Blackheath Quaker Meeting House, built in 1971-2 by Trevor Dannatt and Partners for the Blackheath Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. The job architect was David Greenwood, the consulting engineer was Ted Happold for Ove Arup and Partners and the contractor was R. Mansell.
Reasons for Designation
Blackheath Quaker Meeting House is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a major work by Trevor Dannatt, a distinguished post-war architect;
* for its original design, transforming an exceptionally difficult site; dramatic exterior and interior effects are combined with carefully-judged and subtle details creating an atmosphere of quietness and contemplation suited to Quaker worship.
* as the home of the Blackheath Quaker Meeting, which has its origins in the late C17.
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 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 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, and that 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 room with a simple arrangement of seating facing a raised stand for the minsters and elders. 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 Hubert Lidbetter, the most prolific Quaker architect of the C20, demonstrates a range from the solid Classicism of Friends House, London (1924-7) to the more contemporary style of the 1964 Sheffield meeting house (now in alternative use). In the postwar period, a 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.
The Blackheath Meeting has its origins in meetings held in Woolwich and in Deptford in the late C17. The Woolwich Meeting was revived in 1905, and following the loss of the Deptford Meeting House in 1906, regular meetings for worship took place at various locations in Woolwich, before a permanent meeting house was established there. By 1960, this had been outgrown, and in 1963 the decision was taken to relocate to Blackheath. The following year, after a few months in the Roman Catholic church hall, the meeting moved to Independents Road, occupying the Congregational church’s hall (1884 by T L Banks & Townsend). The church itself, a Gothic Revival building of 1853, had been restored and remodelled by Trevor Dannatt in 1957. When in 1964 the lease of a plot adjoining the hall was negotiated with the Congregationalists for a new meeting house, Dannatt – who had recently completed the assembly hall at the Quaker Bootham School, York (1965-6, listed at Grade II) – was proposed as architect for a building with a hall seating 100. The designs were completed by the end of 1967, and following the launch of a building appeal, work finally began in September 1971. The consulting engineers were Ove Arup & Partners, and the contractors were R. Mansell Ltd. The building was completed for a cost of £37,842, and the first meeting for worship took place in the new building on 8 October 1972. The building won a Civic Trust Award in 1973 and a Concrete Trust Award in 1974.
The design of the meeting house was informed by a number of specific requirements. Firstly, the site itself, at the termination of Independents Road, and with Lawn Terrace running parallel but at a higher level to the south, dictated that the design span the two levels, taking light where available. At the same time, it was necessary to avoid blocking light from the existing Congregational hall to the north – this contributed to the decision to turn the square meeting room by 45 degrees, setting it at a diagonal to both Independents Road and the hall. A town planning requirement was that the lower level of the building not occupy the whole of the site, leaving enough space to allow parking for four cars – hence the placing of the front part of the meeting hall on exposed piers. Although music does not form part of Quaker worship, music was important to members of the meeting in the 1970s, when concerts were frequently held in the meeting room, so an alcove to accommodate a piano was provided. A link block connecting the new building with the Congregational hall at two levels reflects the original intention of sharing access to the new WCs and kitchens. However, the church closed in 1974, following the merging of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches to form the United Reformed Church; the church building is now part of Blackheath Hospital, and the hall is a Montessori Centre. The openings linking the meeting house and former Congregational hall are now blocked. The meeting house has undergone a number of changes during the course of its history, and a major refurbishment took place in 2013.
Trevor Dannatt (born 1920), trained at the Regent Street Polytechnic and worked for Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry in the 1940s, before joining Peter Moro and Leslie Martin at the London County Council Architect’s Department to work on the Royal Festival Hall. In private practice from 1952, his wide-ranging work includes houses, commercial and education buildings, as well as religious buildings. From 1967 he had an association with Saudi Arabia, where he built a conference centre and hotel, and later the British Embassy. Dannatt’s work has been recognised by the listing of a number of buildings, both those for which he was sole architect, and collaborative projects.
Quaker Meeting House, built in 1971-2 by Trevor Dannatt and Partners for the Blackheath Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. The job architect was David Greenwood, the consulting engineer was Ted Happold for Ove Arup and Partners and the contractor was R Mansell.
MATERIALS: the main structure is of reinforced concrete, with shuttered concrete and blockwork walls. The original zinc sheeting to the roof and lantern was stolen and has been replaced with terne-coated steel (the application of an alloy containing lead or zinc and tin gives the steel the appearance of lead). The flat-roofed subsidiary elements are faced with red Warnham Wealden stock brick.
PLAN: the principal aspect of the building provides the western termination of Independents Road; however, the main entrance is on Lawn Terrace, which runs parallel to and above Independents Road to the south. The meeting house therefore spans the two levels, being contained by a bank to the west, and with another bank rising to the south. The western boundary of the site is formed by the wall of the walkway which runs behind the Meeting House. The meeting room is on the upper level to the east; square on plan with canted corners, and raised on five concrete piers (one to each corner and one to the centre), it is set diagonally to Independents Road, and to the Congregational hall, with the eastern portion projecting beyond the lower floor. The isolation of the meeting room within the space ‘as a sort of pendant’ (Stonehouse, p 99) recalls a medieval chapter house – the association being underlined by the octagonal quality of the building. The entrance concourse curves around the meeting hall to the west, with a WC in the south-west corner. The kitchen is in the block linking the meeting house with the former church hall, which extends to the north-west. The stair is at the west side of the concourse, leading down to the lower floor. The lower floor consists of a rectangular divisible classroom/committee room on a north/south alignment to the east, and a concourse to the west from which are accessed WCs to the south and a small kitchen to the north. The link block contains the lower entrance to the building.
