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Reading Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Katesgrove, Reading

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Latitude: 51.4516 / 51°27'5"N

Longitude: -0.9689 / 0°58'7"W

OS Eastings: 471745

OS Northings: 173020

OS Grid: SU717730

Mapcode National: GBR QMH.G2

Mapcode Global: VHDWT.5S41

Plus Code: 9C3XF22J+MC

Entry Name: Reading Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 14 December 1978

Last Amended: 13 July 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1113452

English Heritage Legacy ID: 38878

ID on this website: 101113452

Location: Reading, Berkshire, RG1

County: Reading

Electoral Ward/Division: Katesgrove

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Reading

Traditional County: Berkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Berkshire

Church of England Parish: Reading St Giles

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

Tagged with: Quaker meeting house

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Reading Quaker Meeting House, built in 1835.


Quaker meeting house of 1835. A 1964 addition along the south (front) elevation, enclosing the forecourt to the east, extended in 1994, and a small C20 WC block against the east elevation are not of special interest, and are excluded from the listing.

MATERIALS: the original meeting house is built of red brick laid in Flemish bond, having a pitched slate roof with coped gables on stepped brick kneelers. All four chimney stacks have been removed. The later extensions are of brown brick laid in stretcher bond.

PLAN: the meeting house is set at the north end of a forecourt. The original meeting house has a rectangular plan, set on a west/east alignment.

EXTERIOR: the south elevation of the meeting house is now partly obscured by the single-storey 1964 extension; above this the tops of the meeting room’s four windows can be seen, the openings having flat brick arches, and containing what appear to be original sash frames. The two central windows are set higher, rising to just below the eaves, to allow for the original frontage block, now lost. The two chimneys which formerly rose from the south side of the roof have been removed. The unencumbered north elevation has four tall windows with twelve-over-twelve sash frames. Memorial plaques for Quakers with ashes placed in the burial ground are affixed to the lower part of the north wall. The west elevation has a central entrance approached by two steps with original panelled double doors set within a moulded doorcase with a shallow, console-bracketed hood. To either side are window openings blocked with burnt bricks in header bond, and in the gable above is a circular opening with ventilation slats. The east elevation has a similar circular opening, and is otherwise blind.

INTERIOR: at the centre of the meeting room is a three-centred arch, which formerly held a counterweighted screen to divide the room or rise into the roof space above; related machinery is understood to survive within the roof space, not inspected. A similar arch frames the stand at the east end of the room. The ceilings to either side of the central partition have cornices, and circular ventilation openings with grilles. The south, east and west sides of the room have plain recessed dado panelling. The stand has a balustrade with turned balusters in front of a fixed bench. The northern corner of the stand incorporates a flush door giving access to a ladder leading to the roof space. Against the west wall is another raised dais with curved partitions to either side of the western entrance. Here there are no fixed benches; there is later shelving fixed to the wall panelling. The dais appears to have been altered from three steps to a single deep platform (Butler, p 15). Butler’s plan showing the internal arrangement as it was in 1879, the west dais has been altered from three steps to one deeper platform. In the south wall is the central entrance from the lobby, with 1960s doors, flanked by two smaller door openings, formerly leading to the women’s and men’s retiring rooms, and now blocked. To the east is a framed arched recess which formerly contained a cast-iron stove; there were originally two of these in the south wall and two in the north wall. The lower portions of the outer windows in the south wall are blocked, probably at the time the mid-C19 lobby was constructed.


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. The year 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 room 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.

By 1655, Quakers were meeting in Reading at the house of Thomas Curtis in Sun Lane, and in 1671, a purpose-built meeting house was constructed in Curtis’s garden. A burial ground at the Orts on Wharf Lane, off the London Road, was bought in the C17, remaining in use until 1716. In 1684, a schism occurred in the Reading meeting due to national dispute among Quakers (known as the Wilkinson-Story Controversy) over a number of points: at Reading the group led by Curtis objected to the influence and authority of George Fox, and the establishment of separate business meetings for women, thought to offer excessive independence; the orthodox contingent was led by Leonard Cole. The resulting two meetings initially had joint meetings for worship but separate business meetings in the same meeting house, but in 1686, the meeting house closed and the Curtis group met in private houses, while the other group met in the yard of the meeting house. In 1693, the meeting house reopened for the Curtis group, the orthodox group using a leased building in Sim’s Court. Following Curtis’s death in 1712, the two groups were reconciled and bought the present site at Church Street in 1715 where a new meeting house was built in 1716. In 1835, this was demolished and replaced by the current building. A lower entrance block was added to the south elevation in the mid-C19, encasing a smaller frontage block containing separate rooms for women's and men's business meetings. In 1879, an adjoining plot to the south was purchased, and a mission hall and classroom block was erected there by the architects Brown & Albury, opening in 1880, now known as the Folk House, and in separate ownership. The buildings immediately to the south of the meeting house were demolished in 1964 when a new lobby and entrance block was built by Austin & Partners. This was further extended, to the west, in 1994.

To the north of the meeting house is a burial ground, which formed part of the site acquired in 1715, and is still in occasional use. It contains numerous modest round-headed grave markers, including members of the Huntley and Palmer families – local biscuit manufacturers – and Alfred Waterhouse, father of the architect Alfred and accountant Edwin. The walls surrounding the burial ground belong to a number of different phases.

Reasons for Listing

Reading Quaker Meeting House of 1835 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as the third purpose-built meeting house serving Reading’s Quaker community, established by 1655.

Architectural interest:

* as a modest but dignified early-C19 meeting house, demonstrating the simplicity characteristic of Quaker buildings;
* the meeting room has a restrained elegance, with distinctive features illustrative of its historic use, including the central arch which formerly held a dividing screen, and blocked doorways which led to separate rooms for women’s and men’s business meetings;
* the meeting room retains original joinery, including the stand with its fixed bench, and dado panelling; the building’s sash windows also survive.

Group value:

* with the attached Quaker burial ground of 1715 to the rear, as well as with C18 houses in Church Street.

External Links

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