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Witness against war

This second conference organised by the project focused on the history of the Quaker peace testimony, the particular experience of Quakers in Yorkshire in interpreting that testimony during the 20th century, and the archival and printed sources available for research in this area.  As early as 1654, George Fox wrote to Oliver Cromwell to assert that 'my weapons are not carnal but spiritual'.  But it is the declaration presented to the King by Fox and Richard Hubberthorne in January 1661, after the Fifth Monarchy Rising, which constitutes the first official expression of the Quaker peace testimony.  The origins of the modern peace movement in Britain can be traced to the Peace Society, formed in 1816 on Quaker initiative.  Quakers have a long history of non-cooperation with successive militia acts and with conscription, and of humanitarian relief work during wartime.  Large numbers of conscientious objectors to both the First and Second World Wars were Friends, many from the standpoint of absolute renunciation of war.  Others undertook alternative service in the Friends Ambulance Unit and the Friends War Victims Relief Committee.  

An overview of the Quaker contribution to the British peace movement was given by Dr Martin Ceadel, of New College, Oxford, based on his two most recent books, The origins of war prevention: the British peace movement and international relations 1730-1854 (1996) and Semi-detached idealists: the British peace movement and international relations 1854-1945 (2000).  Cyril Pearce, of Bretton Hall College, gave an illustrated talk on the anti-war movement in Huddersfield during the Great War, a movement which drew in not only the radical left, but also feminists and Liberals, including the Quaker Robson family, the Friends Meeting in Huddersfield and local Adult School members. David Rubinstein, author of Faithful to ourselves and the outside world: York Quakers in the 20th century (2001), discussed his own research into the varied responses of York Quakers to the Second World War, whilst Brenda Rigby gave a personal history of the Northern Friends Peace Board.  The day ended with talks on the research resources of the Commonweal Collection, a library devoted to issues of peace and non-violence, by its outreach worker, Chris Arber, and on tracing primary sources for the history of the peace testimony, by the project archivist, Helen Roberts.

An information pack produced for the conference is available on request from the project archivist.  The papers will be published in the journal Quaker Studies in autumn 2002.

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Created on 28 April 2000 and last updated on 27 January 2016

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Project partners: University of Hull Brynmor Jones Library;  Leeds University Library; Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, University of York