The Early Days
What became Quakerism began in the troubled and bloody period towards the end of the civil wars of the 1640s. The country was in turmoil, given the events of the time, which included the execution of king Charles I in 1649. Debates were rife about the church and need for its reform; about the nature and conduct of government; about disparities of wealth and power; about the need for greater social justice and also about whether God was about to intervene in apocalyptic, end-of-the-world fashion.
Freedom of conscience and freedom of worship were on the agenda for people who were seeking religious truth for themselves and who wanted to see change in their world. Quakers were among them. Under the leadership of George Fox Quakers proved to be the most radical and most persecuted of the dissenting religious groups in the second half of the seventeenth century.
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The name Quaker
It had been others who first called them Quakers (in Welsh Crynwyr). It had been a jibe, probably due to the trembling (quaking) and emotional outpourings seen in their earliest gatherings for worship and the word ‘Quaker’ had been used some time earlier about other (non British) sectarians. What they called one another, though, was ‘Friends’ and they spoke of being ‘Friends in the Truth’. As happens with some nicknames, though, the ‘Quaker’ jibe was embraced. As George Fox pointed out, trembling in reverence for God’s message had the Bible’s approval (Isaiah 66:2).
The coming of Quakerism to Wales
There have been Friends/Quakers in Wales since 1653. Some of the first Welsh converts to their teaching came from existing congregations which were already hoping for spiritual awakening and for religious and social reform. Wales’s religious dissenters such as Walter Cradoc in Llanfaches, Morgan Llwyd in Wrecsam and Roath (Cardiff)-based William Erbury had to some extent already prepared the ground for Quaker thought.
In 1653 John ap John (Sion ap Sion) was sent out from the circle of the inspirational preacher and writer Morgan Llwyd to investigate the stirrings of early Quakerism, which had now ‘gone public’. https://biography.wales/article/s-JOHN-APJ-1625
In the north of England he met with George Fox and returned to Wales convinced of the Quaker message. John ap John was the first Welsh person living in Wales to be Quaker. He spread its message too, and when George Fox subsequently visited Wales it would be John ap John at his side who made it possible for Fox to communicate with the Welsh speaking populace.
In South Wales in was Quakers from England who first carried in the teaching. That happened the following year, in 1654. Some of those who turned to Quakerism there had previously been among the loyalists of the recently-deceased William Erbery, who was Welsh on his mother’s side. Erbery had been widely-known as a radical preacher and writer. Members of his family, among others, now became active in spreading Quaker teaching across the south of Wales.
Quaker Belief and Practice
The early Friends had had no doubt that God was bringing about change in their own day and that they were called to be part of it. ‘Christ has come to teach his people himself’ George Fox affirmed, speaking about a directness of religious experience which the individual and the worshipful group could know. Ongoing revelation through the Spirit might challenge even the most cherished norms and such beliefs spelt the end of need for the usual ritual and liturgy and for a special caste of clergy. Quakers were, and in Britain have remained, a lay group – or as Friends might see it, a group in which belief in the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously.
From their beginnings they stressed truthfulness and simplicity. Truth was compromised by the taking of an oath, they believed, for not only had Jesus spoken against oath-taking but an oath suggested there might be a dual standard of truthfulness. Simplicity included simplicity in dress, when some in the seventeenth century were taking to extravagence and shows of status. Social hierarchy and inequality were in their sights. That was so even in the language they used. Friends used the word ‘thou’ to any individual, even if the person’s superior class or status would normally have required the use of ‘you’. Nor would Quakers bow, curtsey, doff hats and the like. They would not pay tithes for support of a church which they wanted reformed nor would they attend Anglican worship. Not only were they clergy-less but women might have public roles in Friends’ gatherings and organisation.
Such things were deeply shocking to many of their contemporaries but at the same time this was a peaceable people, which would not contribute to the upkeep of militias, for example.
They had declared their peaceability early in the reign of Charles II, saying that they would not take up arms for any cause religious or secular, for to do so would be at odds with the spirit of Christ. Peace-making and peace building have been Quaker concerns ever since and support of those who in conscience will not participate in warfare. https://www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/171/Conscientious-Objection
From such emphasis on simplicity, equality, integrity and peace grew what came to be known as the Friends’ ‘Testimonies’. They are the glue of Quaker practice, though they evolve in terms of how they are understood, as fresh light emerges. http://together.woodbrooke.org.uk/quaker.org.uk_mirror/Quaker%20Testimonies
Concern for simplicity, equality and the peace which comes with justice has fed into Friends’ contemporary concern for sustainability and the future of our planet.
