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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Quaker Faith and Practice: the Quaker book of discipline from the “green dragon of the ancients” to the “red book”

At Yearly Meeting in 2018 Quakers in Britain will be considering whether to revise Quaker faith and practice – the book of discipline. This volume, found in every Quaker meeting and freely available online, is referred to for guidance on both church affairs and personal life, and drawn on as a source of spiritual inspiration.


The earliest antecedent of our current book of discipline is the 300 year old abstract entitled Christian and brotherly advices. This was a 1738 compilation of advices previously issued piecemeal by Yearly Meeting on a wide range of problems raised by monthly and quarterly meetings. Its contents were codified under 51 headings, arranged alphabetically, with space for additions. The book was distributed in manuscript form to meetings around the country – at a cost of 50 shillings each – in folio volumes usually bound in green vellum (causing some irreverent young Friends later to dub it  “the Green Dragon of the Ancients”[1]).


In 1782 Yearly Meeting revised and brought up to date the rules and advices, which the following year appeared as our first printed book of discipline, Extracts from the minutes and advices of the Yearly Meeting of Friends, popularly known as “The book of extracts”.  A supplement was approved in 1791, a revision in 1801, and a further supplement in 1822.  The tradition of revision once every generation had begun.


Book of extracts from the minutes and advices (1783)

London Yearly Meeting’s first printed book of discipline – Extracts from the minutes and advices of the Yearly Meeting of Friends (London: James Philips, 1783)


During the course of the 19th century and early 20th century there were radical changes in the character of the book. After the revision of 1861 it was organised into three distinct parts – “Christian doctrine”, “Christian practice”, and “Church government”. By the early 20th century these parts were considered for revision separately, and issued in individual volumes. A limited number of contributions by individual Friends began to be included, alongside the official Yearly Meeting statements. But it is to the 1921 revision of the Book of doctrine, issued in 1922 under the title Christian life, faith & thought in the Society of Friends, that we owe the introduction of the strongly personal element, now familiar, into our modern book of discipline.

Christian life faith and thought 1922 flier

Flier for the eagerly expected Christian Life Faith and Thought (1922), the new part 1 of the book of discipline

The current book of discipline was first issued in its present form as Quaker faith and practice in 1995 – a decade after Friends had decided on a complete revision, recognising the need to reflect changes in society, language and belief. The new book replaced two earlier parts, Church Government and Christian faith and practice, bringing the subject matter together once again in a single updated volume – one more step in its gradual evolution.

Quaker faith and practice is now in its 5th edition. Recent amendments not yet included in the print edition are incorporated in the online version – for instance, changes to chapter 16 on Quaker marriage procedure approved by Yearly Meeting in 2015, reflecting legislation permitting same-sex marriage.


If you are attending Yearly Meeting this year, as Friends come together to discern whether a revision of Quaker faith and practice is due, you may already have been involved in the programme of reading and spiritual preparation outlined by Rhiannon Grant on the British Quakers blog. Over the Yearly Meeting weekend the Library will mount a display illustrating the origins and development of Quaker faith and practice, including some of the books described here. Our collection of disciplines from other Yearly Meetings around the world has also been brought up to date, as has the collection at Woodbrooke library, so British Friends can access the full range of contemporary books of discipline in use elsewhere. We will be launching a resource list* of these (with links to texts available online).

*Update: you can download the full list of contemporary books of discipline, with details of holdings here and at Woodbrooke library, from a list of subject guides on our website here:, or link directly here: here.

A few of the overseas books of discipline

A few of the overseas books of discipline

As both the home of Yearly Meeting archives and one of the world’s largest repositories of published Quaker writings, the Library will be an important resource for Friends considering, and perhaps soon undertaking, a renewed approach to our Quaker book of discipline.

[1] Memoir of William Cookworthy (1854) p. 39



Further reading on the history of the book of discipline of Quakers in Britain:

David J Hall, Christian and brotherly advices. In Friends’ quarterly, vol. 22 no. 7 (July 1981), p. 506-515

David J Hall, How we got our book of discipline: the story to 1863. In Friends’ quarterly, vol. 25 no. 1 (January 1988), p. 32-39

Edward H Milligan, How we got our book of discipline: the revision of 1921 – from doctrine to experience. In Friends’ quarterly, vol. 25 no. 3 (July 1988), p. 110-117

David Olver, The history of Quaker Faith & Practice. In Friends’ quarterly, vol. 42 no. 3 (August 2014), p. 12-22

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Demystifying digitisation

In this blog post we want to tackle the big issue currently facing libraries, archives and museums: digitisation. It is something we are putting a lot of thought into here at Library of Society of Friends, and something we are aware lots of people are interested in – Quakers around the country, library users and remote enquirers all have expectations about what we can, and should, make available online….sometimes realistic and sometimes not!

