The Story of Settle Meeting House
In the 17th Century groups of dissenters were dissatisfied with the established church. One group of “Seekers after Truth” gathered around George Fox and became known as Quakers.
They included William Dewsbury, who came to Settle on a market day. He addressed the crowds from the market cross. Dragged and beaten before being rescued by John Armistead. Armistead took him home to his mother’s house, where, that evening, several people came to hear his message. Later the same happened to John Camm. Taken to the home of John Kidd in Upper Settle, where an evening meeting took place. From these encounters grew Settle Meeting.
At that time, to hold a Meeting for Worship, or to attend one, carried the risk of heavy penalties. Samuel Watson, of Knight Stainforth was beaten, put in the stocks and thrown into the river. Fined to the point of ruin he held onto his belief “Be willing that self shall suffer for Truth and not the Truth for self.” He was imprisoned many times in York Gaol.
Richard Wilson and Ann Johnson, of Langcliffe married in Meeting in 1662 and were imprisoned because they failed to follow the statutory form of marriage.
The established Church did not permit burial in consecrated ground. Nor was not acceptable to Quakers.
In 1661 a plot of land, called Howson’s Croft situated in the seamy end of the town transferred to Friends for the rent of one peppercorn. to use as a burial ground.
Meetings also took place here, and maybe in a barn on the site. In 1678 plans to build a Meeting House and stables were approved by the Monthly Meeting. The cost estimated at £80.00, of which Settle Meeting would pay £50.00, the other local meetings made up the shortfall. The new Meeting House was a simple room, bare to the roof with no porch, gallery or elders’ bench. It was a symbol of faith and courage, as not until the Act of Toleration in 1689 would it have been lawful.
An Indenture of 1713 records the acquisition of adjoining land. This is now the site of Quaker Garth – home of the Resident Friend – and the Meeting House garden. It describes an orchard, plane trees along a path leading from a house, a muck heap and a pig sty.
The Friends appointed to look after the building were ‘ordered to gett the trees Stubd in the Orchard & Sell them & Likewise to prop the roof in the Meeting house.’
Later, the roof was raised by three feet. The windows glazed and the gallery built with 3 upstairs windows, one of which was later filled in. There was a low ceiling which was later removed and a small fireplace.
A main purpose of the gallery was to provide a space for the Women’s Business Meeting, to address matters of pastoral care. The Men’s Business Meeting, held in the Meeting Room, dealt with money and property.
In 1860, the Adult Schools Movement inspired three young Friends. They were Ellwood Brockbank and the Tatham brothers, Richard and Joseph. They distributed 300 circulars in the town and soon five classes were held each Sunday. Permission was asked to use the “upper chamber” or gallery room. Adult Education was established in Settle.
By the early 1870s an extension to the Meeting House was built to house the increasing numbers. Known as ‘The Institute’, the steps giving separate access from Kirkgate, still exist. In 1872 a separate building – ‘The New School House’ – was erected in the garden. Towards the end of the century, women’s classes were started. The Institute was used as a Reading Room and Library.
In 1927 a kitchen and toilet were built. During the Second World War, the Adult School and Meeting House were fitted out to take evacuees. Later the Adult School was used for Government offices. In the 50s the overgrown graveyard was cleared. The gravestones removed and set in an alphabetical line along the back wall. Central heating replaced the cast iron stove. At this time the garden consisted of gravel paths and lawns, punctuated by tree stumps.
The war years, and the post-war period, saw a decline in the number of Friends in Settle. There was no meeting, and the Meeting House was kept going by the efforts of a few Friends. This included the Waterfalls and the Horners, coming from outside the town. Records from 1962 showed grave concern at the state of the building. Bold measures were needed to ensure its restoration and the survival of the Meeting. The Adult School was converted into a warden’s house, at an estimated cost of £2,500.
Wardens Kevin and Ruth Petrie, revitalised the Meeting and created a garden. The gallery and the Institute rooms became hostel accommodation for Friends use. This continued for twenty years. In the latter part of the 20th century, other worship groups use the building. A Traidcraft shop established in the gallery every Tuesday.
A need to provide better disabled access and kitchen facilities prompted further change.
The decision to build a large extension was lengthy and at times anxious and difficult. It required a willingness to confront the need for change. In January 2004, Friends began demolition work on the old kitchen and the floor of the Institute. Self- help again to prepare for the arrival of the builders.
In October 2004 a new extension opened and provides a small meeting room, a library, a kitchen, and toilets. In 2009 the old Meeting House was repaired and the heating and ventilation were upgraded. In 2015 the roof was refurbished.
Many non-Quaker groups use the building (on about 300 occasions each year). They cover a wide range of local organisations, voluntary, political, educational and cultural.