Beacon Controversy and Challenges to British Quaker Tradition in the Early Nineteenth Century: Some Responses to the Evangelical Revival by Friends in Manchester and Kendal

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This work poses the question: why did evangelism become so important to certain leading Quakers in the early nineteenth century? The work is set against the background of fear of revolution spreading to Britain, the industrial boom and population explosion in manufacturing towns, and religious revival among a cross-section of society. The problem of an extreme form of evangelism overturning the embedded traditions of Quakerism came to a head with the unfolding of the Beacon controversy. This book represents the first comprehensive study of the Beacon controversy, which may be seen as a milestone in nineteenth-century Quaker history. This book is not only a historical and sociological study of Quakers in two locations at a critical time for Society of Friends, but it also reflects on and dissects the ongoing theological questions for Quakers and other Christian believers.


“As well as being so strong on the history of ideas, and the patterning of family loyalties and difference, this book is excellent at giving the reader two in-depth accounts of local religious communities (building on the work of e.g. Sheila Wright and her study of York). The section on the Beaconites of Kendal is particularly compelling in its rendering of local salvation politics and the supply of religious choice, way before rational choice theory had dubbed churchgoers as simply shoppers in the spiritual marketplace. Kendal today has been the subject of a recent sociological investigation, based at the University of Lancaster, into local beliefs and allegiances. This study offers us an historical account of great depth along similar lines and is beautifully contextualised here which is unusual amongst Quaker studies. We are not just given a picture of Kendal Quakers and Quaker schismatics but of the whole of the Christian life of the market town. In the contrast with Manchester, we can see how similar motivations and shared beliefs can be played out in very different ways in different contexts. It is this care to give the whole picture, whether in the development of Evangelicalism within British Quakerism, or in the debates between the Ultra-evangelicals, the Evangelicals, and those sympathetic to Wilbur’s concerns, or in the analysis of the final destination points of the schismatics (which counters much of the received history of Friends), that is so valuable in this book. It is thorough and very readable. Rosemary Mingins writes with the ease of authority on her subject, the result of much detailed primary research and equally of much careful and nuanced analysis. Unlike other studies, this book does not compromise its approach by concentrating purely on theology or purely on social or political or biographical history. We are the beneficiaries of such well-crafted scholarship.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Dr ‘Ben’ Pink Dandelion, Centre for Postgraduate Quaker Studies, University of Birmingham and Series Editor, Edwin Mellen Press Series in Quaker Studies.

“This is a lucid and readable account of the crisis of the 1830s in British Quakerism, brought about by the tensions between evangelicals and more traditional Friends. Dr. Mingins deftly combines the macro and the micro, and the social as well as the theological dimensions of these conflicts. The heart of the book lies in her detailed examination of the Quaker communities in two very important centres – Manchester, early Victorian England’s most dynamic city, and Kendal, the town where the Society of Friends had the highest local profile…..Throughout, Dr. Mingins tries to provide a sympathetic account of each of the contending factions, taking seriously their rival concerns, and vividly depicting their religious passions through diaries and letters.” – Professor Hugh McLeod, University of Birmingham

“Quaker history is far more important than the numbers involved would suggest, partly because so many reforms we take for granted have leaked out of this particular sectarian capsule. Controversies within a group dedicated to peace tell us a lot about human relationships and we learn a great deal about one such in Rosemary Mingins’ scrupulous, carefully researched and excellently written study.” – Professor David Martin, LSE and Lancaster University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Abbreviations and terminology
1. The Background to the Beacon Controversy
2. The American Hicksites and A Beacon to The Society of Friends
3. Manchester: Evangelical Weight Confronts Traditionalist Spirit
4. Kendal I: Quakers and Quakerism in a Market Town Context
5. Kendal II: Tracing the Impact of the Beacon Controversy
6. The Outcome of the Beacon Controversy in Manchester and Kendal

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