Other blogs have covered this topic in great detail (for example, but we thought we’d talk about some of the issues and try to give some examples of challenges and opportunities specific to our collections.

To start at the beginning, what do we actually mean when we talk about digitising something, such as a book, archival document or photograph?

Generally, the steps involved in digitisation include the following:

Preparing the item……………..

Removal of any fastenings (staples, paper clips etc), in some cases complete removal of the binding (dis-binding), cleaning, flattening, repair of any creases, tears, folds etc. In many cases this work can be done by Library staff themselves but extensive work will need a professional conservator.

Torn page in tract vol crop

A torn page in one of our tract volumes – this would require conservation work by a professional before digitising for the best result.

Choosing method of digitising…………….

Assessing whether to scan with specialist scanner or photograph the document with a camera; choosing whether to do this in-house or with an external company (in which case obtaining quotes from different suppliers, choosing supplier and agreeing project specification). Different types of material benefit from different types of photography to get the best image results and cause least damage.

Typed report on carbon paper, 1918

These foolscap Conscientious Objector Information Board reports could be scanned on a specialist archival scanner quite successfully.

FH plan

Whereas these large scale plans of Friends House require photography with an overhead camera to capture successfully.

Carrying out the digitisation…………..

Setting up equipment (scanner or camera), processing the images, checking accuracy and quality of images (this can be a very technical process involving checking the colour of the image is true to the original document, adjusting cameras to stop reflection from shiny surfaced images etc etc).

We currently carry out this work on a small scale for bespoke orders. Taking the digital photograph of the painting, museum object, photograph, document etc can be challenging, but is also followed by work editing in image management software, researching copyright issues and creating the licence based on the intended use of the digital image (print, online, TV etc).

Describing and storing the digital images……………….

Each single image may require up to 10-15 pieces of information to be created and saved with it to ensure future access and preservation. This information is called metadata (includes details such as names of places, people featured, source of material, dates, as well as technical information about the type of software used etc).

Each image will need to be saved in a high resolution master file (usually a TIFF file) and also converted into a lower resolution access file for upload to the web or viewing on a PC such as a JPEG file.

Preserving the digital images……………………..

This has now created new digital image files which require long term preservation and storage – image files can be very large and may require extra server or hard drive space which should be planned in advance. You must also monitor the format of the images so you can change to a new format should the original become obsolete. PDF, TIFF and JPEG are all predicted to be long lasting formats, but you never know when technology will move on and they will become unusable – in the same way physical media such as floppy discs, videotapes and minidiscs have.


All this work goes into digitisation before any image can be viewed online.

Online access…………….

Making material available online is in many ways more challenging than creating the digital images. Usually an institution’s main website is unsuitable for making large amounts of digital images accessible. Our main website does not have the required functionality.

For the Friends Ambulance Unit World War One digitisation project, this meant we had to use an external web developer to build a bespoke site in order to make a searchable resource featuring the personnel cards ( This is a process which takes considerable time and thought.

Mock-up of webpage

Early mock-up for FAU site by our web developer.

There are not many collections which we could digitise and upload without a lot of context to present the material for as wide an audience as possible. This also takes time and thought to prepare.

For example, we think digitising the Great Books of Sufferings would be an incredible project – but it would take a great deal of work to make this series presentable for the widest audience possible. Creating the digital images would be no small task in itself, digitising over 40 very large volumes. But to present them online they would probably require transcription, not only to make them more readable for those not used to reading 17th century handwriting, but also to index them and make them searchable. Transcription of a series of records this large would be a huge task.

They would also require quite a lot of contextual information to explain what they are and to help people with the kind of information they hold.

