Monday, 13 March 2017

A Brief History of Quakers in Narberth

The Quakers first came to Pembrokeshire in the 1650s.  We know that in 1657

George Fox visited Tenby, Pembroke and Haverfordwest.  We do not know is whether he visited Narberth, but we know that the Quakers were holding regular meetings at Narberth from these very early days.

During the thirty years following the death of Cromwell in 1656, no day passed without the presence of a Quaker in the prison at Haverfordwest.  For example in August 1661, we know that Lewis Davies and his wife Susan, James Lewis, Alice Lewis, Evan John and William Thomas, all from Llandewi Velfrey, and presumably from Narberth Meeting, were imprisoned in Haverfordwest Castle for refusing to keep away from Meetings for Worship.

We know from his journal that Richard Davies preached Quakerism in Narberth in 1665 to what was referred to “as a great multitude”.

In 1682 the first Welsh Quaker Yearly Meeting was held at Narberth Meeting House, which was situated on the right beyond Bloomfield, just before the junction of the A40.  This suggests that Narberth Meeting was considered significant.

From 1692 onwards, many Pembrokeshire Quakers emigrated to William Penn’s Pennsylvania in order to escape the severe persecution and confiscations they were suffering at the time.  One of the first to go was the afore-mentioned Lewis Davies of Llandewi Velfrey who bought 3,000 acres of land, later selling most of it to other Friends who came to join him.  Because of this, Narberth Meeting House became disused in the years which followed.

In 1816 occurred the last meeting at the old Narberth Meeting House when Henry Knight married Sarah Lewis.  Even then only half the roof remained.  By 1820 the building was in ruins.  In 1822 the land and what remained of the building was sold to Evan Protheroe for £45.

Now we come into more recent times.  By the 1980s Quakers who were living in the Narberth area had no local meeting.  The only possibility was to travel up to 50 miles each Sunday to the established Meeting House in Milford Haven.

In the 1990s it was clear that there were people living in the Narberth area who would have liked to attend Quaker meetings, but it was not possible for them to get to Milford Haven.  It was decided that a meeting would be held once per month in a Narberth member’s home.  However, this proved not to be a completely satisfactory arrangement.  Then on 25th September 1994, it was decided to try again, this time meeting on the last Sunday of each month in a room upstairs at the Queens Hall in Narberth.  Fifteen people came and that was really the new beginning of Narberth Quaker Meeting as we have it today.  An old Quaker expressed it in the translated words of a Welsh saying, “A fire burns best on an old hearth”; which meant that the new Quaker Meeting should prosper and do good things, and so it has come about.

By 1996 Narberth was a recognised meeting.  Then in 1998 it was requested by local members that we should meet twice per month on the second and last Sundays.  This was agreed to, and meetings continued on that basis for some time.

Then in 2000 an unusual exchange took place. What happened was that the Evangelical Church which had been meeting at Bloomfield Community Centre had increased in numbers so much that there wasn’t a room big enough to accommodate them.  So, they decided that the big hall at Queens Hall would suit them fine and they decided to move there. Their form of worship with singing and clapping did not fit well with Quaker silent worship and so, by amicable arrangement with the Evangelical group, it was decided that the Quakers would move to Bloomfield and the Evangelicals would continue to hold their meetings at the Queens Hall.  So a good swap was done!  Several years later the Quakers agreed to move at Bloomfield into the larger and more pleasant Jackson Room where we continue to meet at the present time.

From February 1st 2008 it was decided by members and attenders that Narberth Quaker Meeting should meet regularly every Sunday at 11-00am.  This meant that Friends who had been going to Milford Haven Meeting then had to make the choice of whether they would join the new Narberth Meeting or would stay as Milford Haven Quakers.  It was not an easy choice.  Some Friends decided they would stay at Milford Haven Meeting.  Others who lived locally were keen to start a new group.  It was a new start of a regular local Quaker Meeting at Narberth.

Today, in 2017, some 22 years after the original meeting at the Queens Hall in Narberth, new members and attenders have joined the group and it is now felt that the meeting has a momentum and life of its own.  It has grown gradually, just like “Topsy”.  A small meeting might consist of ten friends present; but occasionally when there is a children’s meeting and parents are present the meeting could rise to some 20 to 30.

We are a local Quaker group of the Society of Friends within South Wales Area Meeting.  Our meetings are open to everyone.  We meet together in silent worship which many find very comforting, free from the idle chatter of much of the world.  Someone may be moved to speak.  We are an open friendly meeting, accepting that each person is on their own individual spiritual search.  We try to live simply, with integrity, and with a concern for the whole of creation.  In the Quaker tradition we continue in our meetings in the search for truth, and in our efforts to promote peace, equality and justice for all people.
This brief history of Narberth Quakers was written by John Whittaker - our oldest member. We celebrated his 90th birthday in November 2016 with a cake created by the cake queen of Quakers from Milford Haven. Some photos....


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