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

Society of Friends (Quakers)

Quakerism in Yorkshire took hold at the beginning of the Quaker movement, partly because George Fox travelled and preached through the North and East Ridings between 1651 and 1652 before being welcomed at Swarthmoor Hall, the house of Judge Fell in Cumbria.

From the late 1660s onwards, Quakers organised into local groups of worshippers called Particular or Preparative Meetings, with Area or Monthly Meetings as the main regional administrative unit which was responsible for matters of membership, property and finance. County-wide Meetings called Quarterly Meetings were also held, with a Yearly Meeting in London bringing all together.

The structure of the Society of Friends in Yorkshire was first formalised in 1669. The boundaries of five pre-existing Monthly Meetings were broken down and re-formed into 14 smaller units, ranging from Owstwick in the Holderness peninsular, to Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales, and Balby on the southern edge of the region. A pyramid structure of Meetings at local, regional and national levels was devised as part of this process of transition from a spontaneous movement to a formal society. These included:

  • Meetings for Worship, with Preparative (or business) Meetings
  • Monthly Meetings (for local districts)
  • Quarterly Meetings (for larger areas) 
  • A national Yearly Meeting (now known as Britain Yearly Meeting)

In parallel, the development of written records began in this period. The first surviving minute book for York Monthly Meeting for example refers to the appointment of Friends to record births, marriages and burials in 1670/1, and the purchase of a book to record sufferings in 1676 [minute book vol. 1, 1688-82, D 1, Clifford Street archive, Leeds University Library].

Important classes of records have often survived from the mid-17th century onwards. They include:

  • Meeting minute books
  • membership records (including lists of members, copies of certificates of removal, and copies of wills and inventories)
  • financial records
  • educational records
  • records of property ownership.

The Registers of Births, Marriages and Burials are naturally valuable for their genealogical content, but also show the locality from which Friends had come, where they settled and sometimes the trade or occupation.

Apart from the Registers, probably the most significant records relate to Sufferings. These are factual records of imprisonment, fines, distraint of goods, excommunication and other penalties imposed for Friends’ religious beliefs. As sources for the early history of Quakerism they are invaluable. Libraries of Quaker and associated writings were also built up for spiritual and educational purposes.

The Yorkshire Quaker Heritage 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 that the guide has not been updated since 2007 and so some of the website links may be out of date.

Key collections at the History Centre include the Records of Pickering and Hull monthly meeting of the Society of Friends (ref U DQR), the Papers of Fred Fletcher, Quaker historian and researcher (ref U DFF) and Records of Hull Quaker Housing Association (ref U DHQ).

The Quaker Family History Society website includes details of documents you might encounter on your research and information about the Society's events.