May 2023 – ‘The Peace Society’ Donation Box
Our curator has been working through the last few objects to be accessioned into the collection before we move premises. Amongst them was this beautiful donation box for the Peace Society. This month’s blog post will explore the history behind this object, and behind the group that came to be known as the Peace Society.
Despite being one of the most recent items to join our collection, this object is amongst the oldest items we have. The box was created in 1880 by box maker Robert Parsons, to be used by a member of The Peace Society to collect donations through the slot in the top.
The label on the bottom has been left blank on this particular box, but was intended to show the collector’s name, along with the box’s unique number, and the location to which it needed to be returned. Considering its age, the box is in good condition, with its coloured label still appearing bright and clearly reading “Donations in aid of the Peace Society, 47, New Broad Street, London, E.C.”.
The history of the Peace Society itself goes back even further. It was founded in London in 1816 as “The Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace”, following the Napoleonic Wars and the period of economic turmoil that proceeded them. Having seen the dire consequences of this extended period of conflict, the society’s founders came together over the principal of a gradual disarmament of all nations, and the idea that disputes should be resolved through arbitration rather than war. The initial meeting was hosted by William Allen, a scientist, philanthropist, and anti-abolitionist; it was this opposition to slavery that united many of the founders, who were involved in the Christian abolition movement.
The group grew well beyond London over the years, with chapters popping up in cities throughout Britain. From 1819, they began publishing a monthly journal, and in 1843 they hosted the first International Peace Congress, bringing together representatives from similar groups all over the world. By 1880 however, when this box was created, the Peace Society was having problems. Internal divisions, including those over the lack of inclusion of women, caused the group to splinter and membership numbers to stagnate. The same could not be said for the ladies’ auxiliary of the Peace Society, which was created from scratch after the disaffiliation of the Ladies Peace Association from the group in 1882, and which by 1885 had 9,217 members.
Ultimately, after an unsuccessful merger with the International Peace Fellowship, and with a second World War looming on the horizon, the group finally disbanded in 1930. While the group does not survive, having this small object in our collection allows us to tell its long and complicated story, and frame the Peace Society within UK peace history. It is a fascinating artefact, and we feel very fortunate to have it as part of our collection at the museum.