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The Friend and The British Friend

as sources for Quaker family history in the 19th century

This article was originally published in the Genealogists' Magazine, 27.12:547-554, December 2003, and is reproduced by permission.


In an earlier article1, in passing, I drew readers' attention to the great richness of the two principal Quaker periodicals of the 19th century, The Friend and The British Friend. Having found this out for myself, in the course of research for a dissertation, I have since returned to them for the purposes of family history, and have realised that a fuller article may be of interest.

My Ancestors Were Quakers devotes a single paragraph to these publications:


Two Quaker periodicals were started in 1843, The Friend then taking an 'evangelical' line and The British Friend then taking a 'conservative' one. The Friend included notices of marriages and deaths from the outset, and of births from 1850; The British Friend (which ceased in 1913) included notices of births, marriages and deaths from 1845; report of non-usage marriages should not be expected in either journal before 1859. From 1894 The Friend started to carry obituary notices on a regular basis: an index to some 3,600 obituaries 1894-1980 is available in Friends House Library.

The reader could be forgiven for thinking that these publications had little more to offer. I hope to show otherwise. But I' ll begin by looking at coverage of the genealogical staple, births, marriages and deaths.


The British Friend actually included notices of vital events before 1845. For example it records the birth of Emily Watson, on 6 March 1844: "At Elswick Villas, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, SARAH, the wife of Joseph Watson, Solicitor, a daughter." The earliest birth announcement is of an unnamed Cruickshank boy, born on 9 July 1843.

Birth announcements in The Friend begin with the January issue of 1850, the earliest such being for the birth of Jonathan Edmund Backhouse on 15 November 1849.

Announcements may be made in either or both of these publications. The birth of Bedford Pollard, son of William and Lucy Pollard, on 28 December 1858, was announced in The Friend but not The British Friend. The birth of Sarah Elizabeth Wigham, daughter of John Thomas and Elizabeth Wigham, on 29 April 1859, was announced in The British Friend but not The Friend.

Even when the announcement appears in both, there may be variations in detail: According to The British Friend the birth on 27 October 1861 of Walter Shewell Corder, son of Alexander and Lucy Corder, took place at "Bede's Terrace, Sunderland"; The Friend specifies that it was at "18, Bede Terrace". Both publications announce the birth of a son to Watson and Esther Binns on 4 November 1861, but only The British Friend gives his name, Alfred Watson.


As with births, announcements may appear in either or both journals. Again, contrary to Milligan and Thomas, marriage announcements appear in The British Friend from the outset. The Friend indicated, as early as 1845, that it would not state whether or not the parties were in membership, and would not refuse publication of announcements of marriages involving non-members.

Entries are not usually as bald as an example that appeared in both, in 1844: "On the 10th of the Fourth Month, at Crawshawbooth, WILLIAM BINNS, to LUCY KING." More typical would be another from the same year, "On the 26th of the Third Month, at Dewsbury, GEORGE BINNS, draper, of Bradford, Yorkshire, to MARY ANN, daughter of JOSEPH SPENCE, of Birstwith."

The marriage of Thomas Crosby to Mary Jane Peacock at Sunderland on 16 October 1862 appears only in The Friend; whereas that of George Pollard and Mary J. Cohoe in Norwich, Canada, on 18 March 1863 appears only in The British Friend both parties' fathers are named, John Cohoe being Canadian, but Joseph Pollard having been from Wakefield, England.

The 20 July 1859 double marriage at Newcastle of two sisters, Lucy and Esther Mary Watson, to Alexander Corder and Henry Clapham, respectively, is announced in both publications. But very exceptionally The British Friend also includes an extended quotation from the coverage of the wedding in the Northern Daily Express. Under the headline "INTERESTING MARRIAGES AT THE FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE", the article describes the brides' father as "our much respected townsman, Joseph Watson, Esq., solicitor", says that a large crowd assembled in the street, and that the wedding parties occupied about 20 carriages. The ceremony is described in some detail, and even the bridesmaids are named individually.


