Plaque marks first permanent home of the Quakers in Victorian Torquay

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Quaker Meeting House, Torquay

This request for a blue plaque came in 2010 from one of the society members, Mr B Becker, who at the time told us that the Samaritans' building at 21 Warren Road, Torquay, had originally been the home of local Quakers.

As a Quaker himself, he explained that the building had been the first permanent home of the Quakers in Torquay in the Victorian era.

It seems the Friends had worshipped in leased/hired rooms at The Strand in Torquay before in 1851 moving to St John's Place, off Braddons Hill Road, and then finally, in 1854, building their new Quaker Meeting House at Warren Road.

The move to St John's Place had been at a time when the Friends numbers were rapidly increasing, which is why they then decided to leave their leased home and build a permanent Quaker Chapel.

Once built, it remained their permanent meeting house from 1856 until sold in 1948, having become, by then, too large and too expensive to run.

With the meeting house sold, the Friends moved back into leased premises, this time at 48 Torhill Road, Torquay.

Having obtained permission from the Samaritans that a blue plaque could be established on their building, the organiser of that time, Mrs C Crawshaw, offered to supply refreshments to all attendees of the event, the date of which was then finally agreed by all concerned as likely to be on October 4, 2010.

With sponsorship for the plaque and literature given through an anonymous donor, the text for the society's pamphlet carrying a Samaritan advertisement on the rear, would be written by Christopher Holdsworth of Exeter University.

He would cover the history of the Quaker movement and its meeting house in Torquay but also include a little of the background of the national Quaker movement. Copies of this pamphlet are still available.

Now we contacted Torbay Council in order that the mayor of the time could be invited to attend this rather special first for our society.

With the plaque received finally on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 3.30pm the chairman councillor and leader of Torbay Council Matthew Phillips and his official escort Councillor Nicol Amil joined a huge group of people at 21 Warren Road to officially witness the unveiling of the new blue plaque at what had been the Quakers' first permanent meeting house in Torbay.

With all formalities and thanks given, everyone moved inside the building to hear from a number of presenters that represented the Quaker movement and from the Samaritans, before refreshments were served.

All attending were then presented with free pamphlets.

By asking the Samaritans to explain a little of their history, we all learned of the excellent work being carried out by the volunteers on a 24-hour, 365-day basis.

It is a formidable commitment and we hoped that some of our own members might see fit to help.

We also learned that surprisingly the date chosen for this unveiling coincided with National Quaker Week.

Then we further learned that a local Quaker and famous resident of Torquay, William Pengelly of Kents Cavern and Torquay Museum fame, had been a regular attendee at Quaker meetings when held at the rooms situated near The Strand.

It seems Mr Pengelly, like many of his scientific friends, had been an ardent supporter of the Quaker movement and it is highly likely he would have been involved in the plan to establish a permanent home on this very site in the late 1850s.

Over the last 20 years my members will recall he has been a regular name featured when undertaking talks to groups from my Famous Devon Figure list.