Local Quaker History



In the 17th century, England was suffering the ravages of civil war. The struggle was not just for political power. It also had economic and religious causes. Christians attacked each other in violent speeches and writings, and sometimes even came to blows.

At this time many people were looking for a new way of organising how their country was run, based on religious foundations. They looked for their inspiration to the early days of the Christian church. Among these different groups were people who were to become the Quakers.

One of the great religious reformers of the day was George Fox (1624-1691). As a young man, he went around the country trying to find a form of religious belief which made sense to him and to his understanding of the Bible. On his travels, he met many other people who were also searching. For their honesty and their refusal to compromise, Fox and his followers suffered greatly and were often imprisoned.

Women as well as men spread the Quaker message throughout England, Scotland and Wales, and overseas to Ireland, the mainland of Europe and then to America, and in time to parts of Africa.

The message

The message preached by George Fox was that how you live your life is more important that ritual and dogma. Quakers relied on guidance of the indwelling spirit within each person rather than on particular interpretations of priests.

Fox felt that people could know God directly anywhere, any time. They didn’t need priests to explain the Bible or beautiful churches to worship in. He came to believe that everyone had an Inner Light through which they could experience guidance from God. This belief in the Inner Light led Fox to refuse to join the army as he felt it would be wrong to kill another person, even an enemy soldier. He believed that everyone should be treated with equal respect. This meant that he would not bow down or take off his hat to important people like judges and religious leaders.

“… be patterns, be examples in all countries… that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

George Fox

Spread of ideas

Fox spread his message through-out the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North-West of England, where there were groups seeking a way to live more simply and truly. He united may of the scattered groups into what has now become the Religious Society of Friends.

Fox continued to travel for much of his life, spreading his message throughout England and abroad.

No oaths

Quakers refused to swear oaths, saying it implied you would not always tell the truth.

Swearing on oath was required in courts of law and in order to join certain professions and trades.


“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest you fall into condemnation”

James Ch 5 v 12.

Friend or Quaker?

The earliest name used was Children of the Light. This was soon replaced by Friends in Truth, or simply Friends. The word Quaker was originally a nick-name used to describe Friends. There are two accounts of the origin of the word. One, that George Fox, in 1650 bid Justice Bennett tremble at the word of the Lord, so the Justice called him a Quaker. The other story is that the name was given because of the trembling and spiritual stress that sometimes appeared in meetings of Friends.

Nowadays, the words Friend and Quaker are used interchangeably.

Quaker record-keeping

Information on early Quakers is better than for many groups of a similar period. This is for several reasons:

  • The popularity of writing of personal journals as a way of recording a personal journey in search of truth.
  • Careful attention paid to maintaining accurate records of births, marriages, deaths, membership.
  • Applications for marriage recorded the occupation of both parties. Those applying for membership were visited by Friends who would report on the life of the applicant.
  • Minutes of business meetings provide insight into the activities being carried out by local meetings and of money spent and donated.
  • All sufferings experienced by Friends as a result of their religious beliefs were recorded.
  • This provides a view of changing experiences through time.

“Testimonies” written on the death of many Friends record the work they did in furthering the demonstration of Truth, including the support they provided to the meeting and the work they carried out in their daily lives.


The early period of Quakerism (1652 to 1688) is marked by else by the unrelenting persecution suffered by its members. For many years, hundreds and at times thousands of Friends were in prison. They were often detained for life or “at the King’s pleasure”. This was often done without any charge other than for being present at a Quaker meeting. Many were repeatedly imprisoned. Some died in prison.

Quakers’ claim that there was “that of God in every one” was easily misunderstood or distorted and condemned as blasphemy. Acts of Parliament which forbade secret religious meetings were used against them, even though their meetings were never secret.

Refusal to use titles or to obey hat honour; the use of terms of address for all that the wealthy reserved for their servants; refusal to swear oaths; refusal to pay tithes; non-attendance at the parish church all infuriated the establishment and gave ample excuse for imprisonment and heavy fines. When fines remained unpaid, they would be taken “in kind”. Sheep farmers would have their sheep removed; craftsmen would have their tools removed; etc. The value of the goods and money confiscated amounted to tens of thousands of pounds.

Toleration Act and beyond

Acts of Parliament in 1689 and 1696 brought relief from the worst of the persecutions and imprisonments, but tithes and Church dues were still demanded and were still refused by Quakers, so that the levying of fines and confiscation of goods continued.


Quakers saw tithes as a yoke of oppression imposed by “hireling priests” that failed to follow God’s word. Tithes were a major source of income for the Church (one tenth of all one produced). On refusing to pay, goods were seized. The value of goods seized was often much greater than the sum owed.

The farming brothers, Michael and John Phillips and William Forster, land-agent and surveyor, always had either livestock or crops or both taken.

Thomas Shillitoe, shoemaker, lost leather soles, and from 1801 plate, pewter and copper were taken. His son, also Thomas, was a chemist with a shop next door-but-one to the Meeting House. He always had cash taken from the till. Friends, who had previously lost goods in kind, first had money taken in 1817.

Women Friends who received demands were either widows or heiresses. Typical household articles taken were plate, silver and glass, copper and pewter, furniture, linen, a hearth rug, a coal scuttle, sugar loves, soap, candles.

Friends did not comply with the tithe demands, but also made no effort to prevent their goods or money being taken. Only when they considered that their position or dignity was being unduly abused did they protest. From 1793 until 1825, the value of items taken from members of Tottenham meeting amounted to £6,858. 10s. 4d.

Early Quakers in Tottenham

George Fox and Tottenham

George Fox visited Quakers in Tottenham in 1689. He had been in London.

Fox visited Tottenham Friends again in 1690. By 1691, Tottenham Monthly Meeting was formed.


“But I found my body would no longer bear the city; wherefore, … I went to Tottenham High Cross and from thence to… Winchmore Hill, and to Enfield; spending three weeks among Friends thereabouts, and had Meetings at all those places.”

George Fox 1689

Tottenham 1700

Tottenham village was relatively near to London and communication with the City may have been an important consideration for settling here. Rural and quiet, Tottenham village was also far enough away from London to be peaceful and a pleasant place to live. It also had a reputation for being a healthy place.

The village consisted of one long street, about two miles long, with houses irregularly arranged, interspersed with beautiful gardens and with many fields and meadows. There were numerous large mansions and houses, some of which the wealthier Friends bought and lived in with their families.

An early Tottenham Quaker

Reference to Quakers in Tottenham prior to 1689 is hard to come by. One early Tottenham Friend appears to have been William Briggins, a Tottenham tobacco merchant and brewer. His son Peter kept a diary. In it he recounts how his father was imprisoned for visiting Gracechurch Street Meeting some time in the 1670s.

Extract from Peter Briggins’ diary, recounting his father’s imprisonment for attending a Quaker Meeting in Gracechurch Street.

“about ye year 1670 [my father] married an ainchant woman near 60 years of age [his second wife]… About yt time was laws made to prosecute those yt frequented Religious Meetings, & as ye Informers coming, ye person yt preached slipt away by a private door & my father made his escape as others did but he thought at that time to goe to ye Quakers Meeting at Gracious Street [Gracechurch Street] & see how it faired with them & he got under ye womens gallery in a corner that he might not be seen… After a little time came the Mob and Informers with a band of Soulders… and William Bailey stood still preaching till they hawled him away”. When Bailey was brought the Lord Mayor with his hat on, the mayor plucked it off saying “You give no honour to governors?” Bailey asked “Doth thy honour consist in taking off the hat?” The mayor answered yes and angrily trod the hat under his feet. Bailey replied “Then thou treadest thy honour under foot”.

