Lewes Quaker Meeting House


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
32 Friars Walk, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2LE


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Statutory Address:
32 Friars Walk, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2LE

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

East Sussex
Lewes (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:


Quaker Meeting House built in 1784 on a site which had been a Quaker burial ground since 1697. It has been extended three times, in 1801, 1860 and 1977-8.

Reasons for Designation

Lewes Quaker Meeting House of 1784 with later extensions, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a purpose-built C18 Quaker meeting house with quality detailing such as mathematical tiling, pedimented porch on four pilasters and panelled meeting room.

Historic interest:

* the meeting house has a long and complex history of extensions, responding to the needs of the meeting over time;

* it has strong associations with prominent local Quakers especially of the Victorian period.

Group value:

* with the Archway to the Churchyard of All Saints (Grade II) and the All Saints Community Centre (Grade II*) and opposite a number of Grade II-listed buildings along Friars Walk.


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.

George Fox visited Lewes in 1655 and there has been a Quaker meeting ever since. In 1675, a building in Puddle Wharf was used as a meeting house and three years later it was given to the Friends (possibly on the death of its owner, Thomas Snashfold). In 1697, a burial ground was acquired in Friars Walk (the current site) on a 1,000-year lease from John Newnham of Barcombe and in 1784, a new meeting house was built for £229 there as the old Puddle Wharf building was considered ‘unfit to sit in’, partly due to the proximity of a slaughter house.

The new building was timber-framed on a brick base with mathematical tiles fixed over boarding. In 1801, a cottage was added at the south and the meeting room extended southwards. The original gallery was removed and the cottage’s upper floor used as the new gallery with the reused original balustrade.

In 1812, a new wider and pedimented porch was added. In 1860, a larger cottage was added to the north. In 1955, repairs were made on the advice of Hubert Lidbetter. Two years later, the inscription on the porch was painted and the headstones re-arranged. In 1977, the meeting’s C19 coach house was demolished and another extension was built to the north, providing a children’s room on the ground floor and a warden’s flat above (which continues on the upper floor of the 1860 cottage). At the same time, a new porch was added to the 1860 cottage. In the late C20 the stand in the meeting room was altered when one row of fixed benches was removed.

The meeting house and burial ground occupy an oblong plot parallel with the road. The burial ground was in use from 1698 to 1926, but has since only been used for the burial of ashes. There are over 20 headstones arranged in rows in front of the 1977-8 extension. In 1957 and again in the 1970s, the headstones in the burial ground were re-arranged to allow for easier grounds management (without disturbing the burials). The earliest visible headstones date from the 1850s but Stell reported the presence of at least two from the eighteenth century: John Rickman (died 1789) and Elizabeth Rickman (died 1795). Prominent Quakers buried here include: Joseph Woods (1776-1864), an architect and botanist, first president of the London Architectural Society and author of The Tourists’ Flora (1850); Caleb Rickman Kemp (1836-1908), a merchant, member of the Anti-Slavery Society, Quaker minister at the age of 21, vice-president of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and twice mayor of Lewes; and Burwood Godlee (1802-1882), a banker, coalmerchant, founder member of the Lewes Scientific Society, chairman of the local gas company, and a county magistrate.


The meeting house was built in 1784 on a site which had been a Quaker burial ground since 1697. It has been extended three times, in 1801, 1860 and 1977-8, resulting in a long linear building. One porch was added in 1812 and another in 1977-8.

MATERIALS: brick, apart from the original meeting house and the 1801 cottage which are timber-framed on a brick base and mathematically tiled.

PLAN: a long oblong with two porches to the front and toilet extensions to the rear.

EXTERIOR: the front elevation of the original meeting house of 1784 has a brick base of red bricks and burnt headers in Flemish bond. The south gable is tile-hung, as is the rear elevation. The pitched roof is covered with slate to the front and hand-made tiles to the back. The main elevation faces south-east with a chimney stack at the south. The base between the two three-centred windows to the meeting room (eight-over-eight sashes) has evidence of an earlier or intended doorway. The windows of the meeting room and the 1801 cottage have glazed black dressings; the same material is used for quoins. The cottage has a sash window (eight-over-eight) each to the ground and first floor; the lower of which was converted from an original door opening. The rear elevation of the meeting room is lit by two high-level four-over-four sashes under three-centred arches.

The large porch of 1812 is of red brick with burnt headers laid in Flemish bond. Four pilasters support the entablature and pediment with the inscriptions ‘Friends Meeting House’ and ‘1784’. The porch has small lateral windows.

The 1860 cottage is rendered. It has two, two-over-two sashes on both floors with an additional small first-floor window over the flat-roofed porch of 1977-8. The elevation of the 1977-8 extension (of brick in stretcher bond) is similarly fenestrated, with rubbed and gauged flat heads to the ground-floor windows. The north elevation has a double-leaf door and a sash window to the ground floor, with two sash windows above. All three windows are of two-over-two pattern and all openings have lintels of soldier courses. The south elevation has one window on each level beside the stack. The rear elevation has a small first-floor window to the 1970s building, and two three-light casements to the 1860 cottage, as well as a small ground-floor window.

INTERIOR: the main porch of 1812 leads to the doors into the meeting room, set beside a disused panelled timber door. The meeting room has dado panelling of pine. The windows have plain architraves. There is a decorative ventilation grille in the ceiling. At the north, the panelling steps up behind the ministers’ and elders’ stand which has one fixed bench and two lateral fixed seats with shaped side panels. Opposite is a panelled wall interrupted only by the gallery on the upper floor of the 1801 cottage whose panelled timber balustrade is complemented by an iron rail. The cottage’s lower floor (now the library) has timber panelled walls and a structural cast-iron post in the shape of a thin column. The floor above has a fireplace with mantelshelf. The ground floor of the 1860 cottage contains a stone staircase to the upstairs flat as well as a kitchen and a corridor leading to the large children’s room in the 1970s extension.


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

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Butler, D M, The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, (1999), 607-9
Hitchin, D, Quakers in Lewes:an informal history, (2010)
Stell, C, An Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-Houses in Eastern England, (2002), 350-1
Architectural History Practice, 2016, Friends Meeting House, Lewes, accessed 12 December 2019 from http://heritage.quaker.org.uk/files/Lewes%20LM.pdf


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.

Reference: IOE01/13705/07
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Cyril Selby. Source Historic England Archive
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