Quaker records at Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

The Friends Meeting House in Hertford is the oldest surviving purpose-built meeting house in the world and celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2020.  Records of the Quakers who met here can be found at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, and this exhibition shows a few of the examples.

Quakers (the Society of the Friends of Jesus, as they were originally called) moved away from other non-conformist groups to worship in simplicity and silence, to be led by God in the Holy Spirit, and were the only group of Christians who were allowed to follow their own practices in marriage. [Other denominations were required to marry in the Church of England parish church, until 1837.] Consequently their marriage registers are very interesting: all present were expected to be the witnesses and there are often upwards of twenty signatures on the page.

Postcard of the Friends Meeting House, c1950s

Friends Meeting House c1950s (Acc 4438)

Births, marriages and burials were all recorded, and there are also documents which demonstrate the difficulties endured by those who held Quaker beliefs.

Quakers brought strong principles into public life and were noted for their direct dealing and ethical behaviour. Many of the names on anti-slave trade petitions were Quakers.  By law, Quakers could not go to universities, so they often became prominent in business and commercial life. Banks such as Barclays Bank were founded by Quakers, and in Hertfordshire the Dickinson family in Ware were brewers, bankers and maltsters.

Deeds to the Hertford meeting house, 1669
HALS (ref NQ2/6A/2)
Marriage certificate of Joshua Wheeler of Hitchin and Sarah Brown of Ampthill. They married on the 5th May 1781 in front of many witnesses who also signed the document.
HALS (ref DE/Se/F19)
In 1699, Spencer Cowper, the son of an MP was accused, along with three others of murdering a local Quaker woman, Sarah Stout at Hertford. Her body was found in the river near Priory Mill. The subsequent trial became an epic battle for truth and justice. The coroner initially recorded a verdict of suicide but it was later found that she hadn’t drowned and had been strangled. Gossip about her death was intense and there were rumours of an illegitimate pregnancy. The Quaker community were horrified by the slurs to their faith. Cowper was acquitted and there were many pamphlets in circulation - some vilified him and others defended him.
HALS (ref NQ2/10B/2)
Watercolours from the Commonplace Book of Elizabeth Clay (the wife of William Lucas, a prominent Hitchin Quaker)
HALS (ref Acc 3133)
Watercolour from the Commonplace Book of Elizabeth Clay (the wife of William Lucas, a prominent Hitchin Quaker)
HALS (ref Acc 3133)
Watercolour from the Commonplace Book of Elizabeth Clay (the wife of William Lucas, a prominent Hitchin Quaker)
HALS (ref Acc 3133)
Watercolour with a poem called 'Sweet Solitude' from the Commonplace Book of Elizabeth Clay (the wife of William Lucas, a prominent Hitchin Quaker)
HALS (ref Acc 3133)
Sign outside the Meeting House
N Connell (HALS ref DEX/1024/1/66/3/22)

Friends Meeting House, Hertford

This page was added on 17/08/2020.

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