It was this quiet defiance that impressed William Briggins and convinced him that

“that was worth suffering for, which boare them up and above and over their sufferings”.

“In those days of Tryall it was so ordered that ye Citty Trained band of Soulders were appointed to goe out in armes every 7th day in ye Afternoon & take possession of all Meeting Houses. We met in ye Street near our meeting doors and when Friends opened their mouths by way of testimony they would hawle them into ye meeting or into ye Exchange where a guard was kept and at noon or evening they were had before a Magistrte who commonly fined them or sent them to prison. My Father and I was taken out of hither Court next Lumber Street (Lombard Street) with severall other friends and had before Sir John Peake who committed my father to prison but I being young (tho’ tall of my age) after detaining me severall hours they let me goe home. But by reason of my Father’s much and close confinement in Nugate &c he was much Impaired in his health.”
Finally, on 27th May 1688

“he lying very still and departed this life & layed down his head in a great deal of peace & comfort and an assurance of his eternal well-being for ever.”
It is not clear if Peter himself was a Quaker, but thirty years after his father’s death, Peter wrote in his diary

“My wife went to Tatenham and agreed to give £16 a year and agreed to have ye Linen home”.
She was offering to do the laundry for the meeting house.

Tottenham in the 17th century

Seventeenth century Tottenham was very different from Tottenham today. A number of rich Londoners had large country retreats here. Bruce Castle (the oldest building still standing in Tottenham) was probably built in 1568 for a visit by Queen Elizabeth. It was substantially altered in the 1680s by the Coleraine family whose arms appear on the north side.

Quaker businesses

Quaker trades

Quakers came from many backgrounds. Many early Friends were small scale farmers owning the land they worked, or husbandmen renting small farms.

Tithes, confiscation of animals or goods, and imprisonment for non-payment made it more difficult to continue with farming with its longer term investment. It was easier to carry on shop trade even if part of your stock was removed. The practice of travelling to other meetings also made it difficult to look after the land. Thus farming was replaced by small crafts and trades.

Because of their consistently honest dealings, people knew that when doing business with a Quaker you would get a good quality product at a fair price and would never be cheated. Quaker businesses therefore tended to flourish.


Quaker merchants

In some places there were small groups of well-educated people who were drawn to Quakers. Education was valued as a true preparation for life in all its aspects. Where the children in these families would have traditionally gone to university and entered “the professions” (law, medicine, etc), these options were barred to Friends because they would not swear an oath. In addition, Friends imposed their own restrictions, disallowing businesses that involved gambling, war/violence or petty fashions. So they chose instead, businesses where they could apply their mind. Insistence upon simple living, frugality and integrity meant that they were willing to work long hours and endure considerable periods of experiment with little reward. Their strong intellect meant they could be innovative. Thus many of the big names in business had Quaker origins: Barclay, Lloyd, Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree, to name just a few.


Many Quaker families became involved in banking through their work as goldsmiths. These included the Freames, the Gurneys, the Backhouses, the Lloyds and the Barclays.

Joseph Freame (son of the founder of the bank Freame & Gould) was a member of Tottenham Friends Meeting. In 1733 he formed a partnership with James Barclay. This partnership, Freame, Gould & Barclay, conducted business in Lombard Street in the City of London. This was the first appearance of the name Barclay in banking.

Their bank was one of among twenty or so banks (including various Gurney banks) that amalgamated in 1896 to form Barclay & Co. Ltd.

Joseph Freame was a fairly active Friend. In 1711 he was clerk of London Yearly Meeting. In 1713 he published Scripture instruction – digested under several sections, by way of question and answer, in order to promote piety and virtue, and discourage vice and immorality, with a preface relating to education. This was a popular book which was later used in the Lancasterian schools as one of their regular text books.

Priscilla Wakefield (1751 - 1832)

Priscilla Wakefield (born Bell) was born in Tottenham. Her father was a successful coal merchant with a small wharf on the River Lea at Craven Park Road for the delivery of coals from London. she married Edward Wakefield, a merchant, in 1771. She was the aunt of Elizabeth Fry (the prison reformer).

Priscilla Wakefield the writer

Priscilla had a national reputation as a writer of children’s books on botany, entomology and travel. Her Juvenile anecdotes, founded on facts was first published in 1775. It was so well received that it had reached an eighth edition by 1825. Her best known book was The Juvenile travellers, a description of an imaginary tour through Europe, which went through nineteen editions between 1801 and 1850.

Priscilla Wakefield the philanthropist

While Priscilla’s national reputation was as a children’s writer, her local reputation in Tottenham was as a philanthropist.

Lying-in Charity for Women

In 1791 Priscilla formed the Lying-in Charity for Women. Supported by annual subscription, it provided help to about 120 poor women a year during childbirth, providing linen and a small amount of money. It continued well into the nineteenth century.

School for Industry

This was founded in 1792, largely as a result of efforts by Priscilla Wakefield. It was originally for thirty six girls who were taught reading, writing, sewing, knitting and arithmetic. It was built on a site practically opposite what is now Bruce Grove Station.

Penny Savings Bank

In 1798 Priscilla Wakefield founded the first “frugality bank” in England. This she founded at Ship Inn Yard in Tottenham. It was intended to help people on lower incomes to save money. There were facilities for women and children to save what they could from their income and soon it became a safe and profitable place of saving for labourers and servants. Members paid, according to age, a sum of money each month to entitle them to a pension after age 60 and money if they were sick. Children were encouraged to save a penny a month towards clothing and apprenticeships.

The immense success of this enterprise meant that similar “savings banks” spread throughout the country. They were eventually nationalised in 1865 when the Post Office Savings Bank was established. Penny savings banks continued in schools until 1919, when they were absorbed into the Post Office Savings Bank.

Early development of Tottenham Meeting

Meetings for Worship

From the beginning of Quakerism, Friends viewed the appointment of one man as minister, to the exclusion of others, as a limitation of the Holy Spirit. The way of worship adopted by Friends was one without a pre-defined programme. Friends alike would gather in silence. As individuals felt spiritually moved to speak, so they would stand and offer ministry. This ministry was accepted equally from men and women, from farmers, shopkeepers, scholars and professionals. This form of worship is still practised by British Quakers today.

Tottenham Friends Meeting House

Meetings for worship were originally held in people’s homes. In 1698 the home of a Friend, Francis Clare, was used. Later a house was hired at Tottenham High Cross. At this time Meetings for Worship were held alternately with Stoke Newington.

Through the 1700s many Quakers moved into the area.

Friends decided to build a Meeting House. In 1714 a piece of freehold land was purchased for £25.

“in size 50 ft. in breadth north to south and in depth 140 ft east to west, abutting west on Tottenham street.”


The first Friends Meeting House was built at a cost of £200. The specifications of the building demanded that it should be 40ft by 25 ft.

A meeting house has been on the site ever since.

“its foundation and structure to be substantial. The front to be with grey and stock bricks, the scantlings to be large, the windows sashed and portals to the doors, the wainscoting to be like other Meeting houses.”

Meeting Houses

Meetings were built to be functional, with little evidence of design. From the late 18th century they tended to become large and commodious.

The interiors were simple, with no embellishments and were constructed in a manner which prevented members from observing the outside world. Buildings were set well back from a main street, windows were placed high with the sills not less than four feet or four feet six inches from the ground. The lower part of the walls were panelled from the window sill down to a fixed seat, the upper section of the walls being plastered.

