Rowntree A-Z

Quakerism (The Society of Friends) in York

York has a longstanding Quaker tradition that starts with George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, who was thrown out of York Minster in 1651 for preaching against the established church. The Quakers shunned outward forms of ritual, sacrament, oath-taking, and formulaic prayer; their faith saw the voice of God as operating within a person. They saw no need for paid ministers, and they meet in silence, broken only when a member feels moved to speak or offer a prayer. This worship is known as ‘spoken ministry’. Quakers had a reputation for openness but they were also conservative enough that others could trust them.

Quakerism did not wane in York since the 17th century and the denomination was underpinned by three permanent Quaker-run institutions (a hospital and two schools) as well as the giant Rowntree & Co factory. The Rowntrees played a leading role in shaping the character of York Quakerism, which developed a liberal reforming strand within the national tradition. The Quakers in York played an active role in the improvement of working and living conditions, not least in the establishment of Adult Schools, electoral reform, health improvements and slum clearance.


Kennedy, Thomas C. (2001): British Quakerism 1860-1920. The Transformation of a Religious Community, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freeman,  Mark. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust: A Study in Quaker Philanthropy and Adult Education 1904-1954 (York: William Sessions Ltd, 2004).

Freeman, Mark.  Quaker Extension c. 1905-1930: The Yorkshire 1905 Committee (York: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 2008). Borthwick Paper 112.

Davies, Jonathan, and Mark Freeman, ‘A Case of Political Philanthropy: The Rowntree Family and the Campaign for Democratic Reform’, Quaker Studies, vol. 9 (2004), pp. 95-113.

Davies, Jonathan, and Mark Freeman, ‘Education for Citizenship: The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Educational Settlement Movement’, History of Education, vol. 32 (2003), pp. 303-18.

Mark Freeman, ‘Victorian Philanthropy and the Rowntrees: The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’, Quaker Studies, vol. 7 (2003), pp. 193-213.

York Friends and the Great War by David Rubinstein Published in 1999, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, University of York (York).

Finnegan, Francis. Poverty and Prejudice. A Study of Irish Immigrants in York 1840-1875, Cork University Press, 1983.

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