Sitting in the corner of the strongrooms is a wooden cabinet containing a collection of printed works known as as the “Braithwaite Collection”, gifted to the Library in 1907 under certain conditions.
In his will Joseph Bevan Braithwaite (1818—1905) wrote: “… and having regard to the special character of many of the said books and pamphlets, it is my desire that no person shall have access… without a special order…given…either by the Clerk [of Meeting for Sufferings] or…by the Recording Clerk”.
Why was it so important to restrict access? Was this the Quaker equivalent of the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, protecting the faith and morals of members of the Society of Friends?
This collection does indeed contain over 300 works of a controversial nature, springing from the Hicksite/Orthodox Controversy and “Great Separation” of 1827—1828, which had such a long-lasting legacy among North American Quakers, and the Beacon Controversy in London Yearly Meeting (1835—1840).
Mixed up in the Hicksite/Orthodox division were the arguments for and against the leadings of the Holy Spirit over Scripture, intermingled with deep-seated prejudices (the urban wealthy and worldly Quaker vs. the rural), misunderstandings and misrepresentations, and personality clashes, set down in print for all to read. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting split into Hicksite and Orthodox groups, and others were to follow.
When Isaac Crewdson (1780—1844) of Manchester penned his Beacon to the Society of Friends early in January 1835, ostensibly as a refutation of the writings of Elias Hicks, it “marked an important step in the process of opening up Quakerism from its traditional closed sectarian position” (J. Hall, 1968). But like the Hicksite Schism this too was accompanied by an often acrimonious exchange of publications, both within and beyond the Society of Friends, including tracts, articles and letters to periodicals such as the Christian inquirer and the Berean, (the monthly British Friend had not yet been established).
Joseph Bevan Braithwaite must have thought hard about what was to become of his collection of controversial writings when he drew up his will, as the bitter repercussions of these controversies rumbled on and London Yearly Meeting still refused to recognise the separated American Hicksite meetings (“the other branch”) until it included them in its General Epistle of 1912.
A century on, access is a much more straightforward business.
All these works have recently been added to the Library’s online catalogue, as part of our on-going retrospective cataloguing project. Controversial works from the Joseph Bevan Braithwaite cabinet, and from other parts of the Library’s collection, can now be searched for and consulted — without seeking the permission of the Clerk of Meeting for Sufferings.
Bronner, Edwin H. “The other branch”: London Yearly Meeting and the Hicksites, 1827—1912. London: Friends Historical Society, 1975 (Journal of the Friends’ Historical Society. Supplement 34)
Hall, Jolyon. The Beacon Controversy in the Society of Friends, 1835—1840: a bibliography. Diploma in Librarianship, Part II University of London, 1968
Ingle, Larry. Quakers in conflict: the Hicksite reformation. 2nd ed. Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill Publications, 1998
Mingins, Rosemary. The Beacon controversy and challenges to British Quaker tradition in the early nineteenth century: some responses to the evangelical revival by Friends in Manchester and Kendal. Lewiston; Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004
Wilson, Roger C. Manchester, Manchester and Manchester again : from “sound doctrine” to a “free ministry”: the theological travail of London Yearly Meeting throughout the nineteenth century. London: Friends Historical Society, 1990