Tottenham 1789

Bruce Grove #1-16 were built. These were mostly occupied by Quaker families. These were the first of the smaller terraced houses to be built in Tottenham.

Expansion: changing membership

By 1786 attendance for worship at Enfield was low and the Enfield Meeting House was sold in 1803. South Mimms Meeting closed in 1788 and the Meeting House and burial ground were sold in 1820. It was a similar story at Waltham Abbey. Epping and Walthamstow Meetings survived.

In contrast, Tottenham Meeting’s membership expanded as increasing numbers of Friends settled in Tottenham. By 1772 Friends were considering enlarging the Meeting House. Friends involved in the negotiations for enlargement included William Forster, Edward and Thomas Phillips and Daniel Bell. Life at Meeting was getting so busy that by early 1778 it was decided to hold an additional Meeting for Worship in the afternoon.

Eventually, in 1803, land belonging to Thomas Shillitoe was transferred to Tottenham Meeting for use as a burial ground.

Thomas Shillitoe (1754-1836)

Thomas Shillitoe joined the Society of Friends as a young man. For this he was disowned by his father. He had a profound belief that his life was completely directed by divine guidance. He gave up working as a clerk in a banking-house in Lombard Street because conscience troubled him when he had to issue lottery tickets as part of his work.

In learning a new trade, shoemaking, to which he believed he was ‘directed’, he suffered financial hardship. The strain of this made him ill and on medical advice he left London and came to Tottenham, where his health improved and his business prospered. In 1779 he married Mary Pace. They had seven children. He was an active member of Tottenham Meeting. He was recorded a minister in 1790. His ministering took him all over the British Isles, to Europe and to North America. He visited drinking houses in Ireland and a notorious gang of outlaws in Bristol He spoke with George III, George IV, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and other heads of European states.

Thomas Shillitoe’s ministry

In 1806 Thomas Shillitoe retired from business, believing it right for him to devote himself entirely to ministry. His means were limited but his wants were few and his habit very simple and moderate. He was negligent in his dress, caring only for the purpose in mind. He walked for miles on his journeys, often labouring in fields and gardens as he went. He would walk thirty and forty miles a day and begin next day after just one night’s rest.

Thomas Shillitoe was a man of strong purpose. He was not put off by people’s position. He met and spoke with people from all backgrounds. His obvious sincerity and simplicity enabled him to gain audiences with royalty at home and abroad. He was a strong speaker who managed to arouse people from a state of indifference and unconcernedness.

His speeches frequently addressed his concerns regarding the observance of Sunday and legislation for temperance and morality.

During the last fifty years of his life Thomas Shillitoe was a vegetarian and teetotaller. He died in Tottenham in 1836. He was buried in the Friends Burial Ground behind the Meeting House.



“His watchfulness and circumspect conduct had, it is believed, a salutary influence among us”

quote from Testimony to Thomas Shillitoe

Tottenham 1800s

Rebuilding of the meeting house

In 1833 the Meeting House was practically rebuilt on the old foundations at the cost of £1677. A small Meeting House and living room at the side were built, and so the buildings remained for more than 100 years.

Tottenham 1840

The population of Tottenham and District was about 9,000. Gas lighting was installed on the High Road.

Tottenham Monthly Meeting 1851

A meeting census on 30th, 3rd month 1851 revealed:

Members worshipping at:

  • Tottenham Friends Meeting House: 156 (morning), 101 (afternoon);
  • Winchmore Hill Friends Meeting House: 42 (morning), 16 (afternoon);
  • Epping Friends Meeting House: 40 (morning)
  • Tottenham 1872

Population was about 23,000. The Bethnal Green to Edmonton Railway line opened with stations at Bruce Grove and White Hart Lane.

Football in Tottenham

The Tramway from Tottenham to London opened in 1881.

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club was started in 1880. Some time in the 1930s a game was played by the Friends Club team and the Spurs Junior Team. The Friends Club lost, but perhaps it was just a friendly game.

Ted Willis (later Lord Willis) recalls in his autobiography

“a peculiar local invention was Tottenham Cake. It consisted of a scone like base covered with lurid pink icing. It was baked in long flat trays, then cut into cubes, which retailed for a penny each. Luckily the cake was not always cut evenly or the icing uniformly spread, and the smaller defective pieces were sold off at half price.

“In 1901 it was given away free to local children to celebrate the Spurs first victory in the FA Cup Final”

Henry Chalkley, the baker, was a Friend. The tradition of a Tottenham cake is continued today at Tottenham Friends Meeting. Until recently baked by Peter Brown, the pink icing is usually achieved by using mulberries off the tree in the burial ground.

Tottenham Meeting 1890s

1890: Average attendance at First Day School was 74 children

10/12/1891 Tottenham Monthly Meeting Minute

“During the severe weather of last winter, efforts were made to relieve some of the suffering poor in our neighbourhood by giving cocoa suppers for men three times a week in the school room and dinners for children, tickets for the latter being distributed by one of the Board School teachers. We also distributed about ten tons of coal.”

Burial ground

Many early Quakers were buried in parish churchyards, often without a traditional church committal. Sometimes funerals were disturbed by unruly mobs. Most Quakers preferred not to be buried in the local churchyard and burial in a garden or orchard was common practice. This was not always possible and it became necessary to obtain land.

The first burial at Tottenham was in 1802; that of Thomas Garman, aged seven years. Friends who died were interred in rows without distinction. Gravestones were disallowed.

In 1816 at Tottenham, low oval-topped stones were erected. These were simply engraved with the Friend’s name and dates of birth and death.

Today, these stones are stood around the sides of the burial ground and the centre is grassed over. A plan has been kept of the spot where each Friend is buried.

The last burial took place in 1893. In 1894 the Burial Ground was closed to burials, though scattering of ashes is still allowed.

Grave stones

8th month 1851: Yearly Meeting minute

Grave stones are to be 18″ by 12″ by 3″ that all such stones be laid horizontally. The graves inscription (are) to be name, age, and date of deceased; that (in) all burial grounds an entire uniformity be observed; that all changes be borne by the monthly meetings; where parties apply for stones to be placed the cost is to be paid (by them).

12th month 1862: Tottenham Monthly Meeting minute

The Gravestones Committee report:

  • all shall be placed in an upright position
  • shall not exceed 36″ long, 24″ out of the ground by 18″ wide and by 3″ thickness
  • that York stone be used, the same finished with an elliptical top
  • inscriptions are to be the name and age of the individual and date of deceased
  • those who wish to have stones shall pay all charges connected therewith.

William Dillwyn (1743-1824)

William Dillwyn was born in Philadelphia, USA. In 1774 William came to England to start a campaign against slavery. He quickly made friends and decided to settle here.

In 1777, William Dillwyn married Sally Weston at Tottenham Meeting House. They lived at Higham Lodge, Walthamstow. Sally gave birth to eight children.

“In procuring slaves from the coast of Africa, many children are stolen privately; wars are also encouraged…, but all is at a great distance.

“Many groans arise from dying men, which we hear not. Many cries are uttered by women and fatherless children, which reach not our ears.

“Many cheeks are wet with tears and faces with unutterable grief, which we see not. Cruel tyranny is encouraged. The hands of robbers are strengthened and thousands reduced to the most abject slavery, who never injured us.”

