More History

The present building on Butter Hill, dating from 1846, replaced the first Friends Meeting House in West Street which was built in 1709 (see our history page for more about the old Meeting House).

The building of the new Meeting House was completed in stages. First the Meeting House, then the cottage and finally the flint wall at the boundary with Butter Hill House. The whole project cost £1541. The burial ground is adjacent to the south wall and came into use from 1847.

The building is of solid brick under a tiled roof but a distinctive feature is the bi-parting pine screen.  The screen parts, each half balancing the other, the bottom half going into a deep pit under the building and the top raised well into the roof space. We do not know who designed the building nor how the screen was actually built but it must have been quite a feat of engineering at the time. More on the screen

The large meeting room is substantially the same as it was then: the Elders bench is raised and the Ministers gallery is behind it. Visiting ministers would have been seated there. It is probable that the lighting would have been gas as a Gas Light Company had been founded in the town in 1834. The lamps were fitted to the walls. There was another sash window on the south wall but this was blocked in when the cottage was extended in 1989. There was provision for two more sash windows on the south side as you can see by viewing the Meeting House from the outside but the Quakers could not afford to put them in at the time of building.

Refurbishment in 1966 made the building suitable for the needs of Friends today. A door in the small meeting room gave access to the garden and let in the light. The kitchen became a storage cupboard and a new kitchen and toilets were added. The headstones in the burial ground were laid flat and allowed to grass over to create a peaceful garden.  You can still see where the stones are laid. The letters painted on the south wall marking the rows of graves are clear but it takes a sharp eye to spot the remaining circles on the flint wall which mark the graves in the other direction.

The first Quakers of the seventeenth century would have been comfortable in our meeting room, which is laid out in the same way as in the old Meeting Houses, and in the Meeting for Worship which is still conducted in the traditional way of Friends. In addition the Meeting House now serves as a meeting place for many community groups and Charities.