Quakers in Stoke Newington – Some History

Did you know that Clissold House was built for Quakers? That William Allen, anti-slavery campaigner and chemist, lived in Church Street? That Nahneebahweequay, an Ojibway from Canada, stayed with Stoke Newington Quakers when she came to petition Queen Victoria about land rights? That Joseph Beck, one of the people who saved Clissold Park, was a Quaker?

In the early 19th century many of the city Quakers came to live in Stoke Newington, and they built a meeting house in 1827 in Park Street (now Yoakley Road).

The migration of City of London Quakers continued and Stoke Newington became the largest concentration of Quakers in London. By 1900, when membership was starting to go down, there were still 221 living within a mile of the meeting house.

During the 20th century, and especially after the second world war, the meeting declined. Quakers moved further out to the suburbs, and the large meeting house was demolished, replaced by a new building in 1959. But the membership was not enough to continue the meeting, and the building was sold in 1966.

Quakers Return to HackneyOutreach Stall, 2000Now, there are more Quakers in the area again, and a new meeting for worship was established in 2000.



Quakers in Stoke Newington Part 1: to the mid-nineteenth century
by Peter Daniels

George Fox and the first Quakers

The Quakers, or Society of Friends, arose from the new ideas around in England of the 1640s.

GFoxGeorge Fox

In 1647 George Fox began preaching around Leicestershire, motivated by a sense of direct communication with the Light, or Holy Spirit, described later in his Journal: “Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” [Nickalls ed., The Journal of George Fox, p.27]

He and his companions called themselves “Children of Light”, but they ran into trouble with the authorities, and found a new name: “This was Justice Bennet of Derby that first called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God, and this was in the year 1650.” [Nickalls ed. p.58] In 1652 he found “a great people to be gathered” around Westmorland and Furness, where people called “Seekers” were much in sympathy. Margaret Fell, wife of judge Thomas Fell, gave particular support at her home, Swarthmoor Hall, where a base was established for an organisation.

In 1654 the “Valiant Sixty” were sent around the country to spread the word. Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough were delegated to London where they spoke and published constantly, attracting metropolitan attention and developing London’s eventual position as organisational centre of Quakerism.

Several regular Quaker meetings were set up in London itself, but especially after the Restoration in 1660 they were subject to disruption by the authorities, and many Friends passed through Newgate prison, or died there, like Edward Burrough. When George Fox was in London he often found refuge from interruption to write in outlying places, including the home of the widow Mary Stott in Dalston, from where a number of his epistles are dated. [Penney ed. Short Journal note, p.305] Women like Mary Stott played an important part from the beginning, and spoke prominently at Quaker meetings. In 1668 Fox set up a girls’ school at Shacklewell to be run by Mary Stott, “to Instruct younge lasses & maydens in whatsever thinges was civill & useful in ye creation”. [Penney ed. Journal vol.2 p.119.] By 1677, and the Shacklewell school was run by Jane Bullock. A loan of fifty pounds was arranged for her to develop the school, as it appears to have been short of pupils [Six Weeks Meeting minutes vol.1 p.112 (1677) George Fox visits Jane Bullock in Shacklewell in 1683, though the school is not mentioned [Penney ed. Short Journal p.89]. Mary still lived in Dalston at the time, but by the end of 1684 had moved to Bethnal Green [Penney ed. Short Journal note, p. 305]

The first Stoke Newington Quaker meeting

In 1698, it was proposed to hold a meeting for worship once a month in Stoke Newington. Local meetings for worship were under the care of a monthly meeting for business: Stoke Newington came in the territory of the Peel Monthly Meeting, based at the Peel meeting house in St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (named after the sign of a baker’s “peel”, the shovel for handling loaves in an oven). The body responsible for London Quaker property, the Six Weeks Meeting, approved this, initially with the option left open whether to take two rooms or a barn; it was decided to hold a meeting for worship fortnightly, alternating with another meeting being established in Tottenham. [Six Weeks Meeting vol.3 p.330 (25 8mo. 1698), p.344 (6 10mo. 1698)]

