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Friday, 15 May 2015

Quakers of Darlington

Jane Wilson, one of our Durham at War volunteers, has written the following blog post on the research and transcribing she has been doing.

The quest for peace during the First World War was uppermost in the minds of many people, amongst them the Quaker community within Britain. Over the past few weeks I have come to learn more about the Quakers in Darlington as part of my project to transcribe the minute books from the Quaker Meetings. Covering the years of WWI, they have opened up to me the structure and organisation of a group of people which, while acknowledging the suffering and hardship brought about by the conflict, still tirelessly campaigned for the promotion of peace.

Many local family names have cropped up among those mentioned in the minute books, all of them taking part in various roles within the Darlington Local Meeting. Those of us familiar with Darlington history will recognise surnames such as Pease and Backhouse, but other names appearing regularly include Hodgkin, Clark, McDermid, Mounsey, Sibson and Steel.

The Darlington Meeting made commitments over the years in reaching out to its own members, and those of other church congregations, by arranging lectures, talks, and services to promote Peace rather than conflict. They also encouraged groups to meet and discuss topics such as disarmament, peace promotion, and conscientious objectors.
Darlington Friends Meeting House, used with kind permission
Darlington Friends Meeting House; used with kind permission of the Darlington Friends
They did however acknowledge the need of communities in Britain and Europe who had suffered greatly as a result of the war and took collections and made donations to many varied charities and funds. Some of those supported include the Armenian Relief Fund, Balkan War Victims Fund, Red Cross, Prince of Wales War Relief Fund, Russian Famine Fund and the Emergency Committee for Assistance of Germans, Austrians and Hungarians. They were willing to spread their assistance on a wide geographic basis.

As well as offering financial aid to various organisations, they helped on a local level including offering rooms to the Red Cross for accommodating wounded soldiers.

Some of those mentioned in the minute books volunteered for the Friends Ambulance Unit and the Quaker website at http://fau.quaker.org.uk shows record cards for local people who served as part of the unit. Harold Clark, Robert Inniswood Handley, Maurice Sibson, J Parker Steel and Mary Pease are five people so far who I have traced as belonging to the Friends Ambulance Unit, serving both at home and abroad. Their record cards are available through the website, complete with personal details, service history and photographs. The record cards helped me put faces to names, and I now feel a stronger connection to these people – almost as if I knew them personally.

The Darlington Meeting would gather at very regular intervals, as well as sending four representatives each month to the larger Area Meetings. These took place at a variety of Meeting Houses and the Darlington representatives would be expected to travel as far as Cotherstone, Stockton, Bishop Auckland, and Middlesbrough.

When transcribing the minute books I have been struck by how organised, yet complicated the structure of the Quakers was. There were committees  for everything and decisions would be made only after consultation with yet another committee. I did wonder if I was doing the organisation a disservice by being too fixated about their committees until I had to transcribe the following note from the Joint Preparative Meeting on 16th September 1917:
'Note 7 – The Standing Committee Committees Revision Committee is postponed'
Definitely one committee too many in my opinion!

It is interesting to read on the Quaker website today that 'Our national Quaker structures are quite complex' and that 'there are lots of groups and committees'. So not a lot has changed.

There are still more entries in the minute book to transcribe and I am looking forward to following more of the familiar names I have met, reading about more committees and also finding out more about some of the individuals named as I feel very close to this early 20th Century Quaker community without actually being a member.

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