By Alan Tristram
Because there’s an active Quaker group in Kapiti, we were fascinated to be able to visit the ancient ‘Quaker House’ in the heart of Bridport, a busy market town just a mile or so from the sea in Dorset.
The simple stone building stands right next to the footpath on South Street, fronting the Church of England’s ancient St Mary’s Church on the other side of the street.
The siting is appropriate — the Quakers came into being because they bridled at the doctrine and authoritarianism of the Anglican Church established as the state church by Henry the 8th in the 16th Century.
The living history
We were the only visitors and had the white-washed meeting room — high ceilinged and austere — to ourselves except for two Quaker ladies anxious to share the House’s history with us.
They told us they had links with Quaker groups all over the world, but — not yet — with the Kapiti Quakers. And apparently members of the Society of Friends arrive on visits from every corner of the Globe.
Quakers are born socialists (in the best sense of the word) and the Ladies said the Bridport Friends make the House available to a range of community groups.
Several ancient stone Alms-houses are attached to the main building, and still provide subsidised housing for local.
Tombstones in the garden
But the biggest surprise for us was an enclosed passage-way which led to a courtyard and then to a beautiful cottage garden with lawns — and two or three ranks of tombstones lining both sides.
The tombs nearest the House were those of Quakers who died over the past 50 years or so. But down at the back of the garden the tombstones were much, much older.
As I peered at them and tried to decipher the faded, chiselled inscriptions, a curious thought struck me. all the tombstones looked similar, unlike the usual graveyards where the wealthy dead pull rank with huge catafalques and glorious statuary, the Friends remain humble in death as they are in life.
You couldn’t imagine a quieter, more serene setting — only a few dozen metres from a busy street in a bustling market town.
The peaceful realm — at last
One other thought struck me as we wandered in the garden: How wonderful that at last Britain has rejected waging war in the Middle East, opting for
the non-violent path espoused by Quakers throughout their history.