Open House Festival

Westminster Quaker Meeting House

religious, mixed use

W. W. Lee and J. A. Tregelles, 1883

52 St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4EH

Three centuries of Quakers in Westminster. Opened in 1883, with front doors added in the 1920s. It was bomb-damaged in 1941 and rebuilt in 1956. Grade II listed registered place of worship, it contains a peaceful meeting room and 1950s wood panelling and fittings.

Getting there

Tube

Leicester Square, Covent Garden

Train

Charing Cross

Access

Facilities

Accessibility notes

Step-free front access We will be open only on Sat 16th Sept from 9.0-5.0.

About

History

Quakers have been meeting in Westminster since the mid 1600s; first in the Strand then near Westminster Abbey. There was much persecution of non-conformists during this time, but finally Westminster Quakers were able to rent a place on the site of the current Duke of York's Theatre in St Martin's Lane.

In 1883 the present building was opened freehold. It continued in use through the first part of World War Two, but suffered bomb damage. The Quakers were then invited to use Church House near Westminster Abbey until repairs were completed. The meeting house re-opened in its present form in 1956.

The Building

The meeting house was built in 1954-6 from designs by Hubert Lidbetter, incorporating the basement and outer walls of the predecessor building of 1883.

There are two entrances, from St Martin’s Lane and from Hop Gardens. The main entrance is from St Martin’s Lane, through a passage formed in the ground floor of the listed building at No 52. This has a neo-Georgian shopfront of mid-twentieth century character – it is not clear whether this and the shallow segmental-vaulted ceiling over the passageway belong to Lidbetter’s rebuilding (the frontage building is not owned by the Friends).

The flank elevation to Hop Gardens is utilitarian in character, being built of London stock brick with wide cambered arched window openings with metal windows; this appears essentially to be a remodelling by Lidbetter of the 1883 building.

From the wide vaulted passage from St Martin’s Lane hardwood double doors (probably of 1883, with a decorative rectangular fanlight over) lead into a square lobby, now used as a library. This has a woodblock floor and a raised skylight. It retains its oak chimneypiece and high oak dado panelling of 1883 (after surviving wartime bomb damage these features were retained – or possibly replicated – by Lidbetter).

Two pairs of 1956 oak doors with glazed panels lead to the meeting room beyond, a large, rectangular, space, also top-lit. Clerestory lighting is provided along the long north and south walls, while in the east wall is a tall rectangular window. Glazing is of the 1950s Crittall-variety. The meeting room has a woodblock floor and oak dado panelling around its perimeter, of a streamlined and simpler pattern, typical of the 1950s. A pine dais runs along its north side, set within a recess.

Loose Furnishings

There are two long open-backed oak benches on the dais. The remaining seating (both in the meeting room and the lobby/library) consists of a large number of oak chairs, fine pieces made by Gordon Russell’s Broadway Works, Worcestershire.

The Meeting House in its Wider Setting

The meeting house is in the heart of the West End, within the Covent Garden Conservation Area. It has no townscape presence, being placed behind a row of Georgian buildings on the St Martin’s Lane frontage, and behind the plain brick elevations of the side block facing onto Hop Gardens.

Alongside, a large hotel block is a 1960s former office building by Richard Seifert, converted by Harper Mackay with Philippe Starck as consultant.

Listed Status

The meeting house is listed by virtue of its physical attachment to the Grade II listed building at 52 St Martin’s Lane, which is in separate ownership.

The list entry makes no reference to the building behind. As this incorporates the remains of a meeting house of 1883, as modified and rebuilt by Hubert Lidbetter (a significant Quaker architect, responsible for many designs, notably the Grade II-listed Friends’ House on Euston Road) it is of architectural and historical interest, and an expansion of the list entry to include reference to it might be desirable.

Assessed on its own merits, the building perhaps falls short of listing quality, although it would certainly merit inclusion in a local list.

see http://heritage.quaker.org.uk/files/Westminster%20LM.pdf

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