George Fox who is remembered as the founding father of the Quakers was born at Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire in 1624. As a young man, he was dismayed by what he saw as the failings of the established church. George Fox considered that he did not need a priest to stand between him and God, he could communicate directly.
Fox travelled first to London and then returned to journey throughout Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire meeting and talking with other religious seekers of truth. These seekers after truth usually referred to each other as “friends”. They have since become known to the rest of the world as Quakers.
The first recorded visit by George Fox to Birmingham was in 1655. This coincides with records of meetings for worship being held here in private houses and regularly being broken up.
The first meeting house was nearby on what is now The Great Western Arcade. Joseph Hopkins conveyed to Quakers a house and gardens occupied by Richard Onions. Both Hopkins and Onions were Quakers so it is likely that the house had been used as a meeting house since 1660’s. The garden was used as a burial ground.
Quakers acquired land on Bull Street for the first meeting house on this site with new building fronting the road. Land behind the building was later acquired for a burial ground.
The meeting house was much altered including a new entrance and the windows to the street being blocked. This was presumably to reduce the noise disturbing
A new meeting house was built well back from the street. With its galleries, it was large enough to accommodate all Birmingham Quakers.
Following further acquisition of land, the first Priory Rooms was built which allowed for social meeting rooms for Quakers and also for letting. The letting of rooms was an important consideration when rebuilding was planned. The building of the Friends Reading Society Library followed in 1880.
Due to the building of Quaker meeting houses in other parts of the city, the Bull Street meeting house was proving to be too big. This was demolished and the current meeting house was built. It was designed by the Quaker architect Hubert Lidbetter.
The old Priory Rooms and Reading Library were demolished and Dr. Johnson House was built to include rooms of various sizes for short and long lets. It served the Society well for over thirty years but by the beginning of the 1990s, it was becoming clear that major refurbishment would be required to adapt it to modern standards and requirements.
Costs of essential maintenance were rising dramatically and the demand for short and long term lettings increased. Dr Johnson House was demolished in 2001 and that part of the Quaker site was let for the building of One Colmore Square. The courtyard was excavated to contain the new Priory Rooms, a modern conference centre with refreshment area adjacent to the Meeting House. The purpose of this redevelopment was to provide accommodation for a wide range of Quaker and other groups while offering high standard conference facilities to the professional and business communities of the city.
The burial ground under the courtyard was excavated and the remains, including those from the old burial ground, interred in the Quaker Burial Ground at Lodge Hill Cemetery, Selly Oak.
The Priory Rooms together with the Meeting House continue to serve as a base for Quaker witness in Birmingham. The profits from The Priory Rooms are donated to Central England Quakers and help to support their community projects which include West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project, Northfield Ecocentre and Hope Project Uganda. So you can use The Priory Rooms Meeting and Conference Centre for your meetings and at the same time make a valuable contribution to the local community. A great way to enhance the Corporate Social Responsibility of any organisation.