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Friends Meeting House

The Quaker movement, formally known as the Religious Society of Friends, was founded by George Fox in the 1650's.  He travelled throughout the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire drawing people into the Quaker faith during the years 1651 and 52.

Like other Non-Conformist groups, which appeared during the time of the Civil War, Quakers suffered much persecution, harassment and sometimes, imprisonment.  The Archbishop of York's Visitation Book of 1883 records a number of Bilsdale families as Quakers  - Jn Hugill and his wife and his brother Thos. Trowesdaile.

Quakers were obliged to be baptised, married and buried in their parish church.  Church Wardens kept a careful eye and records were kept of any refusal.  In 1674 the Hugills and Trousdailes were cited for a clandestine marriage and for keeping a child unbaptised.  The 1687 Declaration of Indulgence permitted Quakers to be absent from their parish church and to hold meetings and worship in buildings licenced for that purpose so long as they assembled with open doorways.  The 1689 Act of Tolleration allowed Quakers to worship legally now and the Quarter Session Records show that between 1689-1708 there were eight registered buildings in Bilsdale, which suggests that quite a strong group was forming and membership was increasing.  The original list gives only the name of the dale but in 1705 "a house in Bilsdale called Abbot House" is recorded and in 1708 the houses of "Will Baros (Barr), John Freer(s), John Reachy, Alie Wood, Tho. Fletcher and Stephen Duck, all of Bilsdale".  In 1713 Stephen Duck of Cowhelm died and left the sum of £5 towards the purchase of a burying place in Bilsdale.

The Rental Roll for the Duncombe Park Estate shows that 6d was paid by John Petch and John Clark for a burying place at a meeting house at Laskell Pasture.  It must have been some time after this that building began and their own Meeting House was erected.  Registration recorded at the Quarter Session held at Guisborough on 16 July 1734 states:

"The house lately built nigh Laskell Bridge in Bilsdale is appointedto be set apart for the worship of Almighty God by the people called Quakers, at the requet of John Petch and Will. Barker".  When Arhbishop Herring visited the parish of Helmsley in 1743 it was noted that the attendance was "up to 20".

However by 1840 membership of the Soiety of Friend had declined and William Ventress (Fentrice) of Wether Cote, Bilsdale and his son were the only Friends left in the dale.  In that same year William died and his family were in dispute with the Earl of Feversham over the ownership of the Meeting House and surrounding land.  The Earl claimed that the Ventress family were the tenants and not the Society of Friends, which took the control of the building and their right to worship there away from Friends.  Protests were made diretly to the Earl, then the press, but with no success.  Eventually the dispute went to the House of Lords.  It was finally settled in 1891 in favour of the Earl of Feversham, but later, relationships improved and the land and property was handed over to the Friends for their use for ever.

By now the Friends were meeting there only on the first Sunday of each month and in 1919 it was decided that the Methodists of Laskill should worship there on the remaining Sundays.  This arrangement continued until 1940, with the Helmsley Methodist Circuit taking responsibility for the interior and paying a token one shilling rent and the Guisborough Society of Friends maintaining the outside of the premises, including the burial ground.  There are Quaker records of 102 peopke buried here.  It is thought that due to the lack of space, they were buried vertcially.  The last Quaker burial in 1913 was of a lady named Sarah Jackson from Easterside.

The building finally closed in 1944, although it was used on rare occasions until 1954.  It had been offered to the Friend School of Great Ayton for their use, but was not acepted.  In 1960 the County Counil wished to purhase the property to enable the straightening of the dangerous stretch of road directly in front of the building but this was not to happen.  It was then offered to the Ryedale Folk Museum, but there was local opposition to this.  By 1975 the building was deteriorating, the museum was unable to raise enough funding for a purhase and the Rysdale Council turned down plans for  conversion to a dwelling and so, in 1976, the building was sold to Mr L Constantine of Laskill House and became privately owned.

Further information is available in the pamphlet "Religion in Bilsdale" published by the Bilsdale Local History Group.

Published: 25 2018 (Updated: 26 2022)

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