The American Friend
Authorized by the Five Years Meeting of Friends in America
Walter C. Woodward, Editor
September 18, 1924
New Series. Vol. XII. No. 38.
A fitting tribute to the passing of John Henry Barlow, was the meeting, by reason of its solemn quietness, of the members of the Friends' Fellowship Circle at the Meeting House, Bournville, where touching references were made to the life and work of him who had endeared himself to them through long and close fellowship in Christian service. At his home, "Sunny­brae," Selly Oak, Birmingham, August 8th, he had departed this life, after a long illness, aged 68 years, and cremation took place the following Tuesday at Perry Barr. The Society of Friends both in Birmingham and the Yearly Meeting thus loses one of its most valued leaders, one to whom in recent years it owes so much. "No one who has been associated with him," writes a friend of long acquaintance, "in religious or social work, or in ordinary intercourse as neighbors, but must have received impressions of a deep and helpful character, from such a fearless, honest, and withal humble spirit." Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he moved with his mother and sister, after the early-death of his father, to Carlisle where he spent his early days until he went to Kendal School. His business life was begun in a bank in Carlisle, but he did not allow this to cramp his outside interests. With his sister as helper, he began his work for temperance, and later, he became the secretary ot hte local Y.M.C.A. At this period he gave the early morning hours to private study, while his social work kept him busy till late at night. He had an enjoyable gift for storytelling and many learned to appreciate his ability for impersonating characters which made him a center of life where young people as well as old were gathered together. His solemnity of manner, which was the expression of a real inner dignity, was so much a part of the utter sanctity of his character that it did not detract from his deep founts of humor, while his human sympathy soon bridged the gap for those who on first meeting him felt something of an awe in his presence. He was married, in 1895 to Mabel Cash and five years later accepted an invitation from the late George Cadbury to assume the secretaryship of the Bournville Village. The work was new and it meant severing many ties, but after much prayer and thought, both he and his wife felt it right to accept, and in 1901 they moved south to Birmingham. Here at Bournville began 22 years of devoted work, side by side with George Cadbury, both recognizing the urgent need for better housing conditions. Of Bournville, he once said: "The Founder of Bournville has described his scheme as a small contribution toward the solution of a great problem. It is a contribution that has evoked widespread interest, and its value lies not only in the direct benefit it confers upon those for whom it provides healthy homes and pleasant surroundings, but much more in the standard it sets up, and the illustration it gives of what is possible in this direction." Also he found time to see tenants from the Village, and often gave sympathetic hearing to the private difficulties, perhaps disappointments and sorrows, of others. With George Cadbury he had much in common, and they worked in great unity and affection. In the early days of his residence in Selly Oak, while acting secretary to the Bournville Village Trust, he took his part in the development of work in and around Birmingham, especially in connection with the Woodbrooke Settlement. To one who worked with him, it seemed clear that he had great powers, and that it could not be long before he made some very influential place for himself. But he did not wish to be conspicuous and avoided hurry and excitement. His seemed to be the position at the center, where perhaps he might even not be noticed, but where his power and quiet assurance were the means of transmitting to the outer parts of the circle a steadiness and a confidence, which are so often lacking in organized groups, however clear they may feel their purpose to be. To those who had known him for many years, it was not surprising that, on being called to the central post of the Society of Friends, he rapidly became known and trusted, as a wise guide and an inspiring prophet. Comparatively little known to London Friends before he became clerk of London Yearly Meeting in 1913, his frequent presence at Devonshire House during and after the war years brought home to them, as it did to the whole Society, that in their midst they had a truly great man. For what he did between 1914 and 1918, in his leadership, his sanity of outlook, his balanced judgment, and in his rare ability to trace the golden thread of spiritual unity in gatherings in which the most divergent views were represented, is beyond estimate. To the younger Friends, his memory will ever remain as that leader of the war-time Yearly Meetings where he displayed preeminently that gift of "balance without compromise," which will help to keep them sane in their judgments