A short history of Leeds Quakers

The founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), George Fox (1624-1691) came to Yorkshire in 1652. One of his earliest converts was William Dewsbury, who began preaching in this area and soon gathered others of like mind. By 1657 Friends here were beginning to be known as a group, meeting in the open air, or in each others houses. They encountered some hostility at first, and after the Restoration of Charles II were subjected, with other dissenters, to much persecution. The Quaker Act of 1662 made it unlawful to meet with five other friends for worship. In 1683 Quaker meetings were broken up by the Mayor and aldermen resulting in 38 men and 14 women being sent to prison in the Moothall and “put together, all in one room, and though the season of the year was extream could (cold) being a wonderful great storm, such as scarce the like hath been known, yet were the said Friends prisoners kept four nights and days in that place, without any fire”

Boar Lane: It was not until the toleration act of 1689 that Friends were allowed to freely hold meetings for worship and to have their own premises. During the next ten years Benjamin Horner, a clothe worker of Boar Lane, and William Cowell, a clothier of Quarry Hill, leased a meeting house in Boar Lane. By 1699, several houses in Leeds, Armley and Wortley were registered for meetings for worship, and in that year a new meeting house was built, south of the river, at Water Lane, beside the burial ground, the land for which, in Meadow Lane, had been purchased from John Cunningham in 1672.

Water Lane: The cost of £162 of the new building was met by subscription from 65 Friends of the Leeds Meeting. The first meeting was held on 24th September, 1699. The premises were able to accommodate a school run by a Friend, Miles Waker, from 1711 to 1721. A larger school was established by Joseph Tatham in 1756 and continued by his nephew until 1838.

The success of Joseph Tatham’s school, and the need for more accommodation for Friends’ monthly and quarterly meetings made enlargement of the premises necessary, and the meeting house was rebuilt in 1788. While the work was going on, meetings, and at least one marriage, took place in the granary belonging to Robert Arthington, a brewer in Hunslet Lane. Further alterations and improvements were made in 1807. After the closure of Joseph Tatham’s school in 1838, a night school for poor boys and young men was established, this was a successful venture and in 1850 an adult school was established.

After the move to new premises at Carlton Hill, the old buildings at Water Lane and most of the land were sold to F&W Firth iron merchants. However, part of the grounds were purchased by eight Friends who, in 1877, built new premises for a mission and Friends Adult School which known as Great Wilson Street schools. These premises were eventually sold to the Corporation in 1946 and the whole site cleared in 1967. The site was then acquired by ASDA, and is now occupied by ASDA House, the Head Office of ASDA.

The former Carlton Hill Meeting House
Carlton Hill: In 1864 Carlton House and part of an estate in Woodhouse Lane were offered for sale to Friends by John Jowitt. Leeds Meeting purchased the estate, the house was demolished, and new premises were built on the site. The new premises included new meeting houses of similar size to the old, school rooms, committee rooms and a caretaker’s house. The cost came to £14,187. The first meeting for worship in the Carlton Hill meeting house was held on 19 January 1868. In 1873 five cottages were added.

After the First World War, membership was falling and the large premises were costly to maintain. In 1921 Albrechts Limited purchased the main Meeting House building and Carlton Hill Friends continued to meet in the school room block behind the meeting house. The decline in membership continued, partly as a result of new meetings being established at Roundhay (1929) and Adel (1937).

During the 1930’s the BBC acquired the former meeting house at Carlton Hill and developed the site extensively for offices and studios. In 1978 the meeting accepted an offer from the BBC for the school room block and the last Quaker Meeting for Worship was held on 22 April, 1979. The BBC continued to use the site to 2005. It has since been purchased by Leeds Metropolitan University and the original Friends Meeting House has been refurbished and was opened early in 2007 as LMU’s flagship ‘Institute for Enterprise’, with the building being called ‘Old Broadcasting House’. The rest of the site was cleared in August 2007 for LMU redevelopment in 2007/8.

Woodhouse Lane: From 1979, the remaining Carlton Hill Quakers continued to meet in rented accommodation at Hyde Park, until a new Meeting House, at 188 Woodhouse Lane, was opened in September 1987.

Main source: ‘A Brief History of Leeds Quakers’ by Jean Mortimer