History in Structure

Colthouse Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II* Listed Building in Claife, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.375 / 54°22'30"N

Longitude: -2.9884 / 2°59'18"W

OS Eastings: 335888

OS Northings: 498172

OS Grid: SD358981

Mapcode National: GBR 7KKV.TG

Mapcode Global: WH82L.296D

Plus Code: 9C6V92G6+2J

Entry Name: Colthouse Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 25 March 1970

Last Amended: 17 July 2020

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1087266

English Heritage Legacy ID: 76732

ID on this website: 101087266

Location: Town End, Westmorland and Furness, Cumbria, LA22

County: Cumbria

District: South Lakeland

Civil Parish: Claife

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Hawkshead St Michael and All Angels

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle

Tagged with: Quaker meeting house

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Quaker Meeting House built in 1688, with a small extension built in 1977.


Quaker Meeting House, 1688, with a small extension built in 1977.

MATERIALS: of local stone finished in roughcast render with slate-hanging to the south gable-end and a graduated Cumbria slate roof with stone ridges and cast-iron rainwater goods. The single-storey addition is also of local stone with the front elevation finished in roughcast render and it has a slate roof.

PLAN: a rectangular building aligned on a north-south axis with an open entrance porch facing east, and a small northern extension.

EXTERIOR: the east elevation has an off-centre two-storey gabled porch with an open segmental-arched doorway and a 2-light window to the upper floor. The large meeting room to the south has two 24-pane sash windows inserted in 1790. To the north of the porch the small meeting room has a 20-pane fixed window and the gallery over has a plate-glass sash window. The north elevation is blind with a gable-end rendered ridge stack, and a single-storey addition built in 1977. The west elevation is also blind except for a 3-light mullioned window to the small meeting room. The south elevation has two 2-light stone cross windows to the ground floor, below a continuous drip mould with slate-cladding and rough-cast render above. The roof has exposed purlin and rafter ends probably of C19 date.

INTERIOR: the large meeting room has a modern pine floor and walls incised to resemble ashlar above dado level. The plain plastered ceiling is divided into four bays by chamfered beams (the lower cords of tie-beam trusses). The east wall and part of the west wall retain some C18 oak panelling. The oak dado behind the stand is C19 and there is a modern pine plinth to the east wall. The north screen is made of a double layer of unpainted pine in raised and fielded panels with vertically-sliding shutters on the south side and top-hinged shutters to the north. The gallery above has a balustrade of turned oak. The elders’ stand at the south end has a raised platform with fitted pine benches and steps at either end. There is a fitted C18 oak bench against the west end of the north screen.

The small meeting room has C18 oak panelling and fitted oak benches to the north and the west walls and there is a C19 stone fireplace on the north wall. The flat ceiling has plastered beams carrying the first-floor gallery, and wrought iron hooks for the screen when open. The winding oak stair to the gallery is enclosed by a plank-and-muntin elm partition on the south side. The gallery and landing have wide floorboards in elm or oak, and the north wall retains some historic lime plaster. There is a fitted oak bench on the landing.

The porch interior has a slate floor and there are fitted timber benches and a hat peg rail on the south wall. A pair of inner cross-boarded doorways lead to the meeting rooms, both with strap hinges and wooden lock boxes. A boarded door on the right of the north porch wall leads to the stairs, with a cupboard to the left also with a boarded door and containing a hat peg rail.

The kitchen and toilets are housed in the 1977 single-storey addition. This has a plank door and a six-light window on the front elevation and a narrow window opening on the north elevation.


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 1,000 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.

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 work of the prolific Hubert Lidbetter, longtime Surveyor to the Six Weeks Meeting, demonstrates a range from the solid Classicism of Friends House, London (1924-1927) to the more contemporary style of the Sheffield meeting house of 1964 (now in alternative use). In the post-war period, a small number of Quaker buildings in more emphatically modern styles were built; examples include the meeting house at Heswall, Merseyside, 1963 by Beech and Thomas, and buildings by Trevor Dannatt, of which the Blackheath Quaker Meeting House is one.

Some of the early history of Friends in the Hawkshead area is documented by George Fox who travelled in the area in 1653. The detached burial ground was laid out in 1658 and the walls of the burial ground are listed Grade II (List entry 1087268).

In 1688 Friends bought land at Benson Orchard to build a meeting house which was in use by 1689. It was situated on a narrow lane in Colthouse about 100m north of the detached burial ground. There was a main meeting room and a smaller room used as a school room. The teacher Benjamin Towson and other names are scratched on the glass of the windows. Repairs and alterations were made over time including replacing mullioned windows with sashes on the east elevation in 1790, the roof was partly rebuilt and the interior re-plastered in the C19, and in 1977 an addition was built on the north side for a kitchen and toilets.

The meeting house is set within a rectangular garden enclosed by dry stone walls. Within the garden is a gabled stone privy which was probably added in the C19.

Reasons for Listing

Colthouse Quaker Meeting House built in 1688, with a later extension, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* a purpose-built Quaker meeting house that reflects the local vernacular building traditions constructed of local stone finished in roughcast render with slate-hanging to the south gable-end and a Cumbria slate roof;

* embodying the simplicity of Quaker meeting houses with its modest plan form and style typifying the unpretentious nature of these buildings for worship;

* it retains an excellent collection of historic fixtures and fittings including vertically-sliding shutters, top-hinged shutters, a gallery with oak balustrade and ministers’ stand.

Historic interest:

* as a notable historic survivor of a 1688 Quaker meeting house constructed prior to the Act of Toleration of 1689.

Group value:

* it benefits from an historic, functional and spatial group value with the nearby Quaker burial ground, and is also in close proximity to a number of other listed buildings at Town End.

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