Norwich

 

Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich NR2 1EW Meetings for worship are held on Sunday at 10.45 am and on Wednesday at 12.30 pm

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OS map ref: TG 22828 08661 click to see map

Contact: General enquiries: 01603 624854 or email: norwich.lm@norfolk-quakers.org.uk
Children: Children’s meeting on second Sunday of every month
Still in The City: A silent half hour every Tuesday evening 17.20-18.00 followed by tea
Disabled access: Yes. Hearing loop.
Parking: some spaces at the Meeting House but there is a public car park very near by.
Rooms for hire:

A Short History of Quakers in Norwich

The 17th Century – Early Expansion and Persecution

The Religious Society of Friends has its origins in the 1640s and 50s, the time of the English Civil War and of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. During this time George Fox and others gave to various groups of dissenters a unifying vision and a form of organisation which has survived largely unchanged to this day. From earliest days Friends were also known (jocularly) as Quakers, because they quaked in the presence of God – and the name has stuck. Thomas Symonds in 1654 was the first person in Norwich to be convinced. In the same year the first meeting was established and for some years regular Meetings for Worship were held in private homes or in the open air. During the later half of the seventeenth century the Society of Friends was a rapidly growing body. By 1670 Friends leased a building for meetings and in that year they purchased land at Gildencroft for use as a burial ground. From 1675 to 1679 they raised £400 to provide themselves with a Meeting House of their own. (the average man’s wage then was about £8 a year.) In 1676 they purchased a plot of land in Upper Goat Lane for £80 which forms part of the present site, and on Wednesday 12th March 1679 they held their first meeting in the new Meeting House. After further fund-raising, a second Meeting House was opened in April 1699 on land adjoining the burial ground at Gildencroft on the far side of the river Wensum from Goat Lane. Early Norwich Friends were often artisans and small tradesman. They were persecuted by the authorities and endured ridicule and violence from their neighbours. From December 1682 to November 1684, 17 of the Monthly (business) Meetings were held in Norwich Gaol where many Friends were in residence. It is significant that John Defrance, who was Clerk of the Meeting, was jailed on 3rd of December 1682 and spent much time in gaol during the next three years. These hardships drew the Quakers into a closely-knit community who accepted responsibility for each other in times of distress and suffering. The carefully kept records of the time provide vivid details of the corporate and personal history of early Friends.

1700 to 1850 – Respectability and Slow Decline

After the ferment of the seventeenth century the period from 1700 to 1850 was one of comparative quiet for Friends, who were regarded as being “respectable”. They provided effective social services, building almshouses in the courtyard of Goat Lane Meeting House for four poor Quakers in 1703; giving permission in 1715 for a member to run a school in the Meeting House; and reporting to London in 1725 that poor members were so well supported by Meeting that none need rely on parish relief. Their absolute standards of probity and fairness in business brought many of them wealth and influence and their identity with scientific and medical research was matched by their concern for social reform and education. Elizabeth Fry is probably the best-known Quaker of this period. She was one of the eleven children of John Gurney, the Norwich banker, and worshipped in the original Goat Lane Meeting House as well as the present one, completed in 1826. Elizabeth’s brother Joseph John Gurney was a powerful advocate of the plan to replace the Goat Lane buildings. He was much influenced by the evangelical movement of the time. He was one of the founder members of the British and Foreign Bible Society and travelled widely in America on behalf of the Society of Friends. The new buildings proved to be expensive both to build and to maintain and the local Quaker community found them a troublesome burden. Membership declined and in 1851 the Meeting offered to sell the Goat Lane Meeting House to the Weslyan Reformers, who would have been willing to rent it. But the parties could not agree terms.

After 1850 – Social Concern and Revival

Fresh life and vigour was injected into the community of Norwich Quakers soon after this low season, when Alexander Eddington came to the city as a partner in a family grocery business in Gentleman’s Walk. He and his wife involved local Friends in the growing adult school movement. Buildings in Pottergate which back onto the Meeting House were acquired for this work in 1873 and 1883 and many people came into membership of the Society as a result of this close association. During the Second World War the Goat Lane buildings escaped direct bombing, although much of the surrounding property was devastated. Friends after the war decided the Pottergate premises could be let to Norwich’s first old people’s club and to two businesses as offices. The Gildencroft buildings were destroyed in an air raid in 1942. They were rebuilt in a more modest form in 1958 and now house a Children’s Centre. Friends retain the right to use the building when interments are made in the adjoining burial ground.

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