The Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) have been present in the history of St Austell since the Civil War. There have been three Quaker meeting houses here: the first was acquired in about 1690 in Workhouse Lane (now Moorland Road), the second, built in 1726 in High Cross Street, was sold in 1828. The present meeting house was built in 1829 on the other side of High Cross Street and together with its burial ground was registered in 1834. It is of a type particular to Cornwall with entrances on two sides with large shutters at each side of the central lobby. Quaker meetings continue to be held there.
Quakers believe that the guidance of the Holy Spirit can be followed without a specific leader and so they have never had priests or clergy. In the early days, Quakers deeply held religious beliefs defied both the established church and government. Their refusal to swear oath of allegiance meant that they could be arrested wherever they gathered, while their refusal to pay tithes to the established church led to frequent confiscation of their property. They opposed slavery and refused to participate in war. It was not until the Toleration Act of 1689 the Quaker Meetings became legal. Quakers today still uphold testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity, speaking truth and concern for the environment.
One of the best known early Quakers in Cornwall was Loveday Hambly, who lived at Tregongeeves Farm (opposite St Mewan school). Loveday became a friend of George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, or Friends of the Truth as he called it. Her farmhouse became a meeting place for Quakers across the entirety of mid-Cornwall. In 1656 she visited Fox in Launceston Gaol. Loveday herself was imprisoned many times and was subjected to frequent seizures of her goods and property. The Act of Toleration came too late for her; she died in 1682, aged 78. She was memorialised as ‘The Quaker Saint of Cornwall’ and was probably one of the first early Quakers to be buried at the burial grounds at the top of St Mewan Hill.
In 1965 the burial ground was removed – two benches and a slate plaque commemorate the original location. The headstones survived and are ranged along the wall of the present Quaker meeting house.
Other historic Quaker meeting houses which are still in use in Cornwall are at Marazion, built in 1688, Come-to-Good 1710, and Truro 1825. Local organisations and groups are welcome to hire the meeting house for their own use, subject to the conditions of letting.