MORE than a century ago, the Quaker Meeting House in Swindon opened its doors for its first meeting.

Now the meeting house in Eastcott Hill, Old Town, is inviting the public to visit for an English Heritage Open Day on September 15 – where you will find out about the history of meeting house, the story of Quakers in Swindon and a national exhibition of Quaker relief work worldwide.

Swindon Quakers librarian Lynda Farrington and clerk Cherry Lewis said they wanted to give people an opportunity to see the building, and to find out more about the Quakers, their role in the history of Swindon and the work they do today.

“This is the first time we’ve done this. It’s a new endeavour for us,” Cherry said.

“There is a National Quaker Week every year,” Lynda explained. “We feel we have something to say to people, particularly in today’s world. We would like more people to become aware of the Quakers and what it is about.

“It’s a chance to see the meeting house. Lots of people who come say what a nice atmosphere it has. We thought this would be a good opportunity to share the history of the Quakers in this area.”

The Quakers, otherwise known as the Religious Society of Friends, were founded by George Fox and emerged in the religious turmoil of the 1650s, as a denomination that sought a direct experience of the divine, without having a hierarchy or clergy. Quakers today have no particular liturgy or dogma but believe that there is ‘that of God in everyone’ – which leads them to be pacifists and humanitarians, who practise their faith through action in the community and the world.

Sunday meetings don’t have a traditional structure or prayers, but instead the Quakers sit in a circle in silence together, unless they are moved to speak.

The Swindon meeting house was built in 1901, with help from the Cadbury family.

“People met in each other’s houses before that,” Lynda said. “George Cadbury offered the meeting money for the hall. They didn’t take it up initially, but Richard Cadbury helped with the money to buy the piece of land.”

The building was altered and extended in the 1970s, and the doors on the front of the building were moved to the side.

Lynda and Cherry explain that the Quakers are all about equality and peace, truth and justice, simplicity and sustainability.

“We have no huge organisation, no crucifix or altar. We sit in a circle with a table in the middle,” Cherry said.

The Quakers have always been interested in prison welfare and are closely linked with the Howard League. The were involved in humanitarian relief during Ireland’s Great Hunger in 1846-9 and during European war. On the outbreak of World War I, a group formed the Friends Ambulance Unit to provide an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors.

Lynda recounted the story of one young Swindon Quaker – a grocer’s assistant called Alexander Hollis of 30 Avenue Road – who was a conscientious objector.

“He refused to have anything to do with the war,” she said. Alexander was called up just after his 18th birthday. He joined the Quakers just two years before, aged 16, but the tribunal considering his case as a CO criticised him for not having been a Quaker before the war, despite his tender years.

“He was fined £2 and taken into custody. He was escorted to the army headquarters in Trowbridge.”

Alexander later came back to Swindon, married and worked as an ironmonger. He continued to be a Quaker and indeed became the clerk of the Swindon meeting house. Lynda is keen to learn more about him.

In the run-up to World War II, the Quakers helped persecuted victims of Nazism in Germany, and lobbied the British Government to allow Jewish refugees into Britain.

People find many different ways into the Quaker faith.

“I was an Anglican, when I realised I didn’t actually believe a lot of what I was supposed to believe,” Lynda said. “I picked up a leaflet in Oxford one day, and it advertised a Quaker enquirers weekend. I decided to go to it.”

She has now been a Quaker for 23 years. Cherry was brought up an atheist.

“When I had children, I started thinking about life and death – and the Quakers was somewhere I could ask questions,” she said. “I really liked the silent meeting.”

Cherry, who has been a Quaker for 18 years, also said the link between faith and action appealed to her: “The two go hand in hand."

Would the Quakers describe themselves as Christians?

“That depends on the Quaker, and the Christian,” Lynda smiled.

The Swindon Quakers have worked with the Harbour Project in Swindon, which supports refugees, and some Quaker members were involved in setting it up. They also have strong links with Amnesty International, which campaigns for human rights around the world, and a local Quaker helped set up the Swindon branch.

“Quakers have campaigned against Trident in the past, and at the protests at Aldermaston,” Lyndia said.

They have also been organising an alternative Remembrance Service since 2014.

“It was felt nationally that it was important that the pacifism that did exist in the first world war should be remembered,” Lynda said. “We have readings, quiet reflection and music, and a peace tree with leaves people can add to. It’s a quiet event without all the medals and brass bands. There are people who appreciate that opportunity.”

The alternative remembrance event is held a week before the official Remembrance Sunday services, to be a complement to them, rather than in opposition.

Heritage Open Days is England's largest festival of history and culture, bringing together over 2,500 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers. Every year in September, places across the country throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history.

Refreshments will be available at the Quaker event, which begins at 10am and finishes at 4.30pm. For further information, visit