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The Quaker Meeting House at Airton

Quaker Meeting House
Nicholas Pevsner wrote that of the houses along the green in Airton, the Post Office is
probably the best (dated 1660), but that the Friend's Meeting House (dated 1700) was
no doubt the most interesting.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: The West Riding. Harmondsworth, 1959

The following is the text of a booklet describing the history of Quakers in Airton and the story of the Meeting House and Hostel from its beginnings to the present day. The Grade II listed Meeting House, wardens' cottage, stableblock and walled garden are substantially unchanged from their original state, making them unusual examples of both vernacular architecture and Quaker heritage. A recognised Meeting for Worship was reinstated there in 2004 and in 2007 an appeal was launched to renovate the property which had fallen into a poor state of repair over the years. The booklet published in January 2007, was written to accompany the appeal by Richard Harland and Laurel Phillipson.

See also our pages on the Location of Airton Quaker Records : Airton Quaker Burials : Airton Burial Ground Monumental Inscriptions

The Quaker Meeting House at Airton
some of the Friends who worshipped there

George Fox
George Fox (1624-1691)

The First Friends
The earliest record we have of Friends' activities in Malhamdale was a visit in 1652 of George Fox, the most energetic and famous of the early Quaker preachers or travellers in the ministry. Even before Fox's visit there must have been many living in the Dale who were of a liberal outlook and who welcomed the new emphasis on direct religious experience and responsibility, unmediated by priest or ritual, as his message rapidly gained acceptance.

Regular Friends meetings were held at Airton and at one of these, probably in about 1660, John Hall of Airton (1637-1719) accepted the Quaker message and became a Friend. This John Hall later moved to Skipton and took a leading role in building the Skipton Friends meeting house (1693) and his son David kept a Quaker boarding school in Skipton from about 1703 to 1757.

We do not know whether the parents of William Ellis (1658-1709) were Friends, but in following his father's trade of linen hand-loom weaving, William moved from Calton near Airton, to Skipton, where in 1675 he was apprenticed to the Quaker weaver, John Stott. In the following year William joined Friends and was soon recognised as having a gift of spoken ministry.

In about 1679 he finished his apprenticeship and moved to Airton where he soon began to employ apprentices and/or indentured workers of his own. The weaving business seems to have prospered so that in 1695 William was able to write that:
"The Lord hath wonderfully helped me in things outward"
and some years later he wrote that all his travels in the ministry were made entirely at his own expense.

A few years after settling in Airton, William Ellis began his second career as a travelling preacher. He was in east Yorkshire in 1686, in the south of England about 1690, Ireland in 1694 and in 1697 he felt called to North America. Over the course of about one-and-a-half years he held meetings and visited Friends in Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, East and West Jersey, Long Island and Rhode Island. Subsequent to his safe return in 1699 he maintained an active correspondence with Friends in all the places he had visited. His was a major influence in helping the Religious Society of Friends in Britain and in the New World to mature from its sometimes turbulent beginnings.

Alice Davie (died 1720: her date and place of birth are unknown) and William Ellis were married in 1688 and their only child, a son born in 1692, lived for just one year. Thereafter they each gave a large portion of their efforts and income to working for what was to become the Society of Friends. Alice supervised the weavers and the weaving business while William was abroad and welcomed visiting Friends to their home. She also spoke as a minister in meetings for worship and participated in the regional and national conduct of Friends' business and organisational matters.

The Meeting House
In a letter sent from Airton dated 6th month 1697, William Ellis wrote:
“I gave you a hint before, how I have got up a meeting house .... good service we have had since we got it in order. Many public Friends come to us, and great numbers of people at times; and the Lord's goodness opens wonderfully to us. so that people declare their satisfaction one to another ....”
Thus, although the date-stone above the Airton meeting house door says 1700, a building must have been in use some years earlier.

The land for the meeting house and associated buildings was purchased in 1700 for £31 by the Ellis's from John Lambert of Calton, son of General Lambert of Civil War fame. It comprised:
“all that one parcel of arable or meadow land commonly called The Croft containing by estimation half an acre be the same more or less and all that one house (ie. the meeting house or an earlier building on the same site), barn. or stable situate standing and being on that part of the said parcel of ground which doth adjoyne to the Common Street in the said Ayrton."

