Friends at the end of World War I: seeking international peace

At various points during the last four years we have marked the centenary of World War I on this blog by highlighting our collections relating to aspects of Quaker work at that time, including the relief work of the Friends War Victims Relief Committee and support for conscientious objectors. As the centenary draws to a close this November, it seems appropriate to look at what our collections tell us about how Quakers in 1918 felt peace could be achieved after the war.

Amongst our archives from the time are the records of the Friends League of Nations Committee, later the Friends League of Nations Association, which began with a preliminary meeting held in London on 24 July 1918.

In January that year, the US president, Woodrow Wilson, had spoken about his proposed Fourteen Points for peace, which included a proposal for a League of Nations. When Yearly Meeting considered the report of the Peace Committee in May, it was reported in The Friend that Joseph B. Braithwaite urged support for the idea, as the only practical proposal for peace that had been put forward, referring to William Penn in arguing that peace had to be backed up by force if needed. Other Friends present differed, unable to support a League which rested on the threat of force.

Joseph B. Braithwaite was one of those who gathered on 24 July to consider the matter, with the minutes of the meeting recording that:

“The Friends present were unanimously of opinion that although the late Yearly Meeting of the Society declined to take any action endorsing the proposal for a League of Nations, there were a very large number of Friends, who were anxious to participate in this piece of constructive work for Peace, and that steps should be taken to ascertain if this is so.”

Letter inviting support for President Wilson's proposals

Letter inviting support for President Wilson’s proposal for a league of nations, signed by J B Braithwaite, Robert Marsh and Harry Gilpin (1918) (Library ref: Box 232/7)

An appeal was drafted to be printed and circulated , asking for people to respond with their views. The letter referred again to William Penn, drawing parallels between his 1693 Essay towards the present and future peace of Europe  and recent statements in favour of the League of Nations by Viscount Grey, the former Foreign Secretary.

By the time the new Friends League of Nations Committee met again on 4 September 1918, they reported that they had so far received 2092 assents and 112 dissents to their letter.

The Committee’s activities increased. They held a meeting of supporters at Devonshire House on 1 November 1918, and sent a minute to Meeting for Sufferings, recommending “drastic control” of the production of armaments, and “a solemn international compact to employ such material solely under the sanction of the League of Nations for the maintenance of international peace based upon Right, Justice and Liberty, and for the protection of peoples threatened with injustice and oppression…”.

The Friend reported on a further conference at Devonshire House on 21 November, called by the Peace Committee of Meeting for Sufferings. At the conference the discussions continued, with speakers like Carl Heath again questioning whether Quakers should actively support a League of Nations if the purpose was not disarmament, while J. Bevan Braithwaite continued to argue that, “As long as evil was in the world, force must be employed to repress it, if necessary, otherwise anarchy would prevail.”

Report of the 21 November conference at Devonshire House, The Friend (29 Nov 1918)

Report of the 21 November conference at Devonshire House, The Friend (29 Nov 1918)

The Friends League of Nations Committee became the Friends League of Nations Association in 1919 and continued to operate until 1921, when it was decided that it was no longer needed as a separate body, following the decision of Meeting for Sufferings in February that year to establish a League of Nations Watching Committee.

The Library holds the minutes of the Friends League of Nations Association and the Propaganda Committee, and of the League of Nations Watching Committee (1921-1925).

Friends League of Nations Committee first minute book

Friends League of Nations Committee first minute book

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Caring for the past: conserving the Library’s collection of pamphlets and booklets

Lizzie Fuller, trainee conservator, writes about her work with some of our 19th and 20th century pamphlets.

As a trainee Paper Conservator, I am fortunate to have opportunities to work on fascinating objects and this summer was no exception when I was given the chance to carry out conservation treatment on the Library of the Society of Friends’ collection of booklets and pamphlets as part of my student placement at Sussex Conservation Consortium. As I worked through the booklets it was interesting to uncover the breadth of areas that the Quakers have been involved with, as well as the diverse variety of pamphlet styles.

Reducing a heavy layer of animal glue on one booklet

Reducing a heavy layer of animal glue on one booklet

Paper conservation involves the stabilisation of paper-based objects in order to improve long-term preservation. For the pamphlet and booklet project, my treatment involved removing deteriorated elements such as rusting staples and degraded pressure-sensitive tape, which were causing damage to the paper as well as staining and would result in more damage in the future. I also reduced thick areas of animal glue that were restricting the opening of covers and re-adhered the lifted spine materials using wheatstarch paste and Japanese repair papers. Following the removal of staples, I re-sewed the bindings and tipped in any loose inserts with a Japanese paper hinge to prevent them from getting lost. As an organic material, paper naturally degrades and conservation plays an essential role in mitigating against this so that objects are protected and preserved for years to come.

