Quakers in Shoreditch - 1998 exhibition text by Peter
The text on this webpage is from the Exhibition "Quakers in
Shoreditch" which was presented in Shoreditch Library, Hoxton in
London in 1998. The exhibition was compiled by the Outreach Committee of
Tottenham Monthly Meeting.
The text was written by Peter Daniels. Illustrations (not here) were
supplied by Friends House
Quaker Social Action; Quaker Peace and Service; Hoxton Hall; Walthamstow
Meeting; and Farrand Radley.
The record mentioned that Harvey Gillman's book Paths of the Spirit
Home Service at £6.00;
This text was used as the basis of the composite web history
Quakers aroud Shoreditch which began in 1997.
QUAKERS AROUND SHOREDITCH
The Quakers, or Society of Friends, arose from the new
ideas around in England of the 1640s. In 1647 George
Fox began preaching around Leicestershire:
Now was I come up in a spirit through the
flaming sword into the paradise of God. All
things were new and all the creation gave
another smell unto me than before, beyond what
words can utter.
In his vision, the Light, or Holy Spirit, guides us in our
actions individually and together as a continuing
revelation. Fox made "convincements" in the East
Midlands, where he and his companions called
themselves "Children of Light", but they ran into trouble
with the authorities, and found a new name:
This was Justice Bennet of Derby that first called
us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God, and this was in
the year 1650.
Travelling North through Yorkshire and Lancashire, in
1652 he found "a great people to be gathered" around
Westmorland and Furness, where people called
"Seekers" were much in sympathy. Margaret Fell, wife of
judge Thomas Fell, gave particular support at her home,
Swarthmoor Hall, where a base was established for an
The picture of George Fox on the left, an etching by
Robert Spence (1871-1964), shows Swarthmoor Hall in
In 1654 the "Valiant Sixty" were sent around the country
to spread the word. Francis Howgill and Edward
Burrough were delegated to London. They worked hard,
speaking and publishing constantly.
In his testimony to his companion's life, Howgill
describes the characteristic silence of Quaker meetings:
The Lord of heaven and earth we found to be at
near at hand, and, as we waited upon him in
pure silence, our minds out of all things, his
heavenly presence appeared at our assemblies,
when there was no language, tongue nor speech
from any creature . . . We came to know a place
to stand in and what to wait in . . .
Burrough himself described the inspiration this led to:
While waiting upon the Lord in silence . . . our
mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues,
as the Lord gave us utterance, and his spirit led
us, which was poured upon sons and daughters.
Map drawn by David Butler for the book Six Weeks
Meeting (1971), a history of Quaker buildings in London.
Map drawn by David Butler for the book Six Weeks
Meeting (1971), a history of Quaker buildings in London.
Women played an important part from the beginning, and
spoke prominently at Quaker meetings. Paintings
attributed to Egbert van Heemskirk show a Quaker
woman preaching on a barrel: this representation was
originally satirical, as the very idea was considered
ridiculous, although in different versions the amount of
caricature varies. It was adapted for anti-Quaker literature:
here the woman's inspiration is shown as a temptation of
One of the earliest regular Quaker meetings was held at
the house of Sarah Sawyer, at Rose and Rainbow Court
off Aldersgate (roughly the site of the Museum of
London), even before the Bull and Mouth rooms were
taken in 1655. When she married and moved out in 1675,
it became a dedicated meeting house, used mainly for the
women's meeting known as Box Meeting, which looked
after Quaker poor relief.
One of the most important Quaker printers was Tace
Sowle (1665?-1749) who carried on her father's business
PEEL AND CLERKENWELL
Peel Meeting House, in St John's Lane, began in 1656. It
was named after the sign of a baker's peel, the wooden
spade for handling loaves in an oven.
John Bellers (1654-1725) was a considerable thinker on
social issues, and proposed a "Colledge of Industry" to
train and employ people. Although he disliked the term
"workhouse", his ideas were taken up when the Quakers
ran the Clerkenwell Workhouse from 1701, combining it
with a school. Elizabeth Gerrard was a pupil there: here is
one of her letters home.
