Religion, organization and company law – a case study of a Quaker business

Nicholas Burton*, Donncha Kavanagh, Martin Brigham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


This paper examines the effect of changes in corporate law in the mid-nineteenth century–incorporation and limited liability–on the ownership, control and socio-economic objectives of a Quaker family firm between 1841 and 1972. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) were well-known for adhering to internalized quasi-legal rules and self-governance, and had a strong reputation, which persists today, for trust, integrity and honesty in all business dealings. We read existing archival research on Quaker firm Huntley & Palmer (the biscuit manufacturer) against the grain to trace how incorporation and limited liability fundamentally changed its capital structure and the family’s control of the firm and which, in turn, led to a gradual weakening of its social ambitions. We argue that changes to the law are akin to changing the rules of the game within which players’ play, and we show how Quaker quasi-legal rules became subordinate to corporate law resulting in unexpected and non-trivial impacts that play out over long, longitudinal periods of time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-336
Number of pages21
JournalManagement and Organizational History
Issue number4
Early online date31 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Oct 2019


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