THEY are arguably the most influential group of people you’ve never heard of.

Actually you probably have heard of them in passing, it’s just that Quakers rarely make it to the top of the publicity pile because they have an image of being sober, gentle people not given to extravagant outbursts of oratory or dress.

However, over the centuries they have been the leaders of almost every reform that has benefitted society — the abolition of slavery, prison reform, provision of soup kitchens, improvements in housing and working conditions and universal education.

Although founded by George Fox and Margaret Fell in Lancashire in the mid-1650s, the Quaker movement, officially known as the Religious Society of Friends, soon made its way to Worcestershire and the area has long been associated with the cause.

As July 2024 marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of Fox, Worcester Quakers have an afternoon of events on Saturday, July 20 to celebrate.

At 1pm a Quaker Walk will set off from The Friends Meeting House in Sansome Walk and take history off the page and onto the streets of the city.

Val Brittin said: “You will see where Quakers lived, worked and worshipped for more than three centuries.

“The Quaker story in Worcester is strong so prepare to be surprised by what you find.”

Indeed, Quakers had a fairly turbulent arrival in the county which was somewhat at odds with the temperate image they subsequently adopted.

The movement was first recorded in Worcester in 1655 when members were sent to prison for interrupting services.

In fact speaking to the priest was a form of Quaker witness although not appreciated by other members of the congregation.

Richard Baxter, the Kidderminster Puritan minister, wrote that Quakers at the time entered churches during services to “shout abusively up the aisles, calling the ministers deceivers, hirelings and liars”.

In 1657 in Worcester, Thomas Allington went “into one of the places of Publik worship where he stood still and spake not a Word and was taken out and set in the stocks”.

Meanwhile, Edward Bourn, a physician and mainstay of Worcester Quakers, was imprisoned for 13 weeks for “exhorting the People in the College (otherwise the Cathedral) to Fear the Lord and repent”.

The aforementioned Quaker founder George Fox was also imprisoned in Worcester in 1673 because he had attended a very large Quaker meeting of over 200 people in Armscote and subsequently refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. He was incarcerated in the Castle jail for 14 months and it was there he wrote his famous journal.

It was said there must have been something superhuman in Fox’s countenance for the effect of his glance was virtually irresistible.

A Baptist deacon, who had the misfortune to be severely castigated by him, cried out: “Do not pierce me so with thy eyes, keep thy eyes off me.”

Fox would take in hand any notoriously bad man and “seldom leave him before he had made some impression”.

Also he was known to “go boldly up to robbers and so admonish them in the power of the Lord” they were glad to get away from him.

Fox was eventually taken to London where his sentence was quashed.

His journey was the first recorded instance of stagecoach travel through Worcestershire and it lasted four days.

After which he was probably glad to get out.

But by the 18th century, and being accepted as an established presence, Quakers tempered their ways and became gentle people of plain speech and sober dress.

One of Worcestershire’s best known Quakers of the 20th century was Richard Cadbury who came to Worcester with his wife Carrie and their first child in 1901 after spending time in South Africa. They settled in Rose Hill House which is still there today off London Road.

Richard and Carrie remained in the city for the rest of their lives and, interestingly, Worcester’s St Richard’s Hospice used Rose Hill House more than a century later until it moved to its present site.

The Rose Hill site was opened by Diana Princess of Wales in May 1992.

Cadbury was made a JP in 1911 and he was always concerned about the underprivileged, sometimes paying the fines of the neediest people.

He built a small sweet factory in the stables of Rose Hill to provide employment for people with disabilities.

He also opened a coffee house in the historic half-timbered house in Friar Street which is now Tudor House Museum.

Behind the coffee house was a bakery from which cheap nourishing meals were provided for those living nearby in poor conditions.

Staying on a culinary theme, there will be tea and cakes when Worcester Quakers celebrate George Fox’s 400th on July 20.

Besides the Quaker Walk there will be a Quaker trail quiz and stories, a spiritual poetry session with poets from the area and tours of the Quaker Meeting House and tranquil gardens.

It could well be an interesting and enlightening afternoon.