History in Structure

Penrith Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Penrith, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.6664 / 54°39'58"N

Longitude: -2.7512 / 2°45'4"W

OS Eastings: 351642

OS Northings: 530403

OS Grid: NY516304

Mapcode National: GBR 9G7H.50

Mapcode Global: WH814.QZ22

Plus Code: 9C6VM68X+HG

Entry Name: Penrith Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 24 April 1951

Last Amended: 23 June 2020

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1326914

English Heritage Legacy ID: 72900

ID on this website: 101326914

Location: Penrith, Westmorland and Furness, Cumbria, CA11

County: Cumbria

District: Eden

Civil Parish: Penrith

Built-Up Area: Penrith

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Penrith St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle

Tagged with: Quaker meeting house

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Quaker meeting house, C17, altered in the C18 and enlarged in 1803. Later extensions and interior alterations to the designs of ADL Keswick and John Bodger Architect Ltd.


Quaker meeting house, C17, altered in the C18 and enlarged in 1803. Later extensions and interior alterations to the designs of ADL Keswick and John Bodger Architect Ltd.

MATERIALS: sandstone covered with a lime render, Cumbrian slate roof coverings.

PLAN: the main meeting house is T-shaped on plan, the main range oriented north-west/south-east with a perpendicular entrance wing. Small single-storey extensions dating to 1991 and 2008, rectangular on plan, occupy the returns to the north and south of the entrance wing, with a small lean-to to the north-east elevation.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house stands to the south side of Meeting House Lane. The meeting house is built in coursed squared sandstone blocks, covered with a lime render. The gable roofs are covered with Cumbrian slates, with a gable end stack to the south-east elevation. The stone window surrounds are painted.

The principal (south-west) elevation comprises the gable end of the early-C19 entrance wing, flanked to the left by the projecting gable end of the single-storey children’s room and to the right by the single-storey, flat-roofed, garden room. The centrally-placed main entrance is flanked by two six-over-six sash windows in the upper level of the gable. The chamfered stone doorway is approached up two steps. The gable end of the children’s room includes a nine-paned window and there is a door in the south return, whilst the garden room is a flat-roofed timber structure with full-height glazing. There is a small six-light window in the upper level of the main meeting house range over both the children’s room and the garden room.

The north-west elevation includes, from right to left, two window openings lighting the children’s room and a nine-paned window in the gable end of the main range lighting the ground-floor kitchen. The north-east elevation is blind, with the small single-storey lean-to extension to the south end lit by a window in its east return wall. The south-east elevation includes two nine-paned windows in the gable end of the main range, lighting a ground-floor reception room (the window to the left is a more recent opening). The projecting end of the garden room includes a glazed double-leaf doorway in its north return.

INTERIOR: the main entrance door leads into the full-height early-C19 entrance wing. The joinery throughout is unpainted pine and the walls and flat ceiling are plainly plastered. The panelled Elders’ Stand of two raked fixed benches occupies the north-west wall. The rear bench is enclosed by a panelled front, carrying a hand-rail on plain posts, with a centrally-placed double-leaf gate approached up a flight of three steps. To left and right, timber partitions including vertically-sliding screens divide the main meeting room from a kitchen (to the north) and reception room (to the south). The first-floor galleries over the kitchen and reception room are blocked from the main meeting room by tongue-and-groove panelling, although the balustrades with turned balusters are still in place overlooking the meeting room. The sloping ceilings of the kitchen and reception room accommodate the raked galleries above. The kitchen communicates with the children’s room, whilst the reception room (which includes a cast-iron fireplace in the south-east wall) communicates with the toilets in the lean-to.


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.

Quakers had been meeting at a private house in the village of Clifton, about 2.5 miles to the south-east of Penrith, when in 1699 the decision was made to buy a suitable property in the town itself. A farmhouse called Layne House on Sandy Lane (now Meeting House Lane) was bought at a cost of £80. Rectangular on plan, the building included a stable with a loft. Initially it remained a tenanted dwelling that was also used for meeting for worship, reputedly the first dissenting place of worship in Penrith. The land alongside became a burial ground which now includes small round-headed grave stones and ledger slabs. Internal alterations were not made until 1718, and again in 1730 when a second loft was added to the opposite end of the farmhouse, accessed from an internal newel staircase. Seats were purchased in 1738.

Plans were drawn up to extend the meeting house for the Circulating Yearly Meeting for the Northern Counties of 1757, but temporary accommodation was provided instead. The mid-C18 plans were modified to extend the meeting house in 1803, at a cost of £251. The design involved adding a wing to the south-west, forming a T-shaped plan with the main ground-floor entrance via the new south-western gable. The work included modifying the lofts to introduce rakes of fixed benches in galleries overlooking the central meeting room space; building new external steps on the north-east elevation to access the lofts; and new internal furnishings and fittings including the Elders’ Stand.

By 1925 the external steps had been removed and a small lean-to added to the north-east elevation. At some point after 1950 a solid fuel stove standing almost centrally in the main meeting room was removed. A children’s room was added to the north side of the early-C19 entrance wing in 1991, to the design of ADL Keswick. In 2008 the small lean-to was replaced with a slightly larger structure to provide toilets and storage space, and a garden room was added to the south side of the entrance wing. That work was to the design of John Bodger Architect Ltd.

Reasons for Listing

Penrith Quaker Meeting House, situated on Meeting House Lane, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as an historic survivor of an early Quaker meeting house which retains its essential historic form and character;
* the adaptation of a C17 farmhouse into a Quaker meeting house in an understated vernacular Georgian style typifies the development of this building type;
* the unusual plan form and interior fixtures and fittings including the Elders’ stand, former galleries, and ground-floor partitions with sliding shutters provide evidence for the division of space and internal arrangements of earlier Quaker meeting houses.

Historic interest:

* as an early Quaker meeting house established soon after the Act of Toleration of 1689, with an attached burial ground.

Group value:

* with Lonsdale House, 14-17 Meeting House Lane, and the Infant School on Meeting House Lane (all Grade II-listed).

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