The two rooms taken for the “Newington” meeting were at the premises of Robert Walburton, a gardener. [Beck, William, and Ball, T. Frederick, The London Friends’ Meetings: showing the rise of the Society of Friends in London, F. Bowyer Kitto, 1869 p.211-12, quoting the registration at Middlesex Sessions as a place of worship] In a posthumous pamphlet, William Beck, a Stoke Newington man, calls this “a rambling old structure” on the site of the Clarence Tavern (now the Daniel Defoe pub) [Beck, William, A description of Church Street, Stoke Newington, with unsigned introduction dated 1927, Clapham: Edgar Publishing, n.d., p.12] A drawing of the building dated 1825 appears in a book held at Hackney Archives about Mary Lister’s invalid asylum that was initially housed there [Isabella Prideaux Moline, A Short History of the Home Hospital for Women (Invalid Asylum) , 1916]. It seems unlikely that the look of the building changed much during the intervening eighteenth century.

Daniel Defoe and the Quakers

These premises were directly opposite the house where Daniel Defoe lived from 1714. Defoe was not a Quaker, but was sympathetic. William Penn made efforts on Defoe’s behalf when in 1702 he was tried for seditious libel, and sentenced to be pilloried three times and imprisoned for a year. Penn was not successful: he had been able to found Pennsylvania because Charles II owed his father money, but he had less influence by the reign of Queen Anne. [Penn, William, general eds Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn, The Papers of William Penn (5 vols.); vol.4 ed. Craig Horle et al. , University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987, p.228] Defoe returned the favour to the Quakers, defending them against anti-Quaker pamphleteer Francis Bugg. [Cadbury, Henry J., “Defoe, Bugg and the Quakers”, in Journal of Friends Historical Society vol.42 p.70-72] He also used the character of a Quaker for anonymous pamphlets such as A Friendly Rebuke to one Parson Benjamin (i.e. Bishop Benjamin Hoadley) published in 1719 as “By One of the People called Quakers”.

A secret wedding

It took the Society of Friends much trouble to establish the legality of Quaker marriages without a priest, where the couple declare their union during worship (“We marry none; it is the Lord’s work”) [George Fox, A collection of… epistles, 1698, epistle 264; quoted in Quaker faith and practice 16.01]. Much Quaker administrative business of the time is connected with marriages, and the circulation of information about their approval, or otherwise. In 1704 a Quaker couple, Thomas Taylor and Rebecca Clifton, lacking the approval of the Society, came to quiet rural Stoke Newington with a few associates, and before the meeting for worship had assembled “did then & there pretend to take each other in marriage”. Devonshire House meeting in Bishopsgate, where they were members, disowned them for “their disorderly works of darkness”. [Devonshire House Monthly Meeting Adjourned Minutes vol.2 (13 10mo. 1704)] Their disownment was circulated around the London meetings, [Six Weeks Meeting vol.5 p.10 (20 12mo. 1704) and p.14 (3 2mo. 1705)] and appears in the Peel Monthly Meeting’s “Book of Condemnations”. [Peel Condemnations Book (vol.1) entry no.24]

Decline and rise

The need for a worshipping group to catch people’s weekly habits is demonstrated by the difficulty arising when the Enfield Monthly Meeting, responsible for Tottenham, decided in 1716 to hold that meeting every week instead of alternating fortnightly with Stoke Newington (at first “for this Winter only, for a Tryall”) [Enfield Monthly Meeting (vol.2), 29 6mo. 1716]. Regular worshippers, apparently living especially around Stamford Hill between the two, would inevitably prefer not needing to remember which week to travel north and which south. Stoke Newington’s congregation declined and in 1728 Six Weeks Meeting considered it “of little or no service”, [Six Weeks Meeting vol.8 p.157 (4 1mo. 1728)] but the meeting, or at least Peel Monthly Meeting, thought otherwise. In 1733 the premises were taken over for the parish workhouse, though this did not affect the Quakers’ tenancy. A Peel minute of 1734 insists that “the continuance of a meeting at Newington may be of service” [Six Weeks Meeting vol.8 p.290 (22 8mo. 1734)], and it was kept up until 1741. [Peel Monthly Meeting vol.8 (29 2mo. 1741)]

