Although the original North Sussex Quakers were collectively called the Horsham Meeting, there was not a meeting house in Horsham until 1693. This probably results from Horsham holding the local assizes (court hearings) and having a gaol.
Quaker activities, and activities of other non-conformist churches, were illegal and the attenders of these groups (the dissenters) were severely punished, often by imprisonment. Not surprisingly the Horsham Quakers were reluctant to build a meeting house in the local centre of law enforcement. It wasn’t until the Toleration act (1689) that these religious groups became lawful.
However the Horsham Quakers came under pressure of other Quakers to have their own meeting house which was finally built in 1693. This original meeting house was replaced by the current building (on the same site) in 1785/6
14th October 1668 “…it might be expedient to erect a Meeting for the ffriends to wait upon ye Lord in or about Horsham, for the accommodation of friends inhabiting these parts.”
7th September 1673 “…ordered that Ambrose Rgge and Thomas person Jn’ doe again speake wth friends of Horsham to know of what Meeting they owne themselves to be”
At a quarterly meeting held in 1785, Horsham Friends reported that their meeting house was in a dangerous state, and a subscription list was started for building a new one. The field spread over a wide area and included subscriptions from Lewes, Chichester and Horsham Monthly meetings, besides generous contributions from Friends in London, Peckham, Croydon, Dorking and elsewhere.
All in all, £536 14s 5.5d was raised, and this included the sums of £8, 0s 0d realised from the sale of stones from the old meeting House, £5, 0s for sale of timber from the same, and £1, 10s, 0d from the sale of “old mortar” from the same. Sale of a pear tree brought in 7s 0d and payment for the disposal of “a small piece of ground” brought in one guinea (£1 1s 0d)! The total amount subscribed in the county of Sussex was £252, 7s, 9d – almost half the total amount raised.
The expenditure made in the course of building the new meeting house shows that by far the greatest amount was £238 11s 6d paid to Stephen Rowland, Bricklayer “as per bill”. The wall round the burial ground (ie the new wall enclosing the entire premises) accounted for the sum of £33 10s 0d, while John Morth, the man who was responsible for all the carpentry, was paid £238 19s 2.5d (an almost identical sum to that paid to the bricklayer) also “as per bill”. John Morth was also paid £3, 1s, 0d for “Sundry other jobs on the premises” and Joseph Holmes received £22, 1s, 9d for “iron work, nails &c.”
An interesting final entry on the debit side is 11s 0d “Lost by Light Gold”: presumably this was occasioned by the payment of clipped coins which when weighed, showed up the deficiency.
It would have been interesting to give some account of the date of erection, appearance and size of the old meeting house of 1693. It is not even known if it was built by Friends or whether it was adapted from an existing building such as a barn and modified to suit their requirements.
As mentioned elsewhere, the original title deeds for the property have long since been lost and we have only extracts from them at various times to give any information at all. The site was acquired by friends on the 1st March 1693, lease-hold for a period of 2,000 years. The property consisted of “a messuage or tenement, Meeting House, garden, burying ground, backside and appurtenances”. The site area was 650 sq yards and the burial ground 3,449 sq feet.
It is likely that the original meeting house was similar in appearance if not in construction to the Unitarian (originally Anabaptist) chapel or Meeting house a little to the north, ie a building approximately 40 feet x 30 feet and with Horsham slab stone roof. It most probably would have been timber-framed construction as may be deduced from the entry relating to sale of “old timber” and “old mortar”. If it had been brick-built, we would have expected an entry to show this or evidence of old bricks appearing on the site, but all the bricks used in the new meeting house were of the type currently being made at that time.
Horsham Quaker Meeting House is a Grade II listed building. You can read the full official listing by downloading it here. You can read about the building at Historic England.