Godalming Meeting Room

Godalming’s 18th century Meeting House

In 1698 Caleb Woods, a maltster of Godalming, bought the Mill House. Four years later he is recorded as having bought the “tenement with the curtillage, barn, gate room, garden and orchard” known as Goreways. In 1701 another Quaker, John Cooper, collected money for a meeting house and handed this to Caleb Woods. In Caleb’s will, made in 1711, mention is made of the “new repaired and new built” other part of his property, so Quakers appear to have taken over two buildings on Celeb’s land rather than build an entirely new meeting house.

It seems that Quakers were already using the premises by 1711 because the first recorded burial is of “Jane Chandler of Brambley” in 1709. Altogether some 200 Friends are buried in the front and rear gardens. The few stones that are now around the walls of the rear garden are very plain and simply state the name, date of death and age. As Quakers believe that all are equal in the sight of God, it was considered fitting that stones should be plain and simple so that there would be no distinction between rich and poor.

Mary Waring’s Diary

What was Godalming Meeting like around 200 years ago? Fortunately, to inform us we have the diary of Mary Waring published in 1809. Mary was born on 20 March 1760 and was buried on 30 March 1805 in what is now the garden behind the meeting house. The ‘Diary of the Religious Experience of Mary Waring’ is mainly concerned with her inward spiritual struggles but also offers us a glimpse into the life of the meeting at that time, from someone who worshiped in the meeting mouse that we use today.

meeting_room_window

Original 1714 windows

Meeting House windows

The photographs show the original windows at the back of the meeting room, dating from 1714. However, the front windows were replaced in 1794. On 12 June of that year a celebration of the victory of the Third Battle of Ushant took place in Godalming in the form of an “illumination”, in which people placed lights in their windows to celebrate. Quakers refused to participate in this celebration because the Quaker Peace Testimony speaks against war. Mary’s diary states “The people were very noisy and riotous” and “they broke many of our windows.”

The Peace Testimony has been a source of inspiration to Quakers through the centuries, as our corporate witness against all war and violence.