Friends Meeting House

A little row of gravestones stands in front of the Meeting House, dating back to the end of the 17th Century (a Meeting House was built on the site in 1688, replaced in 1735, and rebuilt in the late 1860s) . The Friends Meeting House in Allendale is the oldest in Northumberland that’s still used for worship. The little historical group of meeting house and cottage are Grade II listed, and form an important historical complex today.

I was chatting with Nigel Barnes, now acting trustee of the Allendale Meeting House, who is concerned about what to do with the place. There are about a dozen folks who attend the quiet meetings (silence is an ‘advice’, almost a tenet of faith, among the Quakers, while they wait for the movement of God within themselves), on Sundays at 10:30, but no other purpose for the building has been found. Sometimes the meeting is bolstered by folks coming in from Co. Durham, because of their love for Allendale, but often there are vanishingly few to commune together.

The little cottage has been renovated recently, however, and is occupied by a happy couple, thereby bringing in some revenue to the complex, which could probably be self-sustaining if additional repairs to the Meeting House itself would be accomplished, and if some other utility for the building during the weekdays could be found. It has grown shabby, with a leaking roof, and, as Nigel notes, it’s an anomaly among the other eight Meeting Houses in the Northumbria district in this regard.

Parking is a problem, as I found, though I remembered a trick from my Baynes travel days, to reach the house at the appointed time. And the Meeting House is not central enough in the village to be a useful, well, meeting room to hire out on weekdays. So how could the place be best used, bringing in some revenue, while adhering to the Grade II listing regimen, and still accommodating its main purpose, the Sunday meeting? We were chatting about these matters while Nigel waited to show a prospective weekday user around the place, so he was hopeful that the building could soon be put to better use than standing empty throughout the week.

Meanwhile, our chat was very rewarding — I discovered, for example, that Burnlaw (now a Bahà’í community) was originally a Quaker settlement. Nigel thrust a copy of the Annual Meeting’s ‘Advices & Queries’ leaflet into my hands. There are 42 separate items in the leaflet, which has been extensively revised over the centuries of Quaker thought. I was very impressed with the self-evident humility in these pages, with the sense of attendance on what is revealed to the group that waits with open hearts and minds.

There may not be many Quakers, or Quaker adherents, left in Allendale anymore, but it looks like the historically significant Friends Meeting House and Cottage complex will remain sturdily standing, just slightly outside of the main village, removed from, and yet part of the community in more ways than we can fully comprehend.

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