Rottingdean's Quaker Burial Ground

The Story of the Hidden Quaker Burial Ground

by Maggie Knapp

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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 illustration above is by local artist Mick Bensley and shows how the burial ground might have looked in Victorian times.

Below is an old map of Rottingdean showing the burial ground's location. 

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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.​

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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.

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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.

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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.​

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The pictures above are examples of two of the head stones, and the photo below shows how the burial ground looks now.

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Myself, members of the then Preservation Society (now Rottingdean Heritage) and Brighton Quakers had an enjoyable afternoon during the summer of 2018 gaining access to the burial ground, taking photos of the area and stones for archive purposes.

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More regarding the Quakers by Mike Laslett, Museum Curator, Rottingdean Heritage

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Quakers at Rottingdean

 


Nicholas Beard was the largest employer of farm labour in the village when he became a
Quaker in 1655. His conversion was at a meeting held locally by George Fox, the founder ofThe Society of Friends.

 

This happened at a time of great domestic upheaval caused by The Civil War. The country was ruled by Oliver Cromwell and his parliamentarians, following the execution of Charles I some five years earlier. It was to be a further five years before the monarchy was restored under Charles II.


Quakers were non-conformists who believed that a priest was not required for a relationship with God. They also held pacifist views. As a result, they would argue publicly with the parish priest, refuse to pay tithes to support him, refuse to send volunteers for the militia or swear an oath of allegiance.

 

These actions led to considerable persecution and Nicholas spent at least five years of his life in prison, including spells at Fleet and Horsham gaols. He also spent many hours in court where he received fines, often for refusing to pay tithes. The situation was not helped by the fact that the local incumbent, the ‘persecuting priest’ Robert Baker, not only took Beard’s livestock and produce to cover his tithes but took more than he was due, in the knowledge that Quakers had little protection in law.

 

These were very unsettled times nationally and it is reckoned that at any one time as many as 10% of male Quakers were in prison. Despite all the persecution, the majority of the Beard family were to remain staunch Quakers for many generations.

 

Nicholas purchased land adjoining Challoners which could be used as a Quaker burial
ground and he was buried there in 1702. In 1870 Charles Beard was the last member of the Beard family to be buried there, by which time the burials totalled 96! The land is now part of the private garden of Coppers and has no public access. It is the other side of the hedge on the northwest corner of Dean Court Road.

 

Another Quaker burial ground was at Black Rock. However, it was necessary to exhume the bodies and take them to Lawns Memorial Park, Woodingdean, when highways work prior to the building of Brighton Marina destroyed Rifle Butt Road in 1972. 

 

Fifteen skeletons were discovered during the recent refurbishment of the Dome and Corn Exchange. This part of Pavilion Gardens was found to be an old Quaker burial ground known as Quaker's Croft, adjacent to their Meeting House at the time. When the Prince Regent wanted to build the Dome as his stables in 1805 he paid the Quakers to move to their present site in Meeting House Lane. The recently discovered skeletons were reinterred at The Lawns Memorial Park at Woodingdean in a simple ceremony in the presence of some present day Quakers.

102 individuals are known to have been buried at the site between 1675 and 1889. The
majority of the graves appear to have been unmarked, which is in line with Quaker tradition.


The Beards, however, erected a family tomb. This was partly dismantled in the late 20th
century. Any tombstones and railings have been moved and now line the north and
northwest walls of the area.

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Left: Main burial site with monument and railings removed.

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Grave markers moved to wall and Below: Burial ground in centre of the view

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Listing request refused by Historic England

 

Below is the text of a letter received by our Vice President Ms Jean Talbot, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the society, on 22nd January 2021 refusing our request to list the burial ground in the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

22 January 2021

 

Dear Ms Talbot,

 

Rottingdean Quaker Burial Ground Walled Enclosure

 

Following your application we have been considering adding the above Quaker burial ground walled enclosure to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

 

We have taken into account all the representations made and completed our assessment of the Quaker burial ground walled enclosure. Having considered our recommendation, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has decided not to add Rottingdean Quaker Burial Ground Walled Enclosure to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

 

Please follow the link below to download a copy of our advice report, prepared for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which gives the principal reasons for this decision. The annex of this report will be published on our Heritage Gateway website in order to provide clarity about the site’s designation status. The website makes it clear that the buildings and sites included on the Heritage Gateway are mostly privately owned and are not open to the public.

 

 

If you consider that this decision has been wrongly made you may contact the DCMS within 28 days of the date of this letter to request that the Secretary of State review the decision. An example of a decision made wrongly would be where there was a factual error or an irregularity in the process which affected the outcome. You may also ask the Secretary of State to review the decision if you have any significant evidence relating to the special architectural or historic interest of the Quaker burial ground walled enclosure which was not previously considered. Further details of the review criteria and process and how to request a review are contained in the annex to this letter.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance. More information can also be found on our website at https://historicengland.org.uk.

 

Yours sincerely,

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.

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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:

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.

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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 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.  ​