Quakers were more and more in evidence in the Stoke Newington area, as the successful business folk of Gracechurch Street meeting in the City found it a congenial and Gracechurch Street meeting convenient place to live. The painting in Friends House Library of Gracechurch Street meeting around 1770 may be the first accurately-observed representation of Quaker worship, and many of these worshippers would be Stoke Newington residents. [illustrate?] Samuel Hoare, who lived in Paradise Row, has been identified as the left-hand figure on the men’s side-bench: it was his son Jonathan who had Clissold House built. His wife and three daughters are said to be on the opposite side benches; one of the daughters is Grizzell, who married William Allen (see later) [The Biographical Catalogue: being an account of the lives of Friends and others whose portraits are in the London Friends Institute, Friends Institute, 1888, p.351-2; for more about the Hoares see also David Mander’s book Look Back, Look Forward: an illustrated history of Stoke Newington: Sutton Publishing and the London Borough of Hackney, 1997]

Eventually because so many Gracechurch Street Quakers were living in the area, it was from this meeting that the beginnings of a new Stoke Newington meeting emerged, rather than Peel. Most of the Gracechurch Street records were destroyed when that meeting house burned down in 1821, but minutes passing through the Quaker administrative system reveal some of the developments. Six Weeks Meeting approved their arrangement of a public event in 1801, with Sarah Lynes Grubb speaking. [Six Weeks Meeting vol.8 p.13 (3 10mo. 1801)] She was a formidable Gracechurch Street Friend whose preaching was evidently much admired, though probably more among Quakers than “the world’s people”. Elizabeth Fry wrote in her diary “S. Lines brought in her account to the monthly meeting of her late visit, and asked to go out again. This appeared almost too much for my weak intellect to comprehend; at least it appeared as if she never could rest.” [Elizabeth Fry diary MS Vol S 260 (10 ii 1802)] Mary Martin, a pupil at Susanna Corder’s school, recalled a visit by her: “She was like some weird prophetess, very forbidding and gaunt, who even eschewed a white lining to her Friends’ bonnet.” [Beatrice Marshall, Emma Marshall, Seeley & Co, 1900, p.13] Although the meeting had officially closed in 1741, by end of the century the old premises were again associated with Quakers, with the founding of Mary Lister’s Invalid Asylum mentioned earlier: this was a place for domestic servants to receive rest and medical care when not ill enough to need a hospital. A Bible class or prayer meeting was held there organised by Edward Harris [picture in Hackney Archives,; HAD ref], and mander refers to this as a Quaker meeting [Mander p.58]. It was not a meeting for worship recognised as such in the Society’s system, although informally it would have maintained an identifiably Quaker activity in the area. The local Quakers of this time have been usefully described in a study of their reading habits by Jane Desforges [Desforges, Jane, “‘Satisfaction and Improvement’: a study of reading in a small Quaker community 1770-1820”, in Publishing History vol.49 (2001) p.5-47]

William Allen

Six Weeks Meeting’s authorisation for the public meeting with Sarah Lynes Grubb notes that a copy of the minute is to be sent to William Allen, so he was probably responsible for organising it. William William AllenAllen (1770-1843) was born in Spitalfields. He became a successful chemist at Plough Court near Lombard Street, and for many years was a public lecturer in chemistry at the Royal Institution. He was active in a wide range of philanthropic projects: campaigning against slavery, visiting Newgate Prison with Elizabeth Fry, travelling in continental Europe to gain increased liberties for oppressed Greeks and persecuted Waldenses, and he was one of the founders of the British & Foreign School Society. [further background on William Allen can be found in Nicolle, Margaret, William Allen: Quaker Friend of Lindfield 1770-1843, Lindfield, Sussex: the author, 2001]

