Darlington's Quaker Heritage

Darlington's pioneering Quaker families of the 18th and 19th centuries were primarily involved in the wool, linen, railway and banking trades and have strongly influenced the course of Darlington's history and shaped the town as we know it today.  


On this page, we hope to give you a flavour of Darlington's Quaker history, including: information about The Religious Society of Friends and their Meeting House; the history of the town's prominent Quaker families and the Quaker landmarks in the town, to tempt you to explore our Quaker heritage.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting House and Burial Ground

Since 1678, the Quakers have occupied a property in Skinnergate and the present Meeting House at number 6 Skinnergate, was built in 1839.  


The present generation of Quakers in Darlington take an active role in peace movements, conflict response in schools and other Quaker concerns and would welcome prospective attenders and members at their Meeting House which is also well-used and enjoyed by many of Darlington's voluntary organisations and societies.


Behind the Friends Meeting House lies a large and peaceful burial ground where many of the names on the simple headstones record the Quaker families who influenced the history of Darlington.  From humble beginnings, many of them rose to positions of wealth and great influence, amongst which the Pease and Backhouse names are perhaps the most well-known. 


The Quaker Burial Ground is open to the public and we invite you to come and visit and enjoy it.  It is an oasis of peace and tranquility in the heart of Darlington Town Centre.  To find out more about the Burial Ground please click here.

The Pease Family

It is sometimes a little difficult to tell the Pease family "story" as many of the men in the lineage were named either Edward or Joseph!


Edward Pease (1711 - 1785) who became a Quaker, moved to Darlington from the West Riding of Yorkshire in about 1744 to take up the running of a woollen business belonging to his wife's family, the Couldwells.


His son, Joseph Pease (1737 - 1808) built up the family woollen business and the coming of the industrial revolution, his own enterprising nature and marriage of his daughter Anne into the banking Backhouse Quaker family, all contributed to the rising prosperity of the Pease family.


For over 200 years "Pease's Mill" provided secure employment for the people of Darlington and made a significant contribution to the town's economy. 


Joseph's son, Edward Pease (1767 - 1858) is perhaps Darlington's most famous and leading Quaker industrialist who, together with Jonathan Backhouse and George Stephenson believed that steam locomotives were the future for transportation.  This led to the beginnings of the world's first steam-worked public railway and first passenger-pulling steam engine, Locomotion No. 1, which is now housed in the Darlington Railway Museum, The Head of Steam.


Edward Pease, often referred to as the "Father of the Railways", forever secured Darlington's place in the Golden Age of Steam.


In the next Pease generation, Edward's son, Joseph Pease (1799 - 1872), whose commemorative statue stands at the corner of High Row and Bondgate, (unveiled in 1875 to mark the Golden Jubilie of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway) was Darlington's first Quaker MP and an eminent businessman.

When the docks at Stockton became inadequate for the increased trade, he was a principal founder of "Port Darlington" which later became Middlesbrough.  He married Emma Gurney of Norwich, from another prominent banking family, and was actively engaged in railways, collieries, iron ore mining and land.


Joseph was also an active benefactor for Darlington, founding schools in County Durham and projects in Darlington, including the clock for the town's most famous landmark, the Market Clock Tower.


The Pease family continued to prosper, having large families and building large houses in significant grounds, making a contribution not only to their own wealth and business success but also playing a philanthropic role in education and health care provision as well as social reform.


The Pease women also made a significant contribution to the philanthropic life of the town, and a relative of theirs, Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney) did much to improve conditions for women prisoners.  She is known to have visited Darlington on several occasions.  Sophia Pease, Lady Fry, did a great deal of philanthropic work especially for women and she was very active in raising  money for Darlington's first large general hospital, Greenbank.


In 1902 the Pease financial system collapsed when Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease MP (1828 - 1903) "Father of the House of Commons" became bankrupt, yet the dynasty continued with Joseph (Jack) Albert Pease (1860 - 1943), the first Lord Gainford, who was made a peer for his services as a Cabinet Minister during the 1914 - 1918 war.


There are still Pease descendents living in Darlington, but the last one to carry the family surname was Michael Pease who died in 1968.

Other prominent Darlington Quaker families

A prominent Darlington Quaker citizen, named James Backhouse, founded Backhouse's Bank in 1774, it is now Barclays Bank and its attractive Gothic façade which has been likened to a Venetian palace, stands proudly on Darlington's High Row. It was designed in 1864 by Quaker architect Alfred Waterhouse who was related to the Backhouses and who also designed Darlington's splendid Victorian Covered Market and Clock Tower.


Other notable Quaker family names and who were interrelated are Kitching, I'Anson, Cudworth and Hodgkin.  The Kitchings' ironmongers store grew to become the significant Whessoe Foundry.

Quaker Heritage buildings

In addition to the Victorian Covered Market and Clock Tower, designed by Quaker architect Alfred Waterhouse, other Quaker buildings include:

  • The Crown Street Library (originally known as the Edward Pease Free Library) which opened in 1885 and was built with a £10,000 legacy from Edward Pease's will.
  • A Bank, formerly Backhouse's Bank, now Barclay's Bank on High Row.


Many of the Quaker family homes are in different use today, eg:

  • Several are now used as offices, eg Mowden Hall, North Lodge and Pease's House, which faces onto Bull Wynd Garden, a former alled garden and now a public open space
  • Bannatyne's Hotel
  • Polam Hall School
  • Elm Ridge Methodist Church

Durham at War: Darlington Quakers during WWI

As part of Durham County Council's "Durham at War" project, Durham Record Office has been transcribing the minute books from Darlington Local Meeting covering the years of the First World War.  This interesting blog post describes what the minutes show: a Quaker community committed to peace but also actively involved in humanitarian aid during the war, with the Meeting House being used as a hospital and local Quakers volunteering with the Friends Ambulance Unit.


The full blog post can be found here: Durham At War: Quakers of Darlington


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© Religious Society of Friends - Darlington Meeting. Some photographs reproduced with kind permission of Peter Giroux.