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Great Ayton Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4879 / 54°29'16"N

Longitude: -1.1321 / 1°7'55"W

OS Eastings: 456319

OS Northings: 510631

OS Grid: NZ563106

Mapcode National: GBR NJJJ.PZ

Mapcode Global: WHD7F.LG3C

Plus Code: 9C6WFVQ9+54

Entry Name: Great Ayton Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 23 June 1966

Last Amended: 24 April 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1150641

English Heritage Legacy ID: 332973

Location: Great Ayton, Hambleton, North Yorkshire, TS9

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Great Ayton

Built-Up Area: Great Ayton

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Great Ayton Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: York

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Quaker Meeting House, built by 1722. Extended in 1967 to the design of Charles Spence, with later alterations and re-modelled in 2001 to the design of Edwin Trotter.


Quaker Meeting House, built by 1722. Extended in 1967 to the design of Charles Spence, with later alterations and re-modelled in 2001 to the design of Edwin Trotter.

MATERIALS: coursed dressed sandstone, red brick and weatherboarding, with graduated Lakeland slate roof coverings.

PLAN: a rectangular on plan, single-storey meeting house with a hipped roof, ridge chimney stack to the west and two ventilator hoods.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house is situated next to the Quaker burial ground at the south-east corner of High Green. It is oriented west-east. The main (north) front comprises the short length of the north elevation fronting High Green, having the appearance of a coach-house to the former Richardson mansion. It includes, from right to left, an elliptical stone arch that forms the main entrance, approached up two stone steps, and two eight-over-eight sash windows in plain window openings with flat arches and projecting sills (the window opening to the left dates to 1967). The wall has a low plinth and is painted. There is a small eight-light window over the arch, lighting the former passageway. The central part of the north elevation is obscured by the abutting Ivy Cottage (Grade II), whilst the eastern part of the north elevation, faced in red brick and including a modern sash window, largely dates to 1967.

The rear (south) elevation is an irregular composition. From left to right it includes another small eight-light window under the eaves, with two more windows below, lighting the passageway. Then there is a shallow projecting glazed extension with a shed roof, including French doors that open to the burial ground, followed by the four-bay elevation of the meeting house comprising pairs of large modern sash windows. The east elevation, facing into the burial ground, is a weatherboarded extension with a large full-height six-light window and glazed doors in the north and south returns.

The meeting house has a Lakeland slate covered hipped roof. There are two ventilator hoods in the ridge and a stone ridge chimney stack to the west.

INTERIOR: the meeting house interior was completely re-worked in 1967, with further alterations in 2001. The glazed timber double-leaf entrance door in the front archway leads into a lobby area in the older west side of the building, with toilets, a kitchen, and a children's room to the ground floor, and an inserted first floor room above. The original ceiling and ventilator recess are visible. The main meeting room to the east is now (2020) formed of the extension added in 1967. The interior partitions are mainly glazed, apart from the kitchen.


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 travelling 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.

In 1700, an old house to the south-east corner of High Green was purchased to serve the Quaker Meeting that had been settled at Great Ayton in 1698. The present meeting house had been built on the plot by 1722. Baker (1999, 723) reports that the foundations of the old building remain under the road surface to the front of the meeting house. A burial ground was established to the rear.

In 1760, William Richardson built a mansion for his family to the west side of the meeting house. The Richardsons were successful local farmers and tanners. The mansion passed through the family until it was sold in 1841 to Thomas Richardson, founding partner of the Quaker broking house Richardson, Overend and Gurney. Thomas Richardson was the principal benefactor of the Friends’ North of England Agricultural School, which was established in the mansion on High Green. Pupils attended Meeting in the adjacent meeting house, which was separated from the mansion by a passageway and arch facing onto High Green. The burial ground was extended in 1787, 1873 and 1885.

The meeting house was extended to the east in 1967, to the design of Charles Spence, architect, and the interior fittings and partitions removed to provide a performance space for the school. When the school closed in 1996 its buildings were converted to residential use, but the meeting house remains (2020) a place of worship. It was refurbished in 2001, to the design of Edwin Trotter, at which time an upper room and stair were inserted into the west end.

Reasons for Listing

Great Ayton Quaker Meeting House is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a modest early-C18 Quaker meeting house, with a strong visual relationship with the adjacent former Friends’ North of England Agricultural School.

Historic interest:

* as a purpose-built Quaker meeting house with attached burial ground.

Group value:

* for its contribution to High Green, and its relationship with numerous other adjacent listed buildings surrounding the Green including the Friends’ School East and West Central buildings (both Grade II-listed).

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