Death announcements appear in both publications from the outset. The earliest in The British Friend is for Rebecca Pumphrey, who died on 31 October 1842.

In May 1844 both publications reported the death at the Retreat, York, of "FREDERICK POLLARD, aged 40 years, formerly of Horsham." Later that year both reported the death of Rachel Corder: "On the 19th of the Seventh Month, at Ipswich, RACHEL, wife of HENRY CORDER, and fourth daughter of ROBERT and MARY SPENCE of North Shields, aged 28 years." The British Friend also commented that "She was of a remarkably sweet and amiable disposition, which endeared her to all who knew her, and her loss will be greatly felt by her numerous relatives and friends."

The 15 July 1857 death in Sunderland of "SARAH MARIA, youngest daughter of ELIZA BOWRON" was only reported in The British Friend; whereas that of John Richardson "of Newcastle-on-Tyne, aged 60", on 26 April 1859, "Very suddenly, at the Plough Inn, Kendal", was only reported in The Friend.

There may be quite striking differences in coverage. Besides the date of his death 29 Apr 1862 all that The British Friend recorded was: "At 10 Salisbury Road, Edinburgh, JOHN WIGHAM, aged 80." The Friend, however, not only announced the death but reprinted an entire obituary from the Edinburgh News.

The immediate cause of death is sometimes given, as with the death of Mary Pollard at Derby on 27 Dec 1852, where The Friend says that this was "after a severe attack of asthma".

Sometimes funeral particulars are included, as with the announcement (very similar in both publications) of the 8 June 1862 death of Esther Watson:

At Cumberland-row, Newcastle-on-Tyne, ESTHER, widow of the late JOSHUA WATSON, of Bensham, in the County of Durham, aged 76 years. An Elder. After a long and painful illness, which she bore with great patience and resignation. The interment took place at the Westgate Hill General Cemetery, on the 12th inst., and was attended by a large circle of relatives and friends, by whom she was much beloved. A very solemn meeting was held.

The British Friend's announcement of the 9 Nov 1858 death of William Watson has an unusual detail, which would bear further inquiry:

At Adelaide, South Australia, WILLIAM WATSON, aged 86, formerly of Liverpool, chemist, who survived his wife, Martha Watson, nearly four years; and was interred in the same grave at the Wesleyan Cemetery, Walkerville, Friends' Burial Ground being closed from sanitary regulations.

Rarely, an ironic detail may be found: when William Wigham Watson died at Bensham, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 30 June 1847, the announcement in both publications notes that this was "the residence of his father, where he was staying for the benefit of his health".

It should be noted that announcements of vital events are not always contained within the main body of the publication in The British Friend, in particular, they often spill over into the advertising supplement, which is bound at the end.

Obituary notices

Obituaries appear fairly frequently, but irregularly, before 1894. More unusual would be a poem such as that by J.B. Braithwaite, published in both journals in February 1885, entitled 'In Memoriam. In memory of our late beloved Friend, Thomas Harvey, who died Twelfth Month 25th, 1884; it begins:


How shall we speak our grief? No words suffice

To tell our loss irreparable; . . .

The first obituary accompanied by a half-tone photograph was that of Francis T. King of Baltimore, in The Friend of 25 Mar 1892. The first of a Briton, with a photograph, was of John Thirnbeck Grace, in the following week's issue. (The Friend became a weekly in January 1892; both had previously been monthly.)

Wedding anniversaries

Reference to wedding anniversaries is rare, but not nonexistent. In August 1890 The Friend published a short article on the celebration of the silver wedding of Thomas and Mary Walton, at Oliver's Mount School. And both publications gave an account, in October 1891, of the golden wedding of Charles and Mary Thompson, abridged from the Mid-Cumberland Herald.

Examinations passed

Both publications regularly announced exam successes. Thus The Friend reported, in August 1878, that Albert Pollard had come 9th in the Honours Degree of the University of London, winning a 5 prize. Both journals reported his brother William Henry Pollard's 1st Division BA in January 1885, with the information that he was living at Dalton Hall and studying at Owens College, Manchester. Both further reported the youngest brother Francis Edward Pollard's Matriculation in June 1889, taken at the Friends' School in York.

