A Proud History of Dissent - The Friends Meeting House in West Adderbury
West Adderbury is lucky enough to have one of the earliest Quaker meeting houses in the country.
Quakerism is a Christian denomination that arose after the English Civil War; its “founder” was a man called George Fox, who believed that it was possible to have a personal relationship with God which did not involve ordained clergy. Fox travelled the country seeking to convert others. Two of his preachers came to Banbury in 1654, and their teachings had a great influence on Edward Vives, a local merchant who would become a Quaker leader in Banbury, and Bray Doyley, the Lord of St. Amand’s and Hagley’s manors in West Adderbury.
Initially, West Adderbury Quakers met at Doyley’s home, Little Manor on Manor Road, until Doyley had the Friends Meeting House off Horn Hill Road constructed in 1675. George Fox himself was present at its opening. At that time, Quakerism was a form of dissenting, and effectively illegal, and Doyley spent two months in prison following the building of the House.
Doyley began to rent the properties on his manors to Quakers, and by 1756 there were over fifty Quaker families in the local area. Many of these families were employed in the clockmaking industry. Quakerism in the region eventually began to decline and by 1851 there were only twelve members remaining. The Meeting House formally closed in 1914. The site is currently leased by the Parish Council, to provide access to the cemetery beyond the Meeting House, in exchange for its use by Quakers for a few meetings a year.
The West Adderbury Friends Meeting House is a single storey marlstone building, rectangular in plan, with a gallery on three sides. The interior consists of a single space, with a stone floor and panelled walls. The gallery, formally used as the women’s meeting space, is reached by a spiral staircase. The House was completely unchanged until the start of the 18th century, when the loft was extended and the fireplace was added. Two thatched cottages were also built nearby in the 1680s to provide to provide shelter for poor Quaker families, and additional space for women’s meetings; early Quakerism provided spiritual equality for women, and many Quaker preachers were female. These cottages were sadly demolished in the 1950s.
West Adderbury has a proud history of following its own path and remains a haven of stillness and peace, even in these tumultuous times. The words of the Quakers appear as relevant today as they were in the past, and our community should celebrate and strive to protect the sense of peace and tranquility of our village.