Cirencester Quaker Meeting House and attached Warden's House

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II*
List Entry Number:
1206705
Date first listed:
14-Jun-1948
Date of most recent amendment:
31-Mar-2020
Statutory Address:
51 and 53 Thomas Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 2BA

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
51 and 53 Thomas Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 2BA

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

County:
Gloucestershire
District:
Cotswold (District Authority)
Parish:
Cirencester
National Grid Reference:
SP0207702246

Summary

Quaker Meeting House built in 1673, with the attached warden's house added in 1810 and further alterations and additions of 1726, 1810 and 1865.

Reasons for Designation

Cirencester Quaker Meeting House built in 1673, with later extensions including the attached warden's house added in 1810, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as an exceptional historic survivor of a 1673 Quaker meeting house prior to the Act of Toleration of 1689;

* as evidence of the development of the meeting house type that reflects the local vernacular building traditions;

* internally, there is a good quality suite of early-C19 fixtures and fittings which reflect the congregation’s historic mode of worship.

Historic interest:

* the meeting house has a long and complex history of extensions responding to the needs of the meeting over time including the addition of the warden's house;

* it has strong associations with prominent local Quakers;

* for its association with the adjacent and contemporary burial ground.

Group value:

* with Corinium Roman Town (scheduled monument) and several Grade II-listed buildings along Thomas Street, including the Quaker-built Temperance Hall opposite and 49 Thomas Street, also in Quaker ownership.

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 traveling 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.

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 work of the prolific Hubert Lidbetter, longtime Surveyor to the Six Weeks Meeting, demonstrates a range from the solid Classicism of Friends House, London (1924-27) to the more contemporary style of the Sheffield meeting house of 1964 (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.

Quaker meetings for worship were being held in or around Cirencester by 1660, when land at Siddington was given by John Roberts for a burial ground. In 1673 a lease of the present site in Thomas Street, formerly land belonging to Cirencester Abbey, was obtained from the Crown. It is likely that the present building was started at this time (there is a date of 1673 over the rear door to the burial ground in what is now the back garden), although some accounts suggest that an existing building was converted (DM Butler (1999) cites the blocked mullion window on the original front elevation, now internal, and the south-east stack as evidence of this). Butler’s suggested plan for the original meeting house shows a loft at the north-west end, reached by an external stair.

The next significant stage in the building’s development was 1726, a date inscribed on a quoin at the south-east corner. Association with this date is not certain, but the fitting out of the roof space over the meeting house certainly resulted in a room of Georgian character. This is now reached via a stair in the early C19 linked property at 51 Thomas Street.

In 1809-11 the footprint of the meeting house was almost doubled in size, to provide a separate room with gallery for women’s business meetings. A central passage between the two meeting rooms led from a new front door to the old back door to the burial ground (there is a date of 1810 over the rear door to the burial ground). The partitions on either side of the passage were made capable of being raised to allow the interior to be used as a single space. The main meeting room was refitted, and timber columns added to support the floor above. The addition was provided with Gothick glazing in the windows on the burial ground elevation, a pattern which was extended to the windows in the older part. It is also likely that 51 Thomas Street, which wraps around the original building, was added at this time. In 1847 Friends built a Gothic Temperance Hall opposite, the gift of Christopher Bowly, now a Salvation Army Hall (Grade II). The adjoining property, 49 Thomas Street, of early C19 date and also in Quaker ownership, is listed Grade II.

The last major phase of adaptation of the meeting house was in 1865, when a large single-storey porch was added at the front of the building. Regular meetings ceased in 1922 or 1923, and the building was used as a labour exchange from 1926 to 1947. Quaker meetings resumed in 1949, and major repairs were undertaken in 1979 and 1996. The first floor of the warden's house was refurbished in 2008.

The burial ground behind the meeting house was re-landscaped as a garden after the First World War by six German prisoners of war, when the headstones (mainly late C19) were moved to the perimeter wall. The earliest interment was in 1673 (Thomas Barnfield). Others buried here include Giles Fettiplace, son of the Civil Governor of the Parliamentarian garrison, who led the unsuccessful defence of Cirencester against Prince Rupert’s Royalists on 2 February 1643 and members of the Bowly family, prominent in local affairs over many generations. The garden is still used for the scattering of ashes.

In addition to the former burial ground behind the meeting house, there is a detached and disused Quaker burial ground at Siddington some 2km to the south-east, given by John Roberts in 1660 and in use until 1783.

Details

Quaker Meeting House built in 1673, with the attached warden's house added in 1810 and further alterations and additions of 1726, 1810 and 1865.