From: The Case of our fellow creatures, the oppressed Africans, respectfully recommended to the serious considerations of the Legislature of Great Britain by the people called Quakers, written by John Lloyd and William Dillwyn.

William went on to campaign for the rights of slaves in the West Indies. He died aged 81 and is buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Tottenham.

Abolition of Slavery

As early as 1761, British Friends had declared “that the slave trade is a practice repugnant to our Christian profession.” William Dillwyn helped to set up an anti-slavery committee in London in 1787. All but three of the members were Quakers.

The work of the Anti-Slavery Movement continued beyond the ending of the English slave trade in 1807. Slavery still existed in other countries. The movement actually grew substantially after the passing of the Emancipation Act which came into force in 1834. The focus of the movement was on ending slavery in America. This was eventually achieved in 1865

Quakers were the driving force of the anti-slavery movement in the very early days. After the ending of the English slave trade in 1807, the focus shifted to remedying the evil effects that slavery had produced. To this end, a group of Quakers, including William Allen and Luke Howard, formed the African Institution. Recognising that slavery had destroyed the whole basis of African society, the Institution sought to improve the lives of African people both with Christianity and education. The African Institution also campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade in other countries and pressed for legitimate trade with Africa as well as strict reinforcement of the law against the English slave trade. The Institution survived until 1827.

Josiah Forster (1782 - 1870)

Josiah Forster was born in Tottenham and attended the school established by his grandfather (also Josiah Forster) at Tottenham Green: Forster’s School. He “showed intelligence and was quick at acquiring foreign languages” and displayed an early inclination towards teaching. He became an assistant at the school for some years, working under his uncle, Thomas Coar.

When Thomas retired, Josiah took over running of the school, retiring in 1826. He was a successful teacher, and always kind and generous. This sometimes allowed the boys to get the better of him. An amusing incident occurred when he discovered boys with fireworks. They were asked to give them up whereupon Josiah decided the best method of disposing of them was to throw them on the fire, much to his own consternation and the boys’ delight.

In 1826, Josiah decided to give up teaching to devote more time to Quaker work. Aside from education, his great passions were the anti-slavery campaign and the British and Foreign Bible Society. He became well known in all these, earning a national reputation. Josiah wrote several books of a religious nature and on the iniquities of the slave trade.

Josiah was a founder member of Grove House School (established in 1828). He became a subscriber to the Lancasterian Boys’ School in Tottenham and sat on the management committee.

Forster Cottages

Josiah and Rachel Forster had four cottages built on Philip Lane in 1860. These were built on former orchard land and were to be

“occupied by persons, the inhabitants of Tottenham for not less than one year, who shall have resources to maintain themselves with some degree of comfort in the cottages. Preference is to be given to widows or unmarried women of 55 or upwards, but also men with their wives or husbands to continue after the decease of their wives. No undue preference is to be given to members of the Society of Friends.”

The accommodation was a living room with a bed space, a kitchen and an entrance lobby. The original Trustees were Josiah Forster, his wife Robert, his sisters Mary, Ann, Sarah and Elizabeth, and his nephew William Edward.

Forster Cottages now

May Mortimer was the only Friend to reside in the cottages. She lived at No. 90 for many years until 1985, often making her visitors warmly welcome to friendly discussion in her parlour.

In 1985 the property was improved with central heating, new bathrooms and separate bedrooms. Legal requirements made administration a more onerous task and in 1992 the property was handed over to the Family Welfare Association, after 132 years administration by Tottenham Monthly Meeting. The properties are now managed by Pathways as an independent living scheme for older people in Haringey.


William Forster (1784 - 1854)

William Forster was born in Tottenham. From a very early age, he demonstrated a spiritual frame of mind. After completing is education he followed his father’s profession as a land agent. He became an itinerant minister for several years, travelling to many parts of England and Scotland.

William visited Newgate prison with Stephen Grellet. The scenes shocked and sickened them. William, who would have known Elizabeth Fry from birth, contacted her and described the wretchedness of the women at Newgate. Elizabeth Fry gathered together a group of young women Friends and visited the prison. This was the start of Elizabeth Fry’s work as a prison reformer.

In October 1816 he married Anna Buxton (Elizabeth Fry’s sister). After the marriage they moved to Dorset.

William Forster in America

In 1820 William undertook a mission to America on behalf of the Society of Friends. This lasted for five years during which time he worked to prevent a rift that was appearing among American Friends. The separation went ahead, but William was considered to have done good service. He had a calm and peaceful tone which suited him to conciliatory work.

William made two further visits to America. One of these was due to a threatened split among Friends in Indiana over the slavery question. His efforts were successful. William was a strong advocate against slavery.

Famine in Ireland + Anti-slavery campaign

With the Society of Friends in general, William Forster was deeply concerned about the famine in Ireland caused by the failure of the potato crop in 1846. He visited Ireland with his son (William Edward) in 1846 and 1847 to investigate the conditions there prior to the formation of a Quaker committee for relief.

William’s health was poor in later years, but he still made an additional visit to America with other Friends (including his brother, Josiah) to present an anti-slavery address to the President and to Governors of the States. He met with President Pierce in October 1853, but was not encouraged by the response. He continued to meet with other people with influence.

In January 1854, William became severely ill while staying in Tennessee. After a few weeks, he died, aged 70. He is buried in the Friends’ burial ground at Friendsville.

William Edward Forster (1818 - 1886)

William Edward Forster was born in Dorset. He was the son of William Forster and Anna Buxton. Educated at Grove House School in Tottenham, William showed an early interest in politics. William’s father was not keen for his son to pursue a career in public life, so he worked in the wool business.

In 1846 and 1847 he visited Connemara, Ireland with his father and acted as a distributor for the Friends’ Famine Relief Fund.

On marrying Jane Martha Arnold (a non-Friend) in 1850, William left the Society of Friends. He frequently appeared on platforms in Leeds and Bradford, discussing the interests of the working classes, parliamentary reform, or American slavery.

William joined parliament in 1861 and represented Bradford to the end of his life. Under Gladstone in 1868, William was given the task of establishing a national system of education. He introduced his Elementary Education Bill in 1870 which aimed to provide free elementary education for all children.

As a cabinet minister under Gladstone in 1880, William served as Chief Secretary for Ireland. He died in 1886 at the age of 68. He was buried at Burley-in-Wharfdale after a funeral at Westminster Abbey.

Quakers and education

Quakers in general, and Tottenham Quakers in particular, had a long interest in education. When George Fox visited Tottenham in 1689 he held Meetings in a school for women at High Cross, run by Bridge Austell.

When negotiations were in progress for the possible building of the first meeting house, the presence of two well-established Quaker schools was presented as additional reason for the Meeting to continue. These schools belonged to Richard Claridge and Alice Hays and were situated in Old Ship Yard at High Cross.

Josiah Forster (1693-1763)

Josiah Forster came to settle in Tottenham in 1751 with his second wife Jane and their eight children. Their last child, Priscilla, was born in Tottenham. Josiah had taught at the Friends’ school at Clerkenwell and run his own school in Coventry and later Birmingham

In 1751, Josiah bought a large mansion on the north side of Tottenham Green, Reynardson House. This served as the family home and as the school he opened in 1752, Forster’s School (a boarding school for boys). This began the long connection of the Forster family with Tottenham.

Reynardson House was a spacious, brick-built house standing in grounds of about thirty acres. It was originally built in 1590 and was home to Albert Reynardson, Mayor of London.

