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The London Friends’ Meetings The London Friends’ Meetings
by William Beck and T. Frederick Ball
Hardback: ISBN 978-0-9556183-4-5 520 pages £36.00
Paperback: ISBN 978-0-9556183-5-2 £24.00
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Reprint of the 1869 classic history of Quakers in London, with a new introduction by Simon Dixon and Peter Daniels, illustrations and index.

Publication mid-September 2009.

In 1869 two London Quakers, William Beck and T. Frederick Ball, published a history of Quaker life in the city and its surroundings. For the previous decade, Quakers in Britain had been engaging more with the modern world – for instance, the rule against “marrying out” and stipulations about “plain dress” were removed. They had begun to debate what made them distinctive in religion beyond sheer habit, and to take stock of what Quakers were and how they had developed. Significantly, this was the time Joseph Smith compiled his catalogue of all known Quaker publications.

Laying of Holloway Meeting House foundation stone, 1864The book affectionately known as “Beck and Ball” is a comprehensive survey which describes not only the buildings where the meetings took place, but also how they were organised and the personalities involved, with telling details of their lives as Londoners. To do this the authors made a systematic reading of all the minute books of the London meetings, combined with the writings of George Fox and others, plus their own extensive knowledge gathered from experience in various capacities.

William Beck William Beck was an architect, served on Six Weeks Meeting (responsible for Quaker property in London), and was a member of the influential Quaker network around Stoke Newington meeting. Frederick Ball had grown up with the history all around him, as the caretakers’ son at the rambling old Devonshire House building in Bishopsgate, which dated from the Great Fire as headquarters of the Quakers in Britain. Beck was effectively founder of the Bedford Institute, for education and welfare of the working classes in Spitalfields; Ball taught in the adult school there and was employed as its secretary.

The book has always deserved to be better known, and more widely than among Quaker historians. T. Frederick Ball Revised and updated editions might have been considered, but severe embarrassment must have attached to it and prevented any further collaboration by the authors: in 1871, Frederick Ball was found to be misappropriating funds from the Bedford Institute. He was forgiven and the missing funds replaced by friends, but in 1874 a second offence led to him being disowned. The clerk of his Monthly Meeting, who had to sign the sorrowful minute of disownment, was William Beck.

The 1869 London Friends’ Meetings was without index or illustrations. This new edition has 50 illustrations, from the libraries at Friends House and the Guildhall, and there is a comprehensive index. It has an introduction by Simon Dixon, author of the PhD thesis “Quaker Communities in London 1667-1714”, and Peter Daniels, who has made a study of Stoke Newington Quakers. The original pages are reproduced at an enlarged size for easier reading.

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