Time for Change! What the Quakers Did For Us!

Black and white portrait of George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement.

A painting said to be of George Fox, founder of the ‘Society of Friends’ more commonly known as Quakers, attributed to Peter Lely, 1600s. Image courtesy of Swarthmore College.

Who are the Quakers?

Born during the English Civil War, the Society of Friends was founded by George Fox. He was an English Separatist who moved away from the Church of England to worship in a simpler way. Pioneered by Fox and his wife Margaret Fell, the ‘Friends’ or simply Quakers interpreted the word of God in their own way and set out the qualities that are important to the Quaker Faith:

‘We try to live in truth, peace, simplicity
and equality and that there is something
of god in all of us.’

The Darlington Society of Friends have held their meetings in Skinnergate since 1678, and they are best known for being railway pioneers, colliery owners and philanthropists. The Quakers created many charities and are responsible for building recreational spaces across the town for the people such as South Park and Crown Street Public Library.

In this exhibition we highlight four Quaker individuals who have contributed to lifechanging events, battled for equality, understanding and truth. Many of these subjects are still relevant to us today.



Sepia portrait of William Tuke

Portrait of William Tuke, founder of the York Retreat and the Moral Treatment. Image courtesy of the Borthwick Institute, University of York.

William Tuke - Time for Change!

William Tuke was a Quaker tea merchant who, in 1796 opened the ‘York Retreat’; the first humane mental health asylum in the world.

The York Retreat was different to other asylums as patients engaged in regular exercise and activities such as knitting and sewing, and had good healthy diets. Tuke pioneered the ‘Moral Treatment’ where restraints were only used if the patient was in immediate danger to themselves. He was inspired to open his ‘retreat’ by the death of a fellow Quaker in the York Lunatic Asylum, who died after suspected neglect.

‘Neither chains nor corporal punishments are tolerated, on any pretext in this establishment.’ – Samuel Tuke (William’s Grandson) on the Retreat, 1813.

During his lifetime, Tuke’s campaigning lead to the passing of the Lunacy Commission Act in 1845. The Act set out new regulations such as regular government inspections and the
mandatory employment of a resident physician. Many asylums took up the ‘Moral Treatment’, and the York Retreat continued to inspire the medical world for the next 200 years.


Sepia sketch of Elizabeth Pease Nichol.

Portrait of Elizabeth Pease Nichol


Elizabeth Pease Nichol was a leading activist in the anti-slavery movement of the early 1800s. Her Quaker convictions made her feel passionately that no man, woman or child should be born a slave.

Elizabeth was born in Darlington in 1807 and was the daughter of Joseph Pease, a leading activist in the abolition of slavery movement. From an early age Elizabeth was introduced to some of the leading men in the movement. The family home at Feethams was a political hub and became a centre of the Anti-Slavery campaign, for British and American abolitionists.

In 1825, Elizabeth Pease formed the Darlington Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. The women distributed pamphlets, called on shops and shoppers to boycott sugar and visited people’s homes to drum up support for an immediate end to slavery. They were avid supporters of the New York Bazaar, a fundraising event held by America’s leading abolitionists, many of whom were personal friends of Elizabeth.


Officially the purchase, sale or transfer of enslaved people was made illegal in Britain in 1807. However it wasn’t until 1833 that Britain fully outlawed slavery in all its colonies around the world. After the American Civil War finally abolished slavery in the USA, Elizabeth turned her attention to the Suffragist campaign. She fully committed herself to the social, educational and political emancipation of women.

Elizabeth Pease Nichol died in 1897, aged 91. She lived to see slavery outlawed in both the British Empire and USA.


Emma Gurney Pease

Emma Gurney Pease, 1880. Image courtesy of the Centre for Local Studies, Darlington Libraries

The Pharaoh's Daughter

In the early 1800s Darlington had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the country with 22 deaths per 100 children. Emma Gurney Pease was born in 1829 and she dedicated her life to the welfare of the town’s children.

