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North Walsham Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II* Listed Building in North Walsham, Norfolk

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.8346 / 52°50'4"N

Longitude: 1.3912 / 1°23'28"E

OS Eastings: 628517

OS Northings: 331732

OS Grid: TG285317

Mapcode National: GBR WFC.BJY

Mapcode Global: WHMSQ.B0PR

Plus Code: 9F43R9MR+RF

Entry Name: North Walsham Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 21 June 1950

Last Amended: 29 May 2020

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1373956

English Heritage Legacy ID: 222837

Location: North Walsham, North Norfolk, Norfolk, NR28

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: North Walsham

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Walsham North St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

Find accommodation in
Swafield

Summary


Quaker meeting house. 1772, restored in 1984 under the instruction of Christopher Codling, architect.

Description

Quaker meeting house. 1772, restored in 1984 under the instruction of Christopher Codling, architect.

MATERIALS: red brick laid to Flemish bond, with pantile roof coverings.

PLAN: the single-storey meeting house is square on plan with a hipped roof, with a small eastern extension, rectangular on plan, under a gable roof.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house stands back from the Mundesley Road in a rural area, approximately 160m to the north of the detached burial ground. It has a low brick plinth and a brick cornice, and a hipped roof with black pantile coverings. The main (south) elevation of three bays includes the centrally-placed entrance flanked by a six-over-six sash window to either side. The doorway has a moulded timber surround with a shallow hood. The windows, under flat arches, have flush frames and projecting sills. There are three three-over-three sash windows in the upper level, lighting the meeting house gallery. These also have projecting sills and flush frames. There is a pair of similar three-over-three sash windows in the upper level of both the west and east elevations, whilst the rear (north) elevation is blind. The meeting house’s date stone, reading 1772, is placed high up in the north elevation.

The meeting house’s east elevation is largely obscured by the single-storey extension which provides kitchen and cloakroom facilities. This structure has an entrance door and small window to both its north and south elevations, with a further small window in the east elevation. Its west-east oriented gable roof with red and black pantile coverings now includes a catslide over the north side of the extension, where the structure has been extended almost as far as the meeting house’s north wall.

INTERIOR: the double-leaf entrance door in the south elevation leads directly into a lobby spanning the full width of the meeting house. Quarter-turn stairs at each end of the lobby provide access to the gallery above. The lobby is divided from the main meeting room by the panelled backs of fixed benches to either side of a central walkway. Two Tuscan columns support the gallery. The plain panelled gallery front carries a handrail on short turned balusters, and two more columns incorporated in the gallery front support the flat plaster ceiling. The gallery is divided into western and eastern spaces by a central partition.

The main meeting room has vertical plank panelling with a chair rail or dado above which continues around the walls, broken only by a doorway in the east wall leading into the kitchen and cloakrooms of the eastern extension. The panelling to the north wall is higher behind the centrally-placed seating of the Elders’ Stand. The Stand comprises two ranks of raked fixed benches extending the full length of the north wall, with two entrances either side of the centre benches. The ceiling has a moulded cornice and all the timberwork is painted.

History

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 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 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.

Quaker burials in North Walsham had begun in the burial ground to the west of Mundesley Road in the late C17. The first meeting house was built in 1702, either close to the burial ground or at the site of the present building, on land given by James Miller. The burial ground and meeting house were established close to the northern parish boundary, some 1.5km distant from the centre of North Walsham. Nearby domestic dwellings of post-medieval date are associated with a small Quaker settlement in the locality.

The present meeting house was built in 1772, paid for by William Seker who owned the nearby water mill. It was repaired following a later-C20 revival in Quakerism in the area, and underwent a restoration in the early 1980s under the instruction of Christopher Codling, architect. That included providing new kitchen and cloakroom facilities in the building’s small eastern extension.

Reasons for Listing

North Walsham Quaker Meeting House, situated on Quakers Hill, Swafield, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a particularly important historic and substantially intact C18 Quaker meeting house which retains its essential historic form and character;

* in an understated Georgian style typifying the modest nature of these buildings for worship;

* the plan-form, the Elders’ Stand, the gallery with its unusual partition 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 purpose-built late-C18 Meeting House that speaks to the strength of Quakerism locally during that century;

* in close proximity to the C17 detached burial ground, part of a small Quaker settlement established at a distance from the centre of North Walsham.

Group value:

* with The Thatched Cottage (Grade II) and the nearby group of unlisted post-medieval domestic buildings of the former Quaker settlement.

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