People Power


This exhibition was put together to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Heritage Open Days Scheme in 2019. The theme of the celebration year “Power of the People” fitted well with the story of Quakers, ordinary people from commonplace backgrounds, who made a huge contribution to the social thinking and economic history of Britain.


Founded in 1652 by George Fox, for the first forty years Quakers were ridiculed and persecuted. From the passing of The Act of Toleration in 1689, Quakers were able to worship freely in their own buildings but in 1828, the Test Acts barred all non-conformists and Roman Catholics from entering the professions or public service because they were not communicants of the Church of England.

Early Quakers had no alternative but earn their living in business. They had the advantage that the administration of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was securely established on area and national networks. The close “Quaker Connection” meant that families from different areas met up regularly and could exchange ideas and make contacts.

Fortunes were made by some Quaker businesspeople, but their faith encouraged thrift and simple living so the money was invested in industry, scientific and medical research and charitable enterprises. As they had no access to English universities, Quakers set up apprenticeships and established schools teaching science and engineering rather than classics.

Quaker money financed canal building and the early railways.  Quakers supported the anti-slavery movement, prison reform, conscientious objectors and Kindertransport. Quaker employers were among the first to improve the working and living conditions of their employees.


We have no creed, sacraments or priests and we try to live by the testimonies of Peace, Equality, Simplicity, Sustainability and Truth.

The root and source of Quakerism is “Meeting for Worship”. We gather in a shared silence to seek a sense of connection with our inner selves, with each other and with the deepest truth. In the silence we open ourselves to the strength and guidance we need to live in the world today. Equality is fundamental and we search for “that of God” in everyone.

Many Quakers today work with charities and peace-making initiatives throughout the world. Quakers in Kingston support immigrants and refugees.

In 2011 Quakers in Britain made a commitment to live more sustainably. Since then   meetings and individuals have taken practical action to achieve this goal.

For details of Kingston Meeting visit

For details of contemporary Quakerism, a free information pack and how to find other meetings visit Quakers in Britain

For an interesting view of Quaker history visit The Quaker Tapestry

To access “Quaker Faith and Practice” online visit


The 21st century sees the end of the historical development of the great Quaker businesses. The global chemical company Scott Bader Commonwealth Ltd is the only known business founded by Quakers which is still run on Quaker principles today.

First-generation Quakers were encouraged to pursue “innocent trades” – grocers, shoemakers, clockmakers, goldsmiths, brewers, woollen merchants, nurserymen and pharmacists. Quakers built a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. In time, Quaker business people were trusted to protect customers’ savings and so evolved the Quaker Banks which funded many industrial, scientific and humanitarian projects.

Second and third generation Quakers had no fundamental prejudice against economic activity and were open to opportunities to develop family businesses in new and profitable directions.

Quakers were drivers of the Industrial Revolution.

Abraham Darby 1st moved to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and set up the foundry which became the European centre of innovative techniques in the iron industry.

In Darlington, the Pease family put up the capital for George Stephenson’s early steam locomotives.

For further information about Railways in Britain (including Quaker introduction of timetables, tickets and Bradshaw’s Railway Guide).

Companies no longer in Quaker ownership:

Barclays Bank, Bryant and May Matches, Cadbury’s Chocolate, Carr’s Biscuits, Cash’s Nametapes, Clark’s Shoes, Fry’s Chocolate, Harris Brushes, Horniman Tea, Huntley and Palmer Biscuits, Lloyds Bank, Price Waterhouse Professional Services, Reckitt and Colman.

Warning: Quaker Oats is not and never has been a Quaker-run business.

The Quakers and Business Group today champions better values for all in the workplace based on the Quaker principles:                        

Truth and Integrity; Justice, Equality and Community; Simplicity; Peace;

The Light Within – Quakers have always followed their conscience and been courageous in standing up for what they believe to be right.

Membership is open to all who believe integrity in business and the workplace matters.


Further web resources for Quakers and the Arts

Quaker Arts Network


On Quakers and Music (in both British and American traditions) (in the American tradition, rather than the British)

On Solomon Eccles, in the Dictionary of National Biography

Eccles featured in Pepys’ Diary (29 July 1667): ‘… a man, a Quaker, came naked through the [Westminster] Hall, only very civilly tied about the privates to avoid scandal, and with a chafing-dish of fire and brimstone burning upon his head… crying, “Repent! repent!”’ There are various references to Quakers and the Arts in Quaker Faith & Practice, specifically Sections 21.27 – 21.42 (‘Creativity’). The full text of Quaker Faith & Practice can be viewed online at


John Dalton (1766-1844) – laid the foundations of modern chemistry being the first to calculate the atomic weights of different elements, meteorologist, researcher into colour blindness (Daltonism)

Luke Howard (1772-1864) – pharmacist and meteorologist. Presented a paper on the classification of clouds which forms the basis of the international classification known today.

Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) – astronomer, physicist, mathematician. Explained Einstein’s theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world. Conducted an expedition to Principe to view the solar eclipse of 1919 which provided early confirmation of general relativity.

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) – chemist, pacifist and prison reformer. Forwarded the science of crystallography and pioneered the use of X-rays to study crystals.

