Quakers in Oxford: A Short History

Richard Bettrice's house today
Richard Bettrice’s house today

The first Quakers in Oxford met at the house of Richard Bettrice at 1, New Inn Hall Street. The majority were tradesmen and artisans, although Richard Bettrice himself was a surgeon. Like Quakers elsewhere in England, the early Oxford Friends were subject to persecution, including from students at the University. However, the vice-chancellor was more sympathetic and actually paid the fine imposed on one Quaker. Fortunately, a visit by George Fox in 1656 seems to have passed off relatively peacefully.

The first purpose-built Meeting House was erected in the late 1680s behind 63–4 St Giles,’ but by the mid-18th century local Quaker activity had moved to Witney. The number of Friends in Oxford dwindled, and the Meeting House was sold in the 1860s.

Oxford Meeting was revived in the late 19th century and for a while included hymn-singing(!). From 1888 to 1946 Oxford Quakers had four different meeting places. 43 St Giles’ was purchased in 1939, and the Meeting moved there permanently in 1946. The present Meeting House, in the garden, dates from 1955.

Further information about Quakers in Oxford

The above history is summarised from volume 4 of A History of the County of Oxford, available at British History Online.

For more information about the Bettrice family and early Oxford Quakers, you can read an article by Larry J. Kreitzer, Oxford’s First Quaker Meeting Place: the Home of the Surgeon Richard Bettris (c.1606–1682) in Oxoniensa, 2008. The appendices include a number of contemporary documents, including An account of sufferings of Oxford Quakers at the hands of students, compiled in 1685.

Richard Bettrice’s house at 1 New Inn Hall Street is now a Grade II listed building.  

The Oxford History website has a page about the history and previous residents of 43 St Giles’.