Friends Meeting House Brigflatts 020316 (2)

The Oldest Meeting House in the North

Monday 30 April, 2018, by Hannah Kingsbury

The Friends Meeting House at Brigflatts is believed to be one of the oldest in the country, and is still a working meeting house. Brigflatts is an important destination due to its Quaker heritage and as a vernacular building.
George Fox [founder of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers] was reputed to have stayed with the leader of the Brigflatts quakers in 1652. [At this time Brigflatts was a hamlet of flax weavers.] A permanent meeting was settled by Fox later that year, and the Meeting House was built 23 years later. [Despite the Conventicle Act of 1670 which forbade non-conformist meetings.] The site was bought for 10 shillings in 1674, and the Meeting House was built on a cooperative basis. Materials were provided by Friends who had them, and labour provided by everyone else. It is dated 1675 on the porch (a 20th Century replica of an original datestone).

The two-storey porch has a datestone which is a 20th Century replica of the original


The building is very much in the style of local vernacular farmhouses of that period. It was built without an architect. It is mostly white-washed, with a graduated stone slate roof. Unusually for the time the building was roofed with some 40 tons of local flags, with thatch being the more usual material for buildings of this size at the time. It has been put forward that the builders were making a statement about the permanency of the Meeting House. It has a simple rectangular plan on an east-west axis (at a right-angle to the lane), with a two-storey porch.
Meeting Houses built in a traditional style usually had two meeting rooms: one for the main meeting for worship, and another where the women’s business meeting may be held. In Brigflatts the women’s meeting room could be found upstairs behind the panelled partition. Internally there are many interesting features, including wooden panelling, a raised bench against the south wall, as well as a gallery on the north side and both ends. Brigflatts also has high internal windows in the meeting room, common for those built in a traditional style so that worshippers cannot see outside.

Brigflatts is still a working meeting house, with meetings every Sunday at 10:30am


Over the years it has been slightly altered and extended. Originally the Meeting House had an earth floor, but in the late 17th Century a wooden floor was added, that was later replaced. In the 18th Century there were many small alterations: the burial ground was enlarged, the outer court door was hung (a strong oak door, with simple locking bolt), a ceiling and a wider staircase was added, the gallery was enlarged, and larger stables were built with a room above that served as a classroom. At the turn of the 20th Century an integral cottage was added for a caretaker.
Brigflatts has one of the oldest Quaker burial grounds which pre-dates the building of the Meeting House in 1675. The land was bought in 1660 for 10s and is perhaps the first piece of land purchased by the early Religious Society of Friends. You will notice that, as in all Quaker burial grounds, the headstones are all the same with consistent, simple wording – reflecting their belief that everyone is equally important.

Since the 17th Century about 700 Friends have been buried here. The raising of headstones was only sanctioned in 1850


The historic counties of Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland are known as the ‘1652 country’ – where George Fox gathered many of the first Quakers. Numerous places that are associated with 17th Century Quakerism can be found in this area.  For instance, several miles from Brigflatts is a rock known as Fox’s pulpit, where George Fox preached to more than a thousand people on 13th June 1652. A plaque was placed there to commemorate the approximate spot to mark the 300th year of the founding of the Quaker movement.

The commemorative plaque at Fox’s pulpit


 
The Meeting House is a Grade 1 listed building.
Historic Environment Record: MYD3625
Parish: Sedbergh
OS Grid Reference: SD640911
Dale: Lune Valley
Access: The Meeting House is open to the public from 10am until 6pm in summer and until dusk in winter. Groups are also welcome after prior contact with the warden. It is 200m from nearby layby parking on the A683 (there is no parking on site).
For more information: www.brigflatts.org/index.html
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Picture of Hannah Kingsbury

Hannah Kingsbury

Hannah is the Cultural Heritage Officer for the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership scheme

Website: www.thewestmorlanddales.org.uk

7 Replies to “The Oldest Meeting House in the North”

  1. John kenway says:

    This information is marvellous when I have time will come visit.
    Reason for my interest is I tracked history of my surname KENWAY, We discovered they were Quakers in Dorset and Bridgeport.Later on they move up to Hawes and around that area believe just one family then we lost contact what happen.The book with interest lent to relative who do detective work now book cannot be traced,we believe not sure true facts when family down south threaten by catholic they all went into hall decided to convert to catholism,i church england my father side catholics
    Believe avoid persecution understandable some when on pilgrim trips to America no actual evidence,what interest me why they went to Hawes how did they get.what happen from there.i love Yorkshire sales loves Hawes probably favourite place and in my youth had many enjoyable camping holiday never though trending ground of past relatives,I wish you success with web site people appreciate information,if you have any info to enlighten me more much appreciated.msny thanks John kenway

    • Lily Mulvey says:

      Hi John, thanks for your interest in our blog.
      The Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes has a Research Room available to the public (Mondays-Sundays 10am-5pm). Experts are on-hand to help on Mondays and Wednesdays. The material held here (including census and archive sources) can be used to track family connections in the Yorkshire Dales. Most of the information can be accessed without appointment.
      For more information please see their website: https://www.dalescountrysidemuseum.org.uk/plan-a-visit/research-facilities/

  2. johnkenway says:

    Thank you this is very helpful and inspiring I will be visiting in near future many thanks

    • Guy Boersma says:

      Interesting. I aim to visit. I am pleased to have joined the Quakers recently and am enjoying learning their history.

  3. Sally says:

    Hi John I too am interested in the Kenway family and as they were Rope makers in Bridport Dorset could that possibly be the connection with Hawes

  4. DEAN KLOUS ROBINSON says:

    Hi all
    I am very interested to know if there is a friend’s meeting house in Hawes North Yorkshire, any feedback would be most grateful.
    SHALOM AMEN

    • Dean thanks for getting in touch. There was a friends meeting house in a converted cottage in Hawes which was used until the 1920’s but it was demolished in advance of road widening. The burial ground still survives however, to the right of the A684 road at the eastern end of the town, next to the entrance to the Dales Countryside Museum car park. See here for more info: http://www.outofoblivion.org.uk/record.asp?id=400

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *