Birkenhead Quaker Meeting House
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- 83 Park Road South, Birkenhead, CH43 4UU
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- Statutory Address:
- 83 Park Road South, Birkenhead, CH43 4UU
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Wirral (Metropolitan Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Quaker meeting house, 1892, by George Enoch Grayson of Grayson & Ould in an Arts & Crafts style with Vernacular Revival influences
Reasons for Designation
Birkenhead Quaker Meeting House, constructed in 1892, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* its Arts & Crafts styling with Vernacular Revival influences is free of extraneous ornamentation and suitably reflects the restraint of Quakerism and its values of simplicity, equality, community and peace;
* it was designed by George Enoch Grayson of the notable firm of architects, Grayson & Ould who specialised in Arts & Crafts and Vernacular Revival buildings, and is a good example of his work;
* the interior employs good-quality craftsmanship and materials throughout, and retains a wealth of original features, including a striking double-height meeting room with corbelled roof trusses, panelled dado, and a raised dais where the elders originally sat.
* it is an interesting example of a late-C19 Quaker meeting house constructed at a time when few new Quaker buildings were erected.
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 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.
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 & 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.
A Meeting was first established in Birkenhead in 1836 by a group of members from the Liverpool Meeting who lived on the Wirral, and by 1846 a meeting house had been built in Beckwith Street. However, after only three years and unsatisfactory conditions, the friends rented alternative premises from 1849 until 1854 when a new meeting house was constructed on Hemingford Street to the designs of the Liverpool architect Lewis Hornblower. As some of the Friends began moving out to the suburbs it was decided that the Hemingford Street premises was no longer suitable and it was sold in 1890; becoming the Charles Thompson Mission, which still operates from the building today. Designs for a new building to be built on Park Road South were produced by George Enoch Grayson of Grayson & Ould, a notable Liverpool-based firm of architects, and construction costs of £3,400 were raised by subscriptions and debentures. The meeting house, which opened in December 1892, remains in active use today (2019) and forms a three-unit Quaker group with Heswall and Chester. A small number of gravestones (but not the associated graves), including one commemorating a soldier killed at Gallipoli, were moved to Birkenhead when another meeting house closed in Wallasey and laid in the garden just to the north-east of the meeting house.
Quaker meeting house with integral caretaker's house, 1892, by George Enoch Grayson of Grayson & Ould, with some later alterations. Arts & Crafts style with Vernacular Revival influences
MATERIALS: red brick and roughcast render with sandstone dressings, replaced concrete roof tiles.
PLAN: the building is set within gardens on an angled plot at the junction of Park Road South and Slatey Road. It has a roughly rectangular plan and is aligned north-south with projections on the north and west sides. The main entrance is located at the north end facing Park Road South, with an additional secondary entrance on the east side facing Slatey Road that also provides the access into the caretaker's house at the southern end of the building. The meeting house is bounded by a private lane on the south side and houses on the west side.
EXTERIOR: The northern part of the building, which contains the main entrance, is of two-storeys, with a double-height meeting room to the centre behind and a lower two-storey caretaker's house at the southern end. The meeting house has a deep roof that is variously hipped and pitched with two brick chimneystacks: one at the south end of the meeting house's ridge, which serves the caretaker's house, and a large stack rising from the rear of the north entrance, which originally served the basement boiler and first-floor room. The windows are all of timber; those to the main body of the meeting house mainly have small-pane leaded glazing, whilst those to the caretaker's house have plain glazing.
NORTH ELEVATION: this three-bay front elevation has roughcast render to the first floor with a stringcourse between the floors and brick quoining to the corners, which is mirrored on the east and west return elevations. The central bay is gabled and projects forward with a brick frieze around the gable like a simple pediment, painted scrolled decoration to the gable and a roundel displaying the date '1892' in stylised numerals. The bay's ground floor is lit by a two-light mullioned window set to the right with replaced plain glazing (an identical window lights the west return) and to the centre of the first floor is a large eight-light mullioned and transomed stair window with a quoined surround and replaced plain glazing. The left bay has two single-light windows, and both outer bays have quoined four-light mullioned windows to the first floor that are set immediately beneath the eaves. The main entrance is located to the right bay and is accessed by a modern ramp. It consists of Tudor-style panelled double doors set within a red-sandstone surround with crenellated carving detail to the head. To the right of the entrance is a single-light window, and attached to the far right of the elevation is a single-storey toilet projection, which is windowless on this north side.