George Ellis (1939-) – cosmologist. Co-author of “The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time” with Stephen Hawking in 1973

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-) – astrophysicist and first scientist to observe radio pulsars.

The Life Scientific BBC Radio 4

See also:

Quaker Pharmacists

Quaker Botanists


John Fothergill (1712-80) – his observations advanced the treatment of scarlet fever, TB, epilepsy, influenza and migraine. Botanist and plant collector.

William Tuke (1732-1822) – pioneer in the humane treatment of mental illness. Founded The Retreat in York. (Scroll down for further details of The Retreat.)

John Lettsom (1744-1815) – physician, prison reformer, philanthropist. Founded the Medical Society of London.

Robert Willan (1757-1812) – pioneer in the study of skin diseases

Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) – pathologist, advocate of preventative medicine, identified lymphatic disease which carries his name – Hodgkin’s Disease – advocate of social medicine for the poor.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) – first woman to gain a medical degree in the USA, first woman on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council in the UK. Promoted medical education for women.

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) – pioneer of sterile surgery and the use of antiseptics.

John Rickman (1891-1951) – psychoanalyst. Pioneered group sessions of psychotherapy.

Quaker-founded Hospitals for Mental Health

England -The Retreat York

America – The Friends Hospital Philadelphia

Quaker supported General Hospitals


Kenya – Jumuia Friends Hospital

Democratic Republic of Congo – Abeka Hospital

(see page 5 for Abeka Hospital)


Refusal to pay tithes (see para 2 “Problems”)

Underground Railroad   

Conscientious Objectors

Recent Activism – Quakers protest and are arrested at the DSEI Arms Fair on 3rd September 2019

Quaker Testimonies


Listed below are some useful websites and books where further information can be found regarding the Quaker relationship with the earth and the environment.

Advices and Queries

A book of forty-two offerings of insight and guidance for individual Quakers (we call ourselves Friends) to be challenged by and find inspiration.

“Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of  strength……………..” Advices & Queries 41

“We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibily with reverence for life.   Advices & Queries 42

Early Quakers and the Earth

John Woolman, a New Jersey Quaker, better known as an abolitionist of slavery was ahead of his time in understanding the need to respect the earth and live sustainably:

“The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age”.  

William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, his “Greene Countrie Town” preserved an acre of trees for every five cleared to build the town, recognising that the spiritual and physical welfare of its inhabitants was affected by their environment.

Quaker Botanists

The Golden Age of Quaker Botanists (2006). A beautifully illustrated book on Quaker botanists by Ann Nichols.

Sydney Parkinson was still in his twenties when he died and was buried at sea but he left a remarkable legacy of illustrations. He got little recognition for his achievement and not much is known about him. An account of Parkinson’s work and  illustrations on the voyage.  Natural History Museum website depicting the art and illustrations from the HMS Endeavour trip

Peter Collinson lived in Peckham and then Mill Hill, London. Many of the new species he imported, now regarded as native to Britain, can be seen in parks such as Peckham & Burgess Park and Dulwich Park.

Animal Rights

Ruth Harrison – animal rights activist, whose work highlighting the cruelty of factory farming, resonates with the contemporary drive for more humane and sustainable forms of food production.

“In fact if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to a lot of animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.”  

Animal Machines (1964; rev. ed. Boston: CABI, 2013), ch. IX, p. 175.

Quaker Action at home

The Canterbury Commitment:  our Quaker corporate commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community, made at Yearly Meeting 2011.

Minute 36 Our Canterbury commitment. Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain at the Yearly Meeting held in Canterbury at the University of Kent 30 July – 6 August 2011  Overview of the work taking place both centrally and in Quaker meetings to move towards more sustainable living. Overview of our work on building an energy and economic system that has equality, justice and sustainability at its heart.

Disinvestment of our central funds from fossil fuels:

Action to oppose shale fracking and other forms of extreme fossil fuel extraction:

Carbon Footprint Calculator  this is a fairly crude tool to calculate your personal greenhouse gas emissions but it does give an indication of your usage and offers a baseline from which to reduce.

Quaker Action Internationally

Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), Geneva. A broad outline of the work covered by QUNO including the human impact of climate change and food and sustainability.

“We seek meaningful commitments from our leaders and ourselves, to address climate change for our shared future, the Earth and all species, and the generations to come.  We see this Earth as a stunning gift that supports life.  It is our only home. Let us care for it together”. Facing the challenge of climate change’.  2014

Quaker Earthcare Witness

Founded in Ohio in 1987 QEW works to address the ecological and social crises of the world from a spiritual perspective.

 “We are called to live in right relationship with all Creation, recognizing that the entire world is interconnected and is a manifestation of God. We work to integrate into the beliefs and practices of the Religious Society of Friends the Truth that God’s Creation is to be respected, protected, and held in reverence in its own right, and the Truth that human aspirations for peace and justice depend upon restoring the earth’s ecological integrity. We promote these truths by being patterns and examples, by communicating our message, and by providing spiritual and material support to those engaged in the compelling task of transforming our relationship to the earth”.


About the Quaker Peace Testimony

Peace work in Britain today

Peace work in America today