Averil's Blog

Research, musings and finding inspiration.

Deborah Darby meets Elizabeth Fry In Ironbridge

I always enjoy visiting Ironbridge and this occasion, Friday 4th January 2019 was no exception. It was a pleasure to deliver a talk, the first in their Late Lecture Series, about Elizabeth Fry’s historic meeting with Deborah Darby in 1798. And it was great to have the support of friends and family including the Boss, Helen Bowden of Orphans Publishing and the delightful Linda Hurcombe.


Deborah Darby was a strong, brave woman. She was married to Samuel Darby – one of the famous Darby family of Coalbrookdale, heart of the industrial revolution – and she travelled widely as a Quaker minister including a 3 year visit to America when her sons, Samuel and Edmund, were just 14 and 11 years old.


Her husband suffered delicate health and her elder son, Samuel was later disowned by the Quakers for his behaviour and the company he kept. These family worries dogged her constantly so perhaps this is why she threw herself so determinedly into her work in the ministry – spreading the word of Quakerism and faith.


In 1798, Elizabeth Gurney, as she was then, came with her family to visit their cousin, Priscilla Hannah Gurney, also a Quaker minister, who was living in Coalbrookdale at the time. One evening, they visited Deborah and she made the prediction that Elizabeth would be: “A light to the blind, speech to the dumb and feet to the lame”.


She had a huge influence on the young woman who realised that she too would become an active Quaker; she had started on the path which would lead to her destiny.


Sadly there are no pictures of Deborah Darby. It was considered vain to have portraits painted! Hard to believe in today’s world of the ‘selfie’! Fortunately Elizabeth Fry and others acquiesced and as a result we have some wonderful records of them. At one time it is believed there were silhouettes of Deborah and her sister Mary but they have not been found.  

A full transcript of the 45 minute lecture: “Ahead of their time: Inspiring Quaker Women” is available from info@averilopperman.co.uk