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Quaker accountability regimes: the case of the Richardson family networks, 1840–1914

Tom McLean (Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Tom McGovern (Business School, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Richard Slack (Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Malcolm McLean (Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 21 September 2022

Issue publication date: 4 April 2023




This paper aims to explore the development of the accountability ideals and practices of Quaker industrialists during the period 1840–1914.


The research employs a case study approach and draws on the extensive archives of Quaker industrialists in the Richardson family networks, British Parliamentary Papers and the Religious Society of Friends together with relevant contemporary and current literature.


Friends shed their position as Enemies of the State and obtained status and accountabilities undifferentiated from those of non-Quakers. The reciprocal influences of an increasingly complex business environment and radical changes in religious beliefs and practices combined to shift accountabilities from the Quaker Meeting House to newly established legal accountability mechanisms. Static Quaker organisation structures and accountability processes were ineffective in a rapidly changing world. Decision-making was susceptible to the domination of the large Richardson family networks in the Newcastle Meeting House. This research found no evidence of Quaker corporate social accountability through action in the Richardson family networks and it questions the validity of this concept. The motivations underlying Quakers’ personal philanthropy and social activism were multiple and complex, extending far beyond accountabilities driven by religious belief.


This research has originality and value as a study of continuity and change in Quaker accountability regimes during a period that encompassed fundamental changes in Quakerism and its orthopraxy, and their business, social and political environments.



McLean, T., McGovern, T., Slack, R. and McLean, M. (2023), "Quaker accountability regimes: the case of the Richardson family networks, 1840–1914", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 859-884.



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