Brighton Quaker Meeting House, former Caretaker's Cottage, and former Adult School


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Ship Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1AF


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Statutory Address:
Ship Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1AF

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

The City of Brighton and Hove (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Quaker Meeting House and former caretaker’s cottage built in 1805 and former adult school, possibly to the design of Holford and Clayton, of 1876 to 1877. Alterations and extensions principally of 1845, 1876 to1877, and later.

Reasons for Designation

Brighton Quaker Meeting House and former caretaker’s cottage of 1805 (with alterations of 1845, 1876-1877) and former adult school (1876-1877), situated on Ship Street, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the understated Classical design of the meeting house provides a distinctive town-centre building, which nevertheless reflects Quaker preferences for restrained architecture; * fittings including the meeting house sounding board and gallery preserved in the interior provide evidence for the division of space and internal arrangements typical for earlier Quaker meeting houses; * the buildings retain to a great extent their original plan-forms, and their various functions including worship and education are clearly legible.

Historic interest:

* a purpose-built early C19 Quaker meeting house, its later-C19 re-modelling and extension providing evidence of the development of the meeting house type, including the provision of educational facilities.

Group value:

* with numerous other listed buildings including, to the north-west, Number 58 and Attached Railings, Ship Street; to the south, Number 15 and Attached Railings and Number 15B, Prince Albert Street; and to the east, a number of the properties along Meeting House Lane (all Grade II-listed).


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. The year 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 member’s 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. 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 first recorded Quaker meeting for worship in Brighton was held in 1658. A converted malthouse in North Street was leased in 1700 to be used as a meeting house, and Quaker burials were made at other locations including to the rear of the North Street premises. However, the site for a purpose-built meeting house, with a burial ground, was not bought until 1804. The new plot was owned by Friend William Grover, and the meeting house and attached caretaker’s cottage were opened in 1805. Internal alterations were made to the meeting house in 1817, when a sounding-board was added over the Elders’ stand, and again in 1845. A single-storey entrance block including a loggia was added to the meeting house north elevation in that year. By 1853 the meeting room included the stand, a western gallery, a centrally-placed heating stove, and a rolling shutter dividing the room into men’s and women’s spaces. The burial ground was closed in 1854.

An adult school, possibly designed by Holford and Clayton, was added to the north of the meeting house in 1876-1877. To that end the entrance block of 1845 was modified, turned into an enclosed corridor to link the new building to the meeting house. The caretaker’s cottage was also extended by the addition of a further storey to the front and the meeting house west elevation appears to have been altered at this time: that included its complete re-fenestration, and the addition of a pediment and a porch, thus bringing the main entrance to the west elevation. The ground floor of the cottage was opened into the meeting house to be a women's parlour.

The ground floor corridor accessed from the new entrance was extended into the meeting room in 1997, making a larger reception room and storage space. The stand and shutters have been removed from the meeting room. The women's parlour in the former caretaker's cottage had been re-fitted with toilets during the 1970s, and this space was altered to introduce a library in 2009. A single-storey flat-roofed quiet room to the meeting house east elevation was built in 1982, at which time the enclosed corridor was extended slightly to provide access to this new room. In the same year the first floor of the former caretaker's cottage was adapted and extended to the rear.


Quaker Meeting House and former caretaker’s cottage built in 1805 and former adult school, possibly to the design of Holford and Clayton, of 1876 to 1877. Alterations and extensions principally of 1845, 1876 to1877, and later.

MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond, flint, cement render, slate and lead roof coverings.

PLAN: the buildings form an irregular complex on plan, standing in the former Quaker burial ground which is now a garden with no remaining headstones. The meeting house to the centre is rectangular on plan with a projecting entrance porch to the west and small single-storey extension to the east. The meeting house includes, from west to east, a reception and storage area with north-west staircase to the gallery above, opening into the full-height meeting room. The attached former caretaker’s cottage to the south is oblong on plan with a library room and toilets to the ground floor and staircase to the south side (upper storeys not inspected). The meeting house is linked to the former adult school to the north by an east-west corridor. The adult school, oblong on plan with a re-entrant corner to the south-east, includes from west to east a large meeting room, then the kitchen and café. The open-well staircase in the south-east corner provides access to a mezzanine of two small rooms to the east, and the four rooms of the first floor.


Meeting house: the west elevation forms the principal façade of the meeting house, facing onto Ship Street and approached through the former burial ground (now a garden). In red brick laid to Flemish bond with stucco-cement dressings, it is a symmetrical composition arranged in four ground floor bays with three bays above, surmounted by a pediment. On the ground floor a single-storey porch entered up two steps through a two-bay arcade of rounded-headed arches gives access to a pair of double-leaf entrance doors in the central two bays. The arches spring from Tuscan pilasters. Two corner pilasters support the porch’s frieze, which carries the incised inscription FRIENDS’ MEETING HOUSE. The porch’s cornice continues across the meeting house front wall. The far bays in the ground floor storey are each lit by a window, with architrave, either side of the porch. The upper storey is lit by three arched windows with plate glass sashes and transom lights. These windows have oblong aprons with brick panels, a moulded string course to the sill band and a dentilled string course to the springing band, and architraves to the window heads. The pediment above has a moulded entablature with a plain frieze. The hipped roof over the meeting house has slate coverings. The flat roof to the porch is covered with sheet lead.