The original stable was where The Nook now stands, but in about 1710 Alice Ellis had the stable replaced by the present cottage and a new coach house and stable built. In 1706 the Ellises conveyed the property to Quaker trustees; this deed speaks of the meeting house and "the stable for them to put their horses in" together with a croft of which part was to be for burials and the remainder "for getting of hay on for their horses when they shall meet". The hay meadow, which was still in Friends' possession in 1905, has since been sold and a blocked off gateway leading to it can be seen in the perimeter wall. In her will, Alice also left to Quaker trustees the Ellis's house, the adjoining cottage and farmland in Airton, the income from which was to provide hospitality for travelling Quaker ministers and apprenticeships for the children of families living in Airton and for Quaker children.

Other Meetings in the area
A report from Settle Monthly Meeting dated 1704 says that:
"George Fox at his first coming into the north. which was in the year 1652. was directed to the house of James Tennant. called Scarhouse. in Langsthrethdale ... where a meeting was soon settled and is continued to this day".
Nearer to Airton, a meeting was settled at Scalehouse in about 1652 or 1653. Richard Scostrop of Scalehouse "who was born to some estate" joined Friends and became an active supporter of the Society.

In 1698 Settle Monthly Meeting comprised local meetings - or particular meetings as William Ellis termed them - at Bentham, Newton-in-Bowland, Rylstone (formerly called Scalehouse) with Airton, Salterforth, Scarhouse, Selside and Settle. Meetings for the conduct of local church affairs were held alternately at Airton and at Rylstone. Rylstone meeting ceased in 1792 and its meeting house was sold in 1813.

In 1743 it was reported to Archbishop Herring that at Airton:
"we have 230 families of which 6 only are Quakers .... the Quakers have a meeting house where they meet to the number of about 20 on Sundays and Wednesdays".
Frequently the eighteenth century parish-by-parish reports of dissenter activities gave underestimates of the actual number of dissenters in a parish. The Airton Meeting house remained in Quaker use throughout the nineteenth century and during at least part of that time the upper floor of the Stable Block was used as a place where travelling peddlers exhibited their wares. According to the unpublished memoirs of Arnold Waterfall the room was then known as The Klondyke on account of the treasures which might be displayed for sale.

Use by Young Friends
An event of note was a visit in the summer of 1905 by a group of Young Friends intent on reviving small and dormant Quaker meetings and on fostering the Adult School movement.
Writing in The Friend for October 1905, they describe:
"the little village of Airton with its ancient meeting-house, dating from 1700. The old stone building. with the stone bench running round the little paved yard behind it, beside it the quiet grassy graveyard. and the beautiful paddock beyond. seemed all full of good memories. For fifty years this meeting has been one of the smallest in Yorkshire, but most warm is the welcome which visiting Friends receive there. Between sixty and seventy gathered to the meeting for worship at seven o'clock [in the evening] .... at the close was held ... a talk on Adult Schools; and finally it was decided to start one in the meeting-house at two o 'clock the next Sunday".

Other Quaker meetings in the area which these Young Friends found to be still active were at Bentham, Sawley and Settle. Skipton meeting had ceased some years previously, but Friends retained ownership of that meeting house and thirty-five people met there for a Wednesday evening meeting for worship.

From 1911 summer gatherings of Adult School members from northern England were held at Airton for up to four weeks each year. Students stayed in the Ellis's house and adjoining guest cottage; talks and classes took place in the meeting house.

In 1933 the Yorkshire Adult Students' Union Summer School as it was then called, bought a new set of Fellowship hymn books to augment their stock. Arthur and Elizabeth Raistrick were tutors most years and Joseph Waterfall (1874-1943) was a member and strong supporter of Airton Meeting during much of this time.

In 1921, the farmland which had been left to Quaker trustees by the Ellis's was sold; by 1935 most of the Quaker properties at Airton, including the Ellis's house and attached cottage and the croft or hayfield adjoining the meeting house, were also sold. Thereafter Yorkshire Young Friends used the ground floor of the former stables and sometimes the gallery of the meeting house as a hostel, the upper floor of the stable block being unsafe.