Forster’s School quickly became well established and Quakers from all over the country sent their children here. The school room was held in what had originally been the ballroom (about 20 by 30 feet).

Josiah died of consumption in 1763.

Jane Forster’s School for Boys

For some time before Josiah Forster’s death his wife Jane ran the school. Their son William (1747-1824) later took over the school until shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Howard in 1781. The school was then run by Thomas Coar, a Yorkshireman who came to Tottenham in 1779.

Thomas Coar lived in the Old House (Coar’s House; later known as Eaton House) on Tottenham Green (the site of the old Town Hall, now used as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. It is likely that Thomas moved the school to his own house.

Under Thomas Coar, the school flourished, continuing to uphold the fine reputation it had first gained under Josiah Forster.

Thomas married Priscilla Forster (Josiah Forster’s daughter) in 1784 and so became even more closely involved with the Forster family.

Upon his retirement (around 1826) Thomas gave up the school to his nephew, Josiah (grandson of the school’s founder). Josiah was already running his own school in Southgate and he moved this school to Tottenham, teaching there until his retirement in 1826. At this point the school was closed.

Eagle House

Another private Quaker school in Tottenham opened in the early nineteenth century. It was a preparatory school for boys aged five to ten. This was run by Deborah Forster (daughter of Josiah Forster who founded Forster’s school). Thomas Coar’s daughters, Frances and Priscilla, both taught at the school. It is unclear whether the school was held on the premises of Coar’s school or in Eagle House.

Eagle House stood on the Green between Old House and Grove House. There were twenty boarders and some day pupils. The day pupils were not the sons of Friends, but attended Tottenham Church.

Frances and Priscilla were described as “kind, calm and considerate; Frances had little sense of humour but was sensible and Priscilla made hasty judgments”. Both were strict disciplinarians, but punishments were mild, the severest being to sit still and silent for half-an-hour at playtime. The boys engaged in plenty of outdoor activities; they played ball games, flew kites, tended small gardens and walked across the fields to Bruce Castle and Mount Pleasant. As a treat the boys went “down Tottenham to buy skipping ropes and small coloured cakes from the shops”.

(Theodore Compton 1893 Recollections of Tottenham Friends and the Forster Family)

Grove House School

In 1828 Grove House School was founded by Thomas Binns, who served as the first headmaster. It replaced Forster’s School, which had closed two years earlier. Provision was made to teach French, German, Latin, Writing and Drawing. The boys were all from Quaker families or had Quaker relatives.

The school stood on the south side of Tottenham Green. It eventually closed in 1879. In 1897 the site was purchased by Tottenham Council and became the Tottenham Polytechnic (now College of North East London).

On the closure of Grove House School, activity was transferred to a new Quaker school in Reading, Leighton Park School, which is still running today.

Adult schools

The Quaker concern for education went beyond simply setting up schools for their own children. From the early days Quakers set up adult schools, often at their meeting houses, to provide a basic education for poor people. As far back as the 1780s Quakers were setting up adult classes to teach people to read, initially using the Bible as the text to work with. The initial development of individual adult schools round the country soon grew into a distinct movement.

Through close involvement with those they were teaching, Friends gained a deeper insight into the conditions many people were living in.

An adult school was running at Tottenham Meeting at least as far back as 1890.

Lancasterian School

In 1812 a Lancasterian school for boys was established in Tottenham. It was originally on the High Road, just south of White Hart Lane, but moved in 1813 to Church Road. Three years later a similar school for girls was opened on the corner of Reform Row and the High Road.

From the beginning, several Tottenham Friends, men and women, were actively involved in the management of these schools. They are also featured in the list of subscribers, including members of the Forster, Janson, Howard and Stacey families.

In a single large room over 100 boys were taught on the basis of Joseph Lancaster’s ‘improved plan’. Each boy paid 1p per week. Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, published an account of his educational work in 1803: Improvements in education as it respects the industrial classes of the community.

Joseph Lancaster had found that at his ‘Lancasterian School’ in Southwark one ‘teacher’ could teach say five boys one item of knowledge in reading, writing or arithmetic. These five boys would teach another five. These would teach five more. In this way education could be provided very economically.

William Allen (1770-1843)

William Allen was the son of a Spitalfields silk weaver. From an early age he showed an interest in science, constructing a telescope through which he observed the satellites of Jupiter. His interest in chemistry aroused the attention of Joseph Gurney Bevan, a pharmacist, who took William into his business in 1792. William continued to run the business after Joseph Bevan retired. The business eventually became Allen and Hanbury, a pharmaceutical company still in existence today.

William Allen lectured in chemistry at Guy’s Hospital and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also a founder member of the Geological Society, the Mineralogical Society and the Pharmaceutical Society (of which he was the first president).

From a young age he saw the abhorrence of slavery. At the age of nineteen he realised that opposition to slavery should be matched by “disusing those commodities procured by the labour of slaves”, deciding that “as sugar is undoubtedly one of the chief, I resolve, through divine assistance, to persevere in the disuse of it until the Slave Trade shall be abolished”.

William Allen was concerned about the rights of all people. He was instrumental in a survey of 1,504 families so that the roots of poverty might be understood. He also set up a society to work against capital punishment.

William Allen the philanthropist

William Allen was a welcoming man who always sought to help people out. A young Frenchwoman who stayed with him in 1829 recalled that his house

“to its full extent and often beyond it, was ever open to receive all the strangers who required his aid and protection; and as memory glances over the scenes of that period… I see men of all countries and of all shades of colour; Russians, Germans, Frenchmen, Swedes, Greeks, Italians, and Spaniards, North American Indians, West Indians, and many of the suffering sons of Africa partaking of that hospitality which he knew so well how to bestow without the least ostentation.”

He also took a keen interest in education. From 1808 he took an active part in the schools promoted by fellow Quaker Joseph Lancaster. Joseph’s vision was not matched by financial or administrative abilities and William was almost solely responsible for setting these schools on a sound footing.

While travelling in Sussex, he “saw that a good system of education for the children of the labouring classes was greatly needed in these districts” and began the agricultural colony at Lindfield, near Haywards Heath, where he created a school farm and other training facilities for the children.

Luke Howard (1772-1864)

Luke Howard was born in 1772. He spent much of his life he worked as a retail chemist in London, part of that time in partnership with William Allen.

Luke moved to Tottenham in 1812. He lived in a large house built by William Forster on the corner of what is now Philip Lane and Arnold Road East

Luke Howard is best known as the founder of modern meteorology. He spent many years studying weather and cloud formations. Many of his studies were carried out in his garden in Tottenham. As he was away a lot, Mariabella, his wife took many of the readings from the instruments in the garden.

Naming the clouds

Luke published On the modifications of clouds in 1803. In this essay, he outlined a system for classifying the varying forms of the clouds. It is the system that is still in use today.

The climate of London

In 1817, Luke Howard published Climate of London: a day by day account of weather over many years. This book had an influential effect on the painter, John Constable. Up until that time, painters had not really observed cloud patterns closely and their relationship to weather. Constable was so fascinated he made a series of cloud studies.

In 1842, Luke Howard published A cycle of eighteen years in the seasons in Britain. He was trying to understand why weather changes from one year to the next. Careful observations in Ackworth, Yorkshire and at his home in Tottenham revealed a cycle of weather patterns bringing alternate warmth and cold through successive years.

Luke Howard and Goethe

The German poet Goethe was also impressed by Luke’s work. He corresponded with Luke Howard and even wrote a poem dedicated to him.