GBS 7 1 p233 01 Hunts

Image of part of a page from one of the Great Books of Sufferings

Our digitisation story so far……………

We have digitised, or allowed other organisations to digitise parts of our collection to use in their own online resources. This has included digitising records relating to the No-Conscription Fellowship and related material for the British Online Archive website which created a special section on WWI War Resisters.

We also microfilmed a large amount of material for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum who then created a digital index of the records so that you could search for names, and other information. This was not a digitisation project per se but has expanded the digital access to these records.

We have digitised parts of George Fox’s journal for a pilot project in collaboration with Lancaster University who are now seeking funding to complete the website.

We have contributed digital copies of around 300 17th century Quaker publications from our collections to Early English Books Online, a hugely important resource for historians and other researchers all over the world.

With funding from the Wellcome Trust, we digitised posters and lantern slides from Friends Temperance Union and added these as thumbnails to our online catalogue so that people can see images of the items.


Friends Temperance Union poster


Page from short journal of George Fox (MS Vol 305) with colour chart used in digitisation to assess quality of image.

The future……………..

We are excited about ideas for future digitisation. Bearing in mind the complexity of the work, and learning from projects already undertaken, we are looking forward to a strategic and creative digitisation programme. We have lots of ideas but need to choose priorities which may be led by funders or wider projects in the organisation.

Watch this space!


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Conserving the Library’s tract volume collection

Our first Quaker Strongrooms blogpost of 2018 is from Ian Watson of Sussex Conservation Consortium, who’s been conserving some of the Library’s “tract volumes”. These are 650 bound volumes of 17th-19th century pamphlets (sometimes grandly described as Sammelbands) – one of the jewels of the Library’s collections. Ian writes about the first stages of his approach to conserving this diverse and challenging material.


Assessing the tract volumes collection

Perhaps the most important stage of conservation occurs before any item arrives at the conservation studio, when we first start to consider its character, importance and condition. So it is with volumes from this collection. The collection as a whole is of high cultural value; the texts are rare; provenance evidence, annotations and marginalia make many of them unique. On top of this, the collection grew in the context of this historic Quaker library. The volumes are important as objects in themselves too – many are early printed works on handmade paper, in contemporary bindings, often in original condition. Overall it is the very definition of a special collection.

As well as being historically important, the collection is in demand. Yet, as the old bindings become fragile, through handling and environmental pressures, original features crumble. And when they fail outright, text, notes, faint pencil annotations by early readers – those little pieces of history – are all at risk of permanent loss. Thus, the conundrum: the books must be conserved as stable, working objects, repairs need to be made, new material added, originality reduced, but this must be balanced against preserving the collection in as historically original a condition as possible.

Cultural value and future use

Before a conservator can really assess an object, they need to understand its place in the world. Is it rare, unique? Does it get used heavily? What are the plans for its future, exhibitions, digitisation? Who can read it? How is it read – under supervision? With book supports? Where is it stored? What are the conditions there throughout the year? For all this information we conservators rely upon the librarians, archivists, and curators. Without it any treatment proposal is invalid.

What is it made of?

Libraries contain an enormously wide range of materials, from Anglo-Saxon parchment manuscripts to yesterday’s machine pulped, laser printed magazine paper. Just the different types of leather used within this particular collection have required several different approaches to conserve – from fantastically tough Dutch parchment, to extremely fragile English sheepskin, and – perhaps the most challenging to reproduce – suede-like reverse calf.

In addition, the volumes cross one of the most important barriers in materials terms: as a collection they date from the 17th to the 19th century: the changes in paper and leather production over this period has profound implications for the collection.

Traditional handmade rag paper, even of poor quality, is a wonderful material – strong, supple and stable; but later wood-pulp paper, which began to be produced in the 19th century, can be acidic, discoloured, brittle, unstable and often unsafe to use without risk of damage.

Vegetable tanned leathers of the pre-industrial period can last for centuries in good condition, whereas some industrial tanned leathers of the late 19th century onwards might only last 50 years before turning to dust due to the chemicals used in the tanning process.

That said, it is never a case of disregarding an object because the materials are of poorer quality, it just means it may be more difficult to preserve it in a stable condition.

How is it made?