The early Friends lived in turbulent times and after the monarchy was restored under Charles II in 1660 laws were devised to secure the dominance of Anglican church worship and to dampen social and religious dissent. The new laws (including a Quaker Act in 1662) were intended to cement religious compliance and to curb the movement of uncompliant people from place to place. Alternative gatherings for worship were now illicit but the Friends did not go underground. Rather, in Wales as elsewhere, Quaker men and women alike took the consequences of not-conforming. They suffered the economic hardships of fines and seizure of goods; physical assaults; the sometimes violent interruptions of their meetings for worship; arrests and being imprisoned, often in very insanitary and harsh conditions. In the decades up to the Act of Toleration in 1689 the Friends as a religious group suffered more than others.
This was the background to some Welsh Quakers choosing emigration in the 1680s. There was opportunity to purchase land in Pennsylvania and to build a life free of persecution and a new kind of society, even a Welsh speaking one, they hoped. They would be part of the Quaker Willliam Penn’s ‘Holy Experiment’ in America .
and ‘William Penn’s Holy Experiment’
After the seventeeth century
Quaker numbers in Wales suffered as a result of emigration and those numbers fell further in some areas through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Quakers at that time were distinguishable by their plain manner of dress and speech and they married only within the group. Even for those who admired their reputation for integrity, peacability and activism for reforms, and who liked being able to worship with them (worship in which silence played an important part) such Quaker ‘peculiarities’ were a disincentive to joining them fully. Then in the second half of the 19th century the ‘peculiarites’ came to an end. The 20th century saw some recovery in Quaker numbers in Wales.
Since 1653 Friends have never been absent from the landscape and life of Wales. Their burial grounds and places of worship (known as Meeting Houses) speak of their presence over the centuries and they left their marks in many ways. There was their role in the development of Wales’s eighteenth and nineteenth century industry and commerce, for example, in coal, iron and steelmaking, porcelain manufacture and more and (in the twentieth century) Quakers initiated work in the so-called ‘Distressed Areas’ of South Wales in the 1920s and ’30s, which led to the establishment of Educational Settlements and work-creating projects in places such as Trealaw in the Rhondda, Brynmawr, Dowlais (Merthyr Tydfil) and Risca. In the twenty first century Quakers are still actively part of Wales’s life and landscape.
Open to All
Today, though still small in numbers compared with major denominations, there are more than double the number of Quakers here than was the case at the start of the twentieth century.
Friends’ meetings for worship have always been open to all. 21st century Quakerism is diverse in its membership and in the religious language individual Friends may use to describe their spiritual paths and discipleship.
The distinctiveness of Quaker worship has remained, with ministry emerging from silence; the Testimonies have remained; our task has remained, of being open to the workings of the Spirit through worship and in our daily lives, to respond to ‘that of God’ in everyone we meet and to engage with the world.
If you are interested in the history of Quakers in Wales this is to help you.
It provides examples of the kinds of sources available.
Much of the published history of Quakers in Wales, whether about individuals, Quaker action, industry, buildings, burial grounds and more is to be found in articles in the Journals of County and Town Historic Societies. Some of those are available electronically, such as through the National Library of Wales website Welsh Journals Online.
There are extensive resources in The Library of the Religious Society of Friends, Friends House, Euston, London (catalogue accessible online)
Archifau Morgannwg, Cofnodion y Crynwyr a chasgliadau archifau eraill yng Nghymru
The Quaker Family History Society
and the academic journal, Quaker Studies, which is accessible at and Quaker Studies is published open-access with a 3-year embargo here .
Volumes of the Journal of the Friends Historical Society available here (though recent issues may not yet be digitised.).
- T. Mardy Rees, A History of the Quakers in Wales and their Emigration to North America (W. Spurrell and Son, 1925). Outdated and old fashioned but still with a lot of useful information in one place.
- Richard Jones, Crynwyr Bore Cymru 1653-1699 (William Jones a’i Feibion, 1931) – the only book on the subject written in Welsh.
- Richard C. Allen, Quaker Communities in Early Modern Wales: From Resistance to Respectability (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007).
- Owain Gethin Evans, Benign Neglect. The Quakers and Wales 1850-1914 (Bridge Books, 2014).
- Barrie Naylor, Quakers in the Rhondda 1926-1986 (Maes yr Haf Trust, 1986) – on Quaker work with the unemployed during the Depression.
- Christine Trevett, Quaker Women Prophets in England and Wales, 1650-1700 (Llambed: Mellen, 2000).
EXAMPLES OF ARTICLES, SHORT BOOKS ETC.
“Bibliography of Quaker literature in the English language relating to Wales”, Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, 1, no 7.
