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Records of the Society of Friends in Norfolk
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Records of the Society of Friends in Norfolk

  • SF
  • Archief
  • 16th century-20th century

Records of the Quarterly Meeting of Norfolk and Norwich, later the Quarterly Meeting of Norfolk, Cambridge and Huntingdon; with the Records of certain constituent Monthly Meetings in Norfolk comprising:

Minute Books, Registers and Account Books.
Epistles from the Yearly Meeting in London.
Applications for membership and Resignations.
Removal certificates, acknowledgements and acceptances.
Documents relating to Marriage.
Burial certificates, Orders and Notes.
Deeds, Maps and Plans.
Documents relating to Trusts:

  1. Correspondence and financial documents relating to the Buckingham Trust.
  2. Correspondence and financial documents relating to Meeting Houses.
  3. Correspondence and financial documents relating to other Charitable Trusts.
    Financial documents relating to Norwich Monthly Meeting.
    Correspondence and financial documents relating to investments overseas.
    Miscellaneous correspondence, reports and minutes.
    Additional deposits.

During the latter half of the 17th century the Society of Friends was a rapidly growing body. Thomas Symonds in 1654 was the first Norwich man to be convinced (that is, converted to being a Quaker). In the same year the first Meeting was established and for the next 25 years regular meetings for worship were held in private homes, the open air and (in times of persecution) in prison.
By 1676 Friends were sufficiently numerous in the city to consider buying a plot of land in Upper Goat Lane for the erection of a Meeting House. The purchase price was £88 and if this seems rather a modest sum for a quarter of an acre in the centre of what was then England's second city, one should remember that this represented four years' wages for a farm labourer.
The first Meeting House was opened in 1679 and by 1700 there were about five hundred Quakers in Norwich. Indeed it had become necessary to build a second meeting house next to the Gildencroft burial ground in 1699, due north of Goat Lane across the River Wensum. Early Norwich Friends were often artisans and small tradesmen; they were persecuted by the authorities and endured ridicule and violence from their neighbours. In 1684 because of the numbers in prison the Monthly (business) Meeting was held in Norwich Gaol. These hardships drew the Quakers into a closely-knit community who accepted responsibility for each other in times of distress and suffering. George Fox, the founder, was not only a religious leader of exceptional spiritual power but also a practical organiser of great ability and foresight and the form of organisation he helped to develop has remained the basis to this day. The carefully kept records provide vivid details of the corporate and personal history of early Friends.
After the ferment of the 17th century the period from 1700 to 1825 was one of comparative quiet for Friends, who were by now regarded as being 'respectable'. Their absolute standards of probity and fairness in business brought many of them wealth and influence and their identity with scientific and medical outreach was matched by their concern for social reform and education. Elizabeth Fry is probably the best-known Quaker of this period; she was one of the eleven children of John Gurney, the Norwich banker, and worshipped in the original Goat Lane Meeting House ('Goats') as well as in the present one, completed in 1826. Elizabeth's brother Joseph John Gurney was a powerful advocate of the plan to replace the Goat Lane buildings; he was much influenced by the evangelical movement of the time and as well as being one of the founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society, travelled widely in America on behalf of the Society of Friends.
Unfortunately, the new buildings were expensive to construct and maintain, and the local Quaker community found them a troublesome burden for many years. Membership meanwhile had declined and by 1850 it was seriously proposed to sell the property to the Wesleyans.
Fresh life and vigour was injected into local Quakerism shortly after this low season, when Alexander Eddington came to the city as a partner in a family grocery business on Gentleman's Walk. He and his wife involved local Friends in the growing Adult School movement and within a few years both the Goat Lane and Gildencroft Meeting Houses were the scene of intense educational activity. Adjacent buildings in Pottergate were acquired for the work in the 1870s and many people came into membership of the Society as a result of this close association.
During the 2nd World War the Goat Lane buildings escaped direct bombing although much of the surrounding property was devastated. Friends reappraised the use of buildings after the war and decided the Pottergate premises could be let to Norwich's first old people's club and to two firms as offices. The Gildencroft buildings were destroyed in an raid in 1942; they were rebuilt in a more modest form in 1958 and since 1975 have been let to the Norfolk County Council as a day centre for psycho-geriatric patients, Friends retaining the right to use the premises when interments are made in the adjoining burial ground.
Extensive and costly modernisation of parts of the Goat Lane premises was undertaken between 1973 and 1975, including the provision of well-appointed living accommodation for Wardens, who are charged with the oversight of the complex and the encouragement of its greatest possible use by Friends and other acceptable bodies and groups.

