The first record of a Society of Friends, or Quakers, in Southampton is in 1655 when George Fox, founder of the movement, paid a visit to the town and recorded in his journal that “several people were convinced there”. A community of Quakers had been established in Southampton by 1660 when a number of them were jailed for seven weeks for refusing to take an oath of allegiance. In 1670 a group of Quakers were fined for illegal assembly under the Conventicle Act. Persecution in the form of fines or imprisonment continued for the remainder of the 17th century.
Quaker meetings at that time were usually held in the home of George Embree in the parish of All Saints without Bar (i.e. somewhere north of the Bargate). Embree, who was a soap boiler and a carrier and had some connection with a local brewery, was also known as Captain Embree, although the origin of his title is unknown. It was Embree who, in 1662, purchased a piece of land on the west side of the Avenue, just south of Brighton Road, which was later used as a Quaker Burial Ground. A meeting house was built in Castle Lane in 1705 on the site of the later Crown Court. By 1795 Quaker meetings had lapsed and the meeting hall sold off. After 1800 meetings were re-started in temporary premises in St Michael’s Square. In 1822 a new meeting house was built in Castle Square. It was in use until 1884 when the Quakers moved to new premises in Ordnance Road.

Further reading:
Quakers in Southampton, by Robert Hockley. (HS/j)
Southampton Friends to 1700, by James H. Mathews. (HS/j)
Three Centuries of Nonconformity in Southampton and District, by Southampton Record Office, p9-11. (HS/j)


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