Friends Meeting House
The correct name for Quakers is the ‘Religious Society of Friends’. The Society traces its roots back to 1652, when George Fox created the movement. The name ‘Quaker’ was first applied by a judge as an insult when George Fox told him that he should ‘tremble to use the Lord’s name’. The name stuck, and members of the Religious Society of Friends have been happy to describe themselves as ‘Quakers’ ever since.
The building on the corner of the A372 and Shute Lane is therefore either known as the ‘Quaker Meeting House’, or ‘The Friends Meeting House’. It is still in the ownership of the Religious Society of Friends, and is used for weekly acts of Quaker worship, and many other events and activities.
Residents of the Long Sutton area were attracted to the Religious Society of Friends almost as soon as it was founded. Meetings of Quakers in the Parish may have started as early as 1662, probably in a cottage at Knole. By 1670 the Meeting moved into Long Sutton village into a house provided by several local Yeomen and Husbandmen. This is probably the house, now divided into two semi-detached dwellings, which stands opposite the Friends Meeting House on the A372.
The early years were very troubled. Quakers were easy targets for malicious accusations and even violence. They refused to pay their church tithes, or attend the Anglican church, as was then required by law. They refused to take their hats off when they went to court. There was a period of vigorous persecution, leading to many members of the Long Sutton Meeting being imprisoned in the County Jail at Ilchester. There was a temporary pause in the intimidation after the Declaration of Indulgence of March 1672, but persecutions resumed a year later. Funds for legal defence were still being raised in 1676. Even as late as 1684, John Bull, Sarah Hird and John Ballam, all from Long Sutton, were imprisoned because of their refusal to attend church services. However, after the accession of William and Mary, in 1688, and the passing of the Toleration Act, active persecution ceased.
The Meeting seems to have grown in the new era of security. By 1692, when the Earl of Devonshire bought Long Sutton from the Earl of Northampton, about 18% of those living in the village were included in the membership.
In 1704 a London Quaker, William Steele, bought an estate in Long Sutton, including a farm at Upton. In 1715 the farm was left in trust for the ‘poor of the people called Quakers in the County of Somerset’. He also gave the Quakers of Long Sutton land and £200 to provide a new Meeting House and burial ground. He made the gift conditional on the Long Sutton Quakers paying the cost of carrying the necessary materials to the building site. He also expressed a strong wish that his own mortal remains should be interred in the ground that he had given. When the new Meeting House, the present structure, was ‘near or finished’ a hearse was hired to convey his corpse from London to be the first interment in the new burial ground.
The present structure has been in almost uninterrupted use since it opened in 1717. It is built in Queen Anne style. It was closed briefly in 1793 and 1798, but received a boost in membership numbers after the closure of the Somerton Meeting House in 1828. There is a mounting block outside the building, which worshippers used to mount and dismount their horses. Until the Clark family built the Meeting House in Street, Quakers from that area also had to come to the Long Sutton Meeting House – a distance of nearly 7 miles.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain
173, Euston Road
Tel: 020 7663 1125