EXTERIOR: the dominant feature of the building is the meeting room, which is expressed externally as a polygon of shuttered concrete, the walls at each canted corner being carried up as turrets. The concrete piers supporting the projecting ‘prow’ of the building are exposed at the eastern, northern and southern corners, those to the outer edge being angled inwards at the top, enclosing the negative space like a frame, whilst the easternmost pier juts forwards like a cutwater, opening it up. The octagonal pyramidal roof leaves space at each corner, providing concealed lighting to the meeting hall, the glazing being carried by the turrets; square gutters in blue zinc project between the corners. The roof is topped by a large square lantern with four tall rectangular leaded casements to each side; the lantern has a parapet, screening the pyramidal cap within. The corner posts of the lantern rise slightly above the parapet; some of the definition of these posts and of the central mullion to each face of the lantern has been lost in the re-covering of the roof. The east-facing walls are blind, apart from one narrow window opening, or loop, in the south-east wall. Below the meeting room, the upper part of the classroom/meeting room wall is glazed, with painted timber window frames wrapping around the northern corner; the wall below is of painted blockwork. The north-western plane of the meeting room is screened by the brick wall enclosing the lobby between the entrance concourse and the meeting room, its concrete floor slab supported on an angled brick wall. A secondary entrance is set back to the north, in the link block with the former church hall. This has replacement glazed doors with surrounding glazed panels and plastic frames; a replacement window lights the kitchen above.
The southern aspect of the meeting house demonstrates the contrast between the concrete meeting room structure with the height of the roof and lantern rising above, and the low red-brick envelope of the ancillary space, the entrance opening leaving a space between the two. The set-back entrance is in line with the south-east wall of the meeting room structure, and is protected by a horizontal block forming a hood, with a replacement facia announcing the meeting house. The unpainted hardwood double doors are set asymmetrically within the space, each having a glazed panel and with vertical glazed panels to either side. The wall enclosing the ancillary space runs parallel to Lawn Terrace, before turning through 45 degrees to form the west side of the entrance. Laid in garden wall bond, the wall has chamfered bricks along the top; the blind southern elevation is broken only by a later lead spout from the building’s flat roof. To the west the wall is a little taller and takes uneven steps, enclosing the curve of the concourse within, each junction allowing for a narrow window. At the second junction, the link block continues northwards, in line with the west wall of the former church hall; there are two horizontal openings at the lower level. The windows all have concrete lintels.
INTERIOR: internally as well as externally the contrast between the main room structure and the subsidiary elements is marked. The informal angles created by the stepped external wall lead the visitor gradually round the narrowing entrance concourse, creating an increasing sense of enclosure, whilst the graduated ceilings ascend towards the soaring geometry of the meeting room. The ‘calm but climatic’ (Architectural Review) meeting room is dominated by the pyramidal roof, with its ceiling of Karasea Russian redwood boarding, illuminated by the generous lantern. Four interlocking steel ties support the lantern’s corner posts. The plastered walls receive additional natural lighting from the open glazed corner turrets, whilst electric lighting was originally provided by rectangular zinc lamps designed by Dannatt – these have been replaced with steel copies. The single narrow window in the south-east wall on to Lawn Terrace is intended for the purposes of re-orientation, rather than distraction; the single-paned metal frame is a reproduction of the original. Heaters are accommodated within niches in the corners, and there is an alcove for a piano in the north-east wall. The original cork flooring has been replaced by carpet. Within the entrance hall the external concrete wall of the meeting room is exposed; the other walls are painted blockwork. The floor here is of rectangular quarry tiles. Circular lights are set into the ceilings, those now in place being larger than the originals. A glazed screen later inserted to the north-east creates a small triangular lobby prefacing the meeting hall. To the north a doorway with a flush timber door leads to the kitchen, in the block originally linking with the Congregational church hall; a small lobby beyond contains the blocked doorway to the church hall. The kitchen, which has been refitted, also connects with the concourse via a serving hatch. To the south-west is a WC cubicle with replacement fittings and finishes, originally preceded by an open lobby which has now been enclosed and slightly enlarged. To the west is the narrow stair, enclosed by a low brick wall; its tiled treads are set diagonally, in line with the entrance, with a quarter turn near the bottom opening to four wide steps.
On the lower level, the rectangular main room to the east is divisible with an integral folding timber screen, each part of the room having its own door-opening with flush door and glazed surround. Three of the concrete piers supporting the meeting room above are partially visible within the room, their shuttered concrete surfaces forming part of the texture of the walls, which are otherwise of painted blockwork; the concrete is also now painted. The irregular shape of the lower concourse is dictated by the brick wall of the stair to the west, the brick wall supporting the concourse above which cuts across the space by the eastern entrance, and to the north, the ragstone walling of the former church hall. To the west of this wall, a partition has been inserted, creating a cupboard, within which the blocked doorway to the church hall is visible. To the north-west is a small wedge-shaped kitchen. To the south are the WCs; this area has been reconfigured. The floors on the lower level are covered with linoleum, replacing the original asbestos tiles.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the Lawn Terrace entrance to the meeting house is approached by a path of replacement concrete paving slabs (not included in the listing), with a small cobbled area to the west. The angled brick wall and iron fence to the southern boundary are a later addition and are not included in the listing.