Often this can simply mean what type of binding are we dealing with? However, to that must be added – who made it, a master or an apprentice? What was the budget? Was it cheap or built to last? This part of the assessment can often be the most rewarding, especially where the character of the workshop or even the binder themselves can be detected through little tricks of the trade, corrected errors or cost saving methods. As with the materials, it is not the conservator’s place to judge only superior bindings fit for preservation. In my experience, the book historian is just as excited by the little short cuts and developments in style of the low and mid-range bindings as they are by an obviously fine binding.

What is its condition?

Two copies of the same book printed and bound centuries ago may have had very different lives, and often age and binding style will not be the only indicator of the book’s actual condition. Where has it spent its life? In London during the smog of the industrial revolution? Shelved near a window suffering light damage for a hundred years, or stored in a damp basement, prone to attacks of mould? Has it even been read? Or used to the point of destruction?

What is important?

In the tract volumes collection, the simpler items to assess are often the well-made bindings in original condition, such as the vellum bound volumes from the personal collection of Anglo-Dutch Quaker William Sewel (tract volumes 131-136). It gets harder where, for example, the book was cheaply made in the 18th century, partly re-bound in the 19th, and then had some paper repairs in the 20th century. Perhaps an original binding isn’t opening properly simply because of a thick layer of poor quality glue on the spine (a common problem). This is where real care needs to be taken when assessing the book and planning the treatment. Decisions will need to be made in conjunction with librarians as to the importance of the item as part of a working collection, and that can often mean the binding must be able to store the information safely, allowing access to text and all the annotations and marginalia in a normal and useful way. However, behind that general rule, all the subtleties of preserving the item’s originality and evidence of its life will have been accounted for and laid out in the treatment proposal. Only when all of that is agreed will the conservator be able to pick up their paste-brush, sharpen their paring knife and begin to treat the object.

Some solutions

So far we have had 129 of the volumes conserved (one fifth of the total collection); assessment and treatment of the remainder is continuing. Library users can now read and handle (with care!) volumes that were previously too damaged for use. This work is generously supported by donors to the Library’s BeFriend A Book fund. To find out more or make a donation, please contact the Library

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A year in view: Quaker Strongrooms blog 2017

As the New Year approaches, here’s a quick look back at some Quaker Strongrooms blog highlights of 2017.

The most popular post was Quaker women: resources for women’s history in the Library of the Society of Friends, published in March – women’s history month. It offered a broad overview of the great women’s history resources that the Library has to offer. In it we described some selected primary sources here, both printed and archival, and a range of biographical and historical works invaluable for anyone interested in the subject.

Quaker meeting attributed to Heemskerk F070

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


Posters are a powerful way to convey a strong, succinct message. Quakers say it loud was published to coincide with our reading room display on Quaker posters early in the year. In the display, reduced size facsimile posters were hung in the limited space available, to give an overview of the fascinating range of (mainly 20th century) posters that have been produced by British Quakers. A different selection was displayed in the autumn. The blogpost proved interesting to lots of people, with requests for reproductions and full scale displays elsewhere.


The first post of 2017 highlighted some Library material relating to the origins and development of the “Eight Foundations of a True Social Order”, inspired by Reimagining a True Social Order, a rich  new resource produced by academics at Leeds in collaboration with Quakers in Britain, Woodbrooke and others.

At the other end of the year, in December, the blog carried a post on Quakers and the Nobel Peace Prize, to celebrate the 2017 award (to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) and mark the 70th anniversary of the joint award of the prize to British and American Quakers in 1947. Read the blogpost to learn about some of the reasons for the award, and contemporary reactions of Friends drawn from personal papers held in the Library’s manuscript collections.


As always, we aim to cover a variety of topics in the blog, highlighting the different parts of the Library’s printed, archival and visual collections, and spanning a wide range of topics and historical periods. A collection of early printed books and their provenance were the subject of A 17th century Recording Clerk’s library: Richard Richardson’s books. The books were catalogued as one of the final parts of our printed materials “Retrospective Cataloguing Project” which has yielded some fascinating insights into Quaker publishing over the centuries, recounted on the blog and elsewhere, alongside successfully achieving its goal of making full information about the collection widely available.

Fragments of mediaeval printed and manuscript waste used in the binding of Richardson Collection 3

Fragments of mediaeval printed and manuscript waste used in the binding of Richardson Collection 3

Other posts included:


Whatever your interests, we hope you’ve found something good to read on Quaker Strongrooms over 2017. And we wish you all the best for a happy 2018!


