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Countersett Quakers

Address: Friends Meeting House Countersett Askrigg LEYBURN North Yorkshire County DL8 3DD See Map
Meeting Times: Last Sunday in each month, 10.45 am

Location OS grid ref: SD 919879

Directions: Lies next to Countersett Hall within the hamlet of Countersett. Open during daylight hours

Key dates, Start:1710 and end date: 0001

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Description of the Place:

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Sourced description:
A meeting among friends
8:42am Saturday 2nd June 2007 in Features .

Hundreds of years after it came to Wensleydale, Quakerism is alive and well in the tiny village of Countersett.

IN the great compendious catacomb that is The Northern Echo's cuttings library, there is nothing between Coundon Grange and Cow Green reservoir. Had Countersett been tucked up there at all, it would probably have fallen down the back, or been picked on by the others.

It's a tiny place, an almost clandestine place, a place so beautiful, so peaceful and so remote that it's tempting not even to reveal its whereabouts, lest someone breathe and spoilt it.

"It is," says John Warren, "the perfect village."

Countersett lies, if you must, a couple of narrow miles up the hill from Bainbridge, in Wensleydale. Below it, breathtaking, is Semerwater. Though it is Whit Sunday, Pentecost, the day of mighty rushing winds, the surface of the lake barely ripples in the morning sunshine.

We are there to attend the Friends Meeting House, stone built and historic, though both in architecture and in welcome, several other habitations could be assumed a gathering for friends.

Thus it is that, mistakenly, we first wander through the open door of a cottage where the nice lady thinks, or at least hopes, that we've come to fix the central heating. Cold comfort, she points a little onward. "I expect Robin will be there already," she says.


. There are nine houses, five permanently occupied, and a resident population of eight, all incomers. The Friends, reunited, almost double it.

Quakerism, as quickly it became known, reached the Yorkshire Dales in 1652 with the arrival of George Fox, the founder. The first Wensleydale Quaker was Richard Robinson, who lived at Countersett Hall, preached across the North-East and beyond but may sometimes have gone a little too far without ever getting beyond Leyburn.

David Hall's biography records that Robinson would sometimes go through the streets naked "after the fashion of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah" and that at other times he would turn up in his shift.

Thus attired at Richmond, he was "sore bett" and had chamber pots unceremoniously emptied over him. Such behaviour, adds Hall, "brought ridicule and contempt upon the individual concerned and the Society of Friends as a whole. The practice was soon abandoned."

For failing to pay tithes and other church dues, Robinson and many others were attacked, beaten with sticks and stones - presumably on the grounds that names had never hurt them - and frequently languished in the "common jayle" in York or the house of correction at the end of Newbiggin, in Richmond.

Sometimes, says a contemporary account, he was so severely beaten with staves "that pieces thereof flew up into the air."

While in the house of correction, Robinson also wrote a book with the less-than-succinct title of "Blast blowing out of the North and echoing towards the south to meet the cry of the oppressed brethren." Even now, the Quaker "executive" is called the Meeting for Sufferings.

Fines were mostly by way of distraint - sheep, cows or, in the case of one unfortunate lady, her stockings.

After the 1689 Act of Tolerance, however, meeting houses sprang up all over Wensleydale. Countersett's was built in 1710. Even in 1836, it's recorded, people "flocked there from all sides" to hear Darlington MP Joseph Pease.

That most were said to carry nosegays was nothing to do with Mr Pease, rather the smell of the populace as a whole.

For a century from 1772, Countersett also had a Friends school. For around a century from 1872, they shared the meeting house with the Primitive Methodists. In the 1970s, the building was simply, substantially and rather splendidly restored.

A notice near the door lists their "testimony", the first paragraph that war and the preparation for war is inconsistent with the spirit of Christ, the second that all people are children of God and the third that they seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear.

They meet at Countersett on the last Sunday of the month, at Bainbridge at other times. With Leyburn, they form the smallest "monthly meeting" in the country.

Judith Bromley, the monthly meeting clerk and a well known dales artist, is the daughter of a former Vicar of Thornaby. Angela le Grice, clerk to the "preparatory" meeting, is the daughter of a former dean of Ripon.

John Warren says cheerfully that we're welcome to write notes but not to throw a tantrum (or, he might reasonably have added, pretty much anything else, either.)

The meetings have no leaders, no formalities, no ritual, no hymns. Though witness is quite common, there are lengthy periods of silence - "a silence," says one of the leaflets, "of waiting in expectancy".

One member does extensive charitable work in India, another in Gambia. Helen Willis, who celebrates her 90th birthday in June, plans a party for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance instead.

As early as 1770, Richard Robinson's descendants had paid £90 1s 1d for a three-span road bridge near the village.

Doubtless they have long since rejected the tag-line about actions speaking louder than words, but it seems pretty appropriate, nonetheless. A mission statement, as it were.

Outside the three windows, the trees barely bestir themselves. Someone reads a little book, someone else rises to talk about a sparrow hawk seeing off a blackbird - "that really did show us the wildness of Scotland".

A lady talks of three funerals recently attended, an elderly gentleman recalls someone he met with the Friends Ambulance Unit, a fourth (and final) speaker has been to a Roman Catholic church. "It just seems to me that whether you sing joyously in the service or just sit in silence, it is equally valid," he says.

As usual, the meeting ends after an hour when two elders shake hands. Robin West says that he was drawn to Quakerism, after coming to Countersett, by the absence of dogma or ritual.

John Warren, a semi-retired architect, also found Countersett first and the Quakers second. "We put an advert in the paper - mad architect seeks dales house to restore, something like that.

"We'd never been to Countersett and we dropped into it almost as if it was intended. Quakerism has always been known for its simplicity and humility. It helped us change pace."

Judith, his wife, says that it's a wonderful place. "I can still find everything I need within five miles, ten at the most. We are extraordinarily lucky to be there."

One or two walkers pass by, almost on tiptoe so as not to disturb the peace. The lady of this house is much taken by it all. These could be Friends for life.

* The Society of Friends meets at Countersett at 10.45am on the last Sunday of every month and at Bainbridge at 10.30am on other Sundays. As with the column, all are welcome.


History of the place:
Adjoining Countersett Hall: acquired 1710, altered 1778, still in use

The following is taken from: (>

It says:
Richard Robinson of Countersett Hall was an early convert to the non-conformist faith whose members became known as Quakers.
He may even have heard George Fox preaching when he visited Yorkshire and Cumbria in 1652. Although he was forbidden by law to practise his faith he seems to have held meetings at Countersett Hall and by 1661 was imprisoned in York for refusing to pay tithes (taxes) to the Church of England.
Richard was persecuted for many years. After his death in 1693 his son Michael continued the family faith and about 1710, he built a new meeting house in Countersett.
A rebuild in 1778 lowered the floor level and replaced some windows, but the building as it stands today is substantially as it was when built.

Cooper, Edmund (1979) The Quakers of Swaledale and Wensleydale. London: Quaker Home Service
Hall, David S (1994) Richard Robinson of Countersett, 1628-1693 and the Quakers of Wensleydale. York: Sessions
Hatcher, Jane (1990) Richmondshire Architecture. Richmond: C J Hatcher
Rooksby, Donald A (1994) The Man in Leather Breeches. The Quakers in North-west England:1. Colwyn Bay
No historic references found.

Meeting HouseAcquired1710
Meeting HouseRe-Built1778

(Please note that any un-titled image could be of any Quaker meeting in the north of England)

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