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Bury St Edmunds Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.2484 / 52°14'54"N

Longitude: 0.7117 / 0°42'41"E

OS Eastings: 585208

OS Northings: 264605

OS Grid: TL852646

Mapcode National: GBR QF0.0R2

Mapcode Global: VHKD4.9R26

Plus Code: 9F426PX6+9M

Entry Name: Bury St Edmunds Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 12 July 1972

Last Amended: 26 February 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1135150

English Heritage Legacy ID: 467338

Location: Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk, Suffolk, IP33

County: Suffolk

District: West Suffolk

Civil Parish: Bury St Edmunds

Built-Up Area: Bury St Edmunds

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Bury St Edmunds St John the Evangelist

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich

Tagged with: Quaker meeting house

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Quaker Meeting House. Built in 1750 with alterations principally of 1791 and 1871, and extended in 2007-2008 to a design by Modece Architects.


Quaker Meeting House. Built in 1750 with alterations principally of 1791 and 1871, and extended in 2007-2008 to a design by Modece Architects.

MATERIALS: the timber-framed meeting house and attached Margaret Kemp Room are both rendered, with white Suffolk brick facing to the principal (east) front of the main meeting room. Both have tile roof coverings.

PLAN: the two-storey meeting house is rectangular on plan including, from south to north, a reception area with library space and gallery staircase, opening into the full-height meeting room. The Margaret Kemp Room to the rear is rectangular on plan. A glazed corridor, L-shaped on plan, links the single-storey oblong garden room extension to the meeting house south and west walls.

EXTERIOR: the east elevation forms the principal façade of the meeting house, approached through the Quaker burial ground from St John’s Street. Faced in white Suffolk brick laid to Flemish bond with plain pilasters to the corners, it is a symmetrical composition of three bays. The central bay comprises a Venetian window, of which the central light is under a semi-circular brick arch whilst the two narrow outer lights are under flat gauged arches with a moulded cornice. The two upper panes of the outer lights comprise pivoted windows. There is a six-over-nine sash window in each bay to either side of the Venetian window, in plain window openings under flat gauged arches. The remaining elevations are rendered. The north elevation is blind, whilst the west elevation is largely obscured by the Margaret Kemp Room and the glazed link corridor introduced in 2007-2008. The south elevation is obscured at ground level by the glazed corridor and garden room introduced in 2007-2008; the gallery in the upper storey is lit by a centrally-placed window. The Margaret Kemp Room is lit by a sash window in the west and south walls. The meeting house and Margaret Kemp Room roofs are hipped, whilst the link corridor and garden roofs are flat.

INTERIOR: the main entrance is at the east end of the glazed corridor and lobby of 2007-2008. The meeting house is divided into three principal spaces. To the south of the main meeting room, a double-leaf door provides access to the library to the left, and gallery staircase to the right. The library is lit by a small fixed single-light internal window. The gallery above, which is open to the main meeting room, has a panelled front carrying a hand-rail.

A further double-leaf door, with six-pane door lights in the upper panels, opens through the panelled screen from the library into the full-height main meeting room. There is a low dado and fixed bench to the west wall, whilst the Elders’ stand occupies the full width of the north wall. The stand consists of two ranks of fixed benches with panelled backs. The rear bench is accessed by steps to the west and east ends. The sides of the front bench provide curved handrails to the short flights of steps, whilst its back carries a straight handrail for the upper bench. There is a flat ceiling. The Margaret Kemp Room is accessed through a door in the northern end of the meeting room west wall, and alternatively via the glazed link corridor to the south. It has a timber dado, ramped to the north and south walls.

The extension of 2007-2008 includes a garden room, kitchen, toilets, and storage space (not inspected).


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.

Quakers were meeting regularly in private houses in Bury St Edmunds from the 1670s. A meeting house is depicted on Thomas Warren’s town maps of 1747 and 1776 on Long Brackland, the present St John’s Street, with a nearby burial ground on Well Street. The present building, known locally as the Quaker Meeting House, was built in 1750, established with its attached burial ground on former tenements. A small room to the rear, used as the women’s business room and latterly as a school room, may have been contemporary. That room had an Elders’ stand until 1973.

A gallery and screen were inserted into the main meeting room in 1791. The main (east) front of the timber-framed building was then refaced in brick in 1871; this may have been when its large central Venetian window was inserted. Part of the burial ground to the west of the meeting house was sold in 1874, allowing the construction of the Fennell Memorial Homes (Grade II-listed) to be built by Sarah Bott with an inheritance from another Quaker Friend, Sarah Fennell.

In the 1960s the meeting house roof was re-tiled and the gallery enclosed, with toilets and a kitchen installed below. A garden room was built to the south of the meeting house in 1982, superseded by a larger replacement including toilets and a kitchen in 2007-2008 to a design by Modece Architects of Bury St Edmunds. These facilities replaced those of the 1960s, which were removed. The gallery was also re-opened.

Reasons for Listing

Bury St Edmunds Quaker Meeting House, situated on St John’s Road, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the understated Classical front to the earlier timber-framed meeting house reflects Quaker preferences for restrained, vernacular, architecture;

* fittings including the gallery, Elders’ stand, fixed benches and dado preserved in the meeting house interior, and the former women’s business room, provide evidence for the division of space and internal arrangements typical for earlier Quaker meeting houses.

Historic interest:

* as an example of a purpose-built mid-C18 meeting house, standing in its attached burial ground.

Group value:

* with the Grade II-listed Fennell Memorial Homes on St Andrew’s Street North, and numerous listed buildings on St John’s Street including the Church of St John (Grade II*).

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