Records of the Society of Friends in Norfolk
- 16th century-20th century
Records of the Quarterly Meeting of Norfolk and Norwich, later the Quarterly Meeting of Norfolk, Cambridge and Huntingdon; with the Records of certain constituent Monthly Meetings in Norfolk comprising:
Minute Books, Registers and Account Books.
Epistles from the Yearly Meeting in London.
Applications for membership and Resignations.
Removal certificates, acknowledgements and acceptances.
Documents relating to Marriage.
Burial certificates, Orders and Notes.
Deeds, Maps and Plans.
Documents relating to Trusts:
- Correspondence and financial documents relating to the Buckingham Trust.
- Correspondence and financial documents relating to Meeting Houses.
- Correspondence and financial documents relating to other Charitable Trusts.
Financial documents relating to Norwich Monthly Meeting.
Correspondence and financial documents relating to investments overseas.
Miscellaneous correspondence, reports and minutes.
During the latter half of the 17th century the Society of Friends was a rapidly growing body. Thomas Symonds in 1654 was the first Norwich man to be convinced (that is, converted to being a Quaker). In the same year the first Meeting was established and for the next 25 years regular meetings for worship were held in private homes, the open air and (in times of persecution) in prison.
By 1676 Friends were sufficiently numerous in the city to consider buying a plot of land in Upper Goat Lane for the erection of a Meeting House. The purchase price was £88 and if this seems rather a modest sum for a quarter of an acre in the centre of what was then England's second city, one should remember that this represented four years' wages for a farm labourer.
The first Meeting House was opened in 1679 and by 1700 there were about five hundred Quakers in Norwich. Indeed it had become necessary to build a second meeting house next to the Gildencroft burial ground in 1699, due north of Goat Lane across the River Wensum. Early Norwich Friends were often artisans and small tradesmen; they were persecuted by the authorities and endured ridicule and violence from their neighbours. In 1684 because of the numbers in prison the Monthly (business) Meeting was held in Norwich Gaol. These hardships drew the Quakers into a closely-knit community who accepted responsibility for each other in times of distress and suffering. George Fox, the founder, was not only a religious leader of exceptional spiritual power but also a practical organiser of great ability and foresight and the form of organisation he helped to develop has remained the basis to this day. The carefully kept records provide vivid details of the corporate and personal history of early Friends.
After the ferment of the 17th century the period from 1700 to 1825 was one of comparative quiet for Friends, who were by now regarded as being 'respectable'. Their absolute standards of probity and fairness in business brought many of them wealth and influence and their identity with scientific and medical outreach was matched by their concern for social reform and education. Elizabeth Fry is probably the best-known Quaker of this period; she was one of the eleven children of John Gurney, the Norwich banker, and worshipped in the original Goat Lane Meeting House ('Goats') as well as in the present one, completed in 1826. Elizabeth's brother Joseph John Gurney was a powerful advocate of the plan to replace the Goat Lane buildings; he was much influenced by the evangelical movement of the time and as well as being one of the founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society, travelled widely in America on behalf of the Society of Friends.
Unfortunately, the new buildings were expensive to construct and maintain, and the local Quaker community found them a troublesome burden for many years. Membership meanwhile had declined and by 1850 it was seriously proposed to sell the property to the Wesleyans.
Fresh life and vigour was injected into local Quakerism shortly after this low season, when Alexander Eddington came to the city as a partner in a family grocery business on Gentleman's Walk. He and his wife involved local Friends in the growing Adult School movement and within a few years both the Goat Lane and Gildencroft Meeting Houses were the scene of intense educational activity. Adjacent buildings in Pottergate were acquired for the work in the 1870s and many people came into membership of the Society as a result of this close association.
During the 2nd World War the Goat Lane buildings escaped direct bombing although much of the surrounding property was devastated. Friends reappraised the use of buildings after the war and decided the Pottergate premises could be let to Norwich's first old people's club and to two firms as offices. The Gildencroft buildings were destroyed in an raid in 1942; they were rebuilt in a more modest form in 1958 and since 1975 have been let to the Norfolk County Council as a day centre for psycho-geriatric patients, Friends retaining the right to use the premises when interments are made in the adjoining burial ground.
Extensive and costly modernisation of parts of the Goat Lane premises was undertaken between 1973 and 1975, including the provision of well-appointed living accommodation for Wardens, who are charged with the oversight of the complex and the encouragement of its greatest possible use by Friends and other acceptable bodies and groups.
This collection which spans some three centuries gives a full picture of the development and growth of the Society of Friends in Norfolk. It is particularly fortunate that so much material apart from minute-books and registers have survived to give details of financial problems, trusts and estates as well as the work and problems of individuals such as Henry Brown, Henry Birkbeck, W.A.Loveless, Charles Muskett and Mathilda Leemann.
Society of Friends; 1654-; Norfolk