The history of Quakers in Minehead
There have been Quakers in Minehead for over 350 years. Not many years after the movement began, under the powerful leadership of George Fox in the 1650s, some of those convinced 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.
By 1676 there was an established Meeting in Minehead. Following the Toleration Act of 1689, a leading member, William Alloway, a merchant and ship owner, registered his house as a place of worship for the group. Nonetheless, a few years later his sons 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.
Carefully kept records of burials of Quakers in the 1740s in their Alcombe burial ground
During the 18th century, though few in numbers, 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.
Two men were born into Minehead Quaker families whose names are still known for their medical and scientific, Richard Brocklesby, who greatly improved the medical care of soldiers, and Thomas Young, who made great advances in optics, though both withdrew from membership because of being otherwise unable to study in English universities.
The 19th century was a time of dwindling numbers for Quakers nationally, though some of them were prominent in business and industry and involved in campaigns for improving the lives of people at home and abroad. Locally the Meeting was closed for many years.
Banner, made by members of the Meeting, hanging in the entrance lobby of the Meeting House, reflecting past and present campaigning for justice and human rights
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!
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.
In the past few years a range of measures have been taken to improve the energy efficiency of the building, responding to concerns of Quakers and many others for playing a part in reducing demands on the planets resources. Solar Panels have been put on the roof and these generate the equivalent of around three-quarters of the energy used in the building each year.
Solar panels being installed at the Meeting House in 2013
To read more about Quakers in Minehead please click here> Minehead Quaker meeting