Lisburn Friends to fore as Quaker Week looms

The Friends Meeting House in Railway Street Built, which was built in 1853, was vacated in March 1997 when Friends moved to the present Meeting House in the grounds of Friends' School Lisburn.  A burial ground is located behind a high yellow wall (right).
The Friends Meeting House in Railway Street Built, which was built in 1853, was vacated in March 1997 when Friends moved to the present Meeting House in the grounds of Friends' School Lisburn. A burial ground is located behind a high yellow wall (right).

Lisburn’s long connection with the The Religious Society of Friends has come to the fore in the run-up to Quaker Week (October 3-11).

Last Thursday saw former Friends School principal and lifelong Quaker Arthur Chapman speak at Lisburn Museum on the subject of ‘Four Centuries of Work and Witness’, this from the title of his book ‘Quakers in Lisburn: Four Centuries of Work and Witness’, launched at Friends Meeting House, Lisburn in November 2009.

Drawing on original Quaker records and material from the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, the book records the contribution of Quakers to the development of religious, educational, commercial and social life in the town of Lisburn and surrounding areas, among them Hillsborough, Maghaberry and Brookfield.

In his own book, ‘Lisburn’s Rich Church Heritage’, local man John Kelly records how the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers - established in Cumbria in 1652 - emerged in Lisburn in 1655, when one John Shaw, of Broad Oak near Lisnagarvey, was so impressed by the words of an ex-Cromwellian soldier, William Edmundson, as to pursue the simple Christianity of the Quakers, gathering a few people at his home in what was effectively the first Quaker meeting in the area, possibly near Blaris or Portmore.

He further records that merchant George Gregson, who lived and traded on the corner of Market Square and Jackson’s Lane, now Railway Street, built the first Friends Meeting House in a large garden behind his home

“Friends worshipped there for many years,” he writes, “and the building even survived the great fire of Lisburn on 20th April 1707 . . . In 1793, a new much larger Meeting House was built on the same site . . . Such was the growth of Quakerism in the first half of the 19th century that an even larger Meeting House was built in 1853, fronting onto Railway Street.

“An adjacent burial ground, which is now hidden behind a high wall, remained in use from the 1700s until the early 1900s.

“In keeping with Quaker simplicity each gravestone is uniform in size and design, bearing only the name, age and date, to avoid any differential between rich and poor members.

“Lisburn Friends sold the building in Railway Street in 1995 and since the 5th October 1996 have occupied a new Meeting House built on land at Prospect Hill, Magheralave Road, adjoining the new Preparatory Department of Friends School.”

Recent events highlighting Quaker history locally have also included a Quaker tapestry exhibition, entitled ‘Discover the stories behind the stitches’ - again at Lisburn Museum.

As part of Quaker Week an ‘Open Sunday Worship’ will be held in Friends Meeting House on Sunday (October 4) at 11am.