Uxbridge Quaker Meeting House
- Original design
- Unknown, 1818
- Hubert Lidbetter, 1962
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By 1658 Uxbridge Quakers, also known as Friends, or members of the Religious Society of Friends, were already meeting for worship in private homes. Quakers have continued to meet in Uxbridge since that time subject only to interruptions due to persecution in the Commonwealth period and in the early reign of Charles ll. From 1676 Quakers rented a room in the loft of the George Inn on Uxbridge High Street, but they were still subject to persecution, lock-outs and destruction of the room by soldiers of the Crown. ln the Civil War the George inn had been the headquarters of the Parliamentary Commissioners during the abortive Treaty of Uxbridge negotiations in 1645 that tried to bring a settlement to the war.
In 1678, the Heale family, owners of the George, gave the Quakers land at the north end of the inn’s grounds, adjacent to York Road, for use as a burial ground. It was alongside this that the ﬁrst permanent Meeting House was erected in 1692 on land given by William Winch. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed dissenting worship and had created a safer atmosphere for Quakers.
Little is known about what the ﬁrst one-roomed building looked like other than it was designed and presumably built by John Hudson, a Quaker and a Ruislip bricklayer, at a cost of £159.10s.6d. Because of its poor state the building was demolished in 1755 being replaced by a much larger building. At this time Uxbridge was a prosperous market and milling town and many Quakers were represented amongst the town's better-off. Again, little is known about what the new building looked like other than it was described as smart, possibly reﬂecting the then current neo-classical style. Maybe the cost of £238 was too much of a bargain as this building, too, was found to be unsafe sixty years later and also had to be demolished. The present Meeting House replaced it in 1818 and is a far more substantial construction that cost £1520.
The Quaker testimony to simplicity is reﬂected in the design of the building. Quakers have no liturgical requirements that dictate the design or layout of a building. However, over time the requirement developed for a raised bench for elders and for ‘ministers’, those called upon to ‘minister’, or speak to the meeting — there is no paid clergy. It was also customary to create a separate room for the Women's Business Meeting, although women worshipped with the men and from the start played an equal role in the life of the Society.
These requirements led to a standard layout as found in this building. The primary design maxim was and remains ‘convenience for purpose‘. In more recent times Quakers have seen their Meeting Houses as resources to the community and they have been designed for multi-purpose use. Uxbridge Meeting House also serves this function, but within the constraints of its layout.
The front facade or north-western face of the building to Belmont Road comprises of a plain brick wall of yellow London stock bricks, mostly likely made locally in the extensive brickﬁelds south of the town. It has four bays pierced by round arch deep sash windows with Georgian style glazing.
Large windows allowed plenty of daylight obviating the need for artiﬁcial light on gloomy days. One bay has a simple entry door. The south-western facade has two bays with windows of a similar type separated by a small lobby entrance. The north eastern elevation is blank and the south eastern elevation has an additional one-storey domestic-style extension building dating from 1962 by the Quaker architect Hubert Lidbetter who designed many meeting houses, including Friends House in the Euston Road that was awarded a RIBA bronze medal in 1926.
The Large Meeting House, (to use Quaker terminology), is on the northern side of the building and consists of one large room that remains in use for Quaker worship. The room remains largely unchanged from 1818. The raised ministers and elders bench is at the end of the room. It fell into disuse in the early C20, but not before there was much heart-searching and argument as to who was eligible to position themselves above the Meeting.
The wooden panelling along the walls is part original, part post-1988 ﬁre replacement. Originally the ﬂoor would have been covered with benches facing the raised gallery as in ‘steeple houses‘, (archaic Quaker term for churches).
Today Friends meet using more comfortable modem chairs arranged in a circle. The large wooden shutters between the two rooms are operated by sash cords, and raised into the roof space. In the C19 it was the general practice for women, whilst worshipping with the men, to sit separately and in this building, they would have done so in the Small Meeting House. The shutters would have been open for the period of worship then closed for the business meeting — women remaining in the Small Meeting House for a separate business meeting.
The Small Meeting House was vandalised and damaged by ﬁre in 1988, along with the second set of shutters and the room has not been restored to its original condition.
The last interment was in 1928. Evidence of the burial ground is to be seen in the now largely deteriorated headstones arranged against some perimeter walls. These were removed to this position when much of the burial ground was taken by the Council for the York Road widening in the 1960s, in exchange for land to construct the new extension. The present garden was refurbished and replanted in memory of recently passed-away Friends in 2004.