FIFTY years ago, the Hampshire Chronicle published an article entitled 'Quakers Gone Mad?' after half-a-dozen members of the Religious Society of Friends – a group whose values include 'living simply' – bought a Grade-II listed Georgian townhouse in central Winchester.

So what prompted this unusual decision?

The number of Winchester Quakers blossomed throughout the 1960s, quickly outpacing the living rooms in which they met to worship. These gatherings, or 'Meetings' have been based on stillness and silence since the Society was founded in the 17th Century, with Quakers (or Friends) providing their own ministry, in place of a pastor or priest.

Early Quakers preached a radical form of Equality and Peace with no need for churches, rituals, or sacraments; rather they felt that religion should be something one lived and acted out each day. These ideas challenged the great political power of the established church, and many Quakers were imprisoned and banned from public life for their beliefs. More recently, Quakers have 'put their faith to work' by campaigning for the rights of prisoners, refusing to fight in wars, mediating in conflicts, and supporting same-sex relationships and marriage.

As the group of 1960s Winchester Quakers grew in size, they also grew in conviction – their next move would have to benefit more than just Friends, but non-Quakers too. After a process of communal reflection, it was decided that the Winchester Quaker Meeting House would be a place that individuals facing hardship could call home.

The Quakers bought 16 Colebrook Street in 1973, and less than a year later, the Housing Project was born. Fifty years and many hundreds of tenants later, the project is still alive and well at the Winchester Quaker Meeting House, with seven bedsits rented out to single occupants who are taking steps towards more permanent accommodation.

Some things have changed though: in 1984 family-support charity Friends of the Family was founded by two Quakers, and while they are now independent, they still call the Meeting House 'home'. A few decades ago, Winchester Quakers welcomed AA groups to meet at 16 Colebrook Street, and it has since become a meeting place also for other 12-step programmes, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Co-Dependents Anonymous.

Mental health professionals, holistic-health experts and meditation practitioners run groups and 1:1 sessions at the Meeting House.

One tenant described it as "a secure place with a friendly, non-judgemental community and people I can talk to".

A hirer described it as a place of acceptance: "People come here with their stories and everybody is accepted."

So were Quakers 'mad' when they bought 16 Colebrook Street, to live out their faith and social witness? You tell us.

(Image: Winchester Quakers)

Friends invite public to mini music event

Quakers will open their gate to the public for a day of music at the Meeting House, free-of-charge, on Saturday, June 22 from 10am until 4pm. 

 This 'pocket-sized festival' will feature an eclectic mix of genres, including classical guitar and piano recitals, pop and rock performances, a ukulele workshop, a meditative sound experience, and more.

The event, informally known as 'Quaker Jam 2024', is being held in association with Sound Winchester, a community project launched last year with the aim of improving wellbeing through creative music and voice activities.

Winnall Rock School's project coordinator Peter Brown will be running a session called ‘Decorating the Silence’, giving people a chance to participate with their own instruments, or join in with tuned percussion.

Members of the public are encouraged to drop in or stay all day.

Quaker Jam is one of a series of events being held at 16 Colebrook Street this summer, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Meeting House, and thanking the local community for their ongoing support.

(Image: Winchester Quakers)


The townhouse at 16 Colebrook Street was erected in 1773 and granted Grade II listed status in 1950, for the significant historical and architectural value the building holds.

It is a good example of late Georgian architecture: the main elevation, facing east, features a Doric doorway with an open pediment and semi-circular fanlight, along with mathematical tiles and sash windows.

The interior preserves much of its original character, including a moulded chimneypiece, original window shutters, and an oak staircase indicative of its period construction.

Initially a residential house, the building also served as a rectory. Each phase of its use is evident in the building’s structure and alterations. Notably, in the early 20th century, significant changes included raising ceilings and modifying the ground floor layout to better serve its role as a rectory.

Since acquiring the building, Quakers have made a few changes to suit their needs. For instance, in 1977, separate from the main building ­– the pantry and larder were converted into a Children’s Room, creating space for Young Friends.

The house itself is not the only protected structure on the grounds of 16 Colebrook Street - both the brick garden boundary wall and south boundary wall are also Grade II listed, the latter belonging to the ruins of Wolvesey Palace, the main residence of the Bishop of Winchester in the Middle Ages, mostly built by Henry of Blois in the 12th century.

(Image: Winchester Quakers)

'Open Gate' events

If you would like to visit the Meeting House in Winchester, the Quakers are inviting the public to explore their beautiful garden and enjoy some quiet reflection at the following times: 

Saturday, June 15, 2.30pm until 4.30 pm

Saturday, July 6, 10.30am until 12.30pm

Saturday, July 20, 2.30pm until 4.30pm

Saturday, August 10, 10.30am until 12.30pm

Saturday, August 17, 2.30pm until 4.30pm For more information about Winchester Quakers, visit their website

This six-part series is part of a celebration of 50 years of Quakers at 16 Colebrook Street.