The ‘Quakers’, or the Religious Society of Friends, stretch back to the 1600s in Cumbria when local George Fox, disillusioned with the church at the time, said that he had experienced a vision from God as he climbed the idyllic Pendle Hill. This vision encouraged Fox to spread the word that Quakers still live by today; that there is that of God in everyone, and each person should be treated equally. This message was spread by Fox and his contemporaries across England and later America; Quakers reached large groups of listeners by holding meetings which detailed Fox’s vision and its implication that appreciating the Lord need not involve dogma or preaching, contrary to the opinion of the church at the time. Because of their self-expression and promotion the Quakers were regularly persecuted and some even fled to America. This began the global expansion of the Religious Society of Friends. Although Quakerism started as a Christian movement, it now embraces those of all religions who wish to worship their god in silent meeting alongside those who hold the same values.
The Quakers get their name from the early occurrences of these silent meetings for worship in which some participants would feel the presence of the Lord so strongly that they would begin to shake, or ‘quake’. These days however Quakerism tends to focus less on religion and more on peace, equality and pacifism. Throughout history many wealthy Quakers have set up businesses which aim to uphold these fundamental values. Companies run by Quakers, such as Cadburys, Rowntrees and Clarks, cared for their employees in a paternalistic way, ensuring fair pay, housing and treatment for all workers; something which Quakers still work towards today.
The Religious Society of Friends has had many influential members including Manchester’s very own John Dalton, several British and American politicians (the Obama daughters both attend a Quaker school in Washington DC) and numerous authors and playwrights. These members have played essential roles in shaping our world today including abolitionists, social reformers, academics and philanthropists whom we can thank for promoting peace and egalitarianism through humanitarian efforts throughout the world.
It’s safe to say that, without this humble group whose origins began halfway up the side of a hill in Cumbria in 1650s, history’s landscape would look very different.
There are many Quaker meeting houses across the country, even one here in Manchester if you fancy a visit!