Lifting degraded adhesive tape

Lifting degraded adhesive tape

I am currently in my second year of study at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London, and this student placement has contributed to the development of my practical skills, as well as providing valuable experience of a professional environment. Sussex Conservation Consortium is a small private studio owned jointly by Ian Watson and Ruth Stevens, both accredited Book and Library Materials Conservators. I particularly benefited from working under the supervision of two experienced conservators and applying some of their wealth of knowledge to my work. My placement was a really enjoyable and useful experience and I am very grateful for the Library’s agreement to me working on these valued and important objects.

A booklet sewn together after removing staples

A booklet sewn together after removing staples

You can support work to conserve the Library’s collections by donating to our BeFriend a Book appeal. Please email or write to us for more information about the appeal.





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Open, healthy, scrupulously clean, with a liberal table: the Armfields and their temperance hotel

This year the Library was given a collection relating to the Armfield family who ran Armfield’s South Place Temperance Hotel near Finsbury Circus, London, during the second half of the 19th century.

The collection includes a visitors’ book chronicling guests from 1857 to 1869, a copy of Joseph John Armfield’s memoir, and personal family papers, as well as photographs and publicity material relating to the hotel.

Joseph John Armfield's Journal cover

Joseph John Armfield, Journal (Library reference MSS 1035/1)

Joseph Armfield (1821-1894), the head of this branch of the family, was a conservative Quaker who held to the principles of plain dress and plain speech. His religious views were described by his son Joseph John as “extreme”, “strict”, and “orthodox”. He was an active member of the Society of Friends, publishing two tracts and serving on numerous committees. He had taken the temperance pledge in 1839, at the age of 18, and his brother was an ardent temperance campaigner, so it is unsurprising that he chose to run a temperance hotel.

Temperance hotels, like coffee taverns and temperance clubs, were one of a range of institutions set up by temperance campaigners to provide access to social and entertainment amenities without the temptation of alcohol being present.

Advertisement for temperance drinks in The Friend

Advertisement for temperance drinks in The Friend

The ideal temperance hotel should offer respectable food and lodging, a place for people to socialise and conduct business and, of course, a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, temperance hotels generally had rather a poor reputation – they were often conversions of existing buildings run by those with little or no prior experience in the trade and, deprived of the profits that could be made from the sale of alcohol, were unable to offer luxuries. Even temperance campaigners were forced to admit that they were generally “not attractive”.

Joseph had worked as a clerk for various family owned businesses before opening the hotel with his wife Julia (née Ashby, 1813-1889) in 1857. They converted the house of a wealthy Jewish silk merchant and moved in with their three surviving children: Julia Anne (1850-1902), later author of Quaker tracts and member of Fritchley General Meeting, Joseph John (1852-1935), engineer, and Aaron Ashby (1854-1944)at who was eventually to take over from his father.

Despite the inexperience of the Armfields, and the building’s origins as a domestic dwelling, Armfield’s South Place Hotel proved very successful. It was situated at the corner of South Place and South Street, just north of Finsbury Circus. As we can see from this flyer, it was initially a single five-storey house with basement. Joseph John describes high-ceilinged rooms, mahogany-framed sash windows, and thick mahogany doors with ivory-inlaid door furniture, and recalls sitting on the balconies outside the first floor windows.

The hotel was advertised in both The Friend and the British Friend.

Advertisement for Armfields Hotel in The Friend (1857)

Advertisement in The Friend (1857)

No doubt bolstered by its location less than a mile from Devonshire House, where Yearly Meeting was held, Armfield’s had many Quaker guests. Representatives from all the well-known British Quaker families can be seen in pages of the visitors’ book – Sturges, Clarks, Pumphrys, Peases, Corders, Foxes, Bevans, Cadburys, Lloyds and Rowntrees, among others. There were also numerous American Quaker visitors, including members of the Bettle and Turnbull families and James E. Rhoads – president of Bryn Mawr College.

