In 1651, with the country reeling from the Civil War, George Fox (who founded “The Religious Society of Friends”, or Quakers as we are known) was thrown down the steps of York Minster for challenging the authority of the clergy.
The first Quaker Meeting house at Friargate was built in 1674 on the site of a monastery and has undergone several changes over the years.
The third quarter of the seventeenth century was a difficult period for the new faith and many Quakers were imprisoned in York Castle or otherwise savagely persecuted. Some died and others were heavily fined or incarcerated for lengthy periods in brutal conditions.
William Henry Thorp built Clifford Street Meeting house, which could hold 1,200 people. The Clifford Street façade is still there although the Meeting House is now accessed from Friargate where we still use the smaller meeting room built in 1844.
Notable Quakers in York were the Rowntree and Tuke families. At the turn of the nineteenth century, William Tuke pioneered humane care for people with mental illness at The Retreat. From the early nineteenth century, the economic and social impact of the Rowntree family began to be felt. Their chocolate business provided fair employment for many. They worked to reduce poverty and improve education, working conditions and housing. Joseph Rowntree established the model village of New Earswick in 1902, providing good homes and community facilities for families. He also set up three Trusts whose work in social policy, housing, conflict, justice, and democratic and political reform, continues.