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A brief history:

Background and origins

The Brotherhood Church can be traced back to 1887 when a young preacher called John Bruce Wallace started a magazine called 'The Brotherhood'. He was strongly influenced by Tolstoy and his powerful denunciations of war and economic slavery. Tolstoy did not believe in the divinity of Christ, but he did believe in the absolute principles of human behaviour as described in The Sermon on the Mount. Starting from Limavardy in N. Ireland, Wallace moved to London in 1891 and took over a derelict church which became widely know as The Brotherhood Church. His influence grew, and out of it, various groups followed and developed his ideas. Many of these groups developed around voluntary socialist cooperative systems.
One of the groups was J.C. Kenworthy's Croydon Brotherhood Church, founded in 1894 which was again strongly influenced by Tolstoy. They believed in the cessation of all forms of coercion and the development of voluntary cooperation. They strongly believed in non-violence and welcomed all people, no matter what their faith, while still totally committed to following The Sermon on the Mount. Another group was formed in 1896 in Purleigh, Essex, based on 10 acres of land. They lived on communist principles and renounced 'rent, interest and profit'.
Shortly after the Purleigh group was started, in 1897, some members moved to Leeds and set up a group based around a small engineering workshop. This is the group which later moved to Stapleton. These people, some of whom came from a Quaker background, avoided the use of money wherever possible. They refused to register their marriages and births and they educated their own children. Two of our founder members were expelled by the Quakers for refusing to register their marriage. Being pacifist, they were conscientious objectors and would not have anything to do with the First World War and the war effort. They published many leaflets against it. Some members were prosecuted and imprisoned for their beliefs.


In 1921 a legacy enabled the group to buy what was then just a field, at Stapleton. Before the first house was built, one of the group died. His death was not registered and he was the first person to be buried at Stapleton. The planning authorities objected strongly to the building of the houses without planning permission, and demolished them. The materials were auctioned to cover their demolition costs. Over and again, the houses were rebuilt by the members. By 1928, three houses and the octagonal 'Knitting Room' were on the land. The authorities decided to leave them alone.

During the Second World War, although pacifists, the members refused to register as conscientious objectors on the grounds that registration was an acceptance of the right of the government to introduce conscription for others. Some were again jailed. The members refused to cooperate with the war effort, refused to accept rations and identity cards, and sheltered conscientious objectors.

After the war The Brotherhood Church continued to campaign for peace, being involved in the Peace Pledge Union, War Resisters International and CND. Several members have been arrested and imprisoned for short periods after sit-down protests. Len Gibson ran a Daylight Film Van for the PPU from 1962 to the end of 1988. He took the van around as many towns as possible every summer showing peace films to people who would otherwise be ignorant of the issues, and distributed leaflets on behalf of the WRI and CND. The Strawberry Tea peace gathering, started by Len and Hilda in 1962 has been held every year since.

Over the years, many of our members have been imprisoned for their beliefs and for their stand against unjust laws. There have been many disputes with the authorities, for example, over taxes, registration of births, education and nuclear weapons. Many leaflets have been printed and distributed. The Peaceprint presses are still used and the disputes continue to this day.

[A much more detailed history of the Brotherhood Church and its origins can be found in The History of The Brotherhood Church, which is currently being updated to include the last 30 years and should be available shortly.]