Wells next-the-sea

 
Friends Meeting House, Quaker Yard, Church Street,
Wells-next-the-sea, NR23 1HZ
Meeting for worship is held on Sundays 10.30 am.

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OS map ref: TF 91981 43083 click to see map

Contact: Resident Friend 01328 711387
Children: Children welcome. There are no children resident in the Meeting so please contact the warden beforehand so that child care arrangements can be made.
Disabled access: There is wheelchair access at the rear. Hearing loop.
Parking: There are parking spaces available opposite St Nicholas’ church about 100 yards from the Meeting House
Rooms for hire: There are two rooms available for hire. The main room, which contains a piano, will seat 40 persons and the second room seats 20. Both rooms are equipped with a hearing loop and have access to a shared kitchen. A leaflet with details of charges is available from the warden
Holiday accommodation: The Meeting House provides some simple holiday accommodation for those on a low budget. Please contact the warden for details.

History of the Meeting House

The meeting house at Wells-next-the-sea lies on the south side of the town, half a mile from the quay which is itself a mile from the beach, with the sea up to another mile away depending on the state of the tide. In all, it is perhaps not as near the sea as the name suggests, but nobody attending Meeting on a hot summer’s day could be unaware of the lure of the water. The constant stream of holiday traffic using the A149 coast road, practically on the meeting house’s doorstep, sees to that

That same site, between the parish church and the road towards the little pilgrimage town of Walsingham, has been used by Quakers in Wells since the seventeenth century. In 1697 the Friends, who until then had been renting their accommodation, bought the house and burial ground from Clement Ives for ‘twenty pounds and a guinea’. The house was in need of repair, towards which Holt Meeting contributed £9.14/6d, but otherwise appears to have been used as it was. In 1783 however it was replaced with a purpose-built meeting house. This had a low gallery at one end and was furnished plainly with benches, though Friends’ comfort was at least partly provided for in the shape of a central stove.

The new meeting house took up most of the site owned by the Quakers with just a small yard in front and a narrow strip of land to the west. It was not until the mid nineteenth century that the premises were enlarged. Joshua Gales had been appointed one of the trustees holding the property for Friends in 1851.

He ran a grocery, drapery and chandlery business in Wells and later became manager of Gurney, Birkbeck & Co’s bank there. Gales tried to persuade the Friends to buy part of a field adjoining the meeting house to the east, but they were reluctant and eventually he gave up and bought the field himself. Finally, in 1859, the Friends agreed to accept part of it as a gift although even then there was some confusion over who should own (and be responsible for) the dividing wall

The newly-acquired ground enabled the burial ground to be extended. Thirty years later, Joshua Gales’ own grandson, 14-year-old Harry, was buried there after a boating accident in the harbour. His funeral was reported in the local papers as being a fine example of Christian unity. The first part of the service was held in the parish church where Harry had sung in the choir, and the rector and choir then followed the procession to the Friends’ burial ground.

In 1906 the Friends themselves purchased land adjoining the meeting house on the other side, together with some cottages, and Quaker Yard began to take shape as we know it today. Unfortunately by this time the number of Friends in Wells was declining. Edwin Gales, son of Joshua, father of Harry had moved away after years of highly-respected public service. With his departure and the death of other members the Friends’ meeting house was eventually no longer used as such, but was instead taken over for his Mission meetings by a newly-arrived young evangelist, Sam Peel. The Mission was at first run on non-denominational lines and Sam Peel’s brand of evangelism proved very popular in Wells, so much so that the meeting house could not hold the literally hundreds of people who wished to attend. Larger premises at the Oddfellows’ Hall were rented, but inadequate heating arrangements made Sam Peel doubt whether the meetings would be so well attended in the winter. By this time he had himself joined the Society of Friends and so, rather than raising funds to improve the Oddfellows’ Hall’s facilities, he began to favour the idea of extending the meeting house. Work was put in hand with extraordinary speed and in November 1912, before Monthly Meeting had even sanctioned the project, building started. The meeting house was extended back and front, the front to include a basement, and a movable partition installed to provide two meeting rooms. Sam Peel was impatient for the work to be done and there were a few hitches, but in April 1913 he was able proudly to signal its completion by hanging an enamelled sign which proclaimed for all to see ‘Friends Meeting House’.

The meeting house, and Wells itself, owes a lot to Sam Peel. He would surely have been pleased to know that in 1983, the bicentenary of the oldest part of our meeting house, alterations and improvements were again made to the building to enable it to be put to better use. The sliding partition was removed and the space divided into an entrance hail, kitchen, toilet and two meeting rooms and upstairs, a gallery, another lavatory and a shower room. Thus Wells Friends are now able to enjoy better facilities themselves and make them available to various organisations in the town, and offer improved holiday accommodation to visitors. Most important of all, to the meeting house’s long and colourful history is added evidence of its value in our lives today.

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