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Cotherstone Friends Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Cotherstone, County Durham

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Latitude: 54.5703 / 54°34'13"N

Longitude: -1.9766 / 1°58'35"W

OS Eastings: 401607

OS Northings: 519454

OS Grid: NZ016194

Mapcode National: GBR GHML.VG

Mapcode Global: WHB4C.LDY5

Plus Code: 9C6WH2CF+48

Entry Name: Cotherstone Friends Meeting House

Listing Date: 17 June 1986

Last Amended: 6 March 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1323052

English Heritage Legacy ID: 111206

Location: Cotherstone, County Durham, DL12

County: County Durham

Civil Parish: Cotherstone

Built-Up Area: Cotherstone

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): County Durham

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Friends Meeting House, built in 1797, with a porch added in 1837. Later alterations.


Friends Meeting House, built in 1797, with a porch added in 1837. Later alterations.

MATERIALS: low stone plinth, squared and coursed rubble stone walls with quoins and dressings, stone roof coverings with stone kneelers and coped gables.

PLAN: a single-storey single unit, rectangular on plan, with gabled roof and short chimney ridge stack to the west gable. The south porch is rectangular on plan. A small lean-to stands to the east end.

EXTERIOR: the main (south) front of four bays comprises, from left to right, a tall round-headed window-opening with a modern fourteen-over-six-light timber sash window, the porch, and two further round-headed window openings with precisely similar sash windows. The gabled porch has a panelled double-leaf door with glazed radial fanlight. The west gable end includes lettering fixed to the wall, reading SOCIETY OF FRIENDS/ MEETING HOUSE. The rear (north) elevation has a pair of four-light mullioned windows at ground floor level in the western bay, whilst the east elevation includes a lean-to to the south end, entered though a timber plank door to the south.

INTERIOR: the porch houses two doorways in the meeting house south wall, that to the left leading into the former women’s meeting room whilst that to the right leads into the main meeting room. The two spaces are divided by a full-height timber screen ornamented with reed and roundel decoration; the screen includes rising sash shutters. The former women’s meeting room has been converted into a small kitchen and toilet. The main meeting room includes the panelled Elders’ stand across the full width of the east wall, entered through central gates up three steps. The stand includes fixed benches. Two chandeliers, said to be original to the building, hang from the flat ceiling.


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 member’s 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.

Quaker meetings had been held at Cotherstone from the 1680s. During the C18 the farming community was characterised as ‘all cheese and Quakers’ due to the high proportion of Quakers living there. The meeting house standing in a burial ground was built in 1797, replacing nearby Lartington meeting house. The south-facing porch was added in 1837, when the interior may also have been re-fitted including the current partition dividing the meeting house into two rooms. A single-storey cloakroom was added to the south and east sides in 1857, demolished in 1987; at that time the building was refurbished, a window-opening in the west wall was built up, and the porch’s flat roof replaced with a pitched roof.

Reasons for Listing

Cotherstone Friends Meeting House is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* a Quaker meeting house that typifies the modest nature of these buildings for worship, and which retains its essential historic form and character from the time of its construction;

* the unusual Elders’ stand and other historic fabric preserved in the interior provide evidence for the division of space and internal arrangements typical for earlier Quaker meeting houses.

Historic interest:

* a substantially intact purpose-built late-C18 Friends Meeting House that speaks to the strength of Quakerism locally during that century.

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