EAST ELEVATION: this elevation comprises the eastern return of the entrance block, which has a hipped roof with a four-light gabled dormer incorporating painted timberwork. To the ground floor is a single-light window and a three-light mullioned window with replaced plain glazing, whilst to the first floor is a four-light window in the same style as those to the north elevation. To the left is a slightly recessed four-bay meeting room supported by full-height buttresses with late-C20/early-C21 tie bar fixings. The bays are lit by large six-light windows with segmental-arched heads and stained-glass margin lights to the leaded glazing. To the far left (southern end of the building) is an integral lower two-storey caretaker's house with a pitched roof that incorporates a half-hip to the south gable end and a projecting entrance on this east side. The house is set back with a large six-light window incorporating mutipaned upper lights, but the projecting entrance continues the line of the meeting room's east wall. The entrance, which provides interior access to both the meeting room and the caretaker's house, consists of a panelled door with a leaded-glazed upper panel and a red-sandstone lintel above.
SOUTH ELEVATION: the south gable end of the caretaker's house, which has unpainted roughcast render to the first floor and a brick frieze around the gable edge, has a ground-floor window in the same style as that to the east side, and a first-floor window with quoined jambs, brick lintel, and a replaced frame and glazing. Attached to the south-west corner of the house is a two-storey flat-roofed 1960s extension, which is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.
WEST ELEVATION: this elevation is similarly styled to the east elevation, with the upper floor and roof dormer of the west return of the entrance block sharing the same detailing as that on the east side, but with a two-light mullioned window and a single-storey projection at ground-floor level lit by a three-light mullioned window with modern frosted glazing. One of the first-floor window's lights has been converted into a doorway, which accesses a mid-late C20 fire escape leading off the projection's flat roof. Below the fire escape and lying alongside the projection is a stone stair enclosed by brick walls with sandstone copings, which leads down to the basement boiler room. Like on the east side, the meeting room is buttressed on this west side and has four windows in the same style as those to the east elevation; that to the north end has replaced plain glazing. At the southern end of the elevation is the caretaker's house, which has a window and doorway with segmental-ached heads to the ground floor on this side and a 1960s inserted half-dormer window; the ghost marks of a now-removed porch are also visible by the doorway. The attached 1960s flat-roofed extension is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing. A high brick dividing wall with flat sandstone copings projects out westwards from the meeting room and provides the caretaker's house with a private garden area.
INTERIOR: internally the meeting house contains some simple moulded cornicing and some original cast-iron radiators survive. Unvarnished woodwork, including door architraves survives throughout.
To the north-west corner of the interior is an entrance vestibule with a quarry-tile floor, simple moulded cornicing and a decorative heating vent. Partly-glazed panelled double doors in the vestibule's east wall lead through into a large entrance hall/lobby with cloakrooms off to each east and west side, and an open-well stair at the north end with a closed string, carved newel posts, pendants, turned balusters, curtail step and an additional modern handrail along the wall. Double doors at the south end lead into the meeting room and adjacent to the doors is a large wall-mounted clock (believed to be original) in a carved timber case. The hall/lobby has a parquet floor and decorative heating vents at skirting level. Five-panel doors on each east and west side of the hall/lobby lead into cloakrooms and toilets with floorboard floors (covered by carpet tiles in the east cloakroom) and further decorative heating vents. The cloakrooms have painted-timber rails with original coat hooks, whilst the toilet cubicles have four-panel doors; those on the west side have quarry-tile floors, whilst those on the east side are set within their own room and retain their original toilets, one of which has a decorative foliate-patterned blue and white ceramic bowl by Doulton & Co of London and a timber seat and lid, whilst the other's bowl is plain.
To the centre of the entrance hall/lobby's south wall are partly-glazed panelled double doors that lead into a large double-height meeting room with three substantial, corbelled, timber roof trusses, the upper parts of which are concealed by a ceiling. Late-C20/early-C21 tie bars span between the trusses and pendant lights hang from the trusses' tie beams. The meeting room has a timber floorboard floor (now - 2019 - covered over by carpet tiles) and a panelled dado to all four walls with an additional row of panelling above the dado on the south wall. Also alongside the south wall is a raised dais with an elders bench (the meeting house no longer has elders and the bench is now only used on busy occasions); a balustrade that was originally located in front of the bench was removed in the early C20. Mounted on the north wall and flanking the meeting room entrance are large embossed cast-iron controls for the original warm air and cold air heating system by Isaac D Smead & Co (patented on 1 August 1882). The room's original benches are un-fixed and are currently arranged in a square in the centre of the room.
On the first floor at the northern end of the building is another meeting/committee room that spans the full width of the building and is lit by the first-floor windows and dormer windows. The room has a timber floorboard floor (now covered over by carpet tiles), a chimneybreast and painted fireplace to the south wall, and the lower sections of two arch-braced roof trusses are visible below the ceiling. A modern kitchenette has been inserted at the western end of the room, along with a fire door out onto the roof of the west projection and the fire escape.
The interior of the caretaker's house was not inspected.
Books and journals
Butler, D M, The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, (1999), 43-45
Hartwell, C, Hyde, M, Hubbard, E, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England. Cheshire, (2011), 139, 148-9
'Quaker Meeting House: Birkenhead'. 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.
The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.
End of official listing