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Hemel Hempstead Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7595 / 51°45'34"N

Longitude: -0.4703 / 0°28'12"W

OS Eastings: 505674

OS Northings: 207866

OS Grid: TL056078

Mapcode National: GBR G6M.MXV

Mapcode Global: VHFS5.S1RG

Plus Code: 9C3XQG5H+RV

Entry Name: Hemel Hempstead Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 18 June 1948

Last Amended: 29 May 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1262907

English Heritage Legacy ID: 433807

Location: Hemel Hempstead Town, Dacorum, Hertfordshire, HP2

County: Hertfordshire

Electoral Ward/Division: Hemel Hempstead Town

Built-Up Area: Hemel Hempstead

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Hemel Hempstead

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

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Hemel Hempstead


Quaker meeting house. 1718, extended in 1808. C20 extensions and alterations to designs by Norman Hyde and Maurice Phillips.


Quaker meeting house. 1718, extended in 1808. C20 extensions and alterations to designs by Norman Hyde and Maurice Phillips.

MATERIALS: red and blue bricks laid to Flemish bond and stretcher bond, tile roof coverings.

PLAN: irregular on plan. The original meeting house range, rectangular on plan, is oriented north-south comprising the full-height main meeting room of 1718 and the two-storey extension of 1808. The two-storey range built in 1958 extends from the north-east wall of the meeting house range. The two-storey range of 1974 extends from the south wall of the 1958 extension, parallel to the meeting house range. An east-west ground-floor passageway between the 1958 and 1974 extensions provides covered access from The Alleys and leads into a small north-south oriented court between the 1974 extension and the meeting house range.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house stands in the eastern end of a plot defined by St Mary's Road (formerly Bell Road) to the north and The Alleys to the east. The western part of the plot is the attached burial ground. The meeting house main entrance is via a double-leaf door in the north wall of the covered passageway. The building ranges have hipped tiled roofs with deep eaves.

The meeting house’s main (west) elevation in red and blue brick laid to Flemish bond faces onto the burial ground. This front of four bays comprises, from left to right, two six-over-six sash windows to the ground floor with, above, two eight-over-eight sash windows, and then two large round-arched nine-over-six sash windows (the main meeting room is additionally lit by two similar round-arched windows to its east wall). The built-up former main entranceway is in-between the second and third bays. Brickwork over the round-arched windows shows that they replaced smaller windows including square-headed windows lighting the upper level; whilst a photograph of 1949 shows that the upper window in the second bay is a replacement of a formerly blocked window opening.

The north elevation is an irregular composition comprising three small windows lighting ground-floor spaces in the C20 extensions, an eight-over-eight sash window lighting the upper storey of the 1958 extension with a narrow six-over-six sash window to its western return wall, and an eight-over-eight sash window to the left of the chimney stack in the north wall of the 1808 extension.

Facing The Alleys, the east elevation in brick laid to stretcher bond is similarly irregular. From right to left, it comprises the east return wall to the 1958 extension and the projecting bay that includes the ground-floor kitchen, then the arched opening to the covered passageway, and the projecting three-bay extension of 1974. The upper storey of the 1958 extension is lit by a six-over-six window, whilst below, a ground-floor flat-roofed extension is lit by small casement windows. The kitchen bay is lit by a six-over-six sash window to the ground floor with an eight-over-eight sash window above. A six-over-six sash window lights the upper floor above the covered passageway. The northern return wall to the 1974 extension includes a ground-floor doorway with a six-over-six sash window above. The extension’s ground-floor classroom is lit from the east by three six-over-nine sash windows; the private accommodation above is lit by three six-over-six windows. The west elevation of the 1974 extension, overlooking the small courtyard, is lit by further sash windows arranged in three bays.

INTERIOR: the main meeting room comprises a full-height space with parquet flooring and plain plastered walls. Carpenters' marks are reported to survive on roof timbers to the main meeting room. A beam extending the full width of the north wall may relate to the former gallery. Vertical and horizontal applied timber battens, the lower acting as a dado, extend to the base of the large round-headed window openings and continue around the walls, interrupted only by doorways to the north-west and north-east corners. The doorway to the north-west provides access to the library which occupies the ground-floor room of the former caretaker’s dwelling and includes a fireplace to the north wall. The north-east door provides access to the entrance lobby and other ground-floor rooms including kitchen, cloakrooms, and classrooms in the C20 extensions.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Enhancement on 24 May 2021 to amend the description.


