Our Meeting House
Although the Conventicle Act of 1670 – which forbade non-conformist meetings – was still in force, in 1674 the Friends of this area decided to build a Meeting House and purchased a piece of ground at Brigflatts from John Dawson for ten shillings (50p).
The building is very much in the style of local farmhouses of that period, practical, simple and undecorated. It was built without an architect by and for the people who would use it. Materials were provided by Friends who had them, labour provided by everyone else. Unusually for the time the building was roofed with some 40 tons of local flags – thatch being the more usual material for buildings of this size at the time. Perhaps the builders were making a statement about the permanency of their creation.
Originally the building had just an earth floor and was heated by an open fire at the west end of the building. An open loft existed at the first floor level at the west end reached by a ladder.
Development and Change
In 1681 a wooden floor was added costing twenty shillings (£1). This was replaced at a later date. In 1706 the burial ground was enlarged and the enclosing walls completed.
Also in this year the outer court door of the Meeting House was hung, a beautiful strong oak door, which attracts much attention today, especially its simple but effective locking bolt. In 1698 Friends had agreed to build a larger stable and to make a room over part of the stable “to meet in as occasion require”. This was finally finished in 1711 and the room put to use as a schoolroom.
The school had been in existence for a number of years having previously met in a Friend’s house. About this time it became obvious that more accommodation was needed and it was agreed to extend the gallery across the north and east walls of the Meeting House, although some commentators have observed that the symmetrical first floor windows indicate that this development must have been envisaged right from the start of building.
A wider staircase was added with a dog pen being created between the foot of the stairs and the front door to accommodate any sheep dogs accompanying their masters to meeting. Later, partitions were added to the west end gallery, with shutters enabling it to be made into a private room for the holding of women’s business meetings.
In the early years of the Meeting the meeting room was open to the stone flags of the roof. Snow and rain would blow in through the cracks and each year two Friends were appointed to stuff moss into the gaps to make it weather tight. In 1711 a ceiling was added to the meeting house.
In 1758 a “house and parrock” were left to Friends by David Trotter, gardener and herbalist. The house was later demolished but the paddock is still owned by the meeting and is behind the Meeting House. In about 1880 part of the land was sold to Friends and Rosebank was built.
1900 Additions and Restoration
At the turn of the 20th century the west end of the Meeting House was extensively altered to provide a caretaker’s cottage.
- A sitting room was created on the ground floor and the west end of the gallery, behind the dividing shutters, became two small bedrooms.
- The narrow staircase was presumably added at this time linking the two.
- A small kitchen was built as a single storey extension to the north side of the building and later in the century a bathroom was also added.
In 1905 it was found necessary to replace some of the roof timbers and at the same time considerable restoration work was done by Henry T. Fowler. An Appeal was launched in “The Friend” and the sum of £165.1s.8d was raised. The picture to the right was taken on completion of the work in May1905 on the occasion of the first Monthly Meeting held in the restored building.
In 1988 Rosebank was purchased by the Meeting from Friends who were moving away from the area. It became the Warden’s accommodation freeing up the space in the Meeting House for a library in the sitting room. The bedroom is used as occasional accommodation for Friends visiting Brigflatts and the surrounding area.
In 1997 it was discovered that the beams supporting the Meeting House floor were rotten and a significant number of timbers had to be replaced.
Work was also done at the eastern end of the gallery where similar problems existed and the sagging staircase was largely dismantled and rebuilt with the original timbers.
Brigflatts’ Friends recognise that the Meeting House is a working building and not a museum and changes have continued to be made over time to ensure that it remains relevant to the needs of the Meeting. With Grade 1 Listed Building statu
s changes are only made after considerable thought and with permission of the relevant planning authorities. In 2005 and mindful of the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, it was decided that access to the building had to be improved and that an accessible toilet should be provided for visitors. The then existing toilets at the back of the Meeting House were converted into an access toilet for disabled visitors and a wooden walkway was built to provide level access from the back gate around the back of the Meeting House.
A new gate from the lane into the garden that gives level access into the front garden and hence into the Meeting House was also built. The original gateway and steps, believed to be contemporaneous with the original building, have of course been retained.