Local Quaker History

A Brief History of Dorking Quakers

Quakers have held a regular Meeting for worship at the Friends Meeting house in the centre of Dorking since 1846. But the first Meeting in Dorking dates back to 1702.

In 1652 George Fox preached to a thousand Seekers on Firbank Fell. Sussex Quarterly Meeting recorded "Now at the aforementioned meeting (4th mo 1655) there was one Thomas Patching who then lived at Bonwick's Place in Ifield, who desired George Fox and the other Friends with him to have a meeting at his house, which was granted and he with many others believed and after that at that place were many precious meetings and there was settled the first Monthly Meeting that was set up in this county .... and has since been removed to the house of Richard Bax at Capel in Surrey by reason of Thomas Patching's removing from that place". George Fox visited Surrey in 1668 and held a Meeting at Plaistow Farm, Capel, the home of Richard Bax. After Fox’s visit Friends met regularly there, and Quakers from the Dorking area would originally have belonged to that Meeting.

The minutes of a Monthly Meeting in 1702 recorded "this Meeting the 2 of 10 month 1702 did agree yt friends of Dorking and Brokham hurst might sometimes in ye Winter season Clarendon House apoynt a meeting for ye worship of God, once or twice in a Month as they shall think fit". The first Meeting in Dorking was in Clarendon House, West Street, the home of Resta and Alice Patching.  Resta’s father, Thomas, had been one of the earliest Quakers in Surrey and died in Southwark prison in 1660 as a result of his faith. Thomas Patching had repeatedly refused to pay tithes to the Church of England. He attended an illegal Meeting in Guildford, and refused to swear by Almighty God when he then appeared in court. Patching’s experience mirrored that of many early Quakers.

After the first few years of Meeting in Resta Patching’s house, Resta donated his hop garden in order that a Meeting house could be built, and in 1709 the Meeting moved to the new building in West Street.

In 1825, Joseph John Gurney, a prominent preacher and brother of Elizabeth Fry, visited West Street. A large gathering packed the Meeting room, adjacent rooms, and a marquee erected outside. In the middle of his ministry, the floor suddenly gave way and 60 people tumbled down to the basement. First to go is said to have been a burly local fishmonger, shouting ‘Stop! Stop!’ only for others to cry ‘I wish we could!’ Fortunately no one was seriously hurt, and according to the West Surrey Times, Gurney soon carried on with his preaching, undeterred.

It was some years before the Friends could afford to build a new Meeting House - in 1846 the present site at Butter Hill was bought and the Meeting house erected, at a cost of £1,541. Four Dorking men, Robert and William Marsh, drapers from West Street, William Deane, an ironmonger, and Robert Swan were among the Trustees. The site included space for a burial ground, which was first used for that purpose on 7 December 1847. Quakers continued to be buried there until the early twentieth century, when the simple gravestones were laid flat and the site turned gradually into a garden.