and actions in future crises. His grave austerity, his modesty, his humor, his spiritual power will remain as treasures in their memory. His conduct of the business of the Yearly Meeting was generally recognized as masterly. No time of thp Yearly Meeting was wasted by indecision at the desk, and yet there was very little sense of Friends being stopped while they had anything to say. The discussions, often wandering, were gently but firmly shepherded back, and if there was any core of usefulness in them, that was emphasized in his summing up, and used as a stepping stone to a useful decision as a final outcome. His colleagues knew that he carried the responsibility for the Meeting as a religious concern of the highest spiritual significance. Personally speaking, he had an extraordinary humility, but it was no false humility leading him to shrink from necessary action or decision, for at such times he seemed to act under inspiration. On rare occasions he would seem to feel a liberation of speech in which he rose to eloquence of a high order, and the more moving because of his customary restraint. When a difficult piece of work was to be done, his presence was often sought on committee or deputation for, as one writes concerning him, "He possessed gifts of leadership to which others readily re­sponded. His judgment inspired confidence, for he combined a caution free from panic with a courage free from foolhardi­ness. He was one on whose insight and experience men relied the more, the more they came to know him. The gifts which he brought to the service of Yearly Meeting were generously employed in other directions. He was interested in Woodbrooke from its beginning twenty-one years ago. He served on the Woodbrooke Council and at the time of his passing he was chairman of the Settlement Committee of which he had previously been secretary. It would be difficult to say how much Woodbrooke owes to his steady, loyal support and to his wisdom in counsel." A man of strong, deep-rooted conviction, his gift was to find where the roots of spiritual unity lay. His aid was naturally sought when Friends were being chosen to represent London Yearly Meeting at the Five Years Meeting at Richmond, Indiana, and inevitably his name was immediately put forward because of his weighty advice in controversial points to be considered. His magnificent leadership during the war years made his choice as chairman of the All Friends' Conference in London almost inevitable. When Friends were greatly troubled concerning the reports from Ireland during the "Black and Tan" regime, he made two journeys through Ireland, passing through the lines of the British troops and into the camps of the Republican forces, lunching here with a highly-placed Government official and there with an outlaw on whose head a heavy price had been set. Wherever he journeyed the determined set of his countenance but thinly veiled the warm humanity of his heart. In him the Revision Conference of the Book of Discipline, Part I, found the chairman it needed, for his outlook was evangelical in the deepest and best sense of the word. The Home Mission and Extension Committee, of which he was chairman, together with other committees such as the Friends' Temperance Union, were looking to him for much help in his retirement. He was a Justice of the Peace, a keen advocate for temperance, a speaker in Friends' meetings, a writer on the ministry, and he frequently preached in Birmingham Free Churches, being for a time chairman of the local Free Church Council. An attack of breathlessness on returning from speaking at Bournville evening meeting in March was the first indication of serious wrong, but though he seemed to recover, medical diagnosis soon discovered grave heart trouble. For five months he suffered increasingly but throughout he was heroically patient and always full of courtesy to those who waited on him. During his long illness it seemed that those who knew him could not do enough for him and his deep appreciation, his unfailing courage and patience were wonderful. His deep love for the Society of Friends and his concern for its true welfare, were continually manifest throughout his life, and this was not in any way lessened during his illness. He had hoped to give further years of service, and it was not easy, at first, to be willing to give up all that earth held of love and the beauty of home life, as well as the many activities which filled his life with interest. But during the long sleepless nights God stood very near, and there came an absolute and glad surrender to his will; whatever He chose would most surely be the best. He served his generation faithfully and well and has heard the glad "Well done, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." A true minister of of Jesus Christ who never neglected the sheep or feared the wolf, his name remains sweet along with his Master's.

Eulogy by the editor in the same edition of The American Friend.     More John Henry Barlow resources.
Digitisation by Roger W Haworth (email and website) to whom errors should be reported, please.