The next time of change for the Airton property came in 1941, John Stober has said in a letter written in 2006 that:
"In the early summer of 1941... I wrote to the Friends Relief Service asking if I could help in any way during the university vacation .... I was asked to join a work-party at Airton Meeting House and help to prepare for the arrival of evacuated families ....
Friends all over the country were offering emergency accommodation .... The Relief Service was revived to help ... by improving the facilities available. or by finding, adapting and staffing more suitable premises .... At Airton we improved the kitchen by putting in a new window and laying a floor and installed electric wiring throughout the buildings .... We left before the evacuees arrived."


Quaker Hostel
The hostel converted from the old stables

The Waterfall era and revival
Phyllis and Arnold, son of Joseph, Waterfall became the much loved resident wardens at Airton: they were also instrumental with other Friends in the revival of Settle meeting for worship. In conversations in 1998. Phyllis recollected how as a child she used to come to the Adult School summer schools at Airton with her parents. Later, as a Young Friend from Leeds, she stayed in the hostel on the ground floor of the stable block.

During the war, Arnold took a farming job at Airton and the Waterfalls were appointed to look after the evacuees at the meeting house. The evacuees, a mother with three young sons, and another with two sons and a daughter, born while she was at Airton, slept in the back part of the meeting house, one family in the gallery and one behind the screen in the women's room. The main meeting room was boarded off, providing a passage way to the bedrooms on the right or to the meeting room on the left. The families shared the downstairs of the stable block as a kitchen and living room. When, after the war, the caretakers' cottage became vacant the Waterfalls moved into it.

Starting in 1943 a regular Sunday meeting for worship was held. In addition to the Waterfall family, this was attended by, among others; Sidney and Constance Pearson from Malham, Mollie Peel and Jennie Bowman from Newfield Hall, John and Pauline Dower of Kirkby Malham and Elizabeth and Arthur Raistrick, who bicycled over from Linton.

When the war ended and many people including a number of Quakers left the area it was decided to discontinue the regular Sunday meeting for worship. For five years it had been appreciated by locals and visitors. As long as the Waterfalls continued as resident Friends at Airton it was the scene of much Quakerly activity and outreach. Groups of Quaker youths. parties from Ackworth School and others "camped" in the stables and sometimes on the meeting house gallery; they held meetings for worship, sitting on the unpadded old wooden benches. which they called "bum numbers".

Recent developments
From about 1970 widely advertised meetings for worship held at Airton two or three times a year were attended by Yorkshire and Lancashire Friends from Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Eccles and elsewhere, as well as from Settle Monthly Meeting. Starting in 2002, efforts were made to resume more frequent meetings for worship at Airton, at first during the summer only. Despite the meeting house's dampness and lack of heating, meetings for worship are now held throughout the year on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at 3:00 pm. Airton was listed by Friends as a "notified meeting" in 2005 and became a "recognised meeting" in 2006. Other recent events have included making the Airton Tapestry panel, completed in 2004 by Friends and neighbours including children from Kirkby Malham School, and a visit from Friends attending Britain Yearly Meeting at York in 2005.
In the late 1940s improvements were made to the stable block including re-roofing, inserting a wooden staircase and constructing a new upper floor. For several years dances. or "hops" were held here on Saturday evenings with music supplied by the Waterfalls' gramophone. It was also used by Leeds Young Friends for sleeping accommodation. In 1983 the upstairs was partitioned into three separate rooms and the kitchen on the ground floor was modernised. The stone roof of the meeting house was reset in 2005.

The next phase
Now, in 2007, it is time to begin planning and fundraising for a new phase of work so that the property may continue to meet its potential for service to Quakerism and to the wider community.

