Category Archives: Our Projects

Where we keep you informed about the progress of current projects.

The Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’

Sometimes when cataloguing an archive collection you come across an item which has no obvious link to the other papers it is with and clues to help you identify the links are few and far between. Such was the case with a small pamphlet with the title ‘Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’ training and education for refugee boys’ which caught my attention in the records of Bull Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As this week is Refugee Week, when the contributions of refugees to the UK are celebrated and greater understanding about why refugees seek sanctuary is promoted, it seemed fitting that the story of Westholme should be retold.

The Ockenden Venture was established in 1951 by three school teachers in Woking, Surrey. They were concerned about the conditions in which displaced East European teenagers were living and recognised that the educational provision in the camps was insufficient after a group came on holiday from a displaced persons camp in Germany at Ockenden House where Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) ran a sixth form. Pearce, together with Ruth Hicks (1900 – 1986) and Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) housed small numbers of East European teenagers from the camps at Ockenden House and later in houses at Haslemere, Surrey and Donington Hall near Derby and provided for them so that they could complete their secondary education.

Continue reading


The Old Meeting House

MS 1061-2-5-1

Copy of a sketch of Bull St. Quaker Meeting House (3rd building from the left) in 1702, n.d. [Ref MS 1061/2/5/1]

It is thought that a small Quaker community established in Birmingham in the 1650s. Initially meetings for worship were held in private houses but in 1681 a house and garden were bought in New Hall Lane for use as a meeting house and burial ground. New Hall Lane became known as Bull Lane (and later Monmouth Street) and was located at the end of what is now Colmore Row. The meeting house was located roughly where the entrance to the Great Western Arcade is today. Unfortunately, no plan of the meeting house has survived in the Central Area Meeting Archives deposited here, but there is a plan of the graveyard, drawn by the banker Charles Lloyd (1748 – 1828), with a key containing a list of names of those buried there.

SF (2014-213) 1262 e

Plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane drawn by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]

SF (2014-213) 1262 d

Key to the plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane, compiled by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]

The meeting house on Monmouth St. needed frequent repairs, so in 1702, it was decided to build a new meeting house, paid for by members of the meeting. This was on Bull St., on the site of where the current meeting house entrance gates now stand. Land behind the meeting house was used as a burial ground.  Continue reading

Uncovering Quaker Heritage: A retrospective


Visitors to ‘Uncovering Quaker Heritage’, in the Wolfson Centre, 23rd January 2017

Having spent the last 2½ years cataloguing the records of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, and with still more records being deposited, I was keen to uncover some of the treasures from the archive for the public to see. After all, the reason archivists catalogue archive collections is so that archives can be made available to the public. And while blog posts are one way of highlighting some of the records in a collection, nothing quite brings the past alive as being able to see and touch documents created several hundred years ago.


A selection of material relating to adult education and a plan of Moseley Road Friends’ Institute (SF)

Continue reading

Uncovering Quaker Heritage: a pop-up exhibition


Monday 23rd January 2017 4.00-6.30pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Since the middle of the 17th century Birmingham and Warwickshire have been major centres of Quaker activity. Despite being a minority group, Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

To find out more about the records we hold, come and view a selection of original Quaker material dating from the 17th century to the 20th century from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Made available via the Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers project, a cataloguing project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and a bequest from a member of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Entry is free. All are welcome!

Yearly Meeting of Friends, Birmingham, 1908

Yearly Meeting scrapbook, 1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

Poster for a public meeting,1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

Next weekend is an important one in the Quaker calendar. From the 27th-30th May it is Yearly Meeting, the annual business meeting of the Quaker church in Britain, attended by Friends from across the country. At this meeting, constitutional decisions are made and policies on areas of work agreed, but it is also a forum at which Friends can teach, learn, be inspired, celebrate together and focus on what it means to be Quaker (Religious Society of Friends, Quaker Faith in Practice, 5th ed. 6.05). 

Yearly Meeting grew out of various regional and national meetings which were held in the 1650s and 1660s, and an annual national meeting has been held each year since 1668. Initially, only male Friends could participate and it was not until 1784 that a separate Yearly Meeting for Women was established. This was laid down in 1907 when women and men were permitted to attend Yearly Meeting together. The majority of Yearly Meetings were held in London but the 20th century saw a move to hold meetings in different areas of the country, with the first of these being held in Leeds in 1905, followed by Birmingham in 1908, where it was held at Central Hall on Corporation Street and at Bull Street Friends’ Meeting House. You can read more about the history of Yearly Meeting here.

