History in Structure

Great Dunmow Quaker Meeting House

A Grade II Listed Building in Great Dunmow, Essex

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Latitude: 51.8695 / 51°52'10"N

Longitude: 0.3629 / 0°21'46"E

OS Eastings: 562777

OS Northings: 221628

OS Grid: TL627216

Mapcode National: GBR NGB.NLJ

Mapcode Global: VHJJF.78QP

Plus Code: 9F32V997+Q5

Entry Name: Great Dunmow Quaker Meeting House

Listing Date: 9 May 2019

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1461049

ID on this website: 101461049

Location: Great Dunmow, Uttlesford, Essex, CM6

County: Essex

District: Uttlesford

Civil Parish: Great Dunmow

Built-Up Area: Great Dunmow

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Tagged with: Architectural structure


A Quaker Meeting House dating to 1833.


A Quaker meeting house dated 1833.

MATERIALS: the meeting house is constructed of red brick in Flemish bond with masonry details. It has a slate roof and timber framed windows.

PLAN: the building is rectangular on plan. There is a late C20 extension which projects to the west.

DESCRIPTION: the meeting house is single storey and has a low hipped roof. The entrance is on the front (east) elevation. The doorway is in the centre and is flanked by two large sashes. The elevation is given additional rhythm through the centre, windows and corner being slightly advanced and with a corbel detail at the top. The roof is hipped. There is a date stone stating 1833 just below the roof line above the main entrance. There was formerly a door case; this has been removed although the scar remains in the brickwork. The side elevations continue the pattern of slightly recessed sections but without any windows. The rear elevation continues the rhythm, with a window inserted into one of the recessed panels. There is also a central segmental pediment rising above the wallhead with an inset arch which is supported by plain pilasters. The elevation is now partially obscured by a late-C20 single-storey extension which is not of special interest.

INTERIOR: a central corridor, created by partitions containing removeable panels, gives access to the two principal spaces of the meeting house. To the right (north) is the meeting hall. This is a large full height space which retains its dado panelling. This ramps up to where the Elders' bench is located on the northern wall. Fixed benches remain in situ on the east and west walls of the room. There is an octagonal recess in the ceiling for ventilation. The other room was the female meeting room and also has dado panelling. There is a further octagonal recess in the ceiling. The original exterior doors to the rear remain at the end of the corridor. These now give access to the C20 extension, which is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.


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 in member’s houses, barns, and other secular premises followed. Persecution of non-Conformists 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, and that 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 facing a raised stand for the minsters and elders. 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. 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. Traditional styles continued to be favoured, from grander Classical buildings in urban centres to local examples in domestic neo-Georgian. The work of Hubert Lidbetter, an architect long associated with Quakerism, demonstrates a range from the solid Classicism of Friends House, London (1921-7) to the more contemporary style of the 1964 Sheffield meeting house (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 first meeting house in Dunmow was built on the site of the current house in 1709. That meeting had declined by the early years of the C19, but had sufficiently recovered by the 1830s that the new meeting house was built on the site of the earlier one in 1833. It may have been sited on the earlier building's foundations. The architect of the building is not known. The Meeting declined once again in the mid-C20 and the building was used as a nursery before reopening as a meeting house in the early 1990s. An extension containing a small kitchen and WCs was constructed in 1993 to the rear of the building.

The burial ground is a long oblong plot, with the meeting house roughly in the centre. To the street, the burial ground has a brick wall with a wrought-iron gate. The circular paths of the front burial ground are first shown on the 1897 OS map. Behind the meeting house is a small detached garden shed. The back part of the site has three large yew trees.

The back (west) part of the burial ground is the new one and the front (east) burial ground is the older one. Burials have taken place at the site since 1706. Only ten headstones survive, few of which are legible: in the rear area there are four standing headstones with the only legible date of death being 1924. In the front area there are two standing stones (including one for Susannah Clayton who died in 1821), one lying stone, and three against the wall (one of which has a death date of 1835 or 1853). The burial ground is no longer used for burials.

Reasons for Listing

Great Dunmow Quaker Meeting house, dated 1833, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural Interest:

* as a well-executed early-C19 example of the Quaker meeting house type;
* for the quality of the classical design and detailing of the building;
* for the survival of the interior layout and original fittings, such as the movable screens, benches and dado panelling.

Historic interest:

* for its association with the earlier burial ground within which it stands.

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