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Quakers meet throughout the county
Quakers' turbulent past in Minehead
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.
Extract from 1740 Quaker burial records
By 1676 there was an established Meeting in Minehead, using a building in the Bampton Street area. Following the Toleration Act of 1689, 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
last updated: 22/10/2008 at 23:51
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