This collection which spans some three centuries gives a full picture of the development and growth of the Society of Friends in Norfolk. It is particularly fortunate that so much material apart from minute-books and registers have survived to give details of financial problems, trusts and estates as well as the work and problems of individuals such as Henry Brown, Henry Birkbeck, W.A.Loveless, Charles Muskett and Mathilda Leemann.

Society of Friends; 1654-; Norfolk

Letters between members of the Society of Friends in Norwich, collected by Arthur Eddington

The main group are addressed to Edmund Sparshall, a wine merchant of Magdalen Street, his wife Judith and daughter Catherine, on the sudden death of Edmund and Judith's son Thomas Sparshall (1805-1825). These include several letters from their friend Amelia Opie (née Alderson), writer, radical and philanthropist, who wrote a poem on the death of Thomas, her 'beloved young friend' [MC 1389/1].

SF 519/1 Sunday Hymn, and Hymn from the Ninetieth Psalm [? by Wellins] Calcot [paper watermarked '1812'], nd [post 1812]
SF 519/2 Joseph John Gurney, Cromer, to Catherine Sparshall: apologises that he is unable to go to Norwich tomorrow and stresses his affection for her family, nd
SF 519/3 Rachel Gurney, Earlham, to Joseph Sparshall: puts off his visit. Endorsed in pencil that Rachel Gurney died 17 Sep 1827. nd
SF 519/4 Catherine Gurney, Cromer Hall, to Mrs [Judith] Sparshall, Magdalen Street, Norwich: condolences on the sudden death of her son, Thomas Sparshall, and will call to see her when she returns [to Earlham], [1825]
SF 519/5 ? H. Murphy, St Faith's, to Mr and Mrs Sparshall, Magdalen Street, Norwich: condolences on death of their son Thomas - his constitution of late was so delicate he has been spared a 'pilgrimage of pain', [1825]
SF 519/6 Clarissa Andrews, [postmark Mildenhall], to Catherine Sparshall, Magdalen Street, Norwich: condolences [1825]
SF 519/7 M[ichael] Bland, [Bloomsbury] to Edmund Sparshall, Norwich: announces death of his own son Thomas [Bland], 9 Aug [1825]
SF 519/8 Joseph and Jane Gurney, Cromer, to Edmund Sparshall: condolences on death of Thomas Sparshall, 14 Aug 1825
SF 519/9 Rachel Anne Candler to Catherine Sparshall, Norwich: condolences on death of her brother, [1825]
SF 519/10 Edward Oxley, [Cromer], to Edmund Sparshall [cousin]: condolences on death of his son, 15 Aug 1825
SF 519/11 Hannah Martin, North Repps Cottage to Catherine Sparshall: condolences [1825]
SF 519/12 Jane Briscoe, Plymouth, to Mrs Sparshall: death of her daughter Susan; mentions her friend Amelia Opie's poem, 2 Apr 1830
SF 519/13 Sarah Maria Buxton, Keswick, to Mrs Opie: condolences on death of her amiable young friend, Saturday [1825]
SF 519/14 Amelia Opie to Judith Sparshall: unable to accept invitation to dinner, nd
SF 519/15 Amelia Opie to [unnamed]: invitation, nd
SF 519/16 James Ransome, Market Place, to Edmund Sparshall and family: condolences on death of son, 3 Aug 1825
SF 519/17 Margaret Oxley to Catharine Sparshall, Norwich: condolences on death of brother, nd [1825]
SF 519/18 Amelia Opie, 58 Chancery Lane, to [Mr and Mrs Sparshall]: remembrance of Thomas's death a year ago; marriage of their daughter Catherine [to Henry Willett], 11 Aug 1826
