The Religious Society of Friends (commonly called Quakers) began as a movement in England during the English Civil War. Quakers were one of many groups who in the 17th century challenged many of the beliefs and ideas of the Church of England.
By 1680 there were around 60,000 Quakers meeting across Britain. One of the earliest Quaker Meeting Houses was built on Upper Goat Lane in Norwich, in 1679, on a piece of land known as the cock-pit, purchased three years earlier for £80 from Onias Phillippo, a French Protestant living in Norwich.
By the 1820s the Meeting had outgrown the Meeting House, and a new one was built on the same site, designed by J T Patience. The building was made possible by a generous donation from the Gurney family, whose bank amalgamated with other Quaker banks to form Barclays in 1896.
Later in the 19th century the Norwich Quaker Meeting acquired the adjacent buildings on Pottergate, which remain in Quaker ownership today. One houses the Salvation Army Arc, another a language school, with the third refurbished during 2019 and leased to the Benjamin Foundation to provide supported accommodation for care leavers.
Finally, on learning that the Hippodrome Theatre was to be built on St Giles, land that now forms a small car park and garden was purchased. Friends did not want a theatre immediately next door to their Meeting House.
The Quaker buildings epitomise Quaker life today. The Meeting House is used by more than 90 community and voluntary groups. Some work with the most vulnerable members of society, whilst others introduce people to new skills. All benefit from affordable hire fees and the convenient city centre location. The adjacent buildings are leased to organisations that share our commitment to equality, peace, simplicity and truth.
Over the next few years the Meeting House itself will be refurbished, making it both more accessible and more sustainable. Quakers have worshipped here for more than 350 years and we need to prepare our building to welcome Quakers and others for generations to come.