Howard’s Ehrengedächtnis

Luke Howard: philanthropy and religion

Much of Luke Howard’s leisure time was devoted to philanthropic or religious work. He wrote tracts against profane swearing (1811) and on temperance and the proper treatment of animals. He was a zealous worker against slavery. He was a committee member of the Society Against Capital Punishment and the Society Against Cruelty to Animals. He was also a committee member of the African Institution and the Lancasterian School in Borough Road.

Luke helped to raise money to help German refugees of the Napoleonic Wars, earning a medal from the King of Prussia. He also helped the Greeks in their struggle for independence.

In 1828 Luke moved to Ackworth, Yorkshire, but always considered Tottenham his home. He returned to live with his son in Bruce Grove in 1837. Mariabella died in 1852 and Luke in 1864. Both are buried in Tottenham Cemetery. Towards the end of his life he left Quakers to become join the Plymouth Brethren.

Hannah Kilham (1774-1832)

Hannah Kilham (born Hannah Spurr) was brought up in Sheffield. She became a member of the Society of Friends in 1803. She first came to live in Tottenham in 1820.

In 1820 she persuaded a group of friends from Tottenham to go with her down to the River Thames where a ship had arrived from the Gambian coast. She wanted to find out if there were any who might be prepared to remain in England and help her transcribe their own languages for the first time. Two of them, Sandanee and Mahmadee, agreed to stay and Tottenham Friends raised money for board and lodgings. Hannah wanted to teach them English and in return get them to teach her Walof and Mandingo. Hannah wanted to write the languages down for the first time, produce dictionaries, grammar books and school books in those languages. The ultimate plan was for the two men to set up schools in Gambia.

Visit to the Gambia

In Autumn 1823 Hannah, Sandanee and Mahmadee sailed for the Gambia. With some teething troubles, the party settled in Bathurst, Gambia. Mahmadee and Sandanee were unsettled by their return to Africa and there were some initial difficulties; Hannah had done much work on Walof while the local language was Mandingo.

Hannah was back in London within a year. She learnt some more languages and sailed for Sierra Leone, where although she was often sick, she set up many schools. She died on a sea voyage to Sierra Leone after a visit to Liberia in March 1832, aged 58.

The Phillips family

Thomas Phillips (1730-1797)

Thomas Phillips came to Tottenham in about 1746. He first lived in a house lying on the east side of Tottenham Green. When his father died he moved with the rest of his family onto Broadwater Farm. He farmed all the land up to the New River and over to where Seven Sisters Road now runs.

Thomas died aged 66. He was buried at Whitechapel.

Thomas’ sons, Michael (born 1759) and John (born 1761), bought Grainger’s Farm, part of what became Duckett’s Farm (off Lordship Lane). This they farmed while Michael lived on Broadwater Farm, which he rented, and John lived with his wife Elizabeth and their four children (John, Mary, Daniel and Rebecca) in a house on the High Road.

After leaving school, the younger John (born 1803) lived with his uncle Michael on Broadwater Farm.

Michael died in 1834 and young John continued to live there and run the farm.

John Phillips (1803-1894)

John Phillips married Mary Payne in 1838. They had four children (Mary Elizabeth, John, Alfred and Ellen).

Mary Elizabeth remembered:

“The farm offered numerous joyful occupations for children: swings and seesaws in the barn, a Shetland pony to ride, garden to work, but the attractions were at their height in hay time. These joys were shared by many others, the rides down to the hayfields in the empty carts being especially delightful to the young…

“JT’s wife was a total abstainer. In Tottenham it was the practice to brew and serve beer to the haymakers (totalling nearly 100 men) but she arranged for coffee, a change that was warmly welcomed.”

In 1861 they moved from the farm to a larger house on the High Road.

Mary Elizabeth Phillips (1840-1922)

Mary Elizabeth showed a great interest in social reform from childhood. She attended the Bible Society and Anti-Slavery Committee meetings with her mother. She was a member of the executive of the British Women’s Temperance Association and president of the Tottenham Branch for 22 years.

One of Mary’s chief aims in life was the abolition of public houses. For many years she attended local Brewster sessions and fearlessly opposed the applications for new licences. In 1894 a publican brought an action against her for “malicious persecution”. He lost the case!

The first coffee stall in Tottenham was begun by Mary. It was fixed on wheels. It was so successful that she took over a building for sale of non-intoxicating beverages in a building at the corner of Bruce Grove Railway station.

Mary also set up a public restaurant (the White Ribbon Restaurant) at Tottenham Hale for the benefit of workers of several large manufacturing establishments in the area.

Ellen Phillips

Ellen was born in 1846. In 1867 Ellen and her sister, Mary Elizabeth, opened a small house as a dispensary for women and children. It was so busy it became necessary to reserve treatment for children only. They moved to larger premises where arrangements were made to open a small hospital for children with twelve beds. This was the beginnings of what is now the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children. Ellen married Alexander Fox at Tottenham Meeting House in 1869. They moved to New Zealand soon after.

Joseph Howard (1834-1906)

Joseph Howard was born in Tottenham. His father, John Elliot Howard, was Luke Howard’s son. Joseph lived on the Green. He was a respected and benevolent man who often aided the poor. He left Friends on his marriage to Ellen Waterhouse in 1859. They had seven children. He was elected MP for Tottenham when it first became a constituency. He held the seat for five elections (1885 to 1906), when he resigned. He was also a barrister, a JP, governor of a Grammar School for 30 years and governor of a hospital.

A new century approaches

31/12/1899 Tottenham Friends Meeting Minute

“We have met tonight on the last evening of this year and of the 19th century of the Christian era.

“The occasion has been one of much thoughtfulness. The condition of our Meeting is widely different now from its condition when the century dawned.

“What it may be when another century has passed away we cannot tell, but we believe that as God’s people in every age are faithful to Him, strength will be given them to serve him in their day and generation.

“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever.”

Tottenham 1900s

1901 Population of Tottenham exceeds 100,000

13/9/1914 Minute of Tottenham Meeting

Henry Pollard has drawn attention to the increase of drunkenness in our district and the Clerk is asked to prepare a minute respecting this deplorable fact and forward to the Clerk of the Licensing Magistrates for presentation to them.

“That this Meeting deeply deplores the great amount of drunkenness existing at this time and the great facilities afforded to civilians of treating the soldiers and especially the young recruits. “We respectfully urge on our Licensing Magistrates to curtail the hours for which Licensed Houses may remain open during this time of national stress and danger.

(Shortly after, the Magistrates did restrict the opening hours)

Conscientious objection

The belief that every human being is a child of God has led Friends to oppose all wars and preparation for wars. How can one kill another person, a potential channel of Truth, no matter how misguided he or she may seem at the moment?

George Harding, a Tottenham Friend, was fined in 1810 £12 12s for refusing to serve in the militia. On 4/9/1810, 141 pounds of leather was seized from his shoemaking business.

During both the First and Second World Wars, conscription was introduced in Britain, requiring all able-bodied men to sign up for military service. In the Second World War conscription was extended to include some women. Friends’ peace testimony meant that they refused to participate in military actions. Many people joined Friends after the Wars as a result of their stand on conscientious objection.

During the First World War, Friends and others had to fight for their right not to take part. Three members of Tottenham Friends Meeting, Stuart Beavis, Fred Murfin, Alfred Taylor and were sentenced to death for their refusal.

Death sentence for refusing to fight

Fred Murfin was born in Lincolnshire in 1888. He worked as a printer there until, at the start of the First World War, transport difficulties caused a lack of work. On moving to London, he came to Tottenham Meeting.