Geraint H. Jenkins, “Quaker and anti Quaker Literature in Welsh from the Restoration to Methodism‘, Welsh History Review 7 (1974), 403-426
“Celebrating William Penn’s vision” (ynglŷn â’r Cymry cyntaf i setlo ym Mhensylfania).
Peter Adamson a Peter Crew (eds), Diaries and Journal of John Kelsall,
Richard Allen, “Mocked, scoffed, persecuted, and made a gazeing stock”: The resistance of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in post-Toleration South-East Wales c.1689–1836’ Cycnos vol 19/1 (Résistances), 2008.
“In Search of a New Jerusalem: A Preliminary Investigation into the Causes and Impact of Welsh Quaker Emigration to Pennsylvania c. 1660-1750“, Quaker Studies 9/1 (2005), 31-53
“Nantuckett Quakers and the Milford Haven Whaling Industry, c. 1791-1821′, Quaker Studies 15/1 (2010), 6-31.
A.H. Dodd, “The Background of the Welsh Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania”, Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Record Society, 3 part ii (1958), pp.111-127
Gethin Evans, “Cymru: concern, conscience and caution: Quaker cameos in Welsh history, Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 69 (2018), pp. 3-24.
Stephen Griffith, A History of Quakers in Pembrokeshire (Milford Haven Friends’ Meeting,1990).
Geraint H. Jenkins, “The Friends (Quakers) of Montgomeryshire in the Heroic Age” The Montgomeryshire Collections 76 (1988), pp. 17-30.
Thomas Wynne 1627-1692, Crynwr, Heddychwr a chyfaill William Penn, Pwyllgor Cymreig y Crynwyr, 1992
Richard Davies, Hanes Arhyhoeddiad, Trafferthion, Gwasanaeth a theithiau yr hen was hwnnw o eiddo yr Arglwydd, Richard Davies: (Llundain: H Hughes,1840).
An account of the convincement, exercises, services and travels of that ancient servant of the Lord Richard Davies (Printed and sold by J. Sowle, in White-Hart-Court in Gracious-Street, London 1710).
R T Jenkins, “Y Crynwyr ym Meirion”, in Hanes Cynulleidfa Hen Gapel Llanuwchllyn, (Robert Evans a’i Fab, 1937), pages 26-33
“John Kelsall yn Sir Gaernarfon ac yn Môn”, Trafodion Hanes Sir Gaernarfon, vol 2 (1940), 71-74
Harry Gwyn Jones, “Dyddiau Olaf y Crynwyr yng Nghymru“, Y Traethodydd, 1939 Cyfrol 7 78-87
T G Jones, “Parish of Meifod: Sketch of the History of Nonconformity therein”, Montgomeryshire Collections, vol xi, 1878, 87-123
J Lloyd, “The Quakers of Cardiganshire“, Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, vol 1, no 2, 1912
Gethin Evans, “The Quakers in Cardiganshire”, Ceredigion, vol xvi, no 3, 17-62
Trevor Macpherson “A Measure of Grace: Quakers in Radnorshire”, The Transactions of the Radnorshire Society, 69 (1999), pp. 9-33.
Friends in Radnorshire: A Brief History of the Quakers, Verzon Booke, nd
Ronald Morris, “Quakerism in West Montgomeryshire”, Montgomeryshire Collection, vol 56, 45-65
“Llanwyddyn Quakers“, Montgomeryshire Collections, Vol 66, 1978,46-59
“The Dolobran Family in Religion and Industry in Montgomeryshire“, Montgomeryshire Collections, vol 56, 1959, 124-147
W.G. Norris, “John ap John and early Records of Friends in Wales“, Journal of the Friends Historical Society.
Bob Owen, “Hen Grynwyr Llyn”, Trafodion Hanes Sir Gaernarfon vol 2 (1940), 71-74
Howard Paddock, “John ap John – the Mysterious Quaker of Rhyddallt“, in Plas Kynaston Canal Group
David Painting, “Swansea and the abolition of the Slave Trade” Swansea History Journal 15 (2007), pp. 10-18
Ellis Pugh, Salutations to the Britons, Pennsylvania, 1727 – a translation from the Welsh of Annerch i’r Cymry (the first book published in Welsh in the USA)
Gomer Morgan Roberts, “Y Crynwyr” in Hanes Plwyf Llandybie (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1939), 158-162
A Grace Roberts, “The Ruthin Quakers“, The Welsh Outlook, June 1925, 160-16
David Salmon, “The Quakers of Pembrokeshire”, Historical Society of West Wales Transactions, vol ix, 1923, 1-32
“The Pembrokeshire Quakers’ Monthly Meeting”, West Wales Historical Records, vol xii, 1927 1-26
A R Lewis Saul, “Cloddiau Cochion and the Welsh Quakers“, Montgomeryshire Collections, 1958, vol 55
Christine Trevett, “‘Not fit to be printed’: the Welsh, the Women and the Second Day’s Morning Meeting”, Journal of the Friends Historical Society 59 (2001), pp. 115-44.