In 1869 she used her own money to buy Rose Villa on Victoria Road and converted it into the first children’s hospital in Darlington. Emma worked closely with staff and funded wages, treatments, medications, food, clothing, and running costs herself. The hospital was small and could house around eight children at a time and would only admit those in most need.

Emma visited hospitals in London, Leeds and Newcastle to learn the latest techniques and the children’s parents were never expected to pay for treatment in her hospital.

With Emma’s own health failing she knew she needed to plan for the future and secure permanent medical facilities for the town’s children. In 1884 Greenbank General Hospital opened and after many ‘forceful’ discussions with the Hospital Committee, she convinced them to build a children’s wing and agreed to pay for it herself.

Emma Gurney Pease died in July 1895 and her Rose Villa Hospital closed a year later. Her dedicated team looked after 700 children in the 26 years it was open. After her death, the children’s wing she campaigned for opened at Greenbank General Hospital. It later became a Maternity Hospital and closed in 1989 after 105 years of caring for Darlington’s children.





Black and white photograph of Percy Rosewarne.

Percy Rosewarne during the Enginemen and Firemen strike 1949. Image courtesy of The Aberdeen Press and Journal

A Fight for Conscience

Percy Rosewarne was a Quaker from York, a railwayman and conscientious objector. He remained true to the Quaker testimony of peace, which states that all human life is of equal worth. This led many individuals to object to the violence of the
First World War.

Percy was a Fireman for the North Eastern Railway Company (NER). When conscription came into force in 1916, Percy’s job was considered a reserved occupation, meaning he didn’t have to enlist. However, he had to work an extra two hours every day to support the war effort. He refused to do this as it was against his beliefs and considered it to be aiding “the machinery of war”.

This refusal to work meant the NER dismissed him and he became eligible for military recruitment. He was drafted into the Non-Combatant Corps, where he was court martialled for refusing to obey orders. He was taken to military barracks in Fulford, York and:

‘There, he was made to march – still in his railway uniform, because he refused to wear military uniform.’ -Arthur Rosewarne, Percy’s son.

Percy was court martialled several times and served three sentences in civil prisons. When in Wormwood prison, six wardens tied the army uniform and equipment around his neck with flex. The bruises lasted for months. 

The war ended in November 1918 and Percy was released on14th July 1919. He was able to go back to work for the NER in 1920.

Men like Percy were marginalised from society for refusing to fight and take another’s life. They were physically and psychologically abused and spent years after the war trying to live within a society that judged them on their wartime conduct. But due to the First World War Conscientious Objectors like Percy, men found it easier to refuse combat during the wars that followed.


So what do Darlington Quakers do today?

Written by M. Calderon, Darlington Quaker Meeting House


Although we are only a small group, we remain active and welcoming in the centre of Darlington. Do come and join us and feel free to ask any questions, we feel that the best way to find out more about the Quakers is to come along and experience a meeting. Should some of the early Quakers return, they would find a great difference in the layout of our Meeting Room but our core principles are basically the same such as the belief that there is something of God in everyone. We believe that
our faith is shown through our actions.

The Peace testimony is central to our beliefs and the annual Darlington Walk for Peace starts at our Meeting House. We adopted the charity Darlington Assistance for Refugees as a concern and offer support to them. Some of our members support Darlington Pride events. Our Meeting House, often referred to as the Friends Meeting House, is first and foremost a place of worship for our small but growing faith community. We meet for worship every Sunday at 10.30am and for a short Meeting for Worship on Thursdays at 10am followed by a coffee morning.

We have occasional open days with tours of the Meeting House and the Burial Ground. Every year
several school groups visit us to find out more about Darlington Quakers past and present. We
have a regular Seekers Group for those who want to find out more about the Quaker way and also a meditation group called the ‘Experiment with Light’. We open up for teas and tours during Heritage week in September. Quaker week in October is an annual event following a different theme each year.