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Quakers and the Nobel Peace Prize – 70 year anniversary

Nobel telegram1

Telegram informing FSC of the award, 31st October 1947 (Library reference: TEMP MSS 54/2)


Yesterday marked the the 70th anniversary of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Friends Service Council and American Friends Service Committee, representing British and Americans Quakers more widely.


The anniversary feels all the more special this year, as the recently announced 2017 winner, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), is an organisation which represents a cause, the abolition of nuclear weapons, which Quakers have worked on for decades.

Many see this year’s award as a statement from the Nobel Committee on global affairs; a timely message of support for the current UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; and a boost for pacifist grassroots activism.

In 1947 too, Quakers believed that their award of the Peace Prize should be a stimulus to the ordinary person involved in day-to-day activism. The following two extracts from the acceptance speeches at the ceremony reflect this message:

Today as we live in the shadow of two great wars, we are all conscious not only of the horror of war itself, but of all the aftermath of human misery – starvation, homelessness, and many other forms of physical suffering. We know too of the greater evils of lowered morality, bitterness, violence and self-interest that sow the seeds of misunderstanding and strife. Seeing all this, the Society of Friends is humbled when it realises how little it has accomplished; but the receipt of the award is exhilarating. This recognition of endeavour must serve to stimulate greater effort.

Extract from Margaret Backhouse’s acceptance speech, Nobel ceremony in Oslo, 10th December 1947.

If any should question the appropriateness of bestowing the peace prize upon a group rather than upon an outstanding individual we may say this: The common people of all nations want peace. In the presence of great impersonal forces they feel individually helpless to promote it. You are saying to them here today that common folk, not statesmen, nor generals nor great men of affairs, but just simple plain men and women like the few thousand Quakers and their friends, if they devote themselves to resolute insistence on goodwill in place of force, even in the face of great disaster past or threatened, can do something to build a better, peaceful world.

Extract from Henry Cadbury’s acceptance speech, Nobel ceremony in Oslo, 10 December 1947.

(1947) Nobel scroll

Some Quakers were hesitant about accepting the prize because they generally did not believe ‘prizes’ should be the reward for acting on an inner spiritual belief. This award sat uncomfortably with some, who never sought publicity for their work, which was borne from the core Quaker belief in bearing witness to one’s faith through outward action.

Margaret Backhouse discusses this dilemma in response to a letter from Norwegian pacifist Ole Olden:

I think it is true to say that the Friends Service Council had no hesitation in accepting the award once it had been made. The previous hesitation of Meeting for Sufferings was apparently on the ground of not wishing to seek public recognition of a testimony that lies so closely to our religious conviction.

Margaret Backhouse to Ole Olden, Nov 1947 (Library reference: TEMP MSS 54/2)

She responds to many of the letters of congratulations with repeated mention of her, and the Society’s, embarrassment at the accolade, emphasising the work of other peace churches, pacifist groups, and non-Quakers who worked alongside Friends in war relief work or donated funds towards the work.


Images from our Friends Relief Service (1943-1948) collection

There were some achievements and areas of work that could be seen as quite unique to Quakers at the time though, that may have particularly inspired the award in 1947. One of these was the idea of Quaker International Centres.

Mentioned by Margaret Backhouse in her Nobel lecture (among other specific examples), she highlights the International Centres as an example of work not carried out in response to war, like relief projects, but as positive step towards building a world where war will not take place:

Most of my illustrations have been drawn from the emergency work of Friends, but there are less spectacular outcomes of our belief that all men belong to the family of God. This conviction necessarily leads us to believe that all war is wrong. It is therefore not enough to make efforts to repair the damage that it does, but there must be positive methods used to appeal to the intellectual reasonableness of man. There must be understanding of the problems of relationships, and men must learn to live “in the life and power which takes away the occasion of all wars.

 Extract from Nobel Lecture by Margaret Backhouse, Oslo, 12 December 1947.

The concept of Quaker Embassies arose before the end of World War I. Carl Heath and others saw a need for the repair of international relations in Europe and the development of mutual understanding to heal the fractures of war. Many Friends also became unhappy with the Treaty of Versailles, seeing in it the seeds of ongoing hostility between nations. In a letter to Carl Heath a week before the Treaty was signed, Edith Pye says:

“The outlook for the signing of peace seems more and more ominous and the possibility of the renewal of the blockade fills one with horror.”