Professional examinations may also be included: The Friend for 29 July 1898 shows that Norbert Merz, of Monkhouse, Goddard & Co., had passed the Intermediate examination of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales, placed 16th in order of merit.

Quaker demographics

Occasionally an article will focus on demographic aspects of British Quakerism. An example is Edward Pearson's 'Longevity in the Society of Friends' , published in both journals in February 1885. The Friend, in April 1887, published 'Some Remarks on the Registers of Births in the Society of Friends in England and Wales' , prepared by the late George Crosfield; among other interesting information, this tells us that from 1650 to the start of civil registration in mid 1837 there was a total of 131,454 births recorded in these Quaker registers.

Recorded ministers

Both publications may report the first occasion on which a person was recorded a minister in the Society. For example both note William Pollard being recorded as a minister by Pontefract Monthly Meeting, held at Ackworth, on 14 May 1866.

Friends House Library has an index of Ministers Recorded, 18611924, compiled in part from reports in The Friend.

Travelling in the ministry

Regular reports appear, of Friends travelling in the ministry. On occasions these may have considerable interest: In the April 1862 British Friend, for example, appears the following:


We learn that our friend HENRY BINNS, of Sunderland, in accordance with the minute granted him by Newcastle Monthly Meeting, in 2d month last, has held public meetings at Stockton-on-Tees, Middlesbro' , Ayton, Hartley, Houghton-le-Spring, North Shields, and Newcastle. The attendance on most occasions was good. At the meeting at Hartley our friend was accompanied by CHARLES BROWN, of North Shields. By previous invitation they took tea at the house of a pitman, who was one of those who were brought to bank a few minutes before the awful catastrophe took place. Some religious counsel was extended to him and his family, and it proved a solemn and affecting occasion. The meeting which followed was, as might have been expected, from the stripped state of the village, not a large one; but the poor people, suffering under their late bereavements, were open to receive the communications of our friends, and the meeting was held to satisfaction. At Houghton, no meeting of Friends had been held for a period of twenty years, but the people were remarkably quiet, and the attendance, considering the inclemency of the evening, pretty large.

And in The Friend for December 1880 appears:


WILLIAM POLLARD has been giving his peace lectures at various places within the limits of Devon and Cornwall Quarterly Meeting. On First-day morning, the 7th ult., he was present at a well-attended meeting for worship at Come-to-Good, in the parish of Ker, near Truro; and, at the close a short time was given him for speaking on Peace, and in the afternoon an opportunity was offered him, at the usual meeting of "The Salvation Army," at Falmouth, of addressing a company estimated at 700 or 800 persons on the same subject. This large assembly seemed deeply interested. . . .

The British Friend, on the latter occasion, gives slightly fuller coverage of the tour, and adds that "Our correspondent also queries whether our Quarterly Meetings all over the country might not do well to invite William Pollard to attend their Meetings with a view to the delivery of his Peace lectures, a service for which he seems admirably qualified."

Friends House Library has an index of the Movements of Ministering Friends, 18431914, compiled from coverage in The Friend.

Prior to undertaking these tours, Friends customarily sought permission from their Monthly Meeting, and this in itself may be reported. The Friend, in July 1862, for example, records:


At Newcastle Monthly Meeting, held at Shields on the 11th of Sixth Month, HENRY BINNS returned the minute granted to him in Second Month, liberating him for service amongst those not in membership with Friends, within the compass of Durham Quarterly Meeting. Seventeen meetings had been convened for the furtherance of the object of his mission. He was liberated for similar service, within the limits of Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting, with liberty to hold additional meetings in his own Quarterly Meeting, if he felt it to be required of him.

Later in the century, and into the twentieth, reports of Quaker missionary activities overseas become more common. 'Thoughts from India' , published in The Friend in April 1904, for example, includes a photograph of 'Friend Missionaries at the Christian Mela, Hoshangabad, January 1903' , with a key naming 26 individuals.

