TODAY’S Page in History, on the centre pages, is a reproduction of the front page of our sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, from exactly 100 years ago. It features an advertisement placed by Capt HM Drake, the recruiting officer for North Yorkshire, and it features a list of names of men who he thought were not serving their country.

He was appealing for information about the whereabouts of the men, and he added in bold capitals: “ANY COMMUNICATION WILL BE TREATED IN STRICT CONFIDENCE”.

The men’s addresses suggest that many were soldiers who had perhaps absconded from a military camp. But Capt Drake was also after lots of men from local civilian addresses – it would be fascinating if anyone recognises an ancestor on the list and can tell his story.

Although the clear implication from Capt Drake is that these men were draft dodgers, Army records in 1917 were far from sophisticated, and many of his targets may well have been serving overseas. But if any names or addresses leap out at you, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

THE Quakers are back! Not only has the Darlington football team returned to town but the Quakers themselves have withdrawn their historic meeting house in Skinnergate from the market. The real Quakers have spent the last year successfully promoting their building to local groups as a meeting place, and next weekend they turn their attention to their burial ground, inviting everyone in to have a look around.

The graveyard is a hidden gem, an oasis of calm amid the hurly burly of Darlington town centre, but many people do not know it exists. It is concealed by Skinnergate buildings, but once a visitor passes through a dark archway, it opens out to reveal a place of trees, grassy greenery, flowering bulbs and plants, and birds and butterflies.

Oh, and dead Quakers, but they lie perfectly peacefully beneath their identical, simple headstones. The graveyard is an A to Z of the people who made Victorian Darlington a true Northern powerhouse – well a B to P, a Backhouse to Pease, with Dixon, I’Anson, Hedley, Kitching and Ord inbetween.

The Society of Friends grew out of the English Civil War of the mid 17th Century. Its founder, George Fox, toured the country expounding his views on a simple, direct relationship with Jesus Christ without ceremony and clergy getting in the way. Quaker services were usually a period of quiet reflection or study until one of their number felt moved to speak – they were said to "to tremble in the way of the Lord”, and so they were nicknamed “Quakers”.

The North-East was fertile territory for Fox. Before his death in 1691, he preached in villages around Darlington – Heighington, Raby and Headlam – but doesn’t seem to have made it into Darlington town centre.

The first Quaker meetings were held in private houses, particularly Honeypot House on Longfield Road. It was then an isolated farmstead which was home to the Fisher family – ironically for the site of simple Quaker meetings, Honeypot House is now elaborately adorned with giant statues of eagles and its garden populated by huge fountains and pillar boxes.

Those early Quakers refused to be buried in consecrated churchyards, and so they were laid to rest in their friends’ gardens around the area. A plot of land behind the Hoskins pub (formerly the County and Humphreys) on the corner of Grange Road and Blackwellgate was acquired as a burial ground, and William Penn, the founder of the Quaker state of Pennyslvania in America, is said to have visited here.

But because they didn’t conform, the Quakers were persecuted. From 1662, it was illegal to take part in Quaker worship and in 1690, there were 90 Quakers languishing in Durham jail for breaking the law. When they refused to pay the jailkeepers 2s 6d a week for a bed, they were all thrown into a “stinking dungeon”.

The persecution went in fits and starts. In 1689, an Act of Toleration was passed and matters eased, but in the 1790s, when French invasion was scarily imminent, the Quakers, as outsiders, attracted greater attention and suspicion. The legal persecution usually revolved around their refusal to pay church rates – an obligatory tax that went straight to support the upkeep of Anglican churches. The Quakers wanted their money to go to supporting their faith.

In 1825, Edward “the father of the railways” Pease had hay worth £28 seized to cover his unpaid rates – that’s a lot of hay, £2,400-worth in today’s values, and 1825, of course, was the very year that Pease opened the Stockton & Darlington Railway which so transformed the Tees Valley and even the British Empire.

