Local Quaker History

Meeting House History

Quakers must have met in each other’s homes in Rochdale long before the first Meeting House was built in George Street about 1808, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) having grown from the inspiration of George Fox in the middle of the 17th century. John and Jacob Bright and other members of their families, some of the 100 members in the early eighteen hundreds, are buried in the Friends Burial Ground which is still preserved by Rochdale Council as a memorial garden.

The Meeting House itself was demolished in 1968, its former flourishing membership having dwindled to too few to finance the restoration of the decaying building. In its time the Meeting House provided spiritual hospitality for many radical thinkers, social reformers, conscientious objectors and peace activists, as well as for the Adult School Movement; and a place of quiet reflection for many who wished to worship in the non-credal manner of Friends. In 1968 the Clerk of the meeting was Kenneth Moore, also Rochdale’s Town Clerk, he was in the curious position of wearing both hats simultaneously at the time of the demise of the Meeting House.

The remaining Friends continued to meet in various Rochdale venues: Turners’ DancingSchool, then the British Red Cross Society’s room in Drake   Street. In 1974 meetings were convened at the home of Maggie Muir, 81 Todmorden Road, Littleborough and occasionally at the home of Joyce Lord, 5 Keepers Drive, Norden, but as there were more attending from the Todmorden area, the meeting was moved to the St John’s Ambulance Brigade rooms in Todmorden with Evelyn Widdup as its Clerk. Subsequently the Todmorden Meeting merged with Hebden Bridge Friends. Some Rochdale Friends joined Crawshawbooth Meeting.

There was therefore no Friends Meeting in Rochdale From 1979 until January 1994 when a new meeting ‘after the manner of Friends’ was started in the home of Marcia and David Bartlett at 230 Spotland Road, with the support of Bolton Preparative Meeting and Marsden Monthly Meeting. The meeting gained Recognised status in 1995 with Marcia Bartlett as Convenor.

The link with the old Rochdale Meeting in George Street was still maintained through three Friends who became part of the new Rochdale Meeting: Phyllis Meeks (organiser of the Adult School in Rochdale for many years), Maggie Muir, and Stephen Moore who became Convenor of Rochdale Meeting in January 1997 whilst also holding the appointment of Quaker Prison Minister to Buckley Hall Prison.

Towards the end of 1998, with Marcia and David Bartlett at Woodbrooke then Old Jordans and Stephen Moore removed to Folkestone, meetings were held at the home of Alan Saleh 3, Grosvenor Street, Castleton. Into the ‘New Millennium*, with the support of Bolton Preparative Meeting and also Bernard Alloway ‘supporter of small meetings’ from Huddersfield, the remnant of Rochdale Friends became a ‘Notified Meeting*. Evening meetings are currently held on the second and last Monday of each month at 8.0 pm. in the homes of Friends where new enquirers and attenders will be made warmly welcome.

Regardless of the ebb and flow of membership, or changes in the place of meeting, the Spirit which directly inspired the early Quakers to follow their distinctive path in pursuit of social justice and peace unmediated by an ordained priesthood still calls in the stillness of ‘two or three gathered together’ and urges that faith be enacted in every day living.

John Bright 1811 – 1889

John Bright  1811 - 1889
John Bright 1811 – 1889

Liberal Member of Parliament

Durham 1843 – 1847
Manchester 1847 – 1857
Birmingham 1857 – 1889

John Bright was born at Greenbank, Rochdale on 16th November 1811. He was the son of a local cotton manufacturer and after leaving school worked for his father but quickly became interested in local politics and in 1843 entered Parliament as MP for Durham. The Bright family were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and his political career was based upon the Quaker beliefs of:

Integrity, peace, justice, equality, truth

His long political career encompassed four great issues, the most notable of which was the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846, a campaign on which he worked closely with Richard Cobden who became MP for Rochdale in 1859. Following this success he continued to campaign for free trade and in 1868 he accepted the post of President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone’s first ministry, the first Quaker to become a Cabinet Minister.

As a pacifist he campaigned against Britain declaring war on Russia in 1854 and denounced the Crimean War as a tragedy which unnecessarily caused around half a million deaths. This stance caused him to lose his seat as MP for Manchester but later that year won a bi-election in Birmingham and remained MP until his death in 1889. His Quaker belief in equality and justice was evident during the American Civil War when he openly condemned the Southern states who were in favour of slavery. His support for the North and their stance against slavery earned him the personal friendship of Abraham Lincoln.

The fourth great issue in his life was to extend the right to vote to working men in towns. At the time only a limited number of men and no women had the vote. He became a leading figure of the reform movement and in the 1867 Reform Act extended the vote to skilled urbai artisans, although still excluding town and country labourers. John Bright was buried in Ball Street Quaker Burial Ground and his statue is located in BroadfieldPark, (also at ManchesterTown Hall.)

John Bright copied and signed this quote of Ben Jonson, May 7 1859

Ben Jonson's quote of May 7 1859
Ben Jonson’s quote of May 7 1859

“Believe me friends, loud tumults are not laid with half the easiness that they are raised; all may begin a war, but few can end it.”

Ben Jonson

Despite wide recognition as a radical, inspirational leader and one of the greatest parliamentary orators of the Victorian period, within the Society of Friends, – ‘the tribune of the people’ – John Bright MP felt unable to accept anything ‘above the humblest office of door keeper’, and never gave vocal ministry.