The Quaker movement emerged out of a period of religious and political turmoil in the mid-C17. Its main founder, George Fox (1624-1691), openly rejected traditional religious doctrine, instead preaching that all people could have a direct relationship with God, without dependence on paid ministers, nor the necessity of consecrated places of worship. Fox, originally from Leicestershire, believed the Holy Spirit was within each person, and from 1647 travelled the country as an itinerant preacher. 1652 was pivotal in his journey; 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 of Friends often met for silent worship at outdoor locations; the use of members’ houses, barns, and other similar 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 simplicity of Quaker 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 – an interest in 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 first meeting house at Hemel Hempstead was established at Wood End from around 1667, and in the 1680s a possibly purpose-built meeting house with an attached burial ground was established there, just over 3km to the north-east of the town centre. A place for meeting for worship for Hemel Hempstead’s Quakers had been formally registered by 1699.

Early Quakers in Hemel Hempstead include Elizabeth Stirredge (1634-1706) who moved to the town with her family from the Bristol area in 1688. She was 'convinced' by the preaching of the important Quaker proselytisers John Camm, John Audland and William Dewsbury, becoming a preacher and author of Quaker testimony in her own right. She is buried, with her husband, in the (now closed) Quaker burial ground at Wood End. Others associated with Hemel Hempstead Meeting include the Quaker missionary John Thornton (1656-1716), John Owen (d1755) who established a Quaker school in the town, and noted historian and biographer Thomas Birch (1705-1766).

Although meeting for worship continued at Wood End until 1793, in 1718 a plot of land in the town centre costing £26 11s was bought from the Bell Inn and a new meeting house was built there with an attached burial ground. Built by William Ivory, the new meeting house cost just over £315 and was registered in 1719. In 1808 a small two-storey caretaker’s dwelling was added to the northern end of the meeting house and the meeting house was re-fronted. The work was over-seen by James Pollard, Clerk of the Meeting, and paid for by subscription by Pollard and members of the Squire family.

Eventually the meeting dwindled and no regular meetings for worship were held from 1905 to 1948. The building was first listed in June 1948 and in 1949 the meeting was revived, led by members of the nearby Watford Meeting. This prompted changes to the meeting house, made in 1958. An extension was built to the rear on the northern side, providing ground-floor classrooms and extending a first-floor flat. The meeting house’s shuttered gallery and the Elders' stand were removed (two newel posts are reported by Stell (2002, 136) to have been incorporated into a modern staircase). The main entrance in the west front was built up and the large stove in the centre of the main meeting room replaced by electric heating.

In 1974 an additional extension to the south of the 1958 extension provided another ground floor classroom and an additional bedroom for the upstairs accommodation, to a design by Norman Hyde, architect. At that time a new front entrance was made opening onto The Alleys. The new facilities served a number of purposes, including providing accommodation for refugees. A new kitchen was inserted in 1987 under the instruction of Maurice Phillips, architect, and a small studio flat was made out of the 1970s upper storey in the early 2000s.

Numerous local Quakers are buried in the attached burial ground, including members of the Cranstone family, important local iron-founders, civic servants and benefactors of the meeting house. Examples in the town of their foundry’s work include the decorative gates to the Grade II-listed Town Hall, the bridge over the River Gade (Grade II) and the High Street water pump (Grade II).

Reasons for Listing

Hemel Hempstead Quaker Meeting House, situated at 1 The Alleys, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the understated domestic Georgian design of the C18 meeting house reflects Quaker preferences for restrained architecture;

* the extension of the meeting house including the early-C19 dwelling house and later educational facilities is a typical development of the meeting house type.

Historic interest:

* a purpose-built early-C18 Quaker meeting house with attached burial ground, in which members of the Cranstone family, important local iron-founders, are buried.

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