QUAKERS IN MINEHEAD    
 
Quaker house in Minehead

Quakers meeting House, 9 Bancks Street

Quakers' turbulent past in Minehead

from a report by Chris Lawson, research by Michael Sully

Quakers have had a long and sometimes difficult time since establishing themselves in Minehead several hundred years ago. Quaker Chris Lawson dissects the group's turbulent history.

There have been Quakers in Minehead for 350 years. Not many years after the movement began under the powerful leadership of George Fox in the 1650s, some of those fired up by his message came to Somerset and groups started in several places. Fox himself came to Minehead in 1668.

The first years were a time of considerable persecution. Four Minehead members were imprisoned in Ilchester jail for being absent from church and refusing to take the oath in court (saying that Christians should speak the truth at all times). Others were fined for refusing to pay tithes (taxes) to the church.

Old records

Extract from 1740 Quaker burial records

In 1656 a merchant called William Alloway a Quaker merchant, registered his house as a place of worship for the group. Nonetheless, a few years later he had to be admonished by his fellow Quakers for engaging in smuggling. He may have entertained George Fox in 1668. By 1676 there was an established Meeting in Minehead, using a building in the Bampton Street area. Minehead was one of the meetings to receive part of Fox’s library in 1694 Following the Toleration Act of 1689.

Quakers were recorded at Minehead throughout the late 17th century when several were imprisoned for non attendance at church including Susannah wife of William Alloway in 1683. Fortnightly meetings were held by 1688 and in 1689 a new meeting house had been built by Alloway and licensed for worship.
This was probably the meeting house with burial ground on the north side of Market Place, later a school and then a fire station. Although I thought it was up behind Market House Lane, accessed via the lane that goes up to the carpark. There was once a blacksmith there.

Over the years, other buildings were built or used. In 1717 land at Alcombe was leased for a Quaker burial ground. Later the land was used by the Methodists for a chapel, which today has been converted to a private house though the old high wall remains.

Dwindling numbers

During the 18th century the Quakers became an accepted and often respected part of the local community. Some were appointed Overseers of the Poor and after the great fire of 1791 that devastated the heart of Minehead, it was a Quaker, Robert Davis, who organised a relief fund.
In the early 18th century a building was rented in Bampton Street on the corner of the Butts, later Selbourne Place, next to the later convent of St Louis.
In 1701—4 Quaker burials were recorded in the parish register but by the 1740s births, marriages and deaths were recorded by merchant Robert Davis who also kept the meeting accounts and burials were probably at Alcombe ground. By 1740 both properties were said to have been given up but a Quaker meeting house was recorded in 1744. The last recorded Quaker burials were in the 1780s and remains found in the Market Place site 1921 were re-interred in the churchyard

Members of the Davis family were also active politically and were amongst those promoting an alternative parliamentary candidate in the late 18th century to the one approved of by the Luttrells, the Lords of the Manor. He was elected, no doubt to the consternation of the local aristocracy.

The 19th century was a time of dwindling numbers for Quakers nationally and locally so the Meeting was closed for a time. The 20th century saw a revival of strength as new people moved into the area or became members and it was re-established, using hired rooms in the Church Institute for some of the time – quite a change from the uncompromising relationships with the established church in the 17th century!

Meeting

Meetings are held every Sunday

By 1975 the group was strong enough to seek a permanent base again and bought the present premises in Bancks Street. The building is well used by a variety of organisations, including the weekly Country Market, Amnesty International and Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Sunday morning weekly meeting for worship remains the centre of the life of the local group. It remains based on silence, often with several brief spontaneous spoken messages or a short reading.

About 15 people are usually present and the presence of visitors is always welcome. Discussion and other groups take place during the week, often exploring the broad range of approaches to faith in the group and the practical implications for trying to make a better world.

As has happened throughout its history, members of the local group are well linked into area and national Quaker networks and continue to play their part in the life of town’s community.

 

 
             
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