A page from Armfield's Hotel visitors' book

A page from Armfield’s Hotel visitors’ book (Library reference MSS 1035/2/2)

Joseph John recalls in his memoir that he and his siblings were sent away during Yearly Meeting each year. “Our hotel was conveniently near [Devonshire House] & Friends to the full capacity of its accommodation stayed there during that time; & it was a relief no doubt to our parents to get us young children out of the way during that period… I expect our room in London was more acceptable than our company”.

It was not only Quakers who stayed at Armfield’s. Other figures engaged in social and public work chose the hotel, including abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, temperance campaigner Asbjorn Kloster and missionary Elias Schrenk. Ten men from temperance-led life insurance company Sceptre Life Association are noted in the guest book as expressing “their entire satisfaction with the attention received and the accommodation afforded”. As a budding engineer, Joseph John enthusiastically recalls dining with sea captains and the inventor of the screw propeller.

In the early 1870s it was decided that Aaron Ashby (Ashby to his family) would become his father’s apprentice, partner, and then successor at the hotel. In 1873 Julia Armfield was in ill health, so she and Joseph moved out of the hotel to Croydon, leaving Ashby living in the hotel. Ashby held less strict religious views than his father, and over the next 30 years the hotel’s character gradually changed.

Armfields group photograph, with Ashby and Helen Armfield centre

Armfields group photograph, with Ashby and Helen in the centre

The hotel was advertised in the British Friend as having been enlarged and redecorated. Joseph John mentions that the hotel eventually grew to encompass five houses going down South Street and an additional building on South Place. At this point it had 70 bedrooms, coffee, commercial and private sitting rooms, a ladies drawing room and smoking and billiard rooms furnished by well-known billiard table manufacturers Burroughs and Watts.

Advertisement for Armfield's South Place Hotel in the British Friend (1 May 1886)

Advertisement in the British Friend (1886)

In 1891, the hotel was completely rebuilt and accommodation doubled. Publicity photographs and a brochure in our archive give a good idea of what the rebuilt hotel would have been like.

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The exterior is markedly different from the converted house and the rooms are comfortably decorated with art and fine furniture. The hotel boasts modern facilities – the telephone room (visible in the back of the entrance hall), a lift, electric lights, modern sanitary arrangements and hot and cold water on all floors. The hotel also now includes a separate restaurant available to rent for parties. Whereas the advertisements of earlier decades emphasised cleanliness and health, those of the 1880s and 1890s stress comfort and modernity.

Advertisement in the British Friend (1894)

Advertisement in the British Friend (1894)

More radically, the establishment ceased to be a temperance hotel. Temperance is not mentioned in the pamphlet or advertisement in The British Friend, and in 1897 an advertisement in The Freemason specifically states that it was now fully licensed.

There is no guestbook for this period, but we were able to find out a few of the hotel patrons from other sources. In 1895 King Khama of the Bamangwato people of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) stayed at the hotel whilst in London. Opposite Armfield’s was the South Place Chapel, home of the South Place Ethical Society (now called Conway Hall Ethical Society). Its periodical, The Ethical Record advertised a Sunday school and dances held in Armfield’s (thanks to staff at Conway Hall library for finding further links between the Ethical Society and the Armfields out at Croydon).

The Armfield family stopped being associated with the hotel at some point in the 1910s. It is thought by the family that the building was requisitioned by the government during World War One. We can see from this postcard that it was still operating in 1916.

Armfield's Hotel postcard written in 1916

Armfield’s Hotel postcard, 1916 (private collection)

An auction of the hotel’s contents was advertised in the Pall Mall Gazette (12 January 1918), marking the end of the story of Armfield’s South Place Hotel. The building itself was destroyed during the blitz, so although there is still a South Place Hotel on the site today, it bears no relation to the original Armfield’s.

The newly catalogued Armfield Papers provide a fascinating record of one Quaker family and their flourishing temperance enterprise in the latter part of 19th century.

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Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists – the Otter Gallery loan

Loaning material to other institutions provides an exciting opportunity to bring our collections to new audiences around the country. Special collections curator Melissa Atkinson writes about a current loan, and describes some of the objects on view.

I was approached by Gill Clarke, Visiting Professor at the Otter Gallery, University of Chichester, with an exciting exhibition proposal about pacifist war artists. Our collections hold a wealth of material about pacifism, conflict and the Friends Ambulance Unit archive from the First and Second World Wars.

