Friends Meeting House, 15 Smallgate, Beccles NR34 9AB
Meetings for worship are held on Sunday 10.30 am – 11.30 and Friday 12.30 to 1.00 pm
OS map ref: TM 42288 90407 Click to see map
|Disabled access:||To downstairs rooms only. There is a new disabled toilet.|
|Parking:||By arrangement only.|
|Rooms for hire:||Meeting rooms – ground floor holds 40 persons and costs £10 per session. First floor holds 60 persons and also costs £10 per session. There is a piano in the ground floor room. Both rooms have their own kitchen. Other equipment available include a white wall, two screens, stand and flip-chart.|
History of the Meeting House
It is the year 1660. Charles 2nd has been restored to the throne and Quakers are in trouble. Seven Beccles Friends are in Blythburgh jail. The Anglican vicar, who was deposed in Puritan times is reinstated. Quakers will not pay tithes to the church and insist on holding their own separate illegal meetings. They often get a larger congregation than the vicar much to his annoyance.
George Fox, Quaker leader, has been through Beccles preaching in the market place and drawing large crowds. Edward Burrough and Richard Hubberthorne walk-about Quaker preachers have been here too and Richard is even now in Norwich jail for disobeying Anglican authority. Where will these disruptive incidents end, ask the priests and magistrates?
By 1673, Beccles Quakers are getting more organised and at George Fox’s request have set up Beccles Monthly Meeting, gathering together all the groups of Quakers in the villages around. They travel as far south as Peasenhall, on horse-back, to support each other in these times of trouble. While the men folk are in prison, the Friends find money to care for the wives and children.
After going for a hundred years in rented property, the Quakers really need a place of their own to meet. They are no longer being persecuted but still face some opposition. In 1744, Philip Sewell, a wealthy Quaker wool-merchant, is able to encourage other Friends and together they buy two cottages and an orchard in the middle of Beccles. They build a single story Meeting House behind the cottages. The orchard is needed for a burial ground, as the place in Worlingham Park, where they had been burying is now full. No way were they allowed to bury in churchyards.
In the 1790′s there are not many Friends in Beccles and area, so by 1804 the Meeting is closed. The cottages and Meeting House are under the care of Norwich Monthly Meeting. Fortunately for Beccles, the property is kept in Quaker hands and let out for the next 100 years.
At the end of the 1800′s Quakers are at the forefront of Adult Education, which means school on Sundays to teach adults to read. Pakefield Friends come over to help Beccles start their own Adult School. By 1909 more rooms are needed. The roof is jacked up to make an upstairs and a new hall (Quaker Hall) is built. The Adult School thrived until the second World War.
In 1933 Kathleen and John Ashford arrive and restart Beccles Friends Meeting in the downstairs room where it continues to this day. Kathleen and her son Ian (who died on Christmas Day 2004) were descendants of Marmaduke Stevenson, a Quaker who was hanged in Boston Massachusetts in 1659 for spreading the Friends’ message of Truth. We have come full circle.