Allen was also interested in agricultural improvements, and developed allotments in Lordship Road. This was evidently a smaller version of his extensive project at Lindfield in Sussex, to improve the condition of agricultural labourers with allotments and education. Christine Majolier (later Alsop) who grew up in his household, describes the anti-slavery MP William Wilberforce visiting the project in 1823: “On the day of his visit we walked to the cottages in the Lordship Road, where William Allen was conducting his agricultural experiments. I had the honour of walking with the great man, who, however, took little notice of me, but hummed a tune most of the way, except when he wished to say something to William Allen; upon which he would leave me, say what he had to say, and then almost mechanically offer me his arm, and go on singing his hymn. At the cottages he was weighed in the scale, and though many have had the opportunity of recording the talents of Wilberforce, few have been able to tell his weight, and this, insignificant as it is, may give some idea of his person, and confirm the saying, that the mind is the standard of the man. He weighed, including the 5 lbs for the iron stays which he wore, 76 lbs. [Memorials of Christine Majolier Alsop, compiled by Martha Braithwaite, Samuel Harris & Co, 1881, pp.66-67] Incidentally, Wilberforce (not a Quaker) had other local associations; he requested to be buried in Stoke Newington with his sister and daughter, but Parliament voted to bury him in Westminster Abbey. [DNB] Sophia de Morgan, a non-Quaker neighbour who attended Allen’s lectures, wrote: “He was a good observer and classifier, but stopped at facts and phenomena. In philanthropy the same ready perception and hastiness of inference were apparent. His exceeding benevolence and strong impulse to help the suffering led him occasionally into exaggeration of the evils he opposed; but all good causes need pioneers who overdo their work at first.” [Quoted in A.J. Shirren, The Chronicles of Fleetwood House, self-published 1951, p.164].

He married his first wife, Mary Hamilton, at Tottenham meeting house in 1796: she died following the birth of a daughter, Mary, eleven months after their marriage. In 1806 he married Charlotte Hanbury, and divided his time between Plough Court and the house in Stoke Newington that had been Charlotte’s, and which became his usual residence. Charlotte died in 1816 while they were visiting Geneva. In 1823 his only daughter Mary died in childbirth, like her mother.

In 1827, in his 57th year, William Allen married the widow Grizzell Birkbeck, who was 69. Their close friendship had developed since the blow of Mary’s death, when Grizzell’s personal support had become very important to William. Despite this genuine companionship, the marriage provoked comment not only among Quakers but around London generally, because of her age and wealth, and the house in desirable Paradise Row that became their home. Robert Cruikshank, 1789-1856 (whose brother George is better known) lived in Knightsbridge, but was aware enough of this unQuakerly fuss on the other side of London to publish a series of satirical cartoons about it. Several are in Friends House Library, including different versions of ‘Sweet William and Grizzell: or Newington Nunnery in an Uproar’. [illustrate]

Sweet William and GrizzellIt is hard to know whether most of the Quakers depicted are generic caricatures or individuals. However, “Newington Nunnery” is definitely the girls’ school at Fleetwood House run by Susanna Corder, who is identifiable from a later photograph. She is depicted fainting and being attended to by pupils including Grizzell Birkbeck’s nieces, whose inheritance would be affected by the marriage. The implication seems to be that Susanna herself had hopes of William’s hand.

As well as this satirical series, there was at least one other cartoon (artist not identified) which defends William and Grizzell, with a theme from Aesop of “Willie the Lion” derided by asses in Quaker hats.

Susanna Corder’s school

Susanna Corder, 1787-1864, had a clear vocation as a teacher. After the death of her mother whom she had nursed at home in Essex, at the age of 30 she found a post at Suir Island School at Clonmel in Ireland, and learned much from the educational methods there. In 1820 William Allen met her on a visit to Ireland, and when a Quaker girls’ school was proposed for Stoke Newington in 1824, it seems that she was already intended to run it.

