Two photographs depict Broad Campden Meetinghouse in Gloucestershire, England. The photographers are anonymous.
Broad Campden Meetinghouse is the oldest Friends Meetinghouse in the world. In 1655 Quakers in Gloucestershire began gathering through the work of missionaries Margaret Newby and Elizabeth Cowart. In 1663 Friends in Broad Campden bought a cottage and began to use it as a Meetinghouse. (The cottage itself was built c. 1500). Facing benches for the ministers, overseers and elders and a second-floor gallery for the Women’s Meeting for Business were added in 1677. (The Meetinghouse is so early it predated those features of Meetinghouses). Broad Campden Meeting died out in 1874, and the Meetinghouse was sold. The building was repurchased and renovated in 1961, and the Meeting began gathering again in 1962. Today Broad Campden is a small but thriving Friends Meeting. (The building doubled as “Kembleford Parish Hall” in the Father Brown mysteries).
The Meetinghouse is constructed of coursed and squared Cotswold stone and massive oak timbers. Its interior is a single room and has been remodeled several times over the centuries, the wall plaster removed and floor stone and mullion windows replaced in the 1960’s. Some of the original paneling survives. The second-floor gallery now contains a kitchen. A garden is laid out on the original burial ground, the gravestones having disappeared by the time the building was reacquired, while a small garden building serves as the children’s room.
Early Friends gathered in marketplaces and meadows or, if weather precluded, private homes and inns. The first Quaker Meetinghouse was in Thirsk, Yorkshire and had been bought by the Thirsk Seekers in 1647, before they became Friends. In 1653 Meetinghouses were purchased in Wigton and Carlisle in Cumberland; in 1654 in Hullavington in Wiltshire; and in 1657 in Banbury in Oxfordshire and Nassawadox in Virginia. All those Meetinghouses were destroyed by the Crown, collapsed from age or were replaced by other Meetinghouses. Hertford Meetinghouse in Hertfordshire was constructed in 1670 as the first purpose-built Friends Meetinghouse. It is the also oldest continuously occupied Meetinghouse.
The Broad Campden Meetinghouse photographs are lovely. They show a place where strong and gentle spirits have gathered for centuries.