History in Structure

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Diss Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Diss, Norfolk

We don't have any photos of this building yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

Coordinates

Latitude: 52.3766 / 52°22'35"N

Longitude: 1.1134 / 1°6'48"E

OS Eastings: 612017

OS Northings: 279952

OS Grid: TM120799

Mapcode National: GBR THS.SDS

Mapcode Global: VHL97.7JZH

Plus Code: 9F4394G7+J9

Entry Name: Diss Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 8 June 1972

Last Amended: 26 February 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1049735

English Heritage Legacy ID: 224801

Location: Diss, South Norfolk, Norfolk, IP22

County: Norfolk

District: South Norfolk

Town: South Norfolk

Civil Parish: Diss

Built-Up Area: Diss

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Diss St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

Find accommodation in
Diss

Summary


Quaker Meeting House. Built in 1744, with an extension built in the 1890s that incorporates a C17 former stables building. Later C20 alterations principally to the interiors.

Description

Quaker Meeting House. Built in 1744, with an extension built in the 1890s that incorporates a C17 former stables building. Later C20 alterations principally to the interiors.

MATERIALS: the meeting house and schoolroom are in red brick with some burnt headers laid to Flemish bond, with glazed pantile roof coverings. The former stables are timber-framed and rendered, with a thatched roof.

PLAN: L-shaped on plan, comprising the meeting house, rectangular on plan, oriented east-west, with the schoolroom and former stables forming a wing to the east. The schoolroom is rectangular on plan, oriented south-north, whilst the earlier former stables is almost square on plan, adjoining off-centre the schoolroom north wall and oriented slightly to the west. The roofs of the single-storey meeting house and schoolroom are both hipped, whilst the former stables building, single-storey with a loft, has a thatched gable roof.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house is situated on Frenze Road, to the north of the Quaker burial ground. A low brick plinth and a cornice of saw-tooth and dentil brick courses continue around the meeting house, whilst the cornice is continued to the schoolroom. The principal (south) front facing into the burial ground is an elevation of five bays. From left to right the first three bays, comprising the meeting house, are a twelve-over-twelve sash window, then the meeting house south entrance, and another twelve-over-twelve sash window. The entrance has a projecting timber pediment with lead covering over an eight-panelled double-leaf door. The last two bays, forming the south wall of the schoolroom, include from left to right an entrance with a shallow flat timber hood with lead covering supported by four consoles over a six-panelled double-leaf door, then an eight-over-twelve sash window. All the window openings have segmental arches, the first of which is in gauged brick, and flush window frames.

The meeting house west elevation includes the main entrance with a projecting timber pediment with lead covering over a six-panelled double-leaf door. The north elevation includes to the ground floor two four-light cross windows with leaded casements under segmental arches, and above are two two-light casement windows also with leaded panes, that to the right lighting the extant meeting house gallery whilst that to the left lit the former eastern meeting house gallery. These upper windows extend to the brick course just below the cornice. The schoolroom west elevation includes two eight-over-twelve sash windows either side of an entrance, mirroring that in its south wall. The irregularly fenestrated former stables, timber-framed and rendered, includes to its west elevation a large double-leaf plank door with a small window to the right and two windows to its left. Its gable end to the north includes two small two-light windows at ground floor level.

INTERIOR: the meeting house is divided into three principal spaces; a small lobby, the gallery above, and the main meeting room. The main entrance leads into the small lobby, underneath the western gallery. The lobby is divided from the meeting room by a timber partition, the upper panels of which are glazed. A door in the partition leads into the main meeting room. Immediately to the right, against the south wall, is the closed string staircase leading up into the gallery. The stair includes a turned newel and balusters, and moulded handrail. The gallery extends to the full width of the west wall and is supported in front of the partition below by a Doric column. The gallery has a raked floor and three tiered benches. The meeting room dado to the south and east walls is panelled, with vertical boarding to the north wall. A door in the south-east corner leads into the schoolroom. The schoolroom and former stables provide additional meeting space, and kitchen and toilet facilities (not inspected).

History

The Quaker movement emerged out of a period of religious and political turmoil in the mid-C17. Its main protagonist, George Fox, openly rejected traditional religious doctrine, instead promoting the theory that all people could have a direct relationship with God, without dependence on sermonising ministers, nor the necessity of consecrated places of worship. Fox, originally from Leicestershire, claimed the Holy Spirit was within each person, and from 1647 travelled the country as an itinerant preacher. 1652 was pivotal in his campaign; after a vision on Pendle Hill, Lancashire, Fox was moved to visit Firbank Fell, Cumbria, where he delivered a rousing, three-hour speech to an assembly of 1000 people, and recruited numerous converts. The Quakers, formally named the Religious Society of Friends, was thus established.

