The home of The Blue Idol Quaker Meeting is the historic 17th century Blue Idol Meeting House situated close to the West Sussex villages of Coolham, Billingshurst and Thakeham. The name Blue Idol probably derives from 'blue idle' when the building was blue-washed and left empty for some years. Or so they say...
The Blue Idol is a very special place with a rich history of significant interest to the Quaker community as well as local historians. William Penn from nearby Warminghurst Place was the founder of both this Meeting House and the City of Philadelphia. Many local Quakers sailed to America on the ship Welcome with Penn in 1682. We host and give talks to a number of visiting groups from other churches, universities and history groups each year as well as Quakers locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We are now twinned with Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in Pennsylvania in US.
History of the Building The Blue Idol was originally a farmhouse. It is not known exactly when it was built but it was probably around 1580. The oldest part incorporates the Meeting House itself and part of the adjoining farmhouse. It was extended in 1893 and then again in 1934. The Meeting House part remains virtually unchanged since 1600, with interesting features such as a gallery and the ministers' stand remaining.
Today the whole building is grade two listed. The main house is used as a private residence. There is a small wardens' flat and the oldest part is the Meeting House itself.
It is a lovely building in which to worship. Many people who enter it for the first time feel that they have 'spiritually come home'. The age of the Meeting House gives one a strong sense of continuing life and it is not hard to sense the the years of continued worship that the building has witnessed.
Meaning of the Name The 'Blue Idol' appears to have become the common name for the building only in the 19th century. Earlier Quaker Minutes record the name as "Little Slatters", thought to have derived from "Little Slaughters", an outlying part of nearby Slaughterbridge. The origin of the Blue Idol name is unclear and there are a number of theories. The most frequently-quoted concerns the period from 1793-1869 when the Meeting House was closed. At that time instead of the more usual whitewash used today, rural buildings such as these were blue-washed. So it is tsaid that the house was simply known as "the blue idle meeting house". Another theory follows the suggestion that a figurehead (presumably a blue one) from one of William Penn's ships was used in renovation work, or perhaps the word "blue" is a corruption of the Celtic word for parish "pleu" or "plou". The Quaker Meeting was known as 'Thakeham Meeting' until the Blue Idol name was applied to that also, to limit confusion.