William Allen  
Quaker Friend of Lindfield  1770-1843
Publication by: MARGARET NICOLLE  
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Willliam Allen - The Man  

Born in Spitalfields, London, WILLIAM ALLEN was the eldest son of a Quaker silk merchant.  Allenís Quaker faith was a driving force throughout his life.  The diary which he kept from the age of seventeen reveals a man who set himself high moral standards and a man who devoted his time and energy to good causes.




Prevented by his religion from attending university, he was at first apprenticed to his fatherís business.  However in 1792 he accepted a clerkship in Joseph Gurney Bevanís chemical establishment at Plough Court, London. Bevan recognised his ability and gave him opportunities to study science.  He later became a partner in the firm of Allen and Hanburyís.  He met and worked with a number of eminent scientists such as John Dalton, Dr. William Babington and Sir Humphry Davy.  When the Pharmaceutical Society was established in 1841, Allen became the first President.

Allen had his share of personal tragedy.  His first wife, Mary Hamilton, died five days after the birth of a daughter Mary.  His marriage to Charlotte Hanbury ended with her death ten years later.  His third marriage to the wealthy widow, Grizell Birkbeck led to the publication of hostile caricatures.

Allen was a pioneer in the formation of soup kitchens, much needed in Spitalfields where there were many out of work handloom weavers.  He was Chairman of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment for crimes against property.  He accompanied Elizabeth Fry on some of her visits to Newgate prison.



In 1808 Allen visited Joseph Lancasterís Borough Road School in London.  Like Lancaster he believed that the monitorial System was a cheap and efficient method of educating large numbers of poor children.  However Allenís strict religious views and Lancasterís inability to manage his financial affairs led to clashes.  Differences of opinion also arose between Allen and Robert Owen over the management of the school for the children of workers at New Lanark Mills.  Owenís advanced views on education were to prove too much for Allen and his Quaker partners who remained convinced of the importance of Bible instruction and the Bible as the sole reading material.     For many years Allen was treasurer of the British and Foreign Schools Society.

Allen gave loyal support to William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Thomas Fowell Buxton in the long campaign against the Slave Trade.  Allen appears in the large painting of the Anti-Slavery Society Convention of 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon. 

He made eight journeys abroad, often in arduous conditions, visiting schools, asylums, hospitals and prisons.  He became a respected friend of the Emperor Alexander I of Russia and the Duke of Wellington. In 1831 Allen and Elizabeth Fry went to Kensington Palace to meet the Duchess of Kent and the young Princess Victoria.  Following the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert in 1840, Allen led the loyal address of the Quakers at Buckingham Palace.

 Allen has been variously described as Ďthe poor manís friend, Ďa man among a millioní and Ďthe saviour of Lindfield

William Allen - Quaker Friend of Lindfield