Quaker history in Cumbria dates back to the 1650’s. George Fox had his vision of “A great people gathered” on top of Pendle Hill in the spring of 1652 and it was following this that the movement sprang to life and found response amongst the people of the North-West.. As groups were established, places of worship were needed and gradually Meeting Houses, attractive in their simplicity, were built or existing premises adapted.Although many Friends were living in the area around Penrith, meetings were held in private houses at Clifton. It was not until 1699 that Friends took steps to acquire their own premises by the purchase of the present building on the eastern boundary of Penrith for the price of £80, which sum was paid off five years later. This property was then a farmhouse called Layne House and Meeting House Lane was then called Sandy Lane.
The building was used more or less as it stood, continuing as a dwelling with elderly tenants, as well as serving as a Meeting House. Over the years there have been three major changes by which the simple rectangular farmhouse known to early Quakers, with a stable at the southern end, has been transformed into the Meeting House as we know it today.
In 1730 a loft was built at the north end which is one of the galleries today. At this time access was by an internal newel staircase.
The second important alteration was made in 1803 to meet the need for more accommodation. It involved major structural work and changed the plan of the building from a simple rectangle into a T shape. Also the stable loft with its external staircase, was converted into a gallery with a stepped floor and bench seating , to complement the north gallery which had been built in 1730. At the same time the internal staircase to the north gallery was replaced by external stairs, matching those of the new south gallery (formerly the stable loft). As with many Meeting Houses of the time, flexibility in the use of space was achieved by openable partitions and the present sliding panels with their excellent craftsmanship date form this period.
The third stage of development was in 1992 when Friends once again realised that alterations would have to be made if modern needs were to be met. A room, designed to blend with the style and period of the old historic building, was added for the use of children. At the same time, a modern kitchen, a hearing loop and a spacious car park were provided.
In 2010 a generous legacy allowed the meeting house to remove an unsatisfactory lean-to on the road side and build a storage room and a toilet for the disabled. A light and airy room was built onto the main entrance to the meeting house to provide extra space, improve insulation and show a welcoming door to the street. Planning regulation now demanded that the extension be built in a modern style to clearly differentiate it from the historic building, nevertheless it seems to blend in well.
Land adjoining the Meeting House was bought in 1893 and let as allotments. The Meeting House was re-roofed in 1925 and electric light installed in 1926. During the second world war, when Newcastle Royal Grammar Scholl was evacuated to Penrith and sharing accommodation with Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, the Meeting House was used as a classroom.
In 1996 the meeting house was used for some weeks as a day-centre for a group of refugees from the conflict in Bosnia who were being housed in the Penrith area. In 1999 an exhibition with a public lecture was held in the meeting house to mark the tercentenary of Friends in Penrith. The event, which included displays of maps, early documents and models depicting the history of the meeting as well as Quaker costumes, tapestry panels and literature, created considerable public interest. The building continues to be used by all sorts of community organisations during the week.
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