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History: Meeting Houses

History: Meeting Houses

In principle a Quaker Meeting for Worship can be held anywhere and at any time. However it is clear that Quakers in mid-Essex were soon feeling the need of places of their own to meet, and there are records of houses registered as Quaker Meetings at Pleshey, Little Baddow, Moulsham, Boreham, Rainsford and Billericay.

Baddow Road plaque

Baddow Road plaque (near Salvation Army). Click to enlarge

Old Chelmsford Meeting House

Chelmsford Quaker Meeting House, 1824 - 1957, in Duke Street. Now known as the Anne Knight Building, until recently