Webpage created: July 23, 2017
Webpage updated: April 11, 2020
RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS)
In the foreground is all that remained of
Buckwell Street after the Blitz.
The first record of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, in Plymouth was in 1654, when Mr John Audland went to one of the steeple-houses in the town and testified against the priest and their worship. He received a great deal of abuse for his trouble. At the same time a colleague of his, Mr Thomas Arey, went to a Baptist meeting and did the same. He, too, met great opposition.
In 1655 two more aggressive Friends, Mr Thomas Salthouse and Mr Miles Halhead, were imprisoned in the town for thirteen months for sounding against the minister of the church.
That same year came to Plymouth the founder of the movement, Mr George Fox. He recorded in his diary that he met one Elizabeth Trelawny, the daughter of a baronet, but their meeting was interrupted by 'some jangling Baptists; but the Lord's power came over them, and Elizabeth Trelawny gave testimony thereto.'
His followers endured much persecution around 1660-61 and it was said that some seventy of the inhabitants of the town who supported them were in the High Gaol and Bridewell at Exeter.
Tradition has it that the Friends' first meeting-house was a thatched building at the head of Sussex Street. Nearby was the old Quaker burial ground. In 1674 they erected a new meeting-house in Bilbury Street, which was replaced in 1804 by a new building, the cost of which was £1,200.
By 1912 there was also a meeting-room at Mutley. In 1918 they bought two villas at Mutley Plain, which became the Swarthmore Institute. The name has its roots in the very beginning of the movement. Swarthmoor Hall, in Cumbria, was the home of Mr and Mrs Thomas Fell when Mr George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, visited them following his release from prison in Derby.
Meanwhile, the old Quaker's Hall in what had now become known as Treville Street was used as a printing works and, it is alleged, a provision store. It later taken over by the Transport and General Workers' Union, who used the Hall as a meeting place for their members who worked in the docks. In 1925 they let out part of the building to the Labour Exchange but when the 1920s recession finally hit Plymouth in 1929 the Labour Exchange took over the whole building.
It remained in the occupation of the Men's Vacancies and Insurance section of the Ministry of Labour throughout the Second World War. In the 1950s the building gradually became more and more isolated as the damaged buildings surrounding it were demolished to make way for the Bretonside Bus Station.