A restoration project on a 16th century Quaker Meeting House in Coolham has completed as another has started.
The Blue Idol Meeting House was original bought by the early Quaker William Penn, who later founded the American state of Pennsylvania.
The Grade II* listed building is finished with a Horsham stone roofing and was originally a farmhouse.
Two years ago the worshippers embarked on a £350,000 building project to restore it to its former glory. Old oak beams and the wattle and daub have all been replaced to standards set by Historic England (previously English Heritage).
At the weekend they had a celebration of its grand opening attended by notable Quakers including actor Sheila Hancock.
Long-standing member Susan Richardson said: “We started fundraising in 2013 and we have no idea what was going to come in. We have had financial assistance from 195 other Quaker meetings including some in America and very generous donations from various organisations, foundations and then of course the general public.
“Quite a lot of large anonymous amounts of money has come in. It was amazing.
“The biggest reward of all for me is after the frustrations and seeing the place in turmoil and to walk back in here and still be aware of the Quaker spirituality in the building.
But it has been a challenge and they had not realised the scale of the work until it started. The heavy Horsham stone roof has made the project difficult.
Specialist carpenter Don Mackinder, led the project for Valley Builders and cut the ribbon for the officially opening on Saturday.
He said: “The biggest concern was that we had to keep the top up.
“We were working back to front building it from the top downwards and oak is not the lightest of materials so we had to be so careful moving it around.
“When we first came in all the scaffolding was up. I put my hand on the wall and it moved it.”
The timbers are purposefully left unstained in what is known as an ‘honest repair’. The oak will get darker over time, but will never be black like the original.
The oldest part incorporates the meeting house itself and part of the adjoining farmhouse. It was extended in 1893 and then again in 1934.
The meeting house itself remains virtually unchanged since 1600 with interesting features such as a gallery and the ministers’ stand remaining.
Meeting clerk Roger Wilson said: “The building been all sorts of things. It’s been a place for people to come and converge, a place for people to come and spend their honeymoon, a bed and breakfast.
“We would feel a great sense of loss without it.
“We do have people from far and wide who regard it as a place worth travelling the distance to come to.”
Another project starts
Meanwhile Horsham Quaker Meeting House is starting a makeover project of its own.
The 18th century building in Worthing Road is Grade II listed and home to lots of community groups as well as the Quakers.
These vary widely and include local interest groups, a painting and gardening groups and charities including Horsham Matters.
Members are trying to raise almost £60,000 to carry out essential listed building refurbishments, install more energy efficient heating and lighting, double glazing and insulation.
Meeting clerk Ruth Hodgson said: “We would like people to know the building’s here and it’s an important, key building in Horsham.
“It’s a really lovely space and welcoming space. (Groups like) the food bank run from here, yoga, we have 12 steps groups - Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous.
“People don’t know what the Quakers are about. Quakers are Christian, but there’s no creed. It’s about peace, equality, simplicity and truth. We worship in silence.
“The work is making sure the roof is in a stable state going forward.”
They need to raise £49,000 for phase one which they hope to carry out this year with a further £10,000 for phase two, which will include the work to the windows.
For more information about the Horsham Quakers and to make donation towards the restoration project go to www.horshamquakers.org.uk
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