‘Who was the real Lydia Fell? Quakers’ Yard 1699’, Merthyr Historian 23 (2012), pp. 57-69.
“Ann Taylor. A Quaker girlhood in Merthyr Tydfil (1891-1913) and what she didn’t say”, Merthyr Historian 29 (2018), pp. 122-141.
“Idiot”: questions around early Quaker identity in light of a legal dispute”, Quaker Studies 22/2 (2017), 11-42.
Fay Williams, “Glamorgan Quakers 1654-1900”, Morgannwg Vol. 5 1961, 49-73.
Martin Williams, “Evangelical Friends in Radnorshire from the late 19th century”, Early Quakers in Mid-Wales, 1993
Gwyn Williams: “Crynwyr Cynnar Cymru” in Y Gair a’r Genedl: Cyfrol dyrnged, Ty John Penry, 1986
“The Quakers in Merioneth during the seventeenth century”, Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Record Society, vol viii, part ii 1978, 122-156 and vol viii, part iii, 1979, 312-342
Quakers in Wales and the Peace movement
Richard Allen: “An Indefatigable Philanthropist“:Joseph Tregelles Price (1784–1854) of Neath, Wales
“‘Providing a Moral Compass for British People’: The Work of Joseph Tregelles, Evan Rees and The Herald of Peace“, Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 67/1 (2016), pp. 3-15
Euros Bowen, “Waldo a Chrynwriaeth”, Y Traethodydd – Cyf. CXXVI (538-540) 1971 247-255 (on the Quaker poet and pacifist Waldo Williams).
Gwynfor Evans, “HEDDYCHIAETH GRISTNOGOL YNG NGHYMRU” (cyhoeddwyd gan Gymdeithas y Cymod 1991),
Geraint H. Jenkins, “Rhyfel yr Oen: Y Mudiad Heddwch yng Nghymru 1653-1816”, in his Cadw Ty Mewn Cwmwl Tystion: Ysgrifau Hanesyddol ar Grefydd a Diwylliant (Llandysul: Gomer, 1990).
“The Early Peace Testimony in Wales” Llafur vol. 4/ 2 (1975), pp. 10–19.
Gethin Evans, “Quakers in Wales and the First World War”, Quaker Studies, vol 21, issue 2, Dec 2016, 193-212.
Quakers and the Welsh language:
Gethin Evans: ‘Atgof Diniwed – Crynwriaeth, Cymru a Chymrectod, Y Traethodydd, Ebrill 2013 – available only in Welsh.
“John Edward Southall: Quaker and Welshman”, Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 67/1 (2016), pp. 16-34.
In novelistic but well-researched form the writings of Marian Eames, in Welsh and English versions, tell of 17th century Quakers in the Dolgellau region and emigration’
Y Stafell Ddirgel , Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer 1998 (original 1969)
The Secret Room, Llandysul: Gomer Press 1995 and Y Rhandir Mwyn, Christopher Davies Publishers, 1972
Fair Wilderness, Corgi books, 1987
The Brynmawr furniture making project
http://www.amgueddfacymru.ac.uk/cy/rhagor/erthygl/dodrefnBrynmawr1929-40 a https://museum.wales/blog/2007-04-23/The-Brynmawr-Experiment-1929-40/
M., E.& D. Wiliam, Celfi Brynmawr: Arbrawf Cymdeithasol y Crynwyr 1928-40 (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2010) and in English Brynmawr Furniture Makers: a Quaker Initiative 1929-1940 (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2012).
Quaker Heritage Centre
http://www.gwynedd.gov.uk/ Quaker Heritage Centre, Dolgellau
http://www.gwynedd.gov.uk/ Canolfan Treftadaeth y Crynwyr
By Friends in Wales today, speaking for themselves:
Y Ffordd Dawel? The Quiet Way? (yn Gymraeg gydag is-deitlau Saesneg) – 5 Quakers speak
Tua’r Tarddiad: Crynwyr yng Nghymru, Cyfarfod y Cyfeillion yng Nghymru, 2014
Towards the Source: Quakers in Wales, Meeting of Friends in Wales, 2014
(this publication parallels Towards the Source but it is not identical in content).