Friends Meeting House, Darlington


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
6 Skinnergate, Darlington, DL3 7NB


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Statutory Address:
6 Skinnergate, Darlington, DL3 7NB

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Darlington (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Quaker Meeting House, 1846, retaining a pre-existing front-range of 1839, with mid-C20 internal alterations.

Reasons for Designation

Darlington Meeting House is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * a large and impressive multi-phased mid-C19 meeting house, containing two meeting rooms divided by vertical sash partitions;

* the front range on Skinnergate is a well-expressed restrained Classical design, with good quality detail and finish;

* the main range exhibits a restrained and unostentatious character, typical of the traditions of the Quaker movement;

* there is good survival of original fittings and fixtures; including galleries, a fine-quality minister’s stand with sounding board, and a fitted library.

Historical interest:

* the meeting house has a strong association with local C19 Quaker families of national significance, such as the Backhouse and Pease families.

Group value: * the building benefits from a functional and spatial group value with a number of listed Grade II buildings, including: a pair of Almshouses, walls to the burial ground of the Quaker Meeting House, and the Mechanics’ Institute.


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.

The Friends bought a house and land at Skinnergate in 1678, and converted it into a meeting house with a burial ground. This meeting house was replaced in the 1760s by a purpose-built structure, and in about 1839 a classical-style two-storey reception range was added to it. In 1846 the meeting house was replaced by the present building, retaining the 1839 front-range. Like its predecessor, the rebuilt meeting house had two equal chambers, separated by sliding sash shutters. This building has been attributed to Joseph Sparkes (1817-1855), a Quaker master carpenter who moved from Exeter to Darlington in 1847. He worked on other buildings in the town including the listed Grade II Mechanics’ Institute (1853) (List entry: 1322961), and the listed Grade II Stockton and Darlington Railway Carriage Works (List entry: 1121229). By 1886 the complex had expanded to include the meeting house, a large school room, eight classrooms, tenements on Skinnergate, a caretaker's house, and two alms houses (List entry: 1121293), together with the original late-C17 burial ground, which has been enlarged on a number of occasions. The walls on the south and west sides of the burial ground are listed Grade II (List entry: 1161282). Internal alterations were made to the meeting house in 1960 when the galleries were converted into rooms, suspended ceilings were installed, and the minister's stand in the north meeting room and one of the flights of stairs in the lobby were removed; however, many of the original fittings do still survive. The C19 Darlington Friends Meeting was a prosperous one and included within its number where some Quaker families of national significance, including the Backhouse family (horticulturists, bankers, financiers and Quaker minister) and the Pease family (railway pioneers, town developers, slavery abolitionist, and philanthropists).


Quaker Meeting House, 1846, retaining a pre-existing front-range of 1839, with mid-C20 internal alterations.

MATERIALS: red brick in Flemish bond, with a sandstone plinth, string course and a moulded stone cornice (front-range), and brick in English garden wall bond (rear-range). Two slate clad roofs, with that of the front-range aligned roughly north to south, being hipped and that of the rear-range being roughly aligned east to west and gabled.

PLAN: sub-rectangular: the earlier front-range forms a reception building containing former committee rooms and lobbies; the larger, rear-range forms the meeting house containing a pair of parallel meeting rooms.

EXTERIOR: the two-storey, five-bay front elevation has a sandstone plinth, string course, and a moulded stone cornice. The central entrance-bay breaks forward slightly, with a wide porch containing two Tuscan columns in antis. Low ashlar walls carrying plain wrought and cast-iron railings, with decorative newel posts and bi-fold gates, enclose a short flight of steps flanked by sweeping plain wrought-iron hand rails that lead into the entrance-bay. The entrance has an ashlar surround with a tall six-panelled double door, flanked to each side by a narrow eight-light sash window. A central tripartite window in an ashlar surround, with an architrave on curved brackets is situated above the entrance, and a stone up-stand, with the words FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE is situated over the cornice. The entrance-bay is flanked on both floors by two widely-spaced 16-light sash windows, with ashlar stone sills and gauged-brick flat-arched heads. The hipped roof is partially hidden by the parapet and has two brick ridge chimney stacks with a further two at the base of the rear slope. The meeting house is situated behind the front-range. The north and south side walls each have three large 12-light segmental-headed windows, with timber sashes and margin lights. The west gable wall has a segmental-headed central recess occupied by two window positions that are flanked by windows of a similar pattern to those of the side walls. Both gables have moulded ashlar kneelers and cornices, and are topped by a chimney stack with a moulded stone coping.

INTERIOR: the front-range contains several small rooms including, committee rooms, a library, cloakrooms and toilets, some with surviving C19 details including dado and picture rails, fireplaces, and a fitted glazed library cabinet. A full-height, two-storey, top-lit lobby is situated between the front-range and the meeting rooms. It houses a staircase that has a wreathed handrail, stick balusters with plain pedestals, an open string and timber treads, providing access to the first-floor and the former meeting room galleries. The attached meeting house range has two large rectangular meeting rooms. The southern room, which is now the principal meeting room, has a boarded floor, and painted raised and fielded dado panelling in two tiers. The panelled minister's stand has a front rail carried on Doric colonettes and a curved timber sounding board spanning its full width. It retains fixed seating on two levels, with ramped handrail dividers in the centre and at each end. Panelled sliding sash screens separate the two meeting rooms; the galleries have been enclosed and a suspended ceiling inserted across the whole space. The northern meeting room is similar to the southern room. It has lost its minister's stand, together with its sounding board, but the dado panelling survives, as does the gallery above the suspended ceiling.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Butler, D M, The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, (1999), 157-160
Friends Meeting House (Darlington): historic building. Architectural History Practice, accessed 29 April 2020 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Backhouse, Edward (1808-1879), Quaker minister and historical writer, accessed 10 June 2020 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Nichol, Elizabeth Pease (nee Elizabeth Pease) (1807-1897), accessed 10 June 2020 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Pease, Edward (1767-1858), woolen manufacturer and railway promoter, accessed 10 June 2020 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 29 Jan 2006
Reference: IOE01/14647/02
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Alan Bradley. Source Historic England Archive
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