Summary history of the Friends property at Airton:

First published mention of an established Quaker meeting in Airton.
William Ellis, Quaker linen weaver, settles at Airton, prospers and employs labour. In 1688 he marries Alice Davy. In 1697 they build their house and weaving workshops across the road from the meeting house.
Act of Toleration.
The Ellises acquire site and build Airton meeting house with its adjoining burial ground and stable. completed in 1700. on the foundation of a previous stone building. visible externally at the northeast corner; perhaps it was the source of the re-used crux roof timbers in the present building.
The Ellis's convey the meeting house and its premises to Quaker Trustees.
Death of William Ellis - Taking effect after the deaths of himself and Alice, he put the house and various lands in trust for local charitable purposes including hospitality for visiting Friends to be provided at the house.
before 1720
Assignment of property to new trustees. states that Alice did "convert the said stable into a dwelling house and erected a new stable".
Death of Alice Ellis - She confirmed and augmented the trusts previously established. By deed poll dated 26th September 1709, Alice Ellis, widow of William Ellis, assigned her house, gardens, and parcels of arable meadow and pasture-ground in the township of Airton, the whole comprising about twenty-nine acres and the turbary on the moors belonging thereto, to Henry Jackson and five others, in trust, to let the same farm unto such person or persons of the people called Quakers as should willingly, at the said dwelling house, entertain such teachers as travel to preach the Gospel and were in unity with the said people, taking no reward for the same. The property is let at about £25 per annum [in 1878] and vested in trustees from the members of the quarterly meeting in York of the Society of Friends. [T.D. Whitaker, 1878. The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, 3rd edition, p. 252] This Apprentice Fund was to be applied to putting out as apprentices, the children of poor Friends to "honest and plain trades". Every third year certain local poor children were apprenticed out of this charity.
The meeting house and burial ground remained in use by Friends. Until 1850 burial plots were unmarked by choice both for simplicity and to avoid any distinction between rich and poor, but since that date memorial stones are generally of uniform shape and wording. See the Inscriptions.
Abt. 1841
The stable block was raised to a full two storey height. retaining the original entrances and walls. The former coach house entrance retains its wood and stone lintels with a door socket and a stone door stop. A small head on the doorstop was carved by the resident warden in the 1970s.
Oldest dated gravestone in southern part of the burial ground
by 1896
Burial ground was enlarged by rebuilding the northern wall to incorporate what had formerly been a garden, presumably the vegetable plot of the tenants of the attached cottage. The garden shed approached by a narrow path, is not an encroachment on the burial ground.
Oldest dated grave marker in the northern extension of the Burial
1904 Land outside the SE wall of the burial ground, the Ellis's house and other Quaker property in Airton belonging to the Ellis Apprentice Fund Charity was sold and invested in Bradford Corporation Stock.
Airton Adult School commences, held in the meeting house.
1911 - circa 1933
Resident gatherings of the Yorkshire Adult School Union Summer School held at Airton with classes in the meeting house; students stayed in The Guest House, formerly the Ellis's house. across the road. Tiled grate inserted in the meeting house fireplace and perhaps meeting house chimney rebuilt and the large window inserted during this time.
Yorkshire Young Friends used the ground floor of the stables as hostel accommodation.
A new window was inserted in the stable block, wooden floor in the common room and probably then new glazing in the meeting house.
1942 -1943
Bombed-out families of two women and six children from Liverpool were accommodated on the galley and in the back room of the meeting house.
8 Regular meetings for worship are held at Airton.
late 1940s
Stable block roof reset, and wooden stairs and upstairs floor inserted; meeting house woodwork painted.
Agreement with Midland Bank for continued use of driveway across the green.
1940s - circa 1965
The stable block was used and managed by Yorkshire Young Friends as hostel accommodation. In recent years it has been advertised nationally and used by non-Friends.
circa 1970 - 2004
Meetings for worship held 2 or 3 times a year.
Upstairs of the stable block partitioned into three rooms.
Airton listed with Friends as a "notified meeting" with meetings
for worship held once a month.
Airton becomes a "recognised meeting".

Sources of information for this booklet include the extensive collection of Quaker documents in the Brotherton Library at Leeds, interviews with Phyllis and Arnold Waterfall. and extracts from the unpublished memoirs of Arnold Waterfall generously provided by his son, Roger Waterfall. See also Backhouse. James, 1849. The Life and Correspondence of William and Alice Ellis, Charles Gilpin. London and John Linney. York

The Airton Trust Property is owned by Brighouse, Leeds and Settle Monthly Meetings Buildings Charity (reg. 228684) and is administered by a Management Committee appointed by Settle Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

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