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Historian Martyn Taylor tells the story of Bury St Edmunds Quaker Meeting House

The Quaker Meeting House, in St John's Street, Bury St Edmunds, is on the site of where gatherings have taken place since 1682.

It was in 1650 that George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends in England, recorded that: “Justice Bennet of Derby first called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God.”

In 1682 the street was known as Long Brackland.

The Quaker Meeting House, in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Martyn Taylor
The Quaker Meeting House, in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Martyn Taylor

Later, in 1751, a Meeting House was built and then re-fronted in Victorian times.

While the Quaker movement was very strong up to World War One, afterwards it went into decline and at one time had only one worshipper in Bury, Margaret Kemp, who kept alive the Meeting House.

Her tenacity was retold in the 2007 play, Still Small Voice by Danusia Iwaszko, which was set in the period of 1950s.

Martyn Taylor
Martyn Taylor

A refurbishment and, importantly, modern facilities for the Meeting House in 1999 were initiated by an idea called the Architect in the House Scheme, utilising members of the Royal Institute of British Architects who gave their expertise in exchange for a donation to Shelter, the charity for the homeless.

So, after a long period of research, a design by local architect Richard Scales was agreed on and a formal appeal launched in July 2004 at a meeting of The Bury Society. This would see an enormous sum of over £500,000 raised, the Bury Society a contributor.

The work was eventually completed in 2007-8. Today, the Society of Friends aka the Quakers are still going strong.

Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Going Underground Bury St Edmunds, is widely available.