Participation in meetings, conferences, and philanthropic activities

Active Friends can often be found addressing, or servicing, various Meetings of the Society. The Friend mentions Joseph Spence as an assistant clerk at London Yearly Meeting in 1861, for example, as does The British Friend in 1865. Yearly Meeting and Women's Yearly Meeting always received extensive coverage in these publications, with most of the contributors to the debates named in print, with accounts of what they said. Friends House Library has an index of speakers at London Yearly Meeting, 18701911, compiled from coverage in The Friend. Although Quarterly Meetings also receive coverage, it is generally relatively brief, and few individuals are named.

Meetings more peripheral to Quakerism are also covered. The British Friend for July 1850, for instance, reports that Henry Binns took part in a meeting at Sunderland on 25 April of the Northumberland & Durham Friends' Temperance Union. In August 1863 we find, in the same journal, that William Pollard had participated in the Annual Meeting of the Friends' First-Day School Association the previous month. The British Friend of 1884 carried a report of the annual meeting of the Croydon Scholars' Association; alumni associations for all the Friends' schools feature regularly.

More can be gleaned from reports of conferences. For example in the April 1852 British Friend a report mentions that a letter from John Wigham of Edinburgh was read to the Conference of the Friends of Peace. In the February 1867 Friend report on the Conference of First-Day School Teachers at Birmingham, it is recorded that on 22 January R.S. Watson read his paper on "Difficulties in Adult Teaching."

From The British Friend for March 1844 we learn that Henry Binns was author of the 4th Annual Report of the Friends' First-Day School Society for Boys, Hotham, Liverpool. In June the same paper names Joshua Watson jun as joint Secretary for the Newcastle & Gateshead Temperance Bazaar, "for the sale of useful and fancy work, &c."; and this is confirmed in The Friend in July. In The British Friend of November 1849 Edward Richardson is named as Treasurer of the Newcastle Peace Society.

In the spring of 1896 both publications published a 'List of Names and Addresses of Women Friends who are District Councillors and Poor-Law Guardians.' From this we learn that Ann Louisa Pollard, of 35 Lansdowne Road, Tottenham, N, for example, was a member of the Edmonton Board of Guardians.

Lists of subscribers

From time to time both publications would print lists of individuals who had subscribed sums of money to charitable funds. So, The Friend in November 1855 listed contributors to the Highland Destitution Fund, among whom were:


Henry Binns

Watson Binns

Edward Richardson

John F. Spence

Robert Spence

Joseph Spence

Esther Watson

Joshua Watson

John T. Wigham










And The British Friend in April 1873 listed subscribers in Newcastle and Shields for E.J. Saleebey's Schools at Lebanon, among whom were:


Jane Richardson

Joseph Spence

John F. Spence

E. Richardson

Joseph Watson

W.J. Watson







Linked to these are the charitable appeals, with the details of local people willing to receive donations on behalf of the appeal. In the advertisement section of the June 1847 British Friend appears the following:


To the Anti-Slavery Women of Great Britain. The Edinburgh Ladies' Emancipation Society intend forwarding a Box of Ladies' Work, and other contributions, to the 14th Annual Anti-Slavery Bazaar, to be held at Boston, U.S., during the Christmas week; for the purpose of aiding the Cause of the Slave, by expressing sympathy with the labours of American Abolitionists, and raising funds for the Massachusetts Female Anti-Slavery Society. . . .

Contributions will be received by . . .

. . . JANE WIGHAM . . . Edinburgh

. . . JANE RICHARDSON . . . Newcastle upon Tyne . . .

                                                            Eliza Wigham, Secretary.

In the same publication, in October 1878, we find "Mrs. Wm. Pollard, Holmefield, Sale, Manchester" among a list of people willing to receive contributions for the Ashworth Memorial Chapel for the Destitute, which would carry on Adult & Juvenile Sunday Schools, Mothers' Meetings, Band of Hope, and other work.