The north elevation is obscured at ground level by the corridor, formerly an entrance block, which links the meeting house to the former adult school. Three large sixteen-over-sixteen sash windows in the upper storey of the north elevation light the meeting room. The rear (east) elevation is rendered. The hopper of the central down-pipe on that wall is dated 1805. The ground floor of the east elevation is obscured by a later, flat-roofed and brick-built, extension that includes two small east-facing windows and two roof lights. The south elevation is largely obscured by the former caretaker’s cottage to its west end, but it has two six-over-six sash windows with segmental heads.

Former caretaker’s cottage: the former caretaker’s cottage is joined to the south elevation of the meeting house and extends approximately halfway back along the south wall. In red brick laid to Flemish bond, it comprises three storeys to the front, with a two-storey bay to the rear. The gable roof has slate coverings, with a roof light over the south-west bay. Chimneys are to the north wall. The principal (west) front is of two bays. The ground floor comprises a six-over-six sash window with a segmental head to the left and the cottage’s six-panelled door to the right. The door surround includes a round brick arch, with a decorative fanlight. The first floor comprises, to the left, a three-over-six sash window also with a segmental head, and a blind window to the right above the door. The second floor is lit by a small three-over-three sash window with a flat arch to the left. There is a further blind window to the right. The five windows all have projecting sills. The rear (east) elevation is largely obscured by an adjacent building. The south elevation, partially obscured by adjacent buildings, is built in flint.

Former adult school: the former adult school, in red brick laid to Flemish bond with stucco-cement dressings, is joined to the meeting house by the old single-storey north entrance block which has been converted into a corridor. The west end wall of the linking corridor, originally part of the loggia, now has a segmental-headed window. The east end wall of the corridor, also formerly open, now has a segmental-headed double-leaf entrance door. This block is corniced and has a flat roof covered with sheet lead. The former adult school is built of two-storeys with a hipped roof with slate coverings, two chimney stacks to the north and one to the south.

The west elevation is a symmetrical composition of four bays. The windows are paired to both floors. To the ground floor, the windows are plate-glass sashes, each pair separated by a brick pilaster and under a lintel surmounted by a course of sawtooth bricks. A date stone set between the two pairs of ground floor windows is inscribed ERECTED/ 1876. A string course separates the ground and first floors. The upper storey windows are plate-glass sashes, the window of each pair separated by a brick pilaster with a capital. These windows have segmental heads and moulded architraves, and decorative panelled brick aprons. A string course links the windows at the springing band. The elevation is surmounted by a dentilled cornice and a short parapet with projecting corners and centre block.

The north elevation is largely obscured by the neighbouring buildings. The rear (east) elevation is obscured at ground level by a lean-to extension, rendered and with clay tile roof coverings. The extension is lit by four small oblong plate-glass windows with clay tile sills in the east wall to Meeting House Lane, a two-light sash window in the south return wall, and three roof lights. The former adult school includes a mezzanine at the rear: accordingly, the rear elevation includes three asymmetrically-placed two-light plate-glass sash windows with rubbed brick segmental heads and brick sills at the mezzanine level. A plain brick string course to both the sill band and the springing band links these windows. Above, lighting the upper storey, are three similarly placed two-light plate-glass sash windows. These windows have flat rubbed brick arches with brick sills. Their arches interrupt a cornice of two courses of sawtooth bricks.

The brick string courses and the cornice continue from the east elevation around the south elevation. The south elevation, obscured at ground floor level by the linking corridor, includes a sash window with segmental head in the staircase bay.


Meeting house: the front (west) porch leads into a corridor below the meeting house gallery. The gallery access stair is in the north-west corner. The space to the south comprises the reception area, with a storage room to the north. A centrally-placed door leads from the reception area into the meeting room. At its west end, the raked gallery with panelled fronts to each level projects over the entrance corridor below. The double-height meeting room has a timber dado throughout (thought to be late-twentieth century). The flat panelled ceiling with cornice includes a central ventilation grille. The east end includes the curved, full-width sounding board over the position of the former stand. The meeting house and its other buildings have a number of free-standing open-backed benches, which include fittings to enable them to be fixed to the floor.

Former caretaker’s cottage: the ground floor of the former caretaker’s cottage has been converted and now (2019) includes a library room and toilets. The stair leading to the upper floors (not inspected) is to the south wall, whilst the fireplaces and chimneys are to the north wall.

Former adult school: the ground floor of the former adult school comprises to the front (west) a large lecture room, and a kitchen, café/canteen and the staircase to the rear. The lecture room has a dado rail, a tiled fireplace to the north wall, and a cornice. The café at the rear, which extends into the single storey rear extension, includes a smaller fireplace. The open-well stair, with turned newels and balusters, incorporates a C19 walk-in safe below. The mezzanine floor comprises two small rooms in the eastern bays, whilst the upper storey extends to the full depth of the building. That includes two front rooms with original fireplaces, and a third room with a cast-iron grate and a kitchen to the rear.


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

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Books and journals
Butler, D, The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, Volume 2, (1999), p600
Brighton Museums, 'The Quaker Burial Ground on the Royal Pavilion Estate' (10 July 2017), accessed 3 January 2020 from
Friends Meeting House, Brighton: historic building record, Architectural History Practice, 2015,


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: 07 Jul 2007
Reference: IOE01/15783/28
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Glyn Edmunds . Source Historic England Archive
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