The 400th anniversary of the birth of George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement is to be celebrated in Ross-on-Wye on July 6. 

The Religious Society Friends at their Meeting House, situated on the small roundabout as you come into town via Over Ross Street, are holding an open day on Saturday, July 6 between 10am and 4pm, to show-off the restoration programme of the 1668 burial ground, now conceived as a Peace Garden. 

The arches and front elevation to the heritage Meeting House have recently been renovated by local stonemason Benn Jamieson.

This open day event aims to provide a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect together after the tensions of the General Election, the day after the results are declared.

The open day will give an opportunity for individuals, families and neighbours to view the Meeting House, its heritage artefacts, and visit the newly restored garden managed under biodiversity goals. 

This includes a wildlife pond and the venerable legacy of memorials to important local people of faith.  The burial ground is mapped on a unique grid of stone letters carved on the wall to one axis, and forged numbers in the opposite direction.  The map will be available as a free sheet for families to help identify the prominent people’s gravestones.

The history and context of the non-conformist Quaker gatherings in Ross and The Marches and their importance on the development of the town and district of Ross-on-Wye is little known outside of the organisation.

Chris Bligh has researched the long legacy of Quaker involvement in Rossby exploring the stories behind these names shows a 350-year participation by Dissenters and Non-Conformist chapel-goers taking leadership roles in the civic and spiritual communities. 

He said: “They promoted their ethical values serving as mayors, business leaders and offering parochial care.  Quakers by the last century engaged with conscientious campaigns of anti-slavery, women’s emancipation, conscription to both World Wars, prisoners’ welfare, right through to the emergencies of nature warming, food banks, climate change and the social justice issues of today’s hustings.

Nationally there have been 38 Quaker MPs since Joseph Pease first took his Parliamentary seat in 1862, followed by John Bright in 1868 who rose to become a cabinet minister.  The first elected non-conformist MP was actually John Archdale of the Whig party, elected in1698, but as a Nonconformist not allowed to take his seat.  The last local Quaker politician was Molly Scott Cato as MEP for the South West who served in Brussels from 2014-2020.

Englishman George Fox, who founded the Friends of Truth, was born 400 years ago. The original religious movement which became the Quakers, unified by their opposition to the subjection of the state church,

“From 1652 he was an itinerant preacher exhorting seekers ‘to heed the voice of Christ within, to be honest in business, compassionate to the needy, and to share in the free ministry of the true church’,” Mr Bligh said.

The first Quakers Thomas Goodaire and George Scaife came to Ross-on-Wye in 1655 travelling on foot to the small community of 'Friends of the Truth' that had formed in Ross three years earlier.

The visiting preachers found a congregation waiting to hear them – some to hear the preacher, some to voice opposition, and some to enjoy a dispute.

After the meeting a local tanner, James Merrick, took the visitors to his home at Brook House (next to the Brampton Street Meeting House and garden)  where several of the newly-formed Friends came for further discussion, and decided they would meet there each Sunday.

For 20 years until the first Meeting House was built this remained the venue for the weekly Meetings for Worship in Ross.

The founding father George Fox, came twice to Ross, as he recorded in his Journal in 1663… “and then I passed to Ross and had a meeting. And then to Hereford, and had a meeting at the inn…and Friends were established upon Christ their foundation and rock of the ages”  and again “in 1668…went to Ross that night and had a meeting there at James Merrick’s.” ⚫ The Story of the Quakers in Ross was published in 2022, by Logaston Press, copies of which are available from Friends Meeting House, and Rossiter’s Books, priced at £10.