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Manchester Quaker Meeting House, boundary walls and steps

A Grade II Listed Building in City Centre, Manchester

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Latitude: 53.4783 / 53°28'41"N

Longitude: -2.2459 / 2°14'45"W

OS Eastings: 383774

OS Northings: 397975

OS Grid: SJ837979

Mapcode National: GBR DJJ.C4

Mapcode Global: WHB9G.GTQW

Plus Code: 9C5VFQH3+8J

Entry Name: Manchester Quaker Meeting House, boundary walls and steps

Listing Date: 18 December 1963

Last Amended: 29 May 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1291062

English Heritage Legacy ID: 388339

Also known as: Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester

ID on this website: 101291062

Location: Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2

County: Manchester

Electoral Ward/Division: City Centre

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Manchester

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater Manchester

Church of England Parish: Manchester St Ann

Church of England Diocese: Manchester

Tagged with: Building Quaker meeting house

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Quaker Meeting House built in 1828 to a design by Richard Lane, altered in the 1860s by Alfred Waterhouse, and with further alterations in 1923 and 1962.


Quaker Meeting House built in 1828 to a design by Richard Lane, altered in the 1860s by Alfred Waterhouse, and with further alterations in 1923 and 1962.

MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with a sandstone ashlar façade, with the other elevations of brick with stone dressings, and a slate roof.

PLAN: rectangular in plan.

EXTERIOR: the building is aligned with the entrance facing east to the street, set within a walled precinct. It is of two storeys over a basement and is designed in Greek Revival style. The main east elevation is of five bays with giant end pilasters and a portico of attached giant Greek Ionic columns, a frieze with the words FRIENDS' MEETING HOUSE engraved upon it and a pediment. Windows are generally twelve-pane sash windows. The central doorway has modern glazed double doors and a C20 overlight flanked by side windows.

The north side elevation is ten bays with similar windows (some later steel windows and some blocked) and notional brick pilasters. There is a parapet and a stone sill band. An entrance to the basement is an insertion of 1960s date. The south elevation is similar with a small single-storey extension probably of late-C19 date and inserted entrances to the basement areas. The rear elevation is also of brick with giant end pilasters; the central three bays project slightly and the parapet is raised to give emphasis and movement to the façade. All the windows except those in the end bays of the upper storey are blind or blocked.

INTERIOR: the interior has a wide entrance hall with doors leading off to rooms on each side, a result of remodelling of various different C20 dates. Hardwood doors lead to the main meeting room which has features relating to a remodelling in the 1960s by Halliday and Agate. Walls are lined with acoustic panelling and the ceiling is divided into a pattern of square translucent panels beneath roof lights. Stairs lead up on each side to galleries with raked seating. A stage has a lower sliding section to increase its depth and the stage recess is backed with an angled screen of veneered panels; finishes are generally in the type of hardwoods popular at the time, including a woodblock floor.

Rooms in the upper floor are broadly similar to those of the foyer below, largely with modern finishes. In the basement area there have been successive alterations and subdivisions of the space, keeping the original arched spine wall and some of the original vaulted ceilings. In the roof space the original roof construction of Baltic pine is largely intact; the pulleys and chains attached to the timbers are the remains of a system which allowed the original early-C19 smaller and larger meeting rooms to be divided by means of a partition which could be moved by raising it vertically.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the frontage to Mount Street was remodelled in 2000 with a new ramped access and the reinstatement of stone gate piers. The entrance is accessed by flights of three and four stone steps. The front boundary wall of about 1m height is of sandstone ashlar surmounted by replacement steel railings to Mount Street; these walls return along the sides of the forecourt, with stone piers with stone copings. From this point the walls continue around the site in brick laid in Flemish bond with stone copings. On the south side the wall incorporates a stone panel with the date 1828. Towards the rear of the site, the wall has been altered to form a car park entrance. The inner sides of the precinct brick walls incorporate small headstones with Roman numerals to identify burial plots. The wall and piers date from the construction of the original building.


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 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 (1924-1927) 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.