The British Friend itself published lists of its own local agents. In February 1843 John Wigham, Jun, was agent and correspondent in Edinburgh. In January 1844 and January & February 1846 Henry Binns is named as agent in Sunderland; in the latter months Joshua Watson, Jun, is named as agent in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Articles, reviews and letters

Family members may themselves have contributed signed articles. Thus The British Friend of August 1875 carries a front-page article by William Pollard on "The Present Crisis in the Society of Friends as Portrayed in the Late Yearly Meeting."

Their work may be the subject of reviews. The April 1864 British Friend carries an adverse review of William Pollard's Old Banner tract 'Primitive Christianity Revived.' The Friend of October 1871 prints a favourable review of his 'Considerations on the Peace Question,' which it describes as "an enlargement of the minute issued by last Yearly Meeting, urging Friends to bear more than a passive testimony against all war."

Probably in greater number were the authors of letters for publication: The Friend for February 1844 carries a letter from Henry Binns of Liverpool, on 'Competition in Business.' The British Friend for July 1868 prints a page-long letter from William Pollard on 'The Scriptures and Scripture Meetings' , dated Reigate, 6th Month. More unusual will be the letter in which an ancestor is the subject: The British Friend of October 1882 prints a letter from William Appleton, headed 'William Pollard as an apologist of the war in Egypt.'

Historical features

Occasionally these publications featured articles with a historical theme. As an example, throughout 1844 and into 1845 The Friend ran a 17-part series of 'Brief Notices of Early Friends' , consisting of short biographies of individuals such as Humphrey Lower, Edward and Elizabeth Hancock, and Tabitha Fox.

As a further example, from September to December 1868 The British Friend published extracts from the notebook of the late A. Cruickshank of Edinburgh, in which he listed Friends visiting Scotland on religious service. Sample entries include:


1785, 10th Mo. John Wigham of Edinburgh, accompanied by George Miller, attended the Quarterly Meeting at Aberdeen on the 27th, and with Robert Harvie visited the families of Friends of that district. They went to Aberdeen by sea, and returned by land on foot.

1786, 4th Mo. Patience Brayton from New England, and Sarah Reynolds from Penketh, with John Wigham, guide, from Edinburgh, and attended the Yearly Meeting in Aberdeen on the 27th.

1792, 4th Mo. [. . .] also Elizabeth Wigham of Kinmuck, who was on her way to Ireland, accompanied by Mary Richardson of Carlisle Monthly Meeting.

1800, 8th Mo. 1st Samuel Smith from Philadelphia, and Richard Jordan from North Carolina, accompanied by John Wigham from Newcastle (who had been on a religious service in some parts of England), were at Edinburgh meeting, on First-day, the 3d.

By way of drawing attention to the publication of a new volume Vol. 5 of Piety Promoted, The Friend reproduced its memorial notice to 'Elizabeth Wigham of Ambroseholme' , in its issue for October 1891 an obituary 64 years after the event of her death.

Display advertisements

Both publications produced substantial advertisement supplements, which make fascinating reading as social history, if nothing else but there is plenty for the family historian as well:

In the first four months of 1848 The British Friend carried an advertisement in which Joseph Spence of York was listed among chemists and druggists where Barlow's Powders, for the cure of tic doloreux, might be had. Throughout the mid 1880s A.W. Pollard of Kendrick Road, Reading, was an agent for J.B. Watkin & Co.'s American Farm Mortgages.

In February and April 1870 The Friend carried the following advertisement:



Agent for


Lists on application.

N.B. A Folio of Frith's Photo-pictures is recommended to anyone wishing to make a handsome present. It will be found to be a great addition to the resources of evening parties.

        Address, WILLIAM POLLARD, Reigate.

And in March and April 1871:






Catalogues of the above are now ready and will be forwarded post free on application to the TOWN HALL BUILDINGS, Newcastle.

                NURSERIES, FENHAM, near NEWCASTLE.