He did not become a member of the Society of Friends as there was talk of Quakers being given exemption from military service. He did not want special treatment. At the time, Young Friends got together and decided that if exemption were given, they would resign from membership of the Society.

Conscription became law on 2 March 1916. Conscientious objectors had to appear before a tribunal. Fred’s case was heard at Tottenham Town Hall.

Alfred Taylor was born in Edmonton in 1895. He too refused, together with Stuart Beavis, to register for military service.

These three were in a group of thirty-four conscientious objectors who were sent to France (then regarded as the Field of Battle). They refused to obey orders and were court-martialled. The sentence was death by firing squad.

By sheer chance the then Minister of War in France, visiting the troops. On hearing of the sentence. He is reported to have said, “This must not happen”. The sentences were commuted to ten years imprisonment.

Fred Murfin

Fred was released from prison in 1919 and came to live in Tottenham. He became involved in the Friends Adult School and joined the Society of Friends.

He contributed to the “Appeal for Famine Victims in Europe” by giving an overcoat. In one of the coat pockets he put a note of his address. After some months a brief note arrived signed by “Willi Plaffe”, expressing thanks for the warm coat and a desire to correspond in English as he wished to learn the language. This correspondence continued for many years with breaks due to Nazi influence and World War II, but in 1960 Willi came to England and travelled to meet his friend Fred Murfin, by then retired and living in Cornwall. Fred died in 1972.

Prison Conversation

Joe    How long have you got?

Fred    Ten years

Fred    How long have you got?

Joe    Ten years

Joe    What are you in for?

Fred    I’m a CO

Joe    What – – – – – ‘s that?

Fred explains

Joe    I’d have – – – – – shot you

Fred    What are you in for?

Joe    Murder

Fred    That’s funny

Joe    What’s funny?

Fred    You have ten years for killing someone…,

I’ve ten years because I won’t kill or help to kill.

Alfred Taylor

Alfred Taylor spent three and a half years in prison in England. Alfred’s first contact with Quakers was through those who were court-martialled with him in France. He was released from Maidstone prison in 1920.

After leaving prison Alfred returned to the printing trade and became a regular attender at Tottenham Meeting, along with Ivy Naish who later became his wife. They were married in August 1922 at Tottenham Meeting House and subsequently joined the Society of Friends. Alfred served the Quaker meeting in many capacities. He and Ivy remained in Tottenham until their deaths. Alfred died in 1964 and Ivy in 1977.

Famine in Europe

19/9/1920 Minute of Tottenham Meeting

“In view of famine conditions in Europe it has been urged that members seriously consider their luxury expenditure.

“If we really understand the needs of these people, we shall give. It is not merely the amount we can give but the spirit in which the gift is made.

“We must consider whether there is any item of expense in our lives that we can reduce.

“Henry S Green has undertaken to receive any gifts towards the work of the Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee. Members of the Christian Endeavour are encouraged to proceed with their plans for Harvest Thanksgiving services on next First Day, where collections will be made morning and evening for this work.”

Stuart Beavis, back in Tottenham after his release from prison, provided a home for two children from the famine area.

World War II

During the 1940s, conscientious objectors connected with Tottenham Meeting included: Louis Dore, Philip Frost, John Holman, Arthur Riches and Leonard Sanders. The earlier experience of others still in the meeting, like Fred Murfin and Alfred Taylor provided a source of support for them.

Leonard Sanders registered as CO 1940 and did land work.

Arthur Riches

Arthur Riches was called up for the militia in 1938. In 1940 he refused military service. He was sentenced to a year in prison. When a bomb damaged part of a prison warders’ house, Arthur was sent there to do repairs (he was a plasterer by trade). After each day’s work he used to return to the prison and knock the prison gate to ask, “please may I come in?” Arthur joined Tottenham Quakers in 1945.

Arthur Riches in Zimbabwe

Arthur had always wanted to visit Africa. Before the war, at the age of eighteen, he stowed away on a ship, but was found and sent back.

In 1951, when he was in his thirties, Arthur finally managed to fulfil his dream of going to Africa. He spent ten years in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A plasterer by trade, he helped to build the Meeting House at Bulawayo and the YWCA. Blacks were not allowed to learn trades and Arthur lost jobs with many whites for teaching Black people plastering.

While helping to build the non-segregated YWCA, a woman came out with tea and cups for the Whites and tin cans for the Blacks to drink out of. Arthur could not see himself treating people differently, so when she had left he poured the tea into the cups and shared them around.

Finally, in 1961, Arthur returned to Tottenham. He continued to be an active member of Tottenham Meeting.

Iris Harris (1909-1993)

Iris Miyoko Harris was born in Japan to an English father and Japanese mother. She lived there until she was twelve. From an early age Iris was a committed vegetarian. In her final year at school (1927) she attended Port Talbot County School in South Wales. there she wsa immensely affected by the mass unemployment of the time. The impact of poverty became a central concern in her life. She spent more than sixty years associated with the Bedford Institute Association.

In 1930 she was a founder member of the Youth Hostel Association.

Iris worked as a research assistant to Bronislaw Malinowski, the anthropologist and linguist (often seen as the founder of modern anthropology).

From 1941 to 1946 Iris was Advisory and Relief Secretary at International Student Service in London and Oxford (this later became World University Service). Her’s was the face and the heart that so many refugee students would remember as she helped them with countless problems of finance and accommodation.

Iris later taught in three junior schools and entered research at the Institute of Child Health.

A new meeting house

The meeting continued to grow through the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1879 a school room was added over the forecourt. This quite altered the original appearance of the meeting house. Electricity was installed in 1937.

However, by 1956, the meeting had shrunk substantially as Friends moved away from the area. Only four Friends lived in Tottenham neighbourhood, though sometimes as many as nine attended Meeting. The meeting decided that it should continue, but the premises were proving a big obstacle. They were old, enormous and difficult for such a small membership to maintain.

In 1961 the old meeting house was demolished and shops and offices built on the site in 1962, with a new, smaller meeting house on the roof of the shops.

Quakerism in the 1990s

Over the past three hundred years (and more) Quakers have changed in many ways, but the basic foundations remain the same. The guiding principles of truth, equality, simplicity and peace are still present.

Quakers no longer address people as “thee” and “thou” and no longer dress in readily identifiable clothing, though they tend to dress simply. Quakers still do not swear oaths. The right to “affirm” has now been enshrined in the law.

Quakers still stress the equality of men and women in all aspects of life. We still do not use titles, calling each other by first name and surname only. We tend not to spend money on clothes and luxuries and are aware of poverty and oppression in society at large. On the other hand we enjoy life and appreciate the good things it has to offer.

Peace is still a central concern for Quakers. But peace is not just the absence of war. It is about our day to day relationships with our families, our neighbours, people in our towns and cities and in other countries. Peace is also about how we cope with people we may find difficult and different from ourselves. It is about accepting that there are different cultures and ways of doing things and that different does not mean worse. There are many ways of demonstrating commitment to peace. Each Quaker will follow his or her conscience and do what it feels right to do.

Today’s Meeting in Tottenham

Quakers continue to worship in Tottenham on the site where a Meeting House has stood since for nearly 300 years.

We are a small gathering, but growing. Each Sunday Friends come together for Meeting for Worship, fellowship and tea.