Yearly Meeting scrapbook, 1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

Extract from Yearly Meeting Programme, 1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

A scrapbook in the Central England Area Meeting Archives, which was compiled by the local organisers of the 1908 meeting contains a programme, posters, flyers, sample forms, invitations and tickets to the numerous meetings, talks and visits taking place over the duration of Yearly Meeting, together with newspaper articles from across the country about Yearly Meeting. It provides us with a snapshot of the wide ranging areas of work the Quakers were involved in at this time. Continue reading

Fellowship, friendship, support and dialogue: the work of FHF


LGBT History Month logo 2016

To mark this year’s LGBT History Month, this week’s blog post takes a look at the history of the Friends Homosexual Fellowship (FHF) (now known as Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship) which supports LGBT Quakers within the Religious Society of Friends.

Quakers first began to consider gay equality with the publication of the booklet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex in 1963. This was the culmination of work begun in 1957 by a small group of British Friends who met to examine issues of sexuality, including homosexuality. The booklet challenged traditional Christian attitudes to sexual morality, causing considerable controversy in the media, and sparking debate within the Religious Society of Friends. The authors took the view that,

An act which expresses (for example) true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual. Rather it should be judged by the same criterion as any heterosexual relationship.

(Heron, Alistair (ed. ), 1963, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, Friends Home Service Committee,, p.32, accessed 04/02/2016)

Although the booklet was not an official statement by the Society of Friends, it was published by the Friends Home Service to encourage debate and is described as,

…probably the most influential document published by Quakers in Britain in the twentieth century.

(Religious Society of Friends, Quaker View on same sex marriages – updated 2013,, accessed 04/02/2016)

It was certainly the first of such documents to be produced by a religious organisation. You can read more about the work of the group which contributed to Towards a Quaker View of Sex, its publication and the response to it in this on-line exhibition of archive documents, which includes a full copy of the booklet.

Friends Homosexual Fellowship

Logo for Friends Homosexual Fellowship (Central Area Meeting Archives, SF (acc. 2014/213) 818)

Following the publication of David Blamires’ book Homosexuality from the Inside by the Social Responsibility Council of the Religious Society of Friends in 1973, a group of Friends gathered in Manchester in September of that year to form the Friends Homosexual Fellowship (FHF). This was an interest group rather than an official structure within the Society of Friends, and was one of the first religious support groups to exist. It was established to counteract the sense of isolation and loneliness many gay Quakers encountered and to provide them with a friendly, understanding, supportive forum in which they could get advice and find friendships. An introductory leaflet compiled for those making enquiries about FHF set out its aims:

To encourage fellowship, friendship and support between members, and, where necessary, to help those who have difficulty in either accepting themselves and others or in being accepted. To this end, the formation of local groups is encouraged.

To promote a dialogue within the Society of Friends at all levels, with a view to achieving a deeper mutual understanding and acceptance.

To liaise with other groups with similar aims, particularly with a religious basis.

(Central Area Meeting Archives, Ref SF (acc. 2014/213) 818)

Continue reading

Persecution and prosecution: Quaker ‘sufferings’

Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book (SF/1/1/1/1)

Minute recording imprisonment of Friends for attending a meeting for worship [1660s], Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book (SF/1/1/1/1)

From the early days of Quakerism, Friends were subjected to persecution, which at times was violent and in some cases led to death in prison or on release from prison. In the 1660s, a series of acts aimed at quelling Quaker and other non-conformist dissent were passed, with failure to comply punishable by fines and six months imprisonment. The acts banned those not attending a parish church from holding a position of office in local government or the church (Corporation Act, 1661 and Act of Uniformity, 1662), required everyone to swear an oath of allegiance to the king (Quaker Act, 1662), prohibited meetings for worship of more than five people over the age of 16 except in the Church of England (Conventicle Act, 1664 and 1670), and made it unlawful for non-conformist ministers to live, visit, preach or teach within five miles of a town or parish where they had previously ministered (Five Mile Act 1665). In addition, under earlier laws originally introduced against Roman Catholics by Elizabeth I and James I, anyone not attending church on Sundays or receiving holy communion at least once a year faced monthly fines and loss of land.

As elsewhere, Quakers in Warwickshire found themselves being prosecuted for not attending church and holding their own meetings for worship, as in this example from the Central England Area Meeting archives, pictured above and transcribed below:

Thomas Russill being at his owne house &
Edward [t]ustion
Samuele Hunt
George Shortswell
Charles Emmes
Jane Kedes &
Thomas Wincote being met together at th[e] abovesaid Thomas Russill[‘]s house to worshipe th[e] lord according to th[e] Requireinge of his spirit in use [us], were 7 of use [us] taken out of our peaceable meeting & Required to Sweare which for Contions sake we could not doe & therefore we were sent to prison where we Remained 5 weakes & then were discharged from our imprisonment

Continue reading