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Great Bardfield Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Great Bardfield, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9483 / 51°56'53"N

Longitude: 0.4372 / 0°26'13"E

OS Eastings: 567594

OS Northings: 230562

OS Grid: TL675305

Mapcode National: GBR NFG.WW9

Mapcode Global: VHJJ2.J9G8

Plus Code: 9F32WCXP+8V

Entry Name: Great Bardfield Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 21 December 1967

Last Amended: 29 May 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1123465

English Heritage Legacy ID: 115289

Location: Great Bardfield, Braintree, Essex, CM7

County: Essex

District: Braintree

Civil Parish: Great Bardfield

Built-Up Area: Great Bardfield

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Great Bardfield St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

Tagged with: Quaker meeting house

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Quaker Meeting House built in 1806 with an extension to the south built in 1986.


Quaker Meeting House built in 1806 with an extension to the south built in 1986.

MATERIALS: the main meeting house is timber-framed on a brick plinth with a roof of handmade clay tiles. The extension of 1986 is of rendered concrete blocks on a brick-faced base.

PLAN: oblong plan.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house was built in the garden of Buck’s House (Grade II). The main meeting house of 1806 is a single-storey timber-framed building on a brick plinth with a hipped roof. The main, east elevation faces the burial ground and has three eight-over-eight paned sash windows and a two-leaf door under a corbelled hood. There is a high level window on the south elevation.

To the south is an extension of 1986 comprising a two-storey structure of rendered concrete blocks with a half-hipped roof towards the street and a flat-roofed entrance block with a brick-faced base which links the former to the meeting house. The half-hipped wing has two sash windows on the ground floor, with one sash to the attic. The entrance link has two small-paned fixed windows on either side of a four-panelled door.

INTERIOR: the 1806 meeting house is divided into a main meeting room and a smaller room by a timber screen with sliding sash panels and a central door. In both rooms the floor is of woodblock. The main meeting room has a flat ceiling, a horizontal pine dado and fixed wall benches on three sides. Of the elders’ and ministers’ stand at the north wall only the dais, the back panels and the railings with turned terminal balusters remain. The entrance link has a panelled door with a pilaster surround into the historic meeting house.

The 1986 extension contains one ground-floor room with a kitchen range, with attic storage above and the entrance link contains toilet facilities.


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.

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 (1924-27) 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.

A meeting house, the house of Joseph Smith, was registered at Great Bardfield in 1703 but it was not until 1806 that the current meeting house was built in the garden of Buck’s House. A small extension was added in 1848 beside the entrance but this was replaced in 1985–6 by a larger one. A large part of the brick wall to the street was demolished to provide access and later rebuilt. Over time various alterations and repairs were made to the meeting house including repairs to the timber sill-beam in 1993 and in 2007, the extension was reordered.

The building was first listed at Grade II in December 1967.

The burial ground lies to the east of the meeting house. It is enclosed by brick walls and contains burials from 1806. Several members of the Buck family are buried here and other notable burials include Henry Smith (1804–64), who built a drinking fountain (1860; Grade II) and the town hall (1860) in Great Bardfield. Also here are the ashes of H Charles Swaisland (1919–2012) who was a peace monitor at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.

Reasons for Listing

Great Bardfield Quaker Meeting House built in 1806 with an extension to the south built in 1986, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a purpose-built timber-framed Quaker meeting house, the understated Georgian design reflects the Quaker ethos of restrained architecture;

* the building retains several interior features including the sliding sash panels partition between the two rooms.

Historic interest:

* it has strong associations with prominent local Quakers;

* for its association with the adjacent and contemporary burial ground.

Group value:

* with the adjacent Buck’s House (Grade II) and in close proximity to several other Grade II-listed buildings along Brook Street.

External Links

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