The exhibition, Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists, aimed to explore the ways artists who were conscientious objectors and pacifists responded to conflicts through their art. It would mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War but expand beyond the early 20th century.

After many visits and discussions, I showed Gill a selection of material from which she chose specific artwork. A loan application was made 6 months in advance of the exhibition, requesting to borrow 11 items from our collections. We scrutinised the application, looking at security and environmental gallery conditions as well as examining the artworks for suitability. The artworks selected were in a diverse collection of formats, from a sculpture and large watercolour panel to small prints and a hardback book.

Gill went away to write the exhibitions catalogue and I started to focus on conditions reports for each item, examining any faults and potential issues for long-term display plus art valuations for insurance purposes.

Fine art movers Cadogan Tate came on the scheduled day in early June and expertly packed the art. The next time I saw our artwork was at the opening of the exhibition of Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists. What a joy to see parts of our collection out of the Library and hanging in a gallery to be discovered by a new audience.

Loan artworks

Four items were borrowed from the Ernest Procter Collection including two works by him – Untitled (SSA at HQ Loading Up) February 6, 1917 (EPC_03) and SSA 14 at Somme Suippe (EPC_04);  a pencil drawing by Allen Chandler (1887-1969) entitled Whit Monday, 1915, The Dressing Station, Augustine Straat, Ypres (EPC_01) and a pencil sketch Aide Poste Cellar, SSA 19, at Nieuport Bains by Arthur Cotterell (1885-1961) (EPC_02).

Ernest Procter (1886-1935) was one of many artists who volunteered with the FAU. He trained as an orderly but worked as an artist. He visited different SSA units in France and Belgium making sketches and drawings of his experiences. Section Sanitaire Anglaise was the name given to Red Cross, FAU & Order of St John ambulance units. We hold 80 artworks from this Quaker artist, consisting of drawings, sketches and watercolours, all from his time with the FAU from 1916 to 1919.

Ernest Procter. SSA at HQ loading up (1917)

Ernest Procter. Untitled (SSA at HQ Loading Up) February 6, 1917 (Library reference EPC_03)

Ernest Procter. SSA 14 at Somme Suippe

Ernest Procter. SSA 14 at Somme Suippe. Pencil and charcoal sketch (Library reference EPC_04)

Allen Chandler. Whit Monday, 1915, The Dressing Station, Augustine Straat, Ypres

Allen Chandler. Whit Monday, 1915, The Dressing Station, Augustine Straat, Ypres (Library reference: EPC_01)

The Passers-by on a road near La Panne, Belgium, 1916 by Donald Wood (1889-1953) is a framed watercolour panel. Donald Wood was an artist from Leeds whose parents were Quakers. He was in the FAU from 1915 to 1919, working as an orderly and a driver in the SSA 14 unit.

Donald Wood. Passersby on a road near La Panne. Detail

Detail of Passersby on a road near La Panne by Donald Wood (1916)(Library reference F002)

Four prints by George P. Micklewright (1893-1951) who drew satirical cartoons of being a conscientious objector in prison during WWI. Micklewright was an absolutist who refused to be involved in any aspect of the war. He was arrested, fined and imprisoned at Lichfield, then moved to Warwick, Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor prisons. Micklewright went on to be a successful book jacket illustrator for crime and science fiction books.

George P Micklewright. C.O.s at Dartmoor

George P Micklewright. C.O.s at Dartmoor (Library reference 86_A81)


Hugo Powell. The Sentinel. Wooden sculpture

Hugo Powell. The Sentinel. Wooden sculpture

Sculpture entitled The Sentinel by Hugo Powell (1919-2014). Powell studied at Leighton Park, a Quaker school, and was a conscientious objector who volunteered with the FAU, travelling with the Hadfield Spears Field Hospital in North Africa and Europe in World War II. He was not a Quaker but was sympathetic to Quakerism. The sculpture was made in 1986 and is described as a wooden assemblage made from off-cuts from a boatyard and found objects in Powell’s studio that have been dowelled together.

‘Let others celebrate the solemnities of official memorials. Here is a private and affectionate remembrancer of the men of the First Free French Division and my years with them.’ Hugo Powell.

The Ghosts of the Slain by R. L. Outhwaite (1915), illustrated by Joseph Southall (1861-1944). Southall was a Quaker from Warwickshire Monthly Meeting and had a successful career as an artist and illustrator. As a socialist and pacifist, he also wrote about these topics.

