Quaker meeting house, built in 1726-27. An extension to the south-east was added, probably in the early C19. Refurbished in 1933 and 2010.
Reasons for Designation
Aylesbury Quaker Meeting House, Rickford's Hill, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, dating from 1726-27, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a well-preserved, early-C18 meeting house, typical of the vernacular architectural style associated with the Quaker movement;
* for its characterful interior retaining its dado panelling.
* the discreet location and modest architectural style of the building are expressive of the early history of the Quaker movement.
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 in 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. 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.
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 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.
In 1704 two tenements on what is now Rickford's Hill, then known as Green End, were transferred to the Aylesbury Friends on a 1,000 year lease and a ‘newly-erected’ meeting house was registered (it stood in the yard behind the tenements). This building, with its discrete location (possibly a reflection of a short period of uncertainty for nonconformists after the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 when the freedom of worship granted by the Act of Toleration of 1689 came under attack by supporters of the established church) was superseded in 1726, when further land behind the tenements was acquired and the present meeting house built, opening in 1727. It was reached via a passageway at the west side of the frontage properties. The remainder of the site was used as a burial ground and the frontage properties were let.
In 1810 a porch was added ‘after the manner of Friends Meeting House at Chesham’ and double shutters erected in the meeting room, presumably to form a women’s meeting room. The porch is shown on a plan held by the Quarterly Meeting. However, the south-eastern extension is not shown on this plan although it probably also dates to the early-C19. The meeting was discontinued in 1836 and from 1845 the building was let as a school. It later became as a Baptist chapel (and is shown as such, with the south-eastern extension added, on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1878), and then by the YMCA. The meeting was revived in the C20, and the meeting house was restored by Walter Rose of Haddenham, a member of the Society, in 1933. This included the demolition of the early C19 porch, the removal of the plaster ceiling in the meeting room, and the installation of new benches. The meeting house was refurbished again in 2010 (the architect was Malcolm Barnett).
To the south-west of the meeting house is a small burial ground, where the first burial took place in 1727. It closed in 1855. There are records of six interments, but none are marked by headstones.
Quaker meeting house, built in 1726-27. An extension to the south-east was added, probably in the early-C19. Refurbished in 1933 and 2010.
MATERIALS: red brick, with some black glazed headers, laid in header bond. The hipped clay tile roof has a modern skylight in the extended south-eastern slope.
PLAN: the rectangular meeting room, orientated north-west to south-east, is adjoined at the south-east end by an extension with a cat-slide roof. The extension projects at right angles in the south-east corner and provides an additional entrance.
EXTERIOR: the principal (south-west) elevation has a moulded brick cornice under the slightly overhanging eaves. There is a central entrance with a pair of two-panel doors, the longer upper panels of which are glazed with leaded lights and with a two-light leaded fanlight above. The roof slope continues down to form a hood over the doorway. These features probably date from 1933, when it is likely that an early porch was removed, although the door frame may be original. A small-paned paired timber casement window to the right (south-east) of the entrance is within the original window opening, while that to the left (north-west) has been widened by an additional casement; both have timber lintels. The entrance in the later lower addition to the south-east has a bracketed canopy over the door which has multi-pane leaded glazing.
The rear (north-west) elevation is blind with a pair of shallow brick relieving arches just above ground level. The south-east extension has a stone rubble plinth.
INTERIOR: the interior consists of a large meeting room and a smaller space at the south-eastern end, now incorporating the later entrance lobby and with a kitchen at the north-east end (all fittings are modern). This latter space was possibly originally a separate women’s meeting room. Stell suggests that the exposed timber-framed wall that separates the two spaces was originally external and possibly weatherboarded, but Newell argues persuasively that it was always internal, possibly fitted with shutters (recorded as added in 1810, although there is now no physical evidence of the shutters). A small brass plaque fixed to the lower rail at this end is inscribed ‘REMEMBERING/ WALTER ROSE/ WHO RESTORED THIS/ MEETING HOUSE’.
The main space has plastered walls and a perimeter dado with a mixture of square panelling and tongue and groove boarding. Perimeter benches are fixed to this, with some shaped ends, based on the pattern of those at the meeting house at Jordans, Bucks (Grade I). The raised height of the dado at the northern end suggests the former position of the elders’ stand. The ceiling is now at collar level, leaving exposed three roof trusses, with tie beams (the central one with modern reinforcements), struts rising to clasped purlins, and dragon beams at the corners.