In 1654 Howgill and Burrough took rooms at the Bull
and Mouth Inn, off St Martins le Grand, using them for
"threshing meetings" at which new people were attracted
to Quaker beliefs. These were not silent meetings - the
crowds could be rowdy and the preaching had to be
Cromwell's regime was not ideal for the Quakers, but
after the Restoration persecution became much worse.
The Quaker Act (1662) made it an offence to assemble
five or more to worship. Inevitably, the authorities would
round up the Quakers at meetings for arrest and
imprisonment in the nearby Newgate prison. Conditions
Edward Burrough was arrested in 1662 at a meeting and
died after eight months in Newgate, aged 29. His writings
were published in 1672 under the title The Memorable
Works of a Son of Thunder and Consolation.
In 1670 William Penn and William Mead were arrested
when the way in to the meeting house was barred but they
continued to worship in the street. The jury found them
guilty only of "speaking in Gracious Street" and refused
to change their verdict even after two days spent in
prison. This established the primacy of the jury's decision
in English law.
William Penn (1644-1718), eldest son of Admiral Sir
William Penn, first encountered Quakers in Ireland. His
father's rival Pepys records in 1667:
"Mr William Pen, who is lately come over from Ireland,
is a Quaker again, or some very melancholy thing."
While imprisoned in the Tower for writing a pamphlet, he
continued writing one of his great works, No Cross,No
In 1681 he accepted land in America in payment of a debt
Charles II owed his father, but he made special treaties
with the Indians of Pennsylvania, as he knew his "Holy
Experiment" needed their respect and friendship.
"Gracious Street" or Gracechurch Street meeting house
began as an inn like Bull and Mouth, acquired after the
1666 Great Fire, but was rebuilt as something more like
our idea of a meeting house.
George Fox died at a house next door, after a meeting
here on 13th January 1691 (or 1692, adjusted for the 1752
calendar change). After his funeral at the meeting house,
some 4,000 people accompanied his body to Bunhill
Fields for burial.
Gracechurch Street became one of the most important
Quaker Meetings, and the neighbourhood around it
became the centre of the Quaker business community in
the city. By the eighteenth century 20-25% of the
immediate population were Quakers. City Friends mingled
piety with prosperity and earned reputations as sober,
honest tradesmen. Some, like the Barclays, Lloyds, and
Gurneys, made fortunes in trade and banking. Quaker
financial knowhow and investment was important to the
success of Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth Fry, a Gurney, lived in St Mildred's Court -
referred to as "Mildred's Court", as Quakers' refusal to
use titles like "Mr" extended to sainthood. Another
Quaker peculiarity involved hats, which were not taken off
out of deference to persons in authority. This caused
William Penn and William Mead to be fined for contempt
of court, at the same time as the jury in their case was
However, Quakers removed hats when offering prayer in
a meeting for worship, or "ministering". This picture of
Gracechurch Street Meeting c.1770 shows Isaac Sharples
of Hitchin on the "facing bench" for Elders, standing with
his hat hung on a peg behind him.
Note also that women and men sit in separate halves of
the meeting. They worshipped together, but there were
separate men's and women's business meetings until the
end of the nineteenth century. In the gallery looking on are
some non-Quakers, or "the world's people", in brighter
clothing. By the time of the picture the Society of Friends
had become more inward-looking and "quietist".
The Bull and Mouth was lost in the Great Fire. Before it
was rebuilt Friends took a lease on a house on
Bishopsgate owned by the Earl of Devonshire. After
extensions in 1794 it was used for the Yearly Meeting,
previously held mostly at Gracechurch Street; also for the
executive body, called Meeting for Sufferings because it
arose from a system of reporting anti-Quaker persecution.
The Recording Clerk recorded the Sufferings, and
became the general administrator of the Society.
Devonshire House came to house the Recording Clerk's
office, and also the Library, set up in 1673 when it was
decided to collect two copies of everything written by
Quakers, and one copy of everything written against
The premises came to be increasingly cramped and
dismal, until the offices moved to the newly built Friends
House in 1926, opposite Euston Station. Devonshire
House was demolished, but is still the name of the local
Monthly Meeting responsible for this exhibition.
Pictures show the courtyard; the Women's Monthly
Meeting; and the Bishopsgate frontage about 1900.
Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) is one of the best known
Quakers, described in Parliament as "the genius of good",
and written about as "Angel of the Prisons". She lived
near Gracechurch Street until moving to Upton Park in
In 1813 she became concerned about prison conditions
and visited Newgate, beginning the work that made her
famous. To see her reading to the prisoners of Newgate
was considered "one of the sights of London". But she
aroused hostility as well as admiration. Despite her early
determination to be a "Plain Quaker", she was attracted to
high society and worldliness, which Quakers found
disquieting, as she did herself. Other prison reformers
disapproved of her unorthodox methods, and the irregular
authority of her lady prison visitors.
QUAKER STREET SPITALFIELDS
Benjamin Lay attended the Wheeler Street meeting, but
what he described as his own "forward zeal" led him to
interrupt Zacheus Routh, for which he was disowned by
the Monthly Meeting in 1721. He redeemed himself by
travelling to Barbados and Carolina as an early
campaigner against slavery.
Map drawn by David M. Butler for the book Six Weeks
Meeting by Winifred M. White, a history of the body
responsible for Quaker property in London (published by
Six Weeks Meeting, 1971).
Hoxton Hall was a classic English music hall opened in
1863, but it lost its license in 1871 because of "Police
complaining". New owners applied for a license in 1876
without success, and the building came up for sale again.
This time a Quaker, William Isaac Palmer, bought it on
behalf of the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission.
Palmer (1824-1893) was a younger son of the Huntley &
Palmer biscuit family, and spent more than his fortune on
good causes - after his death his brothers had to pay out
the rest of his promised donations themselves. He left the
Hall to the Bedford Institute, so it became their eighth
centre. The Girls Guild of Good Life was a major part of
After the second world war, as well as support for social
need in Hoxton, an arts and recreational programme
developed: shown here is a pottery class from the fifties.
The building continues today as an important community
arts centre for the area, and the old music hall is much
valued as a theatre space.
William Allen (1770-1843) was born in Spitalfields. He
became a successful chemist at Plough Court near
Lombard St, an associate of Elizabeth Fry, and a
prominent campaigner against slavery. After his first
marriage in 1806 he divided his time between Plough
Court and the pleasant village of Stoke Newington.
Widowed in 1816 and wealthy, in 1827 he married Grizell
Birkbeck who was herself a wealthy widow, older than
him. This provoked some ridicule, and his motives were
read as avaricious. The cartoon by Robert Cruikshank
shows the disappointed Quaker women of Stoke
Newington. In fact, William and Grizell were genuinely
close, and other cartoonists defended him.
FROM THE CITY TO STOKE NEWINGTON
In the early nineteenth century many prosperous city
Quakers began to live in Stoke Newington. A need was
felt for a meeting house locally, and after the Gracechurch
Street meeting house burned down in 1821 there was even
more incentive. Although Gracechurch St was rebuilt, in
1827 a site was acquired in Park Street (now Yoakley
Road). The migration of city Quakers continued, until the
new Gracechurch Street meeting house closed in 1850,
and Stoke Newington became the largest concentration of
Quakers in London. By 1900, when it was starting to go
down, there were 221 living within a mile of the meeting
During the twentieth century, and especially since the
second world war, the meeting declined. Middle class
Quakers moved further out to the suburbs, and the large
meeting house was demolished, replaced with a new
building in 1959. But the membership of the Meeting was
not enough to continue, and the building was sold. There
are now more Quakers in the area again, but they travel to
other meeting houses for worship.
Ratcliff Meeting began when 1655 Captain James Brock
of Mile End opened his house to Quakers; by about 1666
land was bought for a meeting house in Ratcliff between
Wapping and Limehouse.
The Meeting declined in the nineteenth century, and the
Bedford Institute took it over. In 1935 the building was
declared a dangerous structure and had to be demolished;
various plans for replacing it were overtaken by the war.
Even with the optimism of postwar rebuilding (shown at
an Institute class) Ratcliff still has no building of its own,
but the Meeting continues at Toynbee Hall.
COFFEE TAVERNS - ADULT SCHOOLS
Charles Simpson was a Barnsley miner who went to study
at Ruskin College in Oxford, and later at Woodbrooke,
the Quaker college in Birmingham. In 1916 he set up the
John Woolman Settlement in Islington, named after an
American Quaker who pioneered ethical living. Charles
Simpson was active politically and became mayor of
- In 1931 the Settlement moved to Bunhill, joining the
existing adult education facilities provided by the
Bedford Institute, but its activities took over much
of the building, including use of the former coffee
tavern as a common room.