Fox asserted that no one place was holier than another, and in their early days, the new congregations often met for silent worship at outdoor locations; the use of members' houses, barns, and other secular premises followed. Persecution of Nonconformists proliferated in the period, with Quakers suffering disproportionately. The Quaker Act of 1662, and the Conventicle Act of 1664, forbade their meetings, though they continued in defiance, and a number of meeting houses date from this early period. Broad Campden, Gloucestershire, came into Quaker use in 1663 and is the earliest meeting house in Britain, although it was out of use from 1871 to 1961. The meeting house at Hertford, 1670, is the oldest to be purpose built. The Act of Toleration, passed in 1689, was one of several steps towards freedom of worship outside the established church, and thereafter meeting houses began to make their mark on the landscape.

Quaker meeting houses are generally characterised by simplicity of design, both externally and internally, reflecting the form of worship they were designed to accommodate. The earliest purpose-built meeting houses were built by local craftsmen following regional traditions and were on a domestic scale, frequently resembling vernacular houses; at the same time, a number of older buildings were converted to Quaker use. From the first, most meeting houses shared certain characteristics, containing a well-lit meeting hall with a simple arrangement of seating. In time a raised stand became common behind the bench for the Elders, so that traveling ministers could be better heard. Where possible, a meeting house would provide separate accommodation for the women’s business meetings, and early meeting houses may retain a timber screen, allowing the separation (and combination) of spaces for business and worship. In general, the meeting house will have little or no decoration or enrichment, with joinery frequently left unpainted. Ancillary buildings erected in addition to a meeting house could include stabling and covered spaces such as a gig house; caretaker’s accommodation; or a school room or adult school.

Throughout the C18 and early C19 many new meeting houses were built, or earlier buildings remodelled, with ‘polite’, Classically-informed designs appearing, reflecting architectural trends more widely. However, the buildings were generally of modest size and with minimal ornament, although examples in urban settings tended to be more architecturally ambitious. After 1800, it became more common for meeting houses to be designed by an architect or surveyor. The Victorian and Edwardian periods saw greater stylistic eclecticism, though the Gothic Revival associated with the Established Church was not embraced; on the other hand, Arts and Crafts principles had much in common with those of the Quakers, and a number of meeting houses show the influence of that movement.

The C20 saw changes in the way meeting houses were used which influenced their design and layout. In 1896 it was decided to unite men’s and women’s business, so separate rooms were no longer needed, whilst from the mid-1920s ministers were not recorded, and consequently stands were rarely provided in new buildings. Seating was therefore rearranged without reference to the stand, with moveable chairs set in concentric circles becoming the norm in smaller meeting houses. By the interwar years, there was a shift towards more flexible internal planning, together with the provision of additional rooms for purposes other than worship, reflecting the meeting house’s community role – the need for greater contact with other Christians and a more active contribution within the wider world had been an increasing concern since the 1890s. Traditional styles continued to be favoured, from grander Classical buildings in urban centres to local examples in domestic neo-Georgian.

The first Quaker meeting house in Diss was established with a burial ground just outside the town between 1696 and 1697, only a few years after the Act of Toleration (1689). Although that building was not demolished until the 1760s, a new meeting house, with a burial ground, was established on a plot closer to the town centre in 1744. The burial ground includes the grave of George Atkins, architect of Diss Corn Exchange. The meeting house appears to have been a single-unit building, entered from the south, with a short Elders’ stand to the north wall and galleries extending the full width over the west and east ends. The plot included C17 timber-framed stables. In the 1890s a schoolroom was added to the meeting house, forming a wing to the east with the former stables.

Alterations were made to the meeting house and schoolroom in 1903. These included the removal of the eastern gallery and the relocation of the Elders’ stand to the east wall, and may have included raising the schoolroom height to that of the meeting house. The C17 former stables were adapted in 1973 to provide toilets. The western entrance to the meeting house had become disused, but was restored in 1981 at which time a lobby was fitted under the western gallery by the insertion of a ground-floor timber screen. The Elders’ stand and a small lobby of 1973 to the meeting house south door were also removed. Later changes include the installation of a kitchen in the schoolroom in the 1980s.

Reasons for Listing

Diss Quaker Meeting House, situated on Frenze Road, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the understated Georgian meeting house design reflects the Quaker ethos of restrained architecture, with a sympathetically-designed later schoolroom reflecting the development of the meeting house type to provide educational facilities;
* fittings including the meeting house gallery and partition preserved in the interior provide evidence for the division of space and internal arrangements typical for earlier Quaker meeting houses;
* the buildings retain to a great extent their original plan-forms, and their various functions including worship and education are clearly legible.

Historic interest:

* a mid-C18 meeting house built with an attached burial ground closer to the town centre, reflecting greater toleration for and confidence of Quakers locally and nationally at that time.

Selected Sources

Book cover links are generated automatically from the sources. They are not necessarily always correct, as book names at Amazon may not be quite the same as those used referenced in the text.

Source title links go to a search for the specified title at Amazon. Availability of the title is dependent on current publication status. You may also want to check AbeBooks, particularly for older titles.

Recommended Books

Other nearby listed buildings

BritishListedBuildings.co.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact BritishListedBuildings.co.uk for any queries related to any individual listed building, planning permission related to listed buildings or the listing process itself.

British Listed Buildings is a Good Stuff website.