The Friends' Provident Institution regularly (apparently bi-monthly) published whole-page display advertisements/reports in both publications. From 1843 through to his death in 1890 Robert Spence is infallibly named as the FPI's agent in North Shields. During 1844 and 1845 George Binns appears as an FPI Director. In August 1862 Joseph Spence is named as one of five Arbitrators acting on the Institution's behalf.

Advertisements for schools are particularly common. For example the following appeared in The British Friend in August 1893:



Considerable improvement has recently been made in the accommodation of this institution.

There are a few vacancies for the children of Friends, or of those who attend our Meetings, but are not in membership.

The Committee invite Applications, especially on the Girls' side.

Apply Albert Pollard, B.A., Penketh School, near Warrington.

Friends House Library has a card index to the schools which appear (mostly) in these advertisements. Many of these are small establishments run by Friends but not as specifically Quaker schools.

Tantalisingly, an ad in the July 1889 The Friend announced that 'It is proposed shortly to issue a Book of Quaker Pedigrees' , in which 'all pedigrees communicated of three or more generations will be included.' What became of this venture is not clear.

From 1892, when it became weekly, The Friend seems to have cut down drastically on its advertising content.

Small ads

There are small ads galore. Regrettably many of them are only signed with initials, or have no clear identification pointers. However, many are clearly signed and identifiable. The following examples are from The British Friend.

February and March 1843:


Situations wanted, by Two Young Female Friends, One, as a COMPANION, or as HOUSEKEEPER, in a family where the duties are not very laborious; the other as NURSERY GOVERNESS,

        Apply to HENRY BINNS, Sunderland

        2d month 22nd, 1843

September 1848:


A Young Man Friend, who will be out of his apprenticeship, in the 11th Month next, will then be at liberty to accept a SITUATION, as assistant in the Tea and Grocery Trade. Also required, a Situation in same trade, for a youth, aged 15 years, recently come from Ackworth.

        Apply to Henry Binns, Sunderland.

March 1873:


WANTED, by J.F & J. SPENCE, Drapers and Carpet Warehousemen, &c., North Shields, a YOUTH of 15 to 17 years of age, as Apprentice.

The Friend also ran small ads. The following is from January 1850:


R. Were Fox, Surgeon-Dentist, has a Vacancy for a Pupil, either above or below the age of Twenty-one Years.

            Exeter, Twelfth Month, 1849.

And this is from January 1885:


Wanted, by a Friend (23), any light, active position of trust.

            James W. Jack.

Reference to John Morland, Northover House, Glastonbury, Somerset.


Improbable as it may seem, in the autumn of 1894 The Friend began regular sports coverage, with a weekly column on 'Friends' Football' reports of matches, with players named. In the issue for 21 Dec that year appeared a table of 'Holders of Friends' School Athletics Records.' The same issue covered 'Cricket in Friends' Schools, 1894' , with a breakdown by school: it appears that F.E. Pollard, of York, for example, had a batting average of 13.83 (2nd best in the table), and a bowling average of 4.1 (best).

Sports coverage ceased at the start of 1897, resuming in 1898 in a smaller way, just reporting football results, irregularly.


In the firm belief that this article will have whetted the reader's appetite, it only remains for me to say that the complete run of both these publications is accessible for research on the open shelves in the reading room at Friends House Library (though access to the Library itself is subject to certain conditions). It can also be seen at the British Library at Colindale. Sets possibly incomplete are held at Oxford and Cambridge, Manchester, Leeds & Liverpool Public Libraries; Redland Meeting House in Bristol has a set lacking 1860 and 18801889. Both publications have also been microfilmed (including the advertising supplements), so microfilm copies will be more widely available.




1    Beck, Benjamin S. (2001) 'The impact of photography on Quaker attitudes to portraiture' , Genealogists Magazine 27.2:2124

2    Not to be confused with The Friend (Philadelphia).

3    Milligan, Edward H. & Malcolm J. Thomas (1999) My Ancestors Were Quakers. How can I find out more about them? 2nd edition, London: Society of Genealogists, s. 89


I would like to acknowledge the help of the staff of Friends House Library, and in particular of Peter Daniels, in researching this article.


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