Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

The Pease Family

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Pease family were wool producers, dyers and weavers in Yorkshire, in the North of England. Most of them were Quakers. A century later they were prominent Quaker industrialists, who played a key role in the development of railways. They also produced the first Quaker MP, and later, eight others.

Joseph was a popular name in the Pease family. First generation Quaker Joseph Pease (1665 - 1719), here called Joseph I, was in the business of buying and selling wool in the Darlington area in Yorkshire. In 1711 he moved to Hull where he introduced a new industry of linseed crushing. Joseph II (1737-1807), his grandson, began in this business too. However he was so well liked and respected by his customers that it was not long before they turned to him for advice and help with financial matters. Many asked him if they could leave their money and valuables with him for safekeeping.  This eventually led him to establish the very first bank in Yorkshire, in Hull, in 1754.  It was known as Pease Partners Bank.

Edward Pease (1767–1858), son of Joseph II, was an innovator too. Initially he served an apprenticeship in his uncle Thomas Caldwell’s wool business, and travelled all over the country buying fleeces for it. He could see that many changes were afoot, notably in  the coal and iron mining industries, in which other family members were involved. He soon became convinced of the need for a railway to carry coal from the pits to the ports and thence to London.   Such a railway would enable coal to be loaded on trucks and then towed along tracks by horses, the only kind of railway at the time. The obvious route was from Darlington to Stockton-on Tees, and Edward and others proposed this to Parliament. Permission was finally granted in 1821.  

By then Edward had met George Stephenson who convinced him that steam engines were the future, not horses. The Pease family put up much of the capital that enabled Stephenson to build his locomotives, and the Darlington – Stockton railway became the first public steam railway in the world.

Edward’s son, Joseph III (1799-1872), began by helping his father to open up additional lines for the railway.  He also helped to lay the foundation for the emergence of Teesside as an outstanding centre for the production of iron.  Like many in the Pease family, he was interested in politics, and in 1832 he was elected as MP for South Durham. Newly elected MPs were however required to take an oath of allegiance, which was against his Quaker principles. This  would have stopped him taking up his seat, had not other MPs come to the rescue with the the Reform Bill of 1832. This enabled Joseph to affirm his loyalty, rather than swear an oath, and he became the first Quaker to sit in Parliament. He opened the way for several other nineteenth century Quaker MPs, including his sons Arthur and Joseph Whitwell Pease. Joseph III spoke on matters of social and political reform but would not use titles when addressing the House and retained his Quaker style of dress.  

The family were committed to peace making, and when Joseph III left politics in 1841, he became the president of the Peace Society. Another of his sons, Henry, was also a member of the Peace Society, and was part of the deputation sent to Russia in 1854 to address the Tsar in the vain hope of averting the Crimean War. 

The Peases were also fiercely opposed to slavery. Elizabeth Pease Nicholl (1807 – 1897), one of Joseph III’s daughters, led the Darlington Ladies Anti-Slavery Society.  In 1840 she travelled to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention where she met American Quaker abolitionists including Lucretia MottJoseph Sturge, an organiser of the Convention, informed the women that they would not be permitted to speak, but would be allowed to observe.  Along with Quakers Amelia Opie and Anne Knight she had to sit in a segregated area away from the male delegates. Like Lucretia Mott, she was to become a strong advocate for women’s suffrage.

Pease Partners bank (later J and J. W. Pease) continued until 1902, when it became insolvent and was taken over by Barclays.

The Pease family were great philanthropists. They built a library and schools in Darlington.  Sophia Fry (1837-1897), daughter of Edward’s eldest son John Pease, made a major contribution to education for the poor and encouraged women’s involvement in party politics by establishing the Women’s Liberal Federation.    

Quaker families at this time were strongly interconnected through intermarriage. The Peases’ were especially close to the Backhouse, Fox, Gurney, Fry and Barclay families. 

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