The Quaker movement started in the mid to late C17th in the aftermath of the English Civil war, when many people were wanting to radically reshape religion. It was led by George Fox who believed that everyone should have their own direct relationship with God and there was no need for churches or priests. Worship could take place anywhere. Early Quakers met outdoors for worship or in local public buildings. As the movement grew in size, they began to build their own small meeting houses, now known as Friends Meeting Houses. These were small functional buildings with two main rooms. The main room was for worship, with a smaller room was used for women’s business meetings.
The Friends Meeting House, is tucked away behind the buildings on Castlestlegate near the Castle. It is easy to miss if it wasn’t for the small sign on the gate.
It is an attractive small stone building dating from 1793 and typical of the early meeting houses. The centrally placed doorway leads to a passage with the large meeting room on the left, with a raised stage and used by community groups. The smaller meeting room on the right is now used for worship.
It is simply furnished with chairs set in a circle, around a central table. There is no priest or altar, and everyone is equal, speaking only when felt moved to. Windows are high and there are few things to distract the worship.
At the back of the building is a small kitchen area and toilets.
The Meeting House is surrounded by attractive gardens with a turf cut maze. The grounds are open until dusk and visitors are welcome to sit on the seats and enjoy the peace, only disturbed by the occasional whistle from the steam railway below.
It is the first time I’ve been inside a Meeting House and it is definitely a different experience.
The Meeting house is open daily and there is parking on Castlegate.