The Croydon Quaker Meeting House, built in 1956 to the designs of Hubert Lidbetter, together with the paired covered ways linking the building to the separately listed Adult School Hall.
Reasons for Designation
Croydon Quaker Meeting House of 1956, by Hubert Lidbetter, together with the paired covered ways linking the building with the separately listed Adult School Hall, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a particularly accomplished work by one of the C20’s most prolific and distinguished Quaker architects, Hubert Lidbetter;
* for its evolved Arts and Crafts style, in sympathy with the pre-existing Adult School Hall, but of its own time;
* the meeting house expresses simplicity, appropriate for a Quaker building, in combination with restrained external and internal detailing;
* the planning of the meeting house reflects its intended community use.
* the wider site has a long association with the Croydon Quakers, dating back to 1707.
* with the listed Adult School Hall by William Curtis Green of 1908, with which the meeting house is physically, functionally and aesthetically linked.
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, 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 facing a bench for the elders; in time a raised stand became common behind this bench, for travelling ministers. 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 ways 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 inter-war 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 architectural styles continued to be favoured throughout the greater part of the C20, the range being well represented by the work of Hubert Lidbetter, architect of the Croydon Meeting House, although in the post-war period a number of Quaker buildings in more emphatically modern styles were built.
Quakers have met regularly in Croydon since about 1658, at which time accommodation was rented at an unknown location. In 1707 land for a burial ground was acquired at the site of the current meeting house; a small meeting house was built adjacent in 1721. In 1816 this was replaced by a larger meeting house, with the earlier building being retained as a women’s room. Further building was undertaken following the arrival in 1825 of the Friends School, which moved to Croydon from Islington (having been founded in Clerkenwell; the School transferred to Saffron Walden in 1879). Further additions and classrooms were added in 1883 at the expense of the local tea merchant John Horniman. In 1908 an Adult School Hall – an Arts and Crafts building designed by Curtis Green in the form of an aisled barn (List Entry 1391697) – was built on land acquired to the south-west of the site, adjoining the existing meeting house complex. This was the only building on the site to escape bombing in 1940, and meetings were held here until the replacement meeting house was built in 1956 to Lidbetter’s designs – clearly intended to harmonise with the Adult School Hall, the new building was more domestic in style, with the influence of early-C20 Swedish architecture tempering its Arts and Crafts character. The land for the new meeting house was given by Croydon Borough Council in exchange for part of the burial ground for the projected widening of Park Lane; some bodies were reinterred to the west of the site, with the majority being taken to Queens Road Cemetery, Croydon. A link was built between the new meeting house and the Adult School Hall, and Lidbetter made good the eastern wall of the earlier building, following the removal of the remains of the structures which had abutted it.
Hubert Lidbetter (1885-1966) was the C20’s most prolific architect of Quaker meeting houses, his career spanning the 1920s to the 1960s. A Quaker himself, Lidbetter trained in the office of the established Quaker architect Frederick Rowntree (1860-1927). (It is thought that Rowntree may have played some part in the construction of the Adult School Hall at Croydon, and that Lidbetter therefore possibly also had some involvement). His career took off in 1923 when he won the competition for Friends House; Lidbetter became Surveyor to the Six Weeks Meeting in 1935 (which administers Quaker property in the Greater London area), holding the post until 1957. Lidbetter was experienced in the sympathetic restoration of old buildings, and as Surveyor he worked on historic meeting houses, as well as building new ones. He also published articles on Quaker architecture (including ‘Quaker Meeting Houses 1670-1850’, Architectural Review, April 1946) and the first book devoted to the meeting house as an architectural genre (‘The Friends Meeting House’, 1961). Lidbetter designed at least 15 new meeting houses, ten being built after he was joined in practice by his son Martin in 1950. Of Lidbetter’s large urban meeting houses, those built during the interwar period are the Classical tradition – Friends House, London (1924-27, listed at Grade II) and Bull Street, Birmingham (1931-33) - whilst Liverpool (1941, demolished) and Sheffield (1964, no longer in Quaker use) showed the influence of Modernism. However, more typical of his work was the domestic neo-Georgian character of his numerous smaller meeting houses, mainly in and around London. Martin Lidbetter (1914-92) succeeded to his father’s post, continuing the practice into the 1970s. Besides designing meeting houses, the practice also undertook work for Quaker schools, and commissions for the Methodist and Congregational churches, the Baptists, and the Salvation Army, as well as designing office buildings (including the listed former National Union of General and Municipal Workers building of 1953-7) and houses for private clients and local authorities.
Today, the Croydon Quakers continue to use the meeting house, which is also used by other community groups.
Quaker Meeting House, 1956 by H & HM Lidbetter for the Croydon Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, in a broadly Arts and Crafts style.