- There was an early Quaker school at Shacklewell
run by Mary Stott of Dalston, and later by Jane
Bullock, to instruct young women in "whatsever
things was civill & useful in ye creation".
- Friends Neighbourhood House in Lonsdale Square,
Islington, was run by the Bedford Institute
Association in the early 1970s to support what was
then a poor area, with nurseries, adventure
playgrounds and other facilities.
- The Bunhill Fields buildings of 1881 were extended
after a few years with the Adult School, on the right
of the picture. On the left is the Bunhill Coffee
Tavern, and between them the meeting house. The
building was bombed in 1941,
and all that remains is the caretaker
's cottage, still used today as the meeting house: this is hidden
Coffee Tavern in the photo.
- In 1952 a new memorial stone of Westmorland
slate was placed near where George Fox is thought
to be buried. This commemorates the anniversary
of George Fox's meeting with the Seekers in the
north west of England, taken as the start of
- The area to the east of the burial ground was
cleared by bombing all the way to the City Road.
Since then, buildings have filled the space again,
including the tower block Braithwaite House
alongside the burial ground.
Wheeler Street meeting house in Spitalfields was on the corner of
which became known as Quaker Street instead. It started in 1656 in the
upstairs of a
house; as crowds grew, a tent was erected in the yard, and then a meeting
John Robinson, Guardian of the Tower, was locally powerful and anti-Quaker.
many arrests, he might have closed the Meeting, but Gilbert Latey, who
property, acted quickly and installed a tenant so that it became a dwelling
subject to the law on places of worship. This strategy was soon adopted for
The building was not very strong, and suffered badly in the great
of 1703 (which
destroyed the Eddystone Lighthouse). Despite repairs, fewer Quakers
there, and the Meeting closed in 1740, five years before the building
finally fell down
Benjamin Lay attended the Wheeler Street Meeting, but what he
as his own
"forward zeal" led him to interrupt the ministry of Zacheus Routh, for
disowned by the Monthly Meeting in 1721. He moved to Colchester, where
similar occurred. He redeemed himself by travelling to Barbados and
early campaigner against slavery.
THE BEDFORD INSTITUTE
In the early nineteenth century Quaker interest in the area was
Bedford (1780-1864), a silk merchant of 28 Steward Street (pictured, with
pediment; and the street today). He was particularly concerned with poverty
among young people, and formed the Society for Lessening the Causes of
Delinquency in the Metropolis. With others from Devonshire House Meeting,
a Working Men's Club and First Day School in Quaker Street, which opened in
just after his death.
The Bedford Institute, named after Peter Bedford was built on the
St and Quaker St in 1865. The work based here, running adult schools and
the results of poverty, spread to other Quaker sites in the area, including
the Peel and
Ratcliff meeting houses, as well as the Bunhill Memorial Buildings, and
The original Quaker St premises (left) were rebuilt in the 1890s
pictures of Spitalfields were taken by Bedford Institute members in the
Bethnal Green was one of the Bedford Institute buildings, and was in
Harts Lane. The
street was later renamed Barnet Grove, which became the name of the Quaker
The Bedford Institute ran a youth club in the fifties and sixties,
Bethnal Green was one of the Bedford Institute buildings, and was in Harts
street was later renamed Barnet Grove, which became the name of the Quaker
After the second world war, as well as support for social need in
an arts and
recreational programme was developed: shown here is a pottery class from
The building continues today as an important community arts centre for the
the old music hall is much valued as a theatre space.
QUAKER SOCIAL ACTION
The Bedford Institute Association still exists,
and is now called Quaker
In the last ten years the work has grown rapidly, finding new ways to
thousands of people with effective responses and new opportunities, and
we share with others fighting poverty in other areas.
