in a number of the theatres of war, to contribute in any way possible to alleviate the suffering first at home and later on the battlefields and in the devastation and destruction following the campaigns. 

The FAU and FRS’ approach to chaos of wartime situations was first to conduct surveys of real need in the immediate crises. For example in the Blitz of 1940-1941, members on the ground in London and other British towns and cities quickly analysed and carefully worked out which sections of the bombed-out population affected were in most need; who were being neglected or overlooked by the authorities, and directed their efforts to fill that gap by offering their services of organisation, labour and support to make a difference to the lives of those who were suffering. FAU offered medical and ambulance service and assisted in the organization of shelters and rest centres; FRS offered social service with a real interest in the methods and practice of voluntary social work, of the greatest value to the existing local services which had been thrown into disarray by the devastation. 

FRS members developed an insatiable thirst for social reform, were extremely interested in the experience which came to them and were concerned that the fruits of it should be made available to those who would, in the long run, work in the field.  Useful work was done and in maintaining and spreading the idea of voluntary social work. 

The first example of this was FRS’ pioneering work in addressing the failure of British social policy in providing for the evacuation of old people from bombed-out areas in the Blitz. This experience shone a light on the lack of provision for elderly care in pre-war times as well.

One of the lessons learned, which surprised Quaker relief workers initially, was that many of the elderly were neither grateful nor happy at being removed from their homes and social networks, despite being moved to safer and in some cases materially improved environments. This led Quakers to consider the emotional and social elements required to thrive as well as the physical and logistical. This informed some of their thinking about postwar social care and whether it should happen in the home, or in external institutions such as care homes.

FRS was not the first body to look after old people but it was the first to think carefully about the problem, analyse its elements and call the attention of the authorities and communities to the needs they were meeting. Several FRS members made important contributions to the work of the Rowntree Committee of the Nuffield Trust (Roger Wilson, war-time head of FRS, was a member of the Committee), which made a large-scale enquiry into the needs of the elderly, and whose report, Old People, became a classic work on the subject.

Alan Pickard’s film on life at Oldway House, Wellington, Somerset, Those who are Old aroused enormous interest in what could be done and when in 1945 the Service produced a practical handbook, Hostels for Old People, embodying the experience of FRS workers, it quickly ran through two editions.  Its main lessons were: hostels should be small, so that the residents feel that they belong to a community that is not dominated by the need for administration; residents should be carefully selected, so there may be a reasonable balance of temperaments; and hostels should, as a rule, be mixed.  Through its work among old people, FRS made some contribution to the understanding of their needs in the 20th century British community. Many found their permanent vocation in caring for the elderly; and up and down the country, Friends used the experience gained in and through the FRS to help the old people’s welfare committees which were developing in many districts. 


High Meadow hostel for old people, Pinner, c1940, image from p.100, Quaker Relief by Roger Wilson

Another important activity FAU and FRS members undertook, was work in Citizens’ Advice Bureaux in in the bombed and devastated areas of London and targeted provincial towns and cities.  Citizens’ Advice Bureaux were inaugurated by the National Council of Social Service, and became one of the most valuable of all the war-time developments in the field of social work. The CAB system became a highly popular source of information and assistance to those who were in distress through air raids or other causes and could not pick their way through the maze of wartime regulations and provisions.  FRS always had at its disposal a number of members who were thoroughly familiar with current legislation and regulations that affected the ordinary citizen and could help them navigate bureaucracy to get what they needed in terms of support.

THE WORK OF THE CITIZENS’ ADVICE BUREAU, ELDON HOUSE, CROYDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 522) A widow of a civil servant seeks advice about her delayed pension from volunteer Mrs Wraight at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Croydon. Mrs Wraight was one of 12 volunteers working at the bureau at this time. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

This interest in the nuts and bolts of delivery of social care and social services reflects the practical mindset of the projects dealing with poverty after WWI.

The events of World War Two would leave Quakers with two other major areas of campaigning for change over the next decades and continuing today, that of the rights of the refugee, and resistance to nuclear weapons. Again two topics which unfortunately are still so relevant today.

When we think about the New World we want to create after the pandemic is over, we could do worse than reflect on the experiences of the 20th century and the ideas people had to prevent those wars from happening again, many of which would have created a stronger, fairer society better equipped to face today’s challenges.

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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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