Darlington Friends Meeting House
Darlington Friends Meeting House

The Durham town of Darlington has several outstanding historic churches. The parish church of St Cuthbert and St Andrew's Church in Haughton-le-Skerne both date to the 12th century (at least).

But there is another historic place of worship, easily overlooked by visitors. That is the Friends Meeting House on Skinnergate, a Grade II* listed building erected in 1839 on the site where Quakers have met since 1678. Behind the elegant meeting house is a Quaker burial ground with simple gravestones commemorating centuries of Darlington Quakers, some of whom rose to positions of great wealth and local influence.

Skinnergate Almshouses, founded 1869
Skinnergate Almshouses, founded 1869

History

The first Quaker families in Darlington met and private houses. In 1678 a plot of land on Skinnergate was purchased for £35, and there they built a meeting house. The 17th-century building was extended several times, with stables and an almshouse in addition to separate meeting houses for males and females.

In 1839 the old meeting house buildings were torn down and the present brick-fronted building erected, probably to a design by Joshua Sparks. The new meeting house had a library and classrooms on the first floor, above committee rooms and a lobby.

The separate meeting houses behind the new block were merged into one large space in 1845, but the male and female seating areas were still divided by movable shutters. The shutters were raised for a united meeting for worship but lowered for separate meetings for business.

At one end is a raised section topped by a sounding board, known as the 'minister's gallery'.

The 17th-century Quaker Burial Ground
The 17th-century Quaker Burial Ground

The Burial Ground

This peaceful oasis has been used for burials since the 17th century. It holds roughly 1,000 burials, among them members of the Pease and Blackhouse families, who exercised great influence over Darlington's growth.

Perhaps the most famous grave is that of Edward Pease (1767-1858), known as 'The Father of the Railways'. Pease was a wealthy wool merchant who became interested in the commercial potential of railways. From 1817 he promoted his railway in conjunction with entrepreneur George Stephenson. The railway used Stephenson's steam locomotives and became the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Joseph Pease (1799-1872) was Edward's son. The first quaker MP, Pease developed Middlesbrough and grew wealthy through holdings in the railway, coal mines, and mills. He was a philanthropist and campaigner against slavery.

Edward Pease, the 'Father of the Railways'
Edward Pease, the 'Father of the Railways'

Another famous name buried here is John Fowler (1826-1864), who invented the double shared steam plough. Then there is Sophia Fry (1837-1897), a pioneer for women's involvement in politics and business.

Speaking of success in business, look no further than the grave of Alfred Backhouse (1822-1888), who took over his family banking business on High Row and became one of the wealthiest men in Victorian England, with a fortune estimated at £36 million in modern terms.

Getting There

The Friends Meeting House is easy to reach. It is at 6 Skinnergate, a very short stroll from the Market Place. The Meeting House is open for Sunday worship and for coffee mornings once a week (check the official website for times). The burial ground is open at any time and is accessed through an archway beside the bookshop in Skinnergate.

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About Darlington Friends Meeting House
Address: 6 Skinnergate, Darlington, County Durham, England, DL3 7NB
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At the south end of Skinnergate off High Row and Coniscliffe Road. Paid parking nearby.
Website: Darlington Friends Meeting House
Location map
OS: NZ287144
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Darlington, St Cuthbert's Church - 0.2 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Head of Steam Museum - 0.8 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Haughton-le-Skerne, St Andrew's Church - 1.6 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Piercebridge Roman Fort and Bridge - 4.4 miles (Roman Site) Heritage Rating

Stanwick. St John's Church - 6.5 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Stanwick Iron Age Fort - 6.8 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

South Cowton, St Mary's Church - 7.5 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Moulton Hall - 7.7 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating



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