The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, was founded in 1652 by George Fox.
A small group of Quakers began meeting in Saffron Walden in the middle of the 17th century, before non-conformist religions were tolerated. Magistrates initially persecuted the Quakers and they were heavily fined for meeting openly.
In 1676, they purchased a cottage in Cucking Stool End Street (now the High Street) and a backroom became the Friends’ Meeting House. They were still persecuted and on at least two occasions Magistrates ordered the Meeting House doors to be nailed up.
The Meeting House was extended in 1791 and extensively rebuilt in 1879 to accommodate pupils from the Friends’ School. Prominent 18th and 19th century Quaker families in Saffron Walden included the Gibsons, the Frys, the Tukes, the Wyatts, and the Day Green family.
George Stacey Gibson, known as ‘Mr Saffron Walden,’ was a Quaker banker and was born in Saffron Walden in 1818. He became Mayor and was responsible for building the railway line from Saffron Walden to Audley End as well as purchasing the drinking fountain for the Market Square, and being integral in the building of the Corn Exchange (now the Library), Barclays Bank and the mock Tudor extension to the Town Hall. He also provided the land for the building of what was the Friends’ School in Mount Pleasant Road when it moved to Saffron Walden from Croydon in 1879. A Plaque to George Stacey Gibson can be seen on the wall of his old house, Hill House, on Saffron Walden High Street. Our Saffron Walden Blue Plaque Leaflet can be seen here. A biography has also been written and is available on our e-shop.
Saffron Walden Museum was built in 1835 with funding from Jabez Gibson (George Stacey Gibson’s uncle). The Museum houses many items from Quaker benefactors including the Tuke Collection of ceramics.
The old Saffron Walden Hospital (now the home to Uttlesford District Council) was paid for by a bequest of £5000 from Wyatt George Gibson (George Stacey Gibson’s father) and by public subscription.
Francis Gibson, brother of Wyatt, laid out Bridge End Garden in 1840, originally as a private garden. The Garden is still owned by the Fry family and is now leased to Saffron Walden Town Council who maintain and manage it.