The 18th and 19th centuries saw the setting up of many food and drink related Quaker enterprises. These were termed innocent trades. To Quakers, innocent meant trading fairly with prices fixed rather than bartered, paying off debts, and not engaging in businesses with military links.

In the Quaker Tapestry museum, one of our 77 embroidered panels is devoted to the trades. It lists those that were considered acceptable – including food production and canning.

When it comes to food, people often think that Quakers make oats. But they don’t. They just share a name with the famous brand behind breakfast staple, porridge.

Rather, Quakers are linked to confectionery and biscuit companies that are still around today. Think of Cadbury of Birmingham, Rowntree’s of York, and Fry’s of Bristol. They were all set up by Quakers who believed cocoa and sugar were better alternatives to alcohol at that time.

Rowntrees fruit gums

And for many Quakers being in business required determination and bravery. Take Mary Tuke (1675-1752) who started a firm that became, seven generations later, the Rowntree Chocolate Company. Mary opened her York grocery shop in 1725 and fought a long and persistent battle with the powerful Merchant Adventurers’ Company in order to trade. She ignored the threats and fines imposed by them and, after seven years of dispute, the powerful monopoly eventually agreed that if she paid a small fine, she could trade legally. And thank goodness she did.

Kitchen Table Enterprises

Detail of the kitchen fire on the Innocent Trades panel

Many food businesses start out as kitchen table enterprises, and that was the case with the Huntley and Palmer biscuit manufacturing company. A Quaker set-up that became one of the world’s first global brands, it ran what was once the world’s largest biscuit factory. Its humble origins are depicted in the Innocent Trades panel. Working at a table, in the centre of this panel, and in front of the fire is a lady making Huntley and Palmer biscuits.

The blazing hot, embroidered kitchen fire is a wonderful example of both creative embroidery and the use of colour. Using only six stitches, but with such a sure touch we can almost feel the heat of the fire!

Money, Shoes, Chocolate Interactive Display

On the bottom left of the panel, we see Luke Cock, a 17th century butcher of Staithes near Whitby. His conversion to Quakerism revolutionised his attitude to business, so that he became known as ‘The Honest Butcher’. On the right, there’s a grocer serving a small boy – who leans, no doubt longingly, against the chocolate counter.
Our interactive exhibition on the theme of money, shoes, chocolate also provides an insight into food and drink related Quaker businesses.

Tea & Coffee

In 1826, John Horniman (1803-1893) founded a tea company in the Isle of Wight. He invented a bagging and sealing machine to ensure that his tea could not be adulterated by unscrupulous shopkeepers trying to add cheaper leaves not from tea plants. The John Horniman’s Children’s Trust is using his legacy today.
In 1836, John Farrer of Grayrigg started a tea and coffee business in Stricklandgate, Kendal. After fifty years in the business, he handed it over to his two nephews Joseph and Edward Farrer. They continued the business well into the 20th Century. Today, in different ownership, the popular Kendal café and shop retains the Farrer name and its original shop front.

Supporting the Quaker Tapestry

The beautiful close up detail, featuring the roaring fire, is available as a greetings card. The full panel is also available as a postcard and as a high quality photographic print, in a range of sizes. There is information about all the panels on our website or in our popular Pictorial Guide.

When we reopen you can see this and other panels here in Kendal. Check visiting times and book 24hrs ahead, through our website. There’s no extra charge, you’re guaranteed entry and a crowd-free visit.

Quaker Tapestry Facts

The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cms x 53.3cms and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. The ‘Quaker Stitch’ is now used by embroiderers around the world.

World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.

The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.

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“If you do nothing else in Kendal visit this exhibition.

It is a wonderful lesson about Quaker beliefs and their achievements in many walks of life from banking, to business, to industry, science and their humanitarian work throughout the world.”

Visitor comment on TripAdvisor