The Shakers

Hancock Church

A corner of the meeting room in the family dwelling of the Hancock Church - 1830


A Brief History


In 1774 Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker sect, and eight followers traveled from Manchester to the New World in search of greater freedom of religious expression.  She was herself strongly influenced by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers.  In their early years this new collectivity came to be called "Shaking Quakers".  This was later shortened to Shakers, although the sect is officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.

The earliest Shaker settlements were at Watervliet and Lebanon, New York; Hancock and Harvard, Massachusetts and Enfield, Connecticut.  As their numbers grew, settlements were established in Maine and New Hampshire.  By the middle of the 19th Century, there were a total of 19 communities stretching as far west as Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.  Between 1850 and 1860 the movement grew to 6,000 Believers.

The Shakers were pacifists who avoided politics, theatre, strong drink and "vain amusements" of every sort.  They wore simple clothing, spoke in simple terms, lived in simple surroundings.  The ideal of oneness with Christ, of the unity of the spirit, occurs continually in their early doctrinal literature.  Its effect on ritual, character and workmanship cannot be overestimated.  One result, of course, was a tendency towards uniformity from which evolved certain standards of excellence. 

Sometimes confused with the Amish, they could not be more different.  The Amish turned their backs on modern culture and progress while the Shakers positively sought out and made use of new technologies, including automobiles.  Although they believed that humans were prone to sin, they also believed that people were perfectible.  Surprisingly, many of today's common items were invented by the Shakers including:

  • Flat Brooms
  • Circular Saws
  • Metal pen nibs
  • Apple peelers
  • Chair tilter
  • Window sash balance and lock
  • Method for waterproofing cloth

They also made use of the metric system from as early as 1877 and made their own wooden metric measures under license from the Boston Metric Bureau.  Even in modern America today, the metric system is not generally used or even known.

Following the adage of "Harmony, simplicity, order" we have selected pieces of furniture which are as useful in today's modern homes as they were to the Shakers when originally crafted. 

There are now many living Shaker museums remaining in North America and throughout the world dedicated crafts people still recreate these beautiful and functional pieces of furniture.

SUPPORT UK CRAFTSMEN - All of our Shaker furniture pieces are made in the UK in our own workshop - we only import a couple of products which we cannot obtain in the UK (despite exhaustive searching!).   Since we do not have the huge overheads of importing the majority of our stock, we can therefore keep costs down while ensuring 100% quality control.  Support UK craftsmen who do what they love and love what they do - you know it makes sense!

Copyright (c) The Shaker Kitchen & Furniture Workshop 2001 All Rights Reserved