As you may have seen in the news last week, a Quaker burial ground has been discovered during redevelopment work on the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange.
While archaeologists continue to examine the site, several of my colleagues have been piecing together some facts about the burial ground. In this post, I’ll bring together what we currently know about the history of this section of the Royal Pavilion Estate.
The Quaker Meeting House
The cemetery was located near a Quaker Meeting House which stood on North Street during the 18th century. A 1799 map of Brighton shows the Meeting House standing next to a chapel, with the pleasure garden of Promenade Grove behind. The map was created at a time when the Prince of Wales’ residence, then known as the Marine Pavilion, was a much smaller building than the Royal Pavilion visitors can see today, and work had not yet begun on the stables and riding school that would eventually become the Brighton Dome complex.
The Meeting House looks to have been a rather small building, yet the Quakers owned a sizeable area of the land behind it. An 1803 plan shows that Promenade Grove was not so wide as the 1799 map suggests, and the western section of this land was known as Quakers’ Croft.
According to the 19th century Brighton historian John George Bishop, the Quaker Burial Ground was on the northern end of Quakers’ Croft.
“The meadow-land behind the House, running northward, was enclosed, and thenceforth became known as the Quakers’ Croft (or field), a square piece, however, abutting on the Spring Walks (Church -street), being set apart for a Burying Ground”
JG Bishop, A Peep into the Past, 1892
This suggests that the cemetery was located in the boxed area adjoining Quakers Croft on the north (right hand side of the plan).
Mrs Fitzherbert and the Quakers
The Quakers moved to a new, larger Meeting House in The Lanes in 1805, and this is still used by Brighton’s Quaker community today. The Prince of Wales (later King George IV) was thought to have bought Quakers’ Croft on 1 May 1806 for £800, but the Quakers still retained some ownership of the land.
In 1806 Maria Fitzherbert,the first (albeit illegal) wife of Prince George, built some stables to the west of Quakers’ Croft. Later that year, a dispute seems to have arisen over Mrs Fitzherbert’s right to a window that overlooked the Quakers’ property. In November a ‘Committee for the management and disposal of Lands at Brighton belonging to the quarterly meeting of Friends of Sussex’ judged that:
“This committee, unwilling to pursue a conduct which may assume the appearance of acting otherwise than neighbourly (notwithstanding injury may arise to the said premises by complying with such request), consents to the window not being stopped up for the present, upon condition of Maria Fitzherbert’s agreeing to pay one penny per month for such permission, and also undertaking to brick-up the same, at any time within one week after notice for that purpose from any of the trustees or committee for the said premises, and in default thereof that any of the Friends be authorized to brick-up the said window at the expense of the said Maria Fitzherbert, and that such agreement be prepared, signed and delivered to the said committee within two weeks from the date hereof, otherwise the foregoing proposals to be void.”
Committee for the management and disposal of Lands at Brighton belonging to the quarterly meeting of Friends of Sussex, 13 November 1806
An annotated version of the 1803 plan shows the location of Mrs Fitzherbert’s stables.
According to the committee, the disputed window was on the ‘north side of her stables’ in a cottage that was used by her coachman. Whether Mrs Fitzherbert agreed to the Quakers’ ‘neighbourly’ request is unknown, but the building survived for many years. The stables were purchased in 1850 by the town as part of the acquisition of the Royal Pavilion Estate. Known as Dome Cottage, the building was later used as the workshop and residence for the Royal Pavilion Estate’s carpenter. The window was probably last exposed during the demolition of the building in the early 1930s, prior to the construction of the Pavilion Theatre.
The Quaker Society of Friends retained ownership of at least some part of the burial ground until the early 1890s. Minutes of the Pavilion Committee indicate that negotiations between Brighton Corporation, the local authority of the day, and the Society of Friends began in early 1892. By 5 June 1893 the land had been purchased for £21.
However, this purchase does not seem to have been straightforward. According to Pavilion Committee minutes from 14 November 1892, the Corporation initially intended to purchase ‘the Freehold of the site of the Old Quakers Burial Ground’. Rather than purchasing the land outright, by June 1893 the Corporation had acquired a long extension of the lease:
“The Town Clerk reported that the purchase of the premises in Church Street known as the Quakers Burial Ground had been completed and that the premises had been assigned to the Corporation for the residue of the term of 1,000 years from the 7th February 1700 at peppercorn rent.”
Pavilion Committee Minutes Vol.20, p.287, 5 June 1893
Aside from the legal complexity of the purchase, this raises the question of why the acquisition was addressed at this time. Had it simply been a legal oversight for many years, or was the site of the burial ground visible and well known locally? Bishop’s note in A Peep from the Past was published in 1892, so he may have been made aware of it from the the legal process taking place.
An 1867 plan of the Royal Pavilion Estate shows a yard opening onto Church Street. Dome Cottage, marked in blue to the south, would have once overlooked this space. Might this have been a remaining part of the Quaker burial ground?
Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager
Author’s note: while I have written this post, it is entirely based on research conducted by several of my colleagues, to whom all thanks is owned.