Detail from U DQR-11-1 Scarborough monthly meeting book

Yorkshire Quaker Heritage Project

The project

The Yorkshire Quaker Heritage Project (1999-2002) was based at the Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull in collaboration with Leeds University Library and the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research at the University of York. It was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, under the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP).

The project undertook a survey of Quaker collections held by archives within Yorkshire (using the pre-1974 boundaries) as well as collections held elsewhere that relate to the region. The result was a research guide (959kb, PDF) to archives and published sources. Please note the guide has not been updated since 2003.

The origins of Quakerism in Yorkshire

The north of England holds a special place in the history of Quakerism. It was there that the message of its charismatic founder George Fox (1624-1691) first took root and from there that the early converts, known as 'First Publishers of Truth', spread out across the country. It was also the site of the first settled Meetings and the source of early forms of Quaker organisation and discipline.

'Truly Friends in the North is rare and precious, very few I find like them', wrote Richard Roper to Margaret Fell in October 1656 [Swarthmore collection, iii 131, Friends House Library]. By the end of 1653, the main areas of Quaker convincement were Westmorland, Cumberland, north Lancashire, Durham and Yorkshire.

During the years 1651-52, George Fox travelled the length and breadth of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, before spending a brief spell in north Lincolnshire and moving west through Wakefield and Bradford. One of the earliest organised groups of 'Children of the Light' formed at Balby in the West Riding after Fox's visit.

Of those who were not only convinced, but began to accompany Fox in his itinerant preaching, about a quarter came from Yorkshire. Several of these became important Quaker leaders - Thomas Aldam and Richard Farnsworth of Balby, William Dewsbury of Allerthorpe, and James Nayler of West Ardsley.

After establishing strong communities in the North, many of these travelling ministers carried their mission south, and into Wales, Ireland and Scotland. The origins of the national Yearly Meeting can also be found in Yorkshire. A series of General Meetings first held in Skipton in c1657 attracted Friends from all the main centres of Quaker convincement in the North. In April 1660, this was also attended by Friends from the South.

An overview of Quaker Meeting records held at the History Centre is also available.

Further reading

For an overview of the development of Quaker Meetings and their records, the following are recommended:

Edward Milligan and Malcolm Thomas, My Ancestors were Quakers (Society of Genealogists, 1999) 

Michael Mullett, Sources for the History of English Nonconformity 1660-1830 (British Records Association, 1991), ch.VI

For developments specifically in Yorkshire, see W Pearson Thistlethwaite, Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting 1665-1966 (published by author, 1979).