The Manchester Society of Friends was formed in the C17 and a meeting house was erected on Jackson’s Row in Manchester in 1693, replaced by premises on Mount Street in 1795. By the 1820s it was decided to build larger premises on the site for which money was raised by subscription. The architect Richard Lane (1795-1880), a Quaker, was appointed and the contractors were David Bellhouse. Work started on demolishing the old building in 1828 and the new Meeting House was completed in 1831, though it had been in partial use for 18 months by that time.

Richard Lane was Manchester’s principal architect during the 1820s and 1830s who built or remodelled some of the city’s most important public and institutional buildings. His principal source for the design of the building was the measured drawings and illustrations which appeared in The Antiquities of Athens by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, published in four volumes 1762-1816. The building received notice and praise almost as soon as it had opened including in a book of engravings highlighting recent architecture, Lancashire Illustrated (T Allen 1832). The book described the meeting house saying: ‘its simplicity is perfectly accordant with the unostentatious character of the Society for whose use it was erected.’

The building was altered in the 1860s when Alfred Waterhouse, then articled to Richard Lane and a member of the Manchester Friends, designed small-scale alterations, although it is not known exactly what was done. The work may have included the partial infilling of the original entrance to provide doorways, and the projecting addition to the basement on the south side for WCs.

The first major phase of alterations took place in 1923 to designs by Hunter, Cruickshank and Seward. The women’s business meeting room was subdivided horizontally and vertically to create a central concourse, new staircase and a series of smaller rooms on both floors. A new small meeting room was provided on the north-east side of the ground floor. The work was undertaken to accommodate the Friends’ Institute and the Friends’ Byrom Street school. The original staircases and the vertically-sliding screen between the meeting rooms were removed, although the lifting mechanism for the latter was left in the roof space. Externally, some of the sash windows were widened and steel windows installed to provide more light. The basement was adapted and used for employment projects during the 1930s.

The main meeting room survived intact until 1962 when a second phase of alteration was carried out to the designs of Halliday and Agate of Manchester. The late Georgian meeting room interior was replaced by raised raked seating on the north and south sides of the space with a stage to the west. The floor was replaced in concrete with a parquet finish and the solid gallery fronts faced in vertically-boarded timber. The void beneath the new galleries was designed to provide additional headroom to basement rooms below, reducing the floor area of the meeting room. The 1920s work in the eastern part of the building was removed and a new arrangement of rooms and circulation was created, allowing rooms to be let commercially to provide an income stream to maintain the building. A new concrete staircase was inserted with direct access to a new fire exit on the north side. All the 1920s joinery was removed and replaced with plain flush doors and plain functional detailing typical of the 1960s. At basement level a series of meeting rooms and spaces for letting was created. The principal front elevation was unaltered, but exterior alteration included blocking ground-floor windows at the west end of the building, new basement windows on the north and south elevations and new roof glazing. The 1920s north doorway was blocked and a new fire exit door inserted to its right. The Bootle Street entrance to the basement was probably created during the 1960s.

In 1999 and 2012 the Bernard Taylor Partnership upgraded the concourse and small first-floor rooms with new moulded plaster cornices and panelled doors in architraves, modelled on an original door from the first floor. The frontage to Mount Street was remodelled in 2000 with new ramped access and the reinstatement of stone gate piers and replacement steel railings.

The burial ground retains a few headstones which have been laid flat.

Reasons for Listing

Manchester Quaker Meeting House built in 1828 to a design by Richard Lane, altered in the 1860s by Alfred Waterhouse, and with further alterations in 1923 and 1962, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a purpose-built Quaker meeting house designed in Greek Revival style with features including a portico of attached giant Greek Ionic columns, pilasters, a frieze and a pediment;

* the meeting house with its entrance precinct, boundary walls and gate piers, provides a distinctive town-centre building;

* for its association with the adjacent and contemporary burial ground, enclosed by original walls.

Historic interest:

* designed by Richard Lane who was Manchester’s principal architect during the 1820s and 1830s and who built or remodelled some of the city’s most important public and institutional buildings;

* with alterations by Alfred Waterhouse, designer of nearby Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in London, both Grade-I listed buildings.

Group value:

* with Lawrence Buildings (Grade II*), 1-5 Central Street (Grade II), Lancashire House (Grade II) and the Central Public Library (Grade II*).

External Links

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