Title page by Joseph E Southall for Ghosts of the Slain, by R L Outhwaite (1915)

Title page by Joseph E Southall for Ghosts of the Slain, by R L Outhwaite (1915)


Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists will be on until 7 October 2018 at the Otter Gallery, University of Chichester.



In response to your comments, here are the other items loaned to the Otter Gallery for the Conflicting Views exhibition this summer.

Drawings by G P Micklewright and Arthur Cotterell


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William Penn: commemorations and curios

30 July 2018 is the 300th anniversary of the death of William Penn. He is widely-known as the founder of the American colony of Pennsylvania in 1681, on land given to him by Charles II in payment of a debt the crown owed to his family. Penn is a notable figure for Quakers, as one of those who were closely associated with George Fox in the earliest days of the faith: he is represented in two panels in the Quaker Tapestry and there is a meeting room at Friends House named after him. He has a complex legacy, however, which continues to be considered and reassessed today.

A quick overview of the Library’s collections relating to him gives a sense of the way in which he has continued to be referred to and commemorated throughout the last 300 years.

There are extensive collections of published works in the Library relating to William Penn. He wrote numerous books and pamphlets, and has been much written about, both during his life and in the 300 years since his death. In addition to the published works, the Library holds a range of unique material, including both archival documents and objects associated with Penn (often referred to in the past as “curios”).

Penn commemoration medal 1911

Penn commemoration medal 1911

The Library collections have been used to commemorate William Penn on various occasions. In 1911, there was an exhibition in the Library to mark the unveiling of a memorial tablet at the church where he was baptised, All Hallows-by-the-Tower in the City of London. We also have a commemorative medal from that event. Another exhibition was mounted in Friends House in 1944, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.

Penn Tercentenary 1944 invitation to an exhibition in the Library

Penn Tercentenary exhibition invitation, 1944

The archival material in the Library relating to William Penn includes property deeds relating to land in Pennsylvania, such as the one pictured below. There are also letters from William Penn amongst other people’s papers. One notable example, dated 13th of 11th month 1690 (13 January 1691, in the modern calendar), is a letter from him to Margaret Fox, formerly Margaret Fell, telling her of the death of her husband, George Fox. This letter is in the Thirnbeck Manuscripts, a collection of papers which came to the Library from a descendant of Margaret Fell. There is a copy of it elsewhere in the archives, made at a later date by an unknown author.

Property deeds relating to land in Pennsylvania

Property deeds relating to land in Pennsylvania (Library reference: MS Box L1/12)

A small collection of papers known as the Penn Manuscripts was donated to the Society of Friends in 1892. The contents of the collection are not yet searchable through our catalogue, but there are handwritten lists of the documents dating from around the time when they came to the Library. The Penn Manuscripts include papers relating to William Penn’s life and work, and that of his family after his death, including documents relating to the establishment of Pennsylvania.

Many of the Penn objects in the Library’s collections refer to or commemorate a particular event in the establishment of Pennsylvania, a treaty Penn is thought to have agreed with the Native Americans in the area in 1683.

There is limited evidence of the treaty itself and it is primarily documented in a painting by Benjamin West, a painter who was born in Pennsylvania but later moved to Britain and became a President of the Royal Academy. The painting, now at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, was made in the 1770s and there are many versions of it in existence, including prints.

Our former Librarian, Norman Penney, wrote an article in The Friend in 1902 about the Library’s collections, which included two pieces of wood said to be from the elm tree under which William Penn agreed the treaty. They are still in the Library, and are awaiting further research into their provenance, as well as assessment by a conservator.

Silk winders, said to be made from wood of the "Treaty Tree"

Silk winders, said to be made from wood of the “Treaty Tree”

We have further instances of wooden objects allegedly made from the same elm tree, including two small silk winders (pictured above). There is also a small framed engraving of the image of the treaty being signed: a label on the back states that the frame is made of wood from the elm tree. Much of this unique material is un-catalogued and in need of conservation. It can only be viewed by prior arrangement.

Small engraving of Penn's Treaty framed with wood said to be from the Treaty Tree

Engraving of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians by Benjamin West, in a frame said to be from the “Treaty Tree” (Library reference: Temp MSS 89/4)


Moving away from wooden objects, we have further representations of Penn’s treaty woven in silk and appearing on a set of china. From the information we currently have about the woven image, it dates from the late 18th or early 19th century. The china is of unknown date and provenance, but provides a further indication of the extent to which Penn, and this particular aspect of his life and legacy has continued to be commemorated since his death.

