ROTTINGDEAN QUAKER BURIAL GROUND
by Maggie Knapp
There is a little piece of Rottingdean's history that is unknown to most of the villagers, although they probably pass it often, it is the Quaker Burial Ground at the bottom of Dean Court Road, opposite St Margaret's Church.
The above illustration by local artist Mick Bensley shows how the burial ground might have looked in Victorian times.
Below is an old map of Rottingdean showing the burial ground's location.
My parents, Alex and Len Sloggett (pictured below), lived in Rottingdean for over 50 years, they were very involved in village life. Myself, my brother and sister all grew up in the village.
My father belonged to the Rottingdean Preservation Society, becoming Chairman in the 1980s. He and many others were instrumental in saving the Kipling Gardens from being built on, overseeing them being restored to the lovely peaceful gardens they are today.
My mother, a lifelong Quaker, knew of the burial ground, she was very upset at how overgrown and uncared for it had become in recent years. She tried to remedy this, but unfortunately to no avail.
When she died I wanted to do something in her memory, so I approached the Preservation Society, who have been very active in investigating how we could save the burial ground from further deterioration and have also obtained interest from Historic England in its renovation. Hopefully in the Spring of 2019 a plaque will be erected outside the burial ground so that people will know about this important part of Rottingdean's history.
The History of Quakers in Rottingdean
In 1655 Nicholas Beard became a Quaker and purchased land in Rottingdean where he was living.
At that time there was no meeting place for Quakers (as this preceded the Brighton Meeting House) so Nicholas Beard held meetings in his own house and set aside part of his land as a burial ground.
In total 102 Quakers are known to be buried there with 96 of them members of the Beard family. The last burial was recorded in 1870. My mum did a lot of research and made a list of all persons buried in the burial ground, which was taken from notes and records kept in the East Sussex Records Office. She gave these details to the Rottingdean Preservation Society which are now in the archives at The Grange.
Nicholas Beard came into conflict with the vicar of St Margaret's Church because he refused to pay money towards the church. At that time Quakers were heavily persecuted for their beliefs and it is thought that Nicholas Beard overall spent time in prison totaling 5 years.
Most of the graves were unmarked, as was the practice of Quakers at the time, but some later stones have been preserved.
The pictures above are examples of two of the head stones and the photo below shows how the burial ground looks now.
Myself, members of the Preservation Society and Brighton Quakers had an enjoyable afternoon last summer (2018) gaining access to the burial ground, taking photos of the area and stones for archive purposes.
The Quaker history and ethos
The Quaker religion, or to use its formal title 'Religious Society Of Friends', was founded in 1652 by George Fox. Quakers are pacifists and non-conformists, their faith is based in Christianity and they share a way of life rather than a set of beliefs.
There are no priests as Quakers believe everyone is equal and their meetings are held in meditative silence, during which people can stand up to speak if they wish.
They have always believed in simple living, a society based on truth, peace and equality. Quakers have been very involved in human rights issues, anti-slavery, prison reform, anti-discrimination and advocating education for all. Quakers always stand up for what they believe in, but quietly and without too much fuss.
Quakers are still very active, there are hundreds of Meeting Houses in the UK with thousands more all over the world, in fact Pennsylvania in the USA was founded by Quaker William Penn. Throughout history there have been many well known, philanthropic Quakers such as Elizabeth Fry and Johns Hopkins.
Quakers were prevented from attending universities because of their religion, this led to so many of them going directly into business instead.
Barclays and Lloyds banking services were originally founded by Quakers in the 1700s .
Also in the 1700s Josiah Wedgwood not only gave the world his famous pottery, but was also active in the abolition of slavery cause.
The modern process of chocolate manufacture was developed by the families of Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree in the 1800s. Cadbury's built the village of Bournville for their factory workers to live in and made sure they were well looked after.
Another well known business was Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight in the 1800s. They helped improve public health by manufacturing soap and making it readily available to the public. They also built a village for their factory workers to live in.
Also in the 1800s Elizabeth Fry was very active in prison reform and within the Anti-Slavery Society. She appeared on the back of the Bank Of England's £5 notes between 2002-2016 in recognition for her vital work in these areas.
Another Quaker initiative set up in 1942 was the “Oxford Committee For Famine Relief”, which later became better known as Oxfam.
Amnesty International, Help The Aged, The Anchor Housing Trust and The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust are all charities originally started by Quakers.
Well known Quakers of more recent times include Joan Baez, Kevin Bacon and Judi Dench.
In 1981 a Quaker Tapestry consisting of 77 panels was started. It is a visual chronicle of Quaker life through the centuries.
My mum worked on one of the panels, along with 4,000 other men, women and children from 15 countries. The finished tapestry has travelled all over the UK, Europe, and America, it is now on public display in the Kendal Quaker Meeting House.
Below is a sample of one of the panels.
If you would like to learn more about Quakers and their history you can visit www.quaker.org.uk. and their weekly meetings are open to all who wish to attend at The Friends Meeting House in Brighton.
Photographs courtesy of Tony Tree.
Footnote: We would like to point out that the new current owners of the house's garden where the burial ground is have tidied the area and have told us that they are looking after it. The burial ground is situated on private property therefore we would kindly ask you to please respect the privacy of the current owners and do not attempt to view or visit the site, thank you.