MATERIALS: the meeting house is of coursed squared Cotswold limestone rubble, with the porch and the warden’s house in coursed squared limestone. The roof of the meeting house is covered in Cotswold stone slates, while the porch has a flat roof covered in felt behind a parapet.

PLAN: rectangular plan with a porch on the north side and the L-shaped warden’s house to the east.

EXTERIOR: the meeting house consists of two meeting rooms parallel to, and set back from, Thomas Street. The earlier portion to the east is larger and includes a central through-passage, while the later (1810) room is to the west. A side passage of 1810 runs alongside this room to its west. There is an upper floor or loft in the roof space.

The original Thomas Street elevation of the 1673 building had a central doorway with a depressed four-centred arch and mullioned windows on either side. These features are now blocked and are now internal, respectively visible from the later (1865) entrance porch and the kitchen of no. 51, the warden’s house. The blocked window is of three lights with thick ovolo mullions. The evidence for the other window is less obvious (a straight joint in the stonework).

The entrance porch of 1865 fronts Thomas Street and is of four bays with arched openings. Left-of-centre is the entrance, with a pair of four-panel doors with simple fanlight with radiating spokes. In the other three bays, sash windows each have a single central vertical glazing bar, and are each in a chamfered reveal with flat stone surrounds. The windows and door are linked by an unmoulded impost band. A raised central section of the parapet is supported by scrolls and bears the incised lettering: FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE.

To the west of the entrance porch, and set back, is a pair of part-glazed six-panel doors leading to a side passage under the loft of the 1810 room.

The rear elevation of the meeting house faces towards the former burial ground (now garden) to the south. It has five round-headed sash windows of 1810 with intersecting Gothic glazing bars and two rear doors. Doorway lintels above these are dated 1673 (to the central passage) and 1810 (to the side passage). The south elevation is articulated by a projecting chimney stack, but is otherwise plain. A small square chimney stack has been removed and the ridge capped at this point.

INTERIOR: the meeting house entrance leads to a central stone-flagged passage flanked by screens formed of four tiers of deal shutters between pilasters. These were installed in the 1810 remodelling, and the vertically-sliding shutters are capable of being raised above ceiling height to form a single interior space.

The main meeting room to the east has a stone-flagged floor at the centre and four timber Tuscan Doric columns, probably of 1810, which support stop-chamfered ceiling beams and the room above. The plaster ceiling is coved. The fitting out of this space is of 1810, with a raised timber-boarded stand on the east side with panelled dado and front and stepped approaches at either end, with columnar newel, stick balusters with delicate reeding, and moulded handrail. The other two walls also have boarded stands with fixed seating and high dado panelling.

The 1810 room to the west of the passage is similarly panelled. The front to the loft on the far side remains, but the gallery itself was closed off in 1989.

Above the main meeting room is an upper floor room approached via a staircase in the warden’s house. This is of C18 character and may relate to the works carried out in 1726. It was originally divided into three wide bays by panelled segmental arched partitions with central keystones, and has a fine Coalbrookdale-type fireplace with cast-iron hob at the far end. The room formerly continued over the through-passage but is now closed off by an early C19 partition, with one segmental arched bay beyond. From here the original roof structure is visible with substantial rafters and purlins to the original structure and less substantial scantling to the 1810 build.

WARDEN'S HOUSE: the meeting house is physically attached to the warden’s house at no. 51, linked internally to the meeting house at the ground floor and the attic.

The warden’s house is two storeys fronting onto Thomas Street. The ground floor has one eight-over-eight pane sash window in a plain reveal and the first floor has one similar window. The house has a six-panel door with the top two panels glazed and a fanlight above. The door is set in a round-headed plain reveal. There is a plat band over the ground floor, an unmoulded string over the first floor and a coped parapet with one limestone chimney stack. There is a later red brick stack on the hipped roof. The side elevation facing west has a three-over-three first-floor window with a stone cill.

A blocked three-light ovolo-moulded stone-mullion window of the 1673 meeting house is visible on the ground floor kitchen.

Legacy

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

Legacy System number:
365454
Legacy System:
LBS

Sources

Books and journals
Butler, D M (Author), The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, Volume 1, (1999), 213-4
Websites
Architectural History Practice, 2016, Friends Meeting House, Cirencester, accessed 13 January 2020 from http://heritage.quaker.org.uk/files/Cirencester%20LM.pdf
Quaker Meeting Houses in Great Britain 2017, accessed 13 January 2020 from http://heritage.quaker.org.uk/quaker-gb-meeting-houses-national-overview-report-2017-03.pdf

Legal

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: 30 Mar 2001
Reference: IOE01/03276/16
Rights: Copyright IoE Lorna Freeman. Source Historic England Archive
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