Brigflatts Meeting House

In the summer I called at Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House in the environs of Sedbergh, which is dated 1675. The Covid restrictions had eased slightly, and a kindly Friend allowed admittance, for our having travelled so far. It’s just what one imagines an old meeting house to be like, with its mullioned windows, dark, excessive woodwork and plain decoration. Although there is no pulpit, such is the Friends’ custom, the rest of the room is designed for listening, with forms or benches on all sides. A gallery admits additional hearers and affords good views for the photographer. I rather like the egalitarianism of it. Whereas most protestant dissenters opted for gigantic, imposing pulpits, dramatically elevating the preacher and his office, the Quakers emphasised the need to listen and for all present to be considered.

Contrary to the modern fashion for saying we can learn from all traditions, I think modern Quakerism has little to teach the evangelical. However, their forbears’ love of simplicity and egality is a worthy antidote to our obsession with image and status. In the Commonwealth and Protectorate, Friends proved to be something of a nuisance, biting the hands that fed them. A few generations later and they were overcome by ‘quietism’. I sometimes wonder if they yelled when they should have been quiet, and held their tongues when they should have cried out. Still, I love their older buildings, which can teach us some things still worth remembering.

Psalm 131:2: Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.