Children and young people are always welcomed at Tottenham Meeting. On the second Sunday of each month they have their own meeting for worship in their own room, while the adults worship in the room next door. Through stories, crafts, discussion and worshipful silence, they explore a variety of issues relating to Quaker life. These have included topics on friendship, families and special friends, feeling different, peace, being homeless.

How do we let our lives speak, today?

Quakers often say there is little to distinguish between spiritual and everyday life. Our faith is often best expressed through what we do and how we live our lives. Most of this history page was produced for an exhibition we held at Bruce Castle Museum in 1998. Some of the ways that we in Tottenham “let our lives speak” at the time included:

  • membership of a Quaker healing group
  • volunteer in a Quaker run soup kitchen for people who are homeless
  • serving on the Family Welfare Association committee supporting elderly people in the local community
  • volunteer work with women and children in a local domestic violence refuge
  • campaigning against racism and working for peace
  • serving on the Quaker Peace and Service United Nations Committee and working in the Quaker United Nations Office in New York
  • volunteering in a cross-community project with children and families in Northern Ireland
  • co-founding the Quaker Lesbian Group
  • being involved in the Quaker Youth Theatre and Quaker Festival Orchestra
  • tending to the meeting house garden
  • volunteering for a national mental health charity
  • working with refugees in former Yugoslavia

You ask what is it to be a Quaker, … some Tottenham Friends respond

When I talk to people about Quaker faith, I tend to say that all good religions lead to the same God.

We are basically Christian but not all Quakers believe in God. We have not set dogma or creeds. We believe everyone has a direct relationship with God, so we don’t need priests. We believe everyone has that of God within them and try to act on that basis.

Quakers believe in looking for God in all people and in living a life that minimise harm. Thus the fundamental starting point for Quakers is how we live our own life. The emphasis is on seeking truth and understanding, equality of all people, simplicity and promoting peace. For most Quakers, this implies a commitment to non-violent resolution of conflicts. Quakerism grew out of Christian theology in the 17th century. Many of the principles have a Christian foundation and most Quakers recognise the link with Christianity, but the principles are much broader than Christianity and thus some Quakers do not consider themselves to be Christian, but draw teaching from other religions.

Being a Quaker is a way of life based upon our testimonies: truth, simplicity, equality and peace. I share the die of “God in everyone” that no matter how terrible a person may appear to be, God resides in them too. For those still interested in hearing more, I would describe our (i.e. in Britain) way of worshipping, waiting upon the silence to move one to speak.

I describe a meeting for worship in silence and hope that the seed will sprout.

…. A thought from a Tottenham Quaker

The living silence of meeting for worship; the comfortable hubbub of the kitchen afterwards; the loving concern in meetings for business; the cheerful teamwork at events; the quiet times of sharing. This community teaches, inspires and supports me on my Quaker journey.

Quaker marriages

Quaker marriages are held as a meeting for worship in the course of which the couple make their declarations. No third person pronounces them “man and wife” because Friends believe that God alone can create such a union. The couple confirm their marriage by signing a certificate, later signed by all those present as witnesses. The precise wording of the declarations has changed over the years, but the essentials have been the same since the 1650s. The couple shown in the tapestry panel represent an early nineteenth century meeting. The photograph is of at Quaker wedding at Tottenham Meeting in 1990.

Quaker dress

Plain dress

Simplicity of dress was important to Quakers. In 1693 William Penn advised his fellow Quakers “Chuse thy Cloaths by thine own eye, not anothers. The more simple and plain they are, the better. Neither unshapely, nor fantastical; and for Use and Decency and not for Pride”.

The first Quaker women were often poor and would wear homespun of any colour, red being very popular. Dress was never a uniform. Those who were stricter about simplicity of dress were called “Plain Friends” and those who never adopted the plainest form of dress were known as “gay Friends”.

Friends did not like wearing black because of its association with mourning. On the whole all Quakers would dress in a simple way, the trimmings and lace not used so the basic garment was plain. Quakers rejected the fads of fashion and frequently wore designs which had been in vogue fifty years before. Colours were usually muted, but by no means always grey. Soft brown, chocolate, sage green and cream were common.

Cloaks and shawls

Cloaks were worn before the shawl became fashionable in 1800, the shawl being one of the fashions which Quaker women soon adopted for its simplicity. The plain shawl would have three folds at the back of the neck, be pinned at the shoulder and the points would hang down at the centre front.


In the 17th century, the usual headgear for female Friends was a black hood over a white linen cap. In time the hood was replaced with the bonnet, the headgear most associated with early Quakers. The best known of the bonnet styles is a “tunnel” bonnet. Coloured black it was worn straight on the head with the lengthened brim framing the face and irreverently known as the “coal scuttle bonnet”. Later bonnets had a narrower brim meeting under the chin and with a soft crown, a Quaker version of the fashionable bonnet of the time. Caps were always worn under bonnets.

Changing patterns of dress

By the 1850s many serious and devout Friends felt that too much attention was being paid to the details of dress rather than the deeper meaning of simplicity. In 1860 the testimony on plainness was replaced by advice to “be careful in deportment and attire”. Quakers now have no dress code. Simplicity in the 20th century is still expressed in buildings, dress and lifestyle without ostentation. The advice is to “try to live simply”.

Simple dress for men

Clothes for men were similarly simple. In the 17th century men would have had breeches and plain buckled shoes, a knee length coat (but only buttoned from neck to waist) and or a cloak and a fairly low crowned hat without a ribbon.

Wigs were popular at the time. Plain Friends would have kept their own hair cut to shoulder length, but some Friends adopted the simpler style of wig.

By the 18th century hats became three cornered. Colours were muted, but not necessarily dark.

The Griselda Aggs Fox Collection

These are authentic Quaker outfits worn by the Hanbury and Aggs families, and gathered together by Griselda Fox. Her husband was a Lloyd Fox, from Tottenham. The family line still continues in Tottenham. Griselda’s grandson, Nick Putz, is a member of Tottenham Meeting. His sister, Cathy cares for these outfits. As children, they dressed up in them for special Quaker gatherings. Now the outfits are becoming very fragile and even just showing them can create much wear and tear.

The exact dates of origin are not known as the outfits were handed down from child to child. Most of the clothes are considered to be from about 1830-1870, but some are much older. As Friends were concerned with living simply clothes were made well and often worn decades past their fashion.

Tottenham Quaker quiz

The answers to these questions can be found in these history pages. See how many you can answer!

  1. When and where did Quakerism begin?
  2. What was “hat honour”?
  3. What did Quaker women wear under their hoods or bonnets?
  4. Who was Tottenham’s first Member of Parliament?
  5. When were Quakers first appearing in Tottenham?
  6. What was the purpose of the Penny Savings Banks and who founded the first one?
  7. Which banks carry Quaker names?
  8. What was the purpose of the African Institution?
  9. Which old Quaker family has a street named after them in Tottenham?
  10. Name a Quaker woman who was active in prison reform?
  11. What were the names of some Quaker schools in Tottenham?
  12. Which Quaker was responsible for giving names to clouds (names we still use today)?
  13. Which Quaker family lived on Broadwater Farm when it was still a farm?
  14. What is a conscientious objector? Name one Tottenham Quaker who was sentenced to death for being a CO.
  15. Who was the first president of the Pharmaceutical Society? (yes, another Tottenham Quaker)
  16. What were the names of the Gambians who worked with Hannah Kilham to develop the dictionaries, grammar books and school books in African languages. What languages did they speak?
  17. Who founded the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children? (Guess what. Two more Tottenham Quakers)