Letter from Edith Pye to Carl Heath, 11 June 1919 (Library reference: TEMP MSS 54/2)

In 1918, this group of Friends, led by Carl Heath, took the idea to Yearly Meeting, which minuted:

“This concern has taken a strong hold upon the Meeting. We believe there is a call for such a movement not only in Europe but in other Continents.”

Minute 17, Yearly Meeting, 1918

In 1919 the Council for International Service (one of the forerunners of Friends Service Council who were officially awarded the Peace Prize) was set up to undertake the establishment of International Centres, and organise volunteers and staff to work in them. Initially locations were chosen based on cities with strong Quaker links or logistics on the ground. Paris was an obvious first choice: the office that had been used to coordinate relief work expanded its remit to function as an International Centre.

Centres soon sprung up in more European cities: Berlin, Geneva, Vienna and eventually outside of Europe also.

The centres provided meetings for worship, study groups, cultural activities, and space for other organisations and community groups to meet. They aimed to forge community and political links, offer places of support for Friends ‘in transit’, and support local Quaker meetings where they existed. The concept was described as a ‘ministry of reconciliation’, a phrase repeated by Henry Cadbury in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the lead up to World War II, the centres in Paris, Geneva, Vienna, and most importantly Berlin, were increasingly involved with fostering reconciliation and peace, and dealing with the unfolding political situation.

The Berlin Centre became very active after Hitler came to power in 1933, supporting persecuted groups including pacifists and socialists whom Hitler sought to purge from society to strengthen his political control over the country. The Berlin Centre already had strong links with these groups, and indeed some individuals involved were Quakers themselves.

The staff at the centre visited people in prison and pressed for their good treatment and release, even at personal risk to themselves. Corder Catchpool, the Quaker warden of the Berlin Centre, was himself arrested, as were German Quakers such as Leonhard Friedrich. It was information gained through the work of the centre that led to British Friends’ recognition of the urgency of the situation and the establishment of the Germany Emergency Committee in 1933. This would become the Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens, which eventually assisted almost 2,000 people to escape Nazi persecution.

In this way, ongoing, small-scale ‘peacetime’ activism fed into the success of large scale wartime projects. It may be the wartime projects that garnered attention and praise but they would not have been possible, or as successful, without the hard work in the years before the war.

This is just one example of the type of peace witness work Quakers undertook. It was Quaker service of this kind that appealed to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and led to  the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.

LSF (1947) Nobel Peace Prize obv

To find out more about the current work of Quaker Peace and Social Witness (the successor body to Friends Service Council), visit the Quakers in Britain website:

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“In turbulent times”: sources on local Quakers and their meetings over the centuries

For Quaker Week 2017, our head of Library & Archives, Libby Adams, travelled to Penrith Meeting to give a talk on local Quakers living through “turbulent times” (this year’s Quaker Week theme). This blog post concentrates on Quaker stories from Cumbria, but highlights some of the sources the Library holds for studying the history of any local area.

While local Quaker records (mostly deposited in county record offices) are the primary record of local corporate Quaker activity, the Library here at Friends House holds archives of national Quaker bodies (with which local meetings corresponded), as well as personal papers of individuals (which shed light on local Quaker activity). Together these can provide a richer contextual picture. We’ve picked out some sources relating to Cumbria at three key historical moments – the 17th century, the end of the 18th century, and the First World War.

The first source is a collection of manuscript returns from meetings all over England and Wales describing how Quaker faith was first introduced, took root, and developed in each area, which were sent in to Yearly Meeting (later transcribed by Norman Penney, our first Librarian, and published by Friends Historical Society in 1907 as First publishers of truth).

First publishers of truth, Carlisle (MS Port. 7/12)

‘Some short and breife account of the first rise and progress of truth in this City Carlisle and who was the first publishers of the day of salutation and who received them and how meetings was first obtained in this City’ (Library reference: MS Port. 7/12)

Following the leadings of the spirit, early Friends broke the law by holding illegal meetings for worship, traveling around preaching and prophesying, and refusing to pay tithes (church taxes to support the established national church). They were fined, imprisoned and suffered for their beliefs. In 1675 Friends set up a “constant meeting about sufferings”, appointing a “Recording Clerk” to gather and record reports of sufferings sent up to London by a network of correspondents in every county, as evidence of the unfair persecution of Quakers.  You can read more about records of Quaker sufferings in an earlier blogpost.