HomeLink works with homeless people who
do not have access to
Each year over 150 people are housed. We help them find a flat in the
sector, advance a month's rent (which we can then claim back) and indemnify
landlord against theft and damage. Clients are offered a trained and
volunteer support worker to reduce the chance of them drifting back into
homelessness. Refugees make up a significant proportion of HomeLink's
New Life Training equips unemployed
people for work in the
industry. We train people for the industry's vacancies and an agency
on completion of the course. Trainees' previous length of unemployment
HomeStore, our community furniture
project, offers essential
to over 2000
people each year who are unable to afford to buy from commercial second
All clients are referred to us by social service departments and a wide
range of other
agencies. People with learning disabilities have always been part of the
undertaking deliveries or restoring wooden furniture.
In November 1998, HomeStore moved into new
premises in Stratford,
opened by Tony Banks MP.
New Life Electrics renovates and
guarantees cookers and other
goods for HomeStore's clients, thus ensuring that electrical equipment is
is given in domestic appliance repair to NVQ standards. We also collect
fridges and, if these cannot be reconditioned, we remove the harmful CFC
dispose of it safely.
The Garrett Centre, in Unitarian
premises in Bethnal Green,
an expanding range
of activities for the local community, bringing local people together so
that they can
improve the quality of their lives.
For the future, several exciting projects are
* a micro-credit scheme for women
starting their own business
* traditional community development work
especially with women at the
* further development of our new HomeStore
premises for employment
generation, e.g. a computer "practice firm", or Large Goods Vehicle driver
Quaker Social Action, Bunhill Fields
Meeting House, Quaker Court,
London EC1Y 8QQ.
Tel/fax: 0171 490 2184.
JOHN WOOLMAN SETTLEMENT
Charles Simpson was a Barnsley miner who went
to study at Ruskin College
Oxford, and later at Woodbrooke, the Quaker college in Birmingham. In 1919
up the John Woolman Settlement in Islington, named after an American Quaker
pioneered ethical living. Charles Simpson was active politically and became
In 1931 the Settlement moved to Bunhill,
joining the existing adult
provided by the Bedford Institute, but its activities took over much of the
including use of the former coffee tavern as a common room.
Bunhill Fields burial ground was the first
freehold property owned by
in 1661 and used until 1855 for 12,000 burials. It predates the more famous
ground across Bunhill Row, although the area ("Bone Hill") was long
burials. George Fox, Edward Burrough and John Bellers were buried here;
many during the plague were 27 Quakers who died still in harbour on the
Eagle "when under sentence of banishment for the Truth", as the burial
Graves were meant to be unmarked, as monuments
were "of no service to
deceased", but stones did appear. In about 1750 Robert Howard, an Old
tinplate worker, found a stone marked "G.F.", and demanded it should be
into rubble. At about that time, it is reported that when a wall was being
lead coffin was found, inscribed with George Fox's initials and age. The
reinterred but the site was not marked until 1881: gardener Eli Radley is
next to the simple stone with "old style" dates.
In 1874 the Bedford Institute used the ground
for a tent to hold mission
subsequently was allowed to build an "iron room". The tent was acquired by
Booth, who used it for his own meetings held on another Quaker burial
Whitechapel. An adult school was started by the young Quakers J.B.
and J.Allen Baker (later an M.P.), and in 1880 a compulsory purchase of
road-widening enabled the Bunhill Memorial Buildings to be built, with a
tavern, school rooms, a medical mission, and the first meeting house on the
Mary Hughes (1860-1941) was daughter of Judge
Thomas Hughes, author of
Brown's Schooldays. Her father was a leader of the Christian Socialists,
decided to live her father's ideals in a direct way. In 1895 she went to
live with her
sister and brother-in-law, curate of St Jude's in Whitechapel, and in 1915
Kingsley Hall in Bow, set up by Quakers (Stephen and Rosa Hobhouse, and
and Doris Lester). She became a Quaker herself in 1918, influenced by the
conscientious objection to the war. In 1926 she set up the Dew Drop Inn, in
an old pub
in Vallance Road, "for Education and Joy". She was tireless, exasperatingly
and greatly loved: George Lansbury said, "Our frail humanity only produces
Hughes once in a century". She is pictured (with stick) on Gandhi's visit
1931, at Muriel Lester's house.The Bedford Institute, named after Peter
(below) was built on the corner of Wheeler St and Quaker St in 1865. The
here, running adult schools and alleviating the results of poverty, spread
Quaker sites in the area, including the Peel and Ratcliff meeting houses,
well as the
Bunhill Memorial Buildings, and later also Hoxton Hall.