Between Broad Weir & Rosemary Street
Somerset SS1 3BZ
The name Quakers Friars refers to the two most important buildings that stood on this site – the medieval Dominican Friary and the original Quaker Meeting House built in 1670.
The current historical Quaker Meeting House was built in 1749 and this, together with the ancient Cutlers and Bakers Guilds Hall form the centerpiece of a public square in the new Broadmead Shopping Development.
In the 17th century, Bristol was a hotbed of religious dissent and several non-conformist societies set up in the City. It was here in Quakers Friars in 1654 that The Society of Friends had their first meeting in Bristol. One of the most famous members was William Penn who went on to found the American colony of Pennsylvania. William was married in 1696 in the first Meeting House.
The Society was also known as the ‘Quakers’ and this is their more commonly used name. The name ‘Quakers’ possibly came about in 1650 when George Fox (usually considered the founder of the Quaker movement) was imprisoned at Derby for blasphemy. Before the judge, Fox exhorted him to ‘tremble [quake] at the word of the Lord’. The judge then mocked him calling him and his followers ‘Quakers'.
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Building a Meeting House
The first meetings were held in an orchard on the former Friary site roughly where Penn Street is today. In 1670 a two-storey Meeting House was built on this land and by 1676 a schoolroom had been opened in the upstairs attic. To the south-east a Quaker burial ground had been established.
Non-conformism was frowned upon and many attempts were made to stamp it out. On 10th May 1670 an Act of Parliament was passed which had the effect of locking the Quakers out of the Meeting House. They did not regain possession for some eight months! Again in 1681, the Quakers came under fire - the Meeting House was ransacked. The furniture was either burnt or stolen. The partition walls and the windows were broken. Then up to 1000 men and women were locked in the Meeting House for 6 hours.
By 1747, the original Meeting House was in very poor condition so it was pulled down and rebuilt on the original foundations. In April 1749 it was ready for meetings. This structure is the one we see today and is one of Bristol’s most historically significant buildings.
The Society of Friends moved from Quakers Friars in 1962 to their present Meeting House in River Street, St Judes, Bristol BS2 9DG – about 500 yards (457 metres) to the east across the A4044.
Google Map - Quakers Friars