Great Book of Sufferings entry for Carlisle 1682

Great Book of Sufferings entry for Carlisle 1682 (Library reference: YM/MFS/GBS/3/1)


The 18th century was a turbulent time both nationally and internationally, with the rise of Enlightenment ideas about liberty and rights, the industrial revolution, American Independence, and the French Revolution. There was a growing campaign against the slave trade, in which Friends were prominent. This is a theme which emerges from the personal papers of three Cumbrian Quakers now held by the Library, alongside other general, religious and personal matters.

Elihu Robinson (1734–1809), of Eaglesfield, Cumbria, kept detailed diaries and memoranda recording his journeys to London for Yearly Meeting, as well as a visit by Thomas Clarkson, the antislavery campaigner, and records of his weather observations (of particular interest to contemporary researchers).

Elihu Robinson's diary 1765

Account of travelling to London for Yearly Meeting 1765. Elihu Robinson’s diary (Library reference: MS Box R3/1)

Jane Pearson (c1735–1816) was from Newtown near Carlisle, married John Pearson, and had 7 children, moving to Whitehaven. She was a “recorded minister”, which meant that her gift of spoken ministry was acknowledged. The Library holds a collection of correspondence, 1784-1821, between her, Thomas Wilkinson and others, including ministers Rebecca Jones, Deborah Darby, and Esther Tuke.

Letter from Jane Pearson to Hannah Tipping

‘Ah my Dears life is a slender thread’. Letter from Jane Pearson to her granddaughter Hannah Tipping. Library reference: MS Box 12/9/1

Thomas Wilkinson (1751–1836) was another Cumberland Quaker, with a wide circle of friends including William Wordsworth, and Thomas Clarkson – and of course local Friends Jane Pearson and Elihu Robinson. His papers held by the Library include accounts of visits to Scotland, Wales and the Yorkshire Dales, as well as Yearly Meeting in London, poetry and correspondence.


Thomas Wilkinson letter to Elihu Robinson 28 Nov 1790

Thomas Wilkinson reports a critical review of his poem, An Appeal to England (1789), in a letter to Elihu Robinson 28 Nov 1790 (Library reference: Temp Mss 128/27/86)

Moving forward a century, to another time of great upheaval, we can see another example of how national records held by the Library can help us explore important themes at local level.

Quakers were instrumental in introducing legal provision for conscientious objection during World War I, as the Quaker Week poster timeline shows. But Quakers, in common with the rest of the country, made a range of personal decisions in response to the challenge of war: some signed up, others were absolutist “conchies” who endured lengthy prison sentences rather than cooperate in any way with the war effort, and yet others organised relief for war victims in England, Europe and Russia.

The Society of Friends’ Wartime Statistics Committee was set up in 1917 to obtain an accurate picture of what members, attenders, and “associates” of military age were doing. Monthly meetings were asked to send in “Returns of service during wartime” – record sheets for named individuals – which are now part of the official records for Britain Yearly Meeting (you can read more about these fascinating records in an earlier blogpost).

Complementing these are the personnel records of the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), an independent organisation set up by Friends in 1914, now digitised and available at

The two sets of records were created for quite different purposes (data to report to a central committee or a relief worker’s service record) but when used together can provide a fuller picture of individuals in a local area than is often available from other official records kept at the time.

The Library holds varying sources for different local areas, and what you may find here depends to a great extent on the nature of the Quaker presence in your area. Local Friends also wrote and published books, pamphlets and articles (ranging from theological and devotional writings to social research, campaigning material and poetry). The Library has a comprehensive collection of publications by Friends, and useful secondary sources on Quakers and Quakerism, as well as some invaluable indexes to a wide range of sources, such as The Friend, reports to Yearly Meeting, testimonies, etc. There is also a rich collection of paintings, drawings, and photographs.

If you have been on one of the meeting visits to Friends House you’ve probably visited the Library and seen a display of items of local interest from the collections. If not, and your meeting would like to arrange a visit, contact details are here.

The Library is free and open to all. Find out opening hours, how to register, and practical information for planning a visit here, and search our online catalogue here.

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