SF 519/19 Amelia Opie, Bradpole, to Edmund Sparshall, Norwich: could sit for hours to hear Dr W[illiam] Forster and praises him and his wife [Anne Buxton] - she is in danger of being spoiled by them; is going to Bath to see Priscilla H. Gurney and hopes to attend [second] wedding of J.J. Gurney - but mum about this! 7 July 1827
SF 519/20 Amelia Opie : address to a dying friend, Sep 1827
SF 519/21 Amelia Opie, N[orth Repps] Cottage, to [Mr or Mrs Sparshall]: happy where she is though Sarah Buxton's pain is a drawback to their enjoyment; does not like to miss so many weekday meetings, 16 Jan 1827
SF 519/22 Amelia Opie, Bradpole, to [the Sparshalls]: congratulations on birth of Catherine's baby [Edmund Sparshall Willett]; reproaches Sparshalls for not writing, 2 Jul 1827
SF 519/23/1 Ri. G. [Richard Gurney] to Sarah [Postle]: condolences on death [?of her brother Jehoshaphat Postle in 1815], [1815]
SF 519/23/2a-b Priscilla Gurney [1785-1821] to Rachel [Postle of Colney Hall]: lends her a garden chair to use while she herself is at Cromer. With wrapper marked 'very sacred', with dates of deaths of Priscilla Gurney and Rachel Postle, nd
SF 519/23/3 Mary J. Hawkins, 87 East Hill, Colchester, to Miss Ruggles-Brise: gives details of SF 519/23/1-2, written to their Postle ancestors, 20th century
SF 519/23/ Q. E. Gurney, Barclays Bank Ltd, Norwich, to Arthur Eddington: encloses SF 519/23/1-3 [Q.E. Gurney's wife was a Ruggles-Brise] with envelope, 14 Jan 1934
SF 519/24 Account related by Revd Mr Watson, theology tutor of Hackney College when he preached at the Orphans Workhouse Asylum on 22 Oct 1848, of events leading J.J. Gurney to write his 'Tract on the Divinity of Christianity - or the Necessity of persevering Effort to do Good' following a conversation with Dr Alderson, a physician and until then an untiring opponent of religion. With note that Watson received this information from a friend of J.J. Gurney's sister, Elizabeth Fry. Nd [post 1848]
SF 519/25 Eliza Tanner, Bristol, to H.P. [addressed to Sophia Gilpin, (at) Mrs Banks, near Flanham, near Bristol, for H.P.T., ? Hannah Player Tanner]: glad to hear of her industry and hopes she will make her a pair of easy slippers; little Samuel is poorly from teething. With postscript from father, John Tanner, May 1841
SF 519/26 Samuel Gurney, Nice, to Edmund Gurney, son: thinks it right to charge interest on £1,000 loan for new buildings although he did not charge on loan for repairs; is not gaining ground and submits to being carried upstairs to save exertion; expedition in pony phaeton to Pont du Var - the mountains are covered in snow but many of the peasants are making hay in the valleys, 8 Dec 1855
SF 519/27 Francis Cunningham, Earlham, to Edmund Gurney: worsening health of [his brother-in-law] Samuel Gurney at Paris; will not himself go as he can be of no use; religious reflections. [Samuel Gurney died 5 June 1856 in Paris], 4 Jun 1856
SF 519/28/1-7 Manuscript and typescript lists and transcriptions of the above lists, by Arthur Eddington, 20th century.


Signed and indexed. With, bound in, copy treasurer's reports, annual, tabular membership returns, signed attendance lists and occasional testimonies of the lives of deceased members.

Deposited 25 October 1969

Norfolk Cambridge and Huntingdon Quarterly Meeting Minutes; Norfolk Cambridge and Huntingdon Quarterly Meeting accounts; Norwich Monthly Meeting, list of members; and Norwich and Lynn removal certificate books.

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