A small unassuming brick built building dating from the 1600’s, situated just off the road between Addingham and Bolton Abbey has found itself categorised alongside locations such as Stonehenge, Fountains Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral and Brick Lane Mosque as one of the Top 10 most important Historic Buildings in their Faith & Belief category.
This is part of a wider list compiled in 2018, where Historic England have listed 100 places which they believe tell the story of England and its impact on the world.
Farfield Quaker Meeting house is one of the oldest Quaker Meeting Houses in the world and was built in 1689 as the carved date above the door shows. The date of its building is important as it ties into the same year when the Act of Toleration was granted that allowed Non- Conformist religions such as Quakers an amount of religious freedom. It also meant that Quakers could build their own places of worship.
But who were the Quakers?
Quakerism started in England at the end of the English Civil War. Many people were interested in reshaping religion, politics and society as it was felt by many that the established Church of England had become un-relevant or out of touch with the working people of the day.
A key person involved with Quakerism gaining a foothold in Britain was George Fox. Dissatisfied with the existing church he supposedly had a revelation and became convinced that it was possible for individuals to have direct experience of God without the aid of ordained clergy or a bible.
As he preached, Fox converted new followers about his belief that Christ had come to teach people himself and by his own teachings he wanted to restore the church to a true, pure Christian church. Fox was bought before a magistrate for blasphemy and that is apparently where the word Quaker came from as Fox stated “I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord”.
The term Quaker also started as a slur or ridicule as followers were said to “physically quake in the presence of Jesus during their spiritual worship”, but the term soon became adopted by the followers of Fox.
Starting off as the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers were known for their evangelical preaching, much of which took place outdoors and in more remote areas of England, particularly in the North. The Quakers initially believed that there was no need for churches, holy days, sacraments or rituals as religion should be something one lived and acted out every day.
Why was Farfield Quaker Meeting House Built?
The building was originally built for quiet, unhurried contemplation and it is still achieving these goals today. I passed the building on a recent walk from Ilkley to Grassington on the first stretch of the Dalesway. The footpath for this long distance trail between Ilkley and the Lake District passes right behind the building and there are signs up offering walkers the chance to rest in the ground or eat their picnics.
The meeting house is in a simple vernacular building which sits in a Quaker burial ground dating to 1666. The roof timbers are original as are the benches and stone flagged floors. The interior is very simple with white walls and little other decoration. It was built on farmland donated by a local yoeman farmer Anthony Myers from nearby Farfield Hall, who had already converted after hearing George Fox preach.
Local Quakers still use the building for worship, sitting in silence waiting for a message from God to be handed to one of this present. They also hold meetings there.
The building is now owned by the Historic Chapels Trust which cares for the building in conjunction with a small local committee
Historic England who recognised the building, used to be known as English Heritage and looks after England’s historic environment. One of the judges when they set about choosing the 10 most important religious and faith buildings in England was Very Reverend David Ison, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral who said “ the building represents the rootedness of Christian non-conformity in the English landscape and symbolises its influence on so much social and economic progress in the 18th and 19th centuries”.
This really is a lovely hidden gem, set in peaceful surroundings very close to Ilkley and almost on the River Wharfe. I’m sure many folk, even people who live close are un aware of the history and importance of this little unassuming building. Worth a stop if you’re heading to Bolton Abbey.