The first prospectus proposed “an Establishment in our religious society on a plan in degree differing from any hitherto adopted, wherein the children of Friends should not only be liberally instructed in the Elements of useful knowledge, but in which particular attention should be paid to the state of mind of each individual child”. [quoted in Shirren, Fleetwood House p.159] The school occupied Fleetwood House (where the Fire Station is now), which had extensive grounds suitable for the pupils to walk in, later incorporated into Abney Park Cemetery. It started with twelve pupils, but more than doubled in three years. Subjects included Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry, which were taught by William Allen; the languages available included Latin, Greek, German and Italian as well as French. [Shirren, Fleetwood House p.160] Susanna Corder was well known for her order and decorum, and views on dress by then somewhat old-fashioned even in the Society. [“Dictionary of Quaker Biography”, unpublished files in Friends House Library]

A pioneering bus

Susanna’s resourcefulness included transport arrangements. When the school started in 1824, the meeting for worship was still at Gracechurch Street, and the girls had to walk to the City. A vehicle was ordered to take 25 pupils facing on bench seats: this was a new idea, as vehicles of this kind were only just being used as passenger omnibuses in Paris, developed by George Shillibeer who had worked for the coach company Hatchetts in Long Acre (the coach-building centre of London). In 1827 Joseph Pease, a Quaker visitor, wrote a verse letter to his cousin in which he describes “Newington Nunnery” and refers to this bus:

The straight path of Truth the dear Girls keep their feet in
And ah! it would do your heart good Cousin Anne
To see them arriving at G[racechurc]h Street Meeting
All snugly packed up, 25 in a van.

[Pease, Joseph “Yearly Meeting epistle from Friend Joseph in London to his cousin Anne in the country”, London 5 mo. 1827 MS box 10 (13) 2; quoted in Shirren p.163]

We also have an account of the bus from Louisa Stewart, who recalled that half the pupils would walk ahead to meeting, the others catch up in the bus, and they would change over half way [Stewart, Louisa Hooper, ed. Evelyn Roberts, Louisa: memories of a Quaker childhood, Friends Home Service Committee, 1970, p.35]. When the new Stoke Newington meeting house opened in 1828, the bus was no longer needed, and she tells how the girls watched it being repainted in the yard with the title “Omnibus” and “Paddington to the Bank” on the sides. This was the route that George Shillibeer started running on his return to London in 1829, the first true London bus when the only rival services were stagecoaches, unsuited to local journeys. A full size replica of his vehicle is in the London Transport Museum. [information from scrapbooks on bus history at the Museum’s library, and Moore, Henry Charles, Omnibuses and cabs: their origin and history, Chapman & Hall, 1902]

An inspired pupil

Louisa Hooper Stewart, 1818-1918, was from a City Quaker family that moved south to Kennington Louisa Stewartrather than Stoke Newington. She was educated in Croydon at first, but the school was much inferior to Susanna Corder’s, which her older sister Emily attended. There was a delay in sending her there for family reasons until she was thirteen in about 1831, when the bus had already become redundant, so her reminiscences about it are second hand from Emily. Louisa’s memories were recorded by her granddaughter soon before she died aged 99. This may account for some confusion about the purchaser of the bus—she calls him a rival of Shillibeer, but from the date and the detail of the bus destination it seems clear that this was Shillibeer himself. We have to be cautious about her testimony, which includes the assertion that the whole idea of the vehicle with benches inside was Susanna’s, but maybe it was, if she ordered it from Long Acre before Shillibeer left for Paris.

Louisa was only at the school for a year, but the Corder education made a tremendous impression, and stimulated her active mind. In 1855 she married John Stewart, owner of the Edinburgh Review. She became keenly interested in women’s suffrage: in 1869 she published The Missing Law; or, Woman’s Birthright [Stewart, Mrs J., The Missing Law; or, Woman’s Birthright; W. Tweedie, 1869]. After her husband’s death she opened a girls’ school at Cronks Hill, Reigate, on the lines of Susanna Corder’s, with weekly visits from professors of London University for Classics and Science [Louisa p.54]. In 1874 she moved back to Stoke Newington with her daughter, organising the Women Friends’ Total Abstinence Union and starting what an obituary calls “a most successful Coffee Cart work in that district” [The late Mrs Stewart, of Winchmore Hill: an appreciation; no publisher, no date, Friends House Library Box 229]. She also formed a school in a caravan for the children of travelling showmen. This was an interest developed from an early age: her reminiscences include an episode from schooldays in Croydon where she went to discover what really went on at the fairground, thought very shocking for a Quaker girl [Louisa p.33-34]. Her granddaughter describes taking tea with the Fat Lady on a visit to the fair where “Louisa was always welcome”, when it came to the Agricultural Hall in Islington [Louisa p.52].

Designing a meeting house

Gracechurch St meeting house burned down in 1821. It was rebuilt, but not surprisingly Stoke Newington Friends began proposals for their own building. Early DesignThe architect was William Alderson, who later designed the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum. Some of the drawings survive in Friends House Library, including one early idea for it with a frontage of curved colonnades and a carriage sweep. [Six Weeks Meeting and Gracechurch St Monthly Meeting Joint Committee box; illustrate] This may have been dropped as too ostentatious, although the site would scarcely have accommodated it as well as the burial ground behind the building. Another projected design is in Hackney Archives, with a detailed plan which is nothing like what was built; but more odd is the figure on the portico roof which looks like a triumphal statue, though it may be a poorly-scaled person, showing use of it as a balcony. [HAD P.5549]

There are also drawings in Friends House for a meeting house bench or “form”, one of the most typical features of a Quaker meeting house. [SWM&GSt Joint Ctee box; illustrate?] Some like this are still in use in Quaker meetings, although the tendency now to add cushions would have been thought unnecessary luxury in 1828. On a page of rough calculations, the cost of the meeting house building works come to £2,086 12s 0 ½d, being £1,805 12s 0 ½d for building works, plus £281 for stove and furniture; there is an additional £90 8s 0d for the architect and surveyor. Besides this, the purchase of the site in Park Street (now Yoakley Road) was £480, and some further land to extend the burial ground was bought in 1849 for £400. The building included a large meeting room 44 feet by 36 with a gallery, and a side room to be used for the Women’s Monthly Meeting. This was later extended as classrooms and a kitchen. [Plan, drawings and photographs by Hubert Lidbetter in Friends House]

The meeting house opened in 1828. The first meeting of the Meeting House Building Committee in 1830 was “to consider some means for remedying the echo” (temporary calico curtains were to be tried). The acoustic aspect of Quaker architecture is easy to forget when the major part of the worship is silent: the difficulty is that unlike chapels centred on a pulpit, Quaker meeting houses must accommodate spoken ministry from any part of the room, and it must be audible.

On the northern side were built the Yoakley almshouses. Michael Yoakley, 1631-1708, was a sea-captain from Thanet who shipped goods to America for William Penn. During his life he founded almshouses “for aged poor women” in Spitalfields and Margate, and as his widow died childless his endowed charity inherited the whole estate. In 1834 the trustees had spare money available and bought the land next to the meeting house for ten almshouses and a committee room. [Marsh, Robert H., ‘Michael Yoakley’s Charity,’ Journal of Friends Historical Society vol.14 (1917), p.146-156]

[I’ve a feeling Yoakley Road must have been renamed in 1934 as a centenary gesture – right year, I think, I presume HAD have file on street names]

Stoke Newington Quaker meeting became established as the largest of London’s meetings, attended by Friends who were prominent and active in the society, and more generally in society. A future article will take the story from the high Victorians to the present day.

Note on dates
It is essential to remember that Quakers refused to use pagan names for months, so before the calendar change of 1752, March is the “first month” (usually abbreviated “1mo.”), but the new year began on 25th March. For simplicity minutes are cited here with the original dating. For the full implications see the Friends House Library guide “Quaker Dating” (available at www.quaker.org.uk/library/guides)

Note on editions of Fox’s journal
Fox, George, ed. John L. Nickalls, The Journal of George Fox: a revised edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952 (corr. ed. London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1975). This is the standard ‘reading edition’ based on early printed versions, but Norman Penney’s edition of 1911 taken from the manuscript includes details not otherwise published (and shows up embellishments of the posthumous editors). The Short and Itinerary Journal are briefer manuscript drafts, also with additional detail. Penney’s notes are valuable secondary sources in themselves.

This page is an abridged version of Daniels, Peter 2002 Quakers in Stoke Newington. Part 1: to the mid-nineteenth century in Hackney History, Vol. 8