MATERIALS: yellow stock brick laid in Flemish bond, with vertical tile-hanging to the dormer windows, and pantiles to the steeply pitched roof with tiled coping to the gables. The window openings – mainly flat-arched – have brick-on-end lintels, and tiled cills. Each opening contains mullioned or mullioned and transomed timber frames, within which are small-paned metal casements and fixed lights. There is a tall rectangular brick stack with inset horizontal panels at the junction of the two ranges on both the eastern and the western sides. The building retains some of its original cast-iron gutters and pipes, with dated rainwater heads.
PLAN: the building stands on a north/south alignment, in line with the Adult School Hall to which it is attached by twin covered ways enclosing a courtyard. The T-plan meeting house has a three-bay north range set on a north/south alignment, containing the full-height meeting room to the north, with the entrance lobby and stair. The marginally higher south range containing the ancillary spaces and former caretaker's flat is set on a west/east alignment.
EXTERIOR: the principal, eastern, entrance is in the northern range at the junction of the two ranges, and is protected by a catslide porch, the slightly swept eaves supported on two circular concrete columns. The porch is now enclosed by glazed timber doors. Above it, a dormer window is set into the roof at first and at second floor level. To the north, the east and west walls of the meeting room are stepped up above the eaves to accommodate pairs of large, 12-light windows, with larger casement sections at the bottom. To the north, the gable end has a single, smaller, window, with a cambered arch; this originally had timber shutters which have been removed. In the gable above are three ventilation slits, the central slit being taller. On the west elevation, the wall is stepped up to accommodate a nine-light window, lighting the stair. There are plain doorways giving access to the north end of the meeting room to west and east. The roof to the gable ends of the south range has raked eaves with tiled kneelers, the brickwork corbelled out beneath. Each end has three square ground-floor windows with, above, a central rectangular window, and above that a window with a cambered arch. In the gable above are three ventilation slits, as on the north elevation. The ground floor of the south elevation is sheltered by a lean-to canopy, connected with those of the covered ways. Beneath this the openings are asymmetrical, with narrow doorways to the east and the centre with a window between, and a tripartite window to the west. Above, the fenestration is symmetrical; in the central bay is a narrow stair window with a horizontal window above breaking through the eaves. To either side are eight-light horizontal windows, with dormers above. On the north elevation of the south range, in the spaces to the sides of the north range, dormer windows are nestled against the stacks.
INTERIOR: an oculus in the south wall of the porch gives a view into the tea room. At the rear of the porch are paired door openings, separated by a brick pier with convex detailing to the front; the original paired glazed oak double doors survive, with brass pull handles. In the south wall by the entrance is an alcove for a notice-board. The main public space centres on the entrance lobby, with the stair rising from the north-west corner, and a wide passageway and seating area leading to the south. The walls in this area are of unpainted brick, and the original parquet floor remains throughout the ground floor. The wide low space of the entrance lobby is spanned by two lateral beams supported on brick pilasters, framing the opening to the meeting room to the north, and the passageway to the south. The southern pilasters are angled, as are the walls of the embrasure holding the double doors to the meeting room; these angled walls emphasise the sense of circulation within the space. To either side of the meeting room's glazed double doors is a small window for use by a ‘doorkeeper’, charged with looking out for late-comers and facilitating their entrance to the Meeting for Worship. The meeting room is a lofty space, with the tall windows set rather high, providing ample light without offering distraction. The windows retain their original secondary glazing, for sound as well as temperature insulation. The lower part of the walls is clad in simple, unpainted panelling, incorporating radiators, with plastered walls above. To the north, a fixed bench on a shallow dais represents a ministers’/elders’ bench – a historicist feature at this date. A fixed bench also runs along the south wall to either side of the entrance, turning the corners to west and east. Set high in the wall above the entrance are two small openings, now blocked, possibly originally intended to provide a view from the landing above. The wide open-well stair has a brick balustrade is pierced by the omission of headers, and square brick newels with concrete caps. Within the south range of the building, beyond the central passageway, the fitting out of the building is modest, with solid boarded doors, and tiled window cills. The central passageway gives access to the tea room to the east, which retains a simple timber fire-surround, now filled with slate tiles; a hatch in the south wall connects with the kitchen. Glazed double doors from the passage give access the service area of the building, the walls to either side pierced by a row of glass bricks. The kitchen to the east has recently been re-fitted, as have the WCs to the west. On the first floor there is a large room to the east and another to the west, designed for community use; both have false ceilings, and that to the west retains a plain moulded fire-surround. To the north, above the porch, is a small office, also with a plain moulded fire-surround. A secondary stair rises at the south end of the building, around a dumb waiter. On the second floor is a flat, originally intended for a caretaker; this was not inspected, but photographs indicate that the area does not retain significant historic features.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the meeting house is connected with the Adult School Hall (listed separately) standing to the south by twin covered ways, with swept tiled roofs resting on plain circular concrete piers.