Quiet Simplicity of Quaker Meeting Houses Celebrated
There are thousands of practising Quakers in Britain, with around 500 meetings around the country. Today 17 Quaker meeting houses across England have been celebrated through listing.
The oldest Quaker meeting house in the world still in continuous use is now Grade I listed in recognition of its exceptional historic significance, while 11 Quaker meeting houses have been granted listed status and five have been upgraded to Grade II*.
Hertford Meeting House Upgraded
Hertford is home to the earliest surviving purpose-built Quaker meeting house in the world, still in Quaker use. It was built in 1670 and has had its listed status upgraded to Grade I in recognition of its exceptional significance.
George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, visited at least three times.
There have been some alterations over the last 350 years but overall it retains much of its original character.
New listings at Grade II include the meeting house in Cartmel designed by architect of the Natural History Museum, Alfred Waterhouse, the 17th-century Aylesbury Meeting House – a hidden gem tucked away behind buildings in the historic core of the town – and the 1970s concrete meeting house in London’s Blackheath. Browse the map to find out more.
These buildings have all been listed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England and can be found on the National Heritage List for England.
Quakers and their buildings
The Quaker movement was established in the 1600s and largely led by George Fox who turned his back on the established Christian church.
He believed that everyone can have a direct relationship with God, meaning there was no need for priests or churches. So early on, Friends – as Quakers are known – met together for silent worship in all kinds of places, from hilltops and barns to within each other’s houses.
As the movement grew, meeting houses were built.
These important buildings express the changing practices of Quakers through history and their reception by and presence in the local community.
Quaker worship was forbidden by law until the 1689 Act of Toleration, yet some meeting houses pre-date this, indicating that there were Friends determined to openly demonstrate their faith even in the face of persecution.
Quaker meeting houses tend to be unassuming buildings – a reflection of the Quakers’ simple values.
Meeting houses embody function over ornament, and as they do not need either a symbolic focal point such as an altar or a prominent pulpit for preaching, they are plainly decorated and furnished.
Meeting houses have no specific architectural style, so they range in appearance and often reflect local building traditions, as they were usually built by local craftsmen.
Many meeting houses with early origins have bench seating facing a raised platform or stand for Elders, while current practice is for all Friends to meet together and sit in a circular arrangement.
Some retain wooden partitions used to create a distinct space for women to conduct business meetings, illustrative of the important independent role of women in Quaker communities.
National Survey of Quaker Meeting Houses
These listings are part of Historic England's work to improve understanding, recording and protection of places of worship.
In partnership with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers in Britain), Historic England commissioned a national survey of meeting houses still in use or in Quaker ownership to build up a detailed picture of these buildings across the country – their origins, architectural features and place in the community.
While many older Quaker meeting houses are already listed, the survey findings have been used to update and enhance these entries on the National Heritage List for England as well as identify important meeting houses previously overlooked.
In England, over 250 meeting houses are protected as listed buildings, although not all of these are still in use by Quakers.