Posted on 14 January 2020
The Front Door to Newark Meeting House, Nottinghamshire, England, represents the adaptability of design in a Quaker building.
Converted from a high-street shop, Newark Meeting House was opened in 2018 by the Quaker speaker/writer Geoffrey Durham.
This is the first time in their history that Quakers in Newark have had their own purpose-built building. Before the Newark Meeting House opened many local Friends would attend Brant Broughton Meeting House in neighbouring Lincolnshire.
In fact, it was Friends at Brant Broughton Meeting House who mainly facilitated the building of Newark Meeting House. In 2010, Brant Broughton Friends began an outreach project to promote Quakerism in Newark. From fortnightly meetings in a local Methodist church attendance steadily grew.
When Quaker Andrew James (an architect from Brant Broughton) saw the shop was for sale, local Friends seized the opportunity and purchased the shop. James, who drew up plans for the conversion, says of Newark Meeting House:
“Sandwiched between three pubs in the corner of the Market Place it gives us a street presence and it certainly puts us directly in touch with the market place of life.”
Design of Quaker Meeting Houses
The earliest purpose-built Quaker Meeting Houses were distinctive for their simple, functional design. Built by local craftsmen, they sit modestly in the town and landscape and each has its own character.
In some cases, an existing building was adapted. For example, originally a barn and cottage, Swarthmoor Meeting House in Cumbria was bought by George Fox and given to the local meeting in 1688 with instructions on how to adapt it as a meeting house.
Meeting Houses have simple internal spaces, reflecting the way in which Quakers worshipped. Architect and Quaker Hubert Lidbetter observed in his 1961 survey of Quaker places of worship:
“With no necessity to provide for music or any set form of service, a Meeting House is more a domestic than an ecclesiastical building.”
Because their is no priest or altar, there are no liturgical requirements (i.e holy communion) to influence the design of a Meeting House. Decoration in the form of stained glass or ornaments are rare. Walls are most often left bare, with maybe the occasional painting in light colours.
It’s common practice that a Meeting House has a simple table (often wood) that has a vase of flowers, a jug of water with some glasses, a copy of Faith & Practice, and a bible.
Plainess is preferred.
Image by Smudge