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 library@quaker.org.uk.



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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: https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/library/about-the-collections, 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, https://peelarchivesblog.com/2017/05/31/why-dont-archivists-digitize-everything/) 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 (http://fau.quaker.org.uk/). 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 library@quaker.org.uk.

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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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