By then, the Quakers had established a permanent headquarters in Darlington. In 1678, they had bought a couple of cottages, with a paddock behind, on Skinnergate for £35. Over the decades, they turned these cottages into meeting houses – one for men, one for women – and enlarged the ground so it was big enough to take burials (about 1,000 bodies are believed to lie below the soil).

Big change came in 1839. Joshua Sparkes, 22, a Quaker builder and architect was asked to create a new frontage for the meeting house. It is his very sober, classical brickwork that we see today, its only adornment being a stone at the top that says “Friends Meeting House”.

In the 1840s, the Quakers swept away the old cottages behind Sparkes’ frontage and built one large meeting house, with sliding shutters in case they still felt the need to divide the sexes. It is this building that is visible today from the graveyard.

Despite dominating town affairs in Victorian times, there were surprisingly few Quakers: their population peaked in 1870 at about 400.

Despite this, they advanced many social causes: anti-slavery, public education, hospital provision…

Their simple, principled faith shut off many activities to them: they couldn’t take part in theatre or cultural activities; they weren’t supposed to amass great quantities of personal possessions; they were supposed to very moderately partake in social functions where alcohol was present; their refusal to swear oaths meant municipal and legal professions were closed to them.

But they could study nature, and so many Quakers became botanists and scientists.

And they could do business, and so many great British companies have Quaker roots: Barclays, Lloyds, Clarks shoes, Huntley & Palmer biscuits, Carrs biscuits, Rowntrees sweets, Cadburys and Frys chocolate, Ransomes agricultural machinery, Allen & Hanbury pharmaceuticals, plus, of course, the Peases and their railways, coalmines, brickworks, ironworks, even their seaside resort of Saltburn.

What makes them really fascinating is the way their simple faith interacts with the harsh realities of the world. They preached to their workers about abstinence from alcohol but Joseph Pease, whose statue stands in the centre of Darlington, had one of the finest wine cellars in the north of England; they were supposed to eschew material wealth and yet Henry Pease’s Pierremont mansion was nicknamed “the Buckingham Palace of the North” because it was so lavish; their businesses and politics were based on moral integrity and yet they scrambled their way to the top of the greasy pole …

The Victorian Quakers shaped our communities, but since then their influence has waned. In 1930, they had 250 members in Darlington; in 2005, they were down to about 60. In 2009, they placed their 150-year-old meeting house on the market and the Quaker town faced losing the Quakers from its midst.

Since then, there has been a welcome change of heart – but they still need to find a way to keep a roof over their meeting house. One of the best ways to do that is to let people know that they are still there.

So next Saturday, April 29, from 2pm to 4pm, this unique corner of Darlington’s history is open to all. It’s free admission, and they’ll be tea and cake. It’ll be inside if there are April showers, and at 2.30pm, Chris Lloyd, who compiles the Memories supplement, will give a short talk about the Quakers of Darlington.

QUAKERS believed that everyone was equal before God and therefore everyone’s headstone should be the same – there was no need for the vast, showy tombs, some with maudlin poems carved on them, of other faiths. Therefore, all the Quaker headstones in Darlington are simple, small and rounded, with only minimal details on them. There’s the name and usually age of the person commemorated, and then the date of their death.

But Quakers objected to using the names of days (Sunday to Saturday) and months (January to August) which derived from pagan gods. Instead, they used numbers. So Sunday was the "First Day", and January was the “First Month”. Until 1752, they had no problem with the months September to December, as these names were derived from numbers, but then they became consistent, and September was referred to as the “Ninth month”.

Therefore, the headstone of Edward “Father of the Railways” Pease says that he died on 7th Month 31st 1858 – July 31, 1858. He was 91. Poignantly, nearby, is the headstone of his favourite son, Isaac, who died aged 20 on the “9th Month 27th 1825” – September 27, 1825. That was the day on which the Stockton & Darlington Railway opened and it explains why Edward was not present to see history made.

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