William Penn commemorative china: small plate

William Penn commemorative china: small plate


Some of these unique objects will be on display in the reading room later this summer, to mark the tercentenary. We’ve also produced a new subject guide on William Penn, now a featured resource available for download from our website.

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150 years of Friends and foreign missions


First minutebook of the Friends Foreign Mission Association with signature of Henry Stanley Newman, its first secretary



26th May 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Friends Foreign Mission Association in 1868. This put overseas mission and relief work on a permanent footing for the Society for the first time, and this work has continued in some form ever since.

There was a prior provisional committee set up, also meeting for the first time on 26th May, 1865, and work did commence under its auspices but the Association was officially constituted in 1868.

Quakers were not immune to the evangelical fervour that increased in many denominations in the early 19th century. One Quaker in particular took up this calling with great enthusiasm. George Richardson (1773-1862), was a widely travelled Quaker minister who was devoted to issues such as peace, temperance and anti-slavery. He became a passionate proponent of mission work and wrote extensively to Friends to drum up support for it. Richardson reported in 1860 that “It is now ascertained by an extensive correspondence that a large body of Friends cordially approve of an attempt being made for the promotion of this object…” (George Richardson Papers, TEMP MSS 378)

Richardson described the object as “aiding in the diffusion of Gospel light amongst the Heathen and other unenlightened nations”. This is language that Quakers today, might find uncomfortable. Further descriptions of the mission work Richardson had in mind, and was promoting widely among Friends, confirm how similar in nature it was with that of other denominations, as “labour for the spread of true Religion” by “scriptural education”. Quaker missionaries worked closely with the London Missionary Society at home, and with missionaries of other denominations in the field.

However judging this activity by modern standards would be somewhat unfair. In some ways, this enthusiasm for missionary work, in the context of the Society of Friends at that time, represented a radical challenge to quietism of preceding Quaker generations. It is interesting to see how Friends have viewed this work over the years. In a pamphlet marking the jubilee anniversary of FFMA in 1916, the tone was still evangelical. The writer asked of the Society: “How shall we take our right place in spreading the news that God is the Father, and loves us, that Christ His Son is the Saviour of the whole world?” (FFMA jubilee, 1866-1916, 1913)

However fifty years later, in an address on the centenary of FFMA, William Sewell, a relative of Joseph Sewell, one of the first Quaker missionaries, was looking at missionary activity with a more critical eye. He mentions the relatively poor understanding of non-western cultures and comments on the dangers, as well as virtues, of introducing “western values” into these cultures. He does say: “Friends fortunately did less harm than they might so easily have done” (Continuing witness: addresses given at the Friends Foreign Mission Association centenary meeting, Friends Service Council, 1968).

We feel he really wants to say than other missionaries have done here, and attributes Friends’ comparably less harmful activity to their core belief in of that of God in everyone; he implies that although Quakers may have referred to people as heathens, they did not treat them as such.

Into the 1970s, Friends Service Council (successor to FFMA) was still referring to one of the strands of its work as “missionary activities”, and was a member of the Conference of British Missionary Societies, although stating that this body was “rethinking the concept of ‘mission’” (International Work of the Religious Society of Friends, 2nd ed., FWCC, 1975).

FFMA was run as an independent organisation funded by subscription with annual general meetings, and some non-Quakers were involved in both the funding and work. Its first projects were in areas Quakers already had some knowledge of and were led by strong individual characters who felt a calling to a particular area of work. And it was a calling – missionaries generally served for the rest of their life. This, in a time before air travel and health insurance, was at considerable personal cost, in terms of distance from family and home comforts, and potential for danger.

The first mission work the provisional committee approved was to send Rachel Metcalfe (1828-1889) to India to pursue “female education”. Rachel Metcalfe had worked as a domestic servant in younger life, and then as a seamstress. She had felt a calling to do mission work, and saw an advertisement looking for a sewing mistress at a school in India. Not having the means to fund her journey herself, she applied to Friends for help, and became the first missionary sent by the fledgling provisional committee for this work.

She set up several schools and an orphanage with the help of more Friends who joined her. She developed rheumatism in Benares which led to her use of a wheelchair by 1874, but this did not halt her work. Friends moved into Hoshangabad district as there were no other missionaries here, and started work which continued well into the 20th century there.

Rachel Metcalfe pamphlet

The potential danger these early missionaries faced was exemplified by a horrifying fate suffered by a Quaker missionary family in the other early field of work for FFMA: Madagascar.

Louis and Sarah Street, and Joseph Sewell were the first Quaker missionaries to go to Madagascar, in the second official mission of FFMA. They soon required assistance. William Johnson answered this call by going to Madagascar in 1871, Lucy Sewell joined him and they were married there in 1872. William became involved in educational work and became superintendent of a large boys’ school in Ambohijatovo. Johnson also oversaw the building of a hospital, designing it himself.

The Johnsons were asked to move to Arivonimamo to cover another missionary’s leave in 1895. At this time the French were at war with the Malagasy people, eventually “annexing” the island as a colony by 1896. Some Malagasy rebel forces blamed the defeat of the army, and deposition of the monarchy, on the recent conversion to Christianity, and harsh punishment was meted out to Malagasy Christians and missionaries. In November 1895, rebels overtook the Johnsons’ home and killed the couple and their child.

1872 FFMA mission staff inc Johnsons

By 1889, the FFMA had 38 missionaries in the field, by 1902 that number had risen to 93. The activities of the association were capturing the attention of more than just a few enthusiastic believers in mission work, becoming a more general concern for the Society. This was reflected in the decision at Yearly Meeting, 1917, to have a “closer union” between FFMA, London Yearly Meeting and Ireland Yearly Meeting, essentially bringing FFMA under official management by both these yearly meetings.

World War I brought a challenge of a greater magnitude for Friends in overseas work. Here the focus was emergency relief in response to crisis rather than the ongoing education and medical activities done as part of mission work. Emergency committees were set up to organise this crisis relief. The lessons learned from this war would undoubtedly shape future views of overseas service.

In 1919 the Council for International Service was established. This was very much a product of WWI, and most of its activities were almost akin to secular mission work. Rather than spreading Christianity, CIS established a network of International Centres that promoted “international understanding” and nonviolent solutions to conflict. This was referred to as the ministry of reconciliation.

All this work was brought together under one banner in 1927. FFMA was wound up and the work of CIS incorporated into Friends Service Council. At this point FSC took on or started up projects in: China, India, Syria, South Africa, Pemba, Madagascar, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Russia, and Greece.

The nature of the work varied from place. Some work continued in a fairly traditional mission manner with building and managing of schools and hospitals. Other work included helping to support and sustain small communities of Quakers outside of Britain and building up networks of people sympathetic to Quaker values; it was this work which would lead to Quaker centres becoming refuges when Nazi oppression started threatening various groups in European society in the 1930s.

Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the successor body to Friends Service Council, today mainly focuses on promotion of nonviolence in areas of the world with conflict. This includes working with other churches to provide ecumenical accompaniers in Israel-Palestine; and helping facilitate a conflict resolution programme in East Africa.  Friends World Committee for Consultation supports and encourages the Quaker faith around the world.

TEMP MSS 928icrop

Henry Stanley Newman’s account of visiting missionaries in India.


While nineteenth to early twentieth century missionary activities, outlooks and language may to a certain extent be shaped by paternalistic, colonialist and racist attitudes, there is much to admire in the work of overseas missions. The stories of these ordinary men and women who gave their life’s work to the service of communities they joined overseas, often at great personal cost, can still prove inspirational and moving, over a century later.

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New images on display in the reading room: a quick tour

The Library reading room has had a make-over. Around the walls you’ll see a series of large panels displaying images selected from different parts of the collections. They give some insight into the breadth of material held by the Library, documenting over three and a half centuries of Quakerism and Quaker lives. The selection draws particularly on the visual items – posters, photographs, art work and artefacts – to be found in our collections. Each panel has its own story, and, as we found at Yearly Meeting, that story can open up conversations. For those who haven’t yet seen them, here’s a quick tour.

Reading room posters

The large drawing facing into the reading room from the gallery may be an unexpected image. Who are the caricatured men grouped around the table, some bowed over their papers, deep in consultation, or leaning back, plump and confident? They are in fact characters depicted by artist Robert Spence (1871-1964) in a preparatory sketch for part of his etching Lancaster Assizes: George Fox refusing to take the oath (Robert Spence Collection SE 48).  Inspired by the 1664 journal entry, Spence’s completed etching has George Fox standing defiantly in the court room with his hat firmly on his head, refusing to swear, while the learned lawyers sit sprawled below. This was one of a marvellous series of etchings by Spence depicting scenes from Fox’s Journal. The Library’s Robert Spence Collection includes 99 prints and 82 sketches created between 1892 and 1954.

Robert Spence. Sketch

Robert Spence. Sketch for Lancaster Assizes: George Fox refusing to take the oath. 1906 (Library reference VR 76)

At the other end of the room are two images representing twentieth century Quaker work. The photograph of a Quaker relief worker with a mother and baby was taken by Campbell Hays for Friends Service Council in Nuseirat, Gaza Strip, at the time of the 1948 Arab Israeli War. It comes from the photographic archives of Friends Service Council, predecessor of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, which document some of the overseas and domestic work undertaken by Quakers aiding victims of conflict.

The other image is one of the Library’s historic peace posters. The Quaker peace testimony leads Quakers to witness against all war and violence. Quakers have been at the forefront of promoting non-violent conflict resolution and mediation.

Quaker relief Gaza Strip 1948

Quaker relief among Arab refugees, Gaza Strip 1948/9, photograph by Campbell Hays (Library reference FSC_PH_1 )

Quakers march. Poster

Quakers march. 1958. Poster (Library reference PO-PC169)











On the east wall of the reading room, looking out to Friends House garden, are four more panels. The Medallion Sampler made by Rachel Barritt in 1791 is one of 11 samplers in our textile collections. Around the central octagon containing a pair of birds with branches are flower buds, squirrels and several smaller detached motifs and initials (probably of fellow pupils or family). It is a distinctive pattern, typical of samplers embroidered by pupils at Ackworth, the Quaker school near Pontefact, West Yorkshire. Ackworth, founded 1779, was one of a number of “committee schools” was set up to provide a Quaker education for girls and boys. The Library holds useful source material on Quaker schools, including reports, school magazines, and list of pupils (and there’s a subject guide to help researchers on our webpages).

Rachel Barritt. Medallion sampler

Rachel Barritt. Medallion sampler. 1791. Embroidery stitch on linen (Library reference Pic F235)

A Letter from William Penn proprietary and governour of Pennsylvania in America, to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders of that province, residing in London, was a pamphlet issued by William Penn (1644-1718) in 1683. It includes the first printed map of Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love” planned by Penn as the capital of Pennsylvania, the proprietorial territory granted to him by King Charles II to satisfy a debt owed to his father. Penn’s letter promoting the territory to prospective settlers and investors describes the virtues of its natural resources and climate. From the early days of Quakerism, Friends travelled to America, whether emigrating in search of religious toleration, visiting meetings to preach and provide spiritual leadership (“travelling in the ministry”), or for commerce.

A letter from William Penn proprietary and governor of Pennsylvania in America (London, 1683)

A letter from William Penn proprietary and governour of Pennsylvania in America. 1683 (Library reference Vol. C/86)

Alongside this is another poster, this time from the Friends Temperance Union and Friends Temperance and Moral Welfare Union archive. The archive consists of minutes, correspondence, reports, printed papers, lantern slides and posters. The posters and lantern slides, digitised as part of a project funded by the Wellcome Trust, were produced by Friends temperance campaigners to educate people about the health risks of alcohol and encourage the pursuit of interest and hobbies outside the public house.

Drink enfeebles the workers. 1903. Poster (FTU poster 51)

Drink enfeebles the workers. 1903. Poster (Library reference FTU poster 51)


Last, but not least, is an illustration from The Works of John Fothergill, M.D., member of the Royal College of Physicians…with some account of his life by John Coakley Lettsom (1784). Fothergill was a distinguished Quaker physician and botanist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He had a wide circle of friends on both sides of the Atlantic, acted as patron to plant collector John Bartram, and provided support and funds for various projects, including the publication of Anthony Purver’s new translation of the Bible and the foundation of Ackworth School. The plate shows a botanical drawing of Arbutus andrachne, or Greek strawberry tree, reported as first flowering in England in Fothergill’s botanical garden at Upton House.


Arbutus Andrachne. Plate from The Works of John Fothergill, M.D. 1784 (SR L007 FOT)

Arbutus Andrachne. From The Works of John Fothergill, M.D. 1784 (Library reference SR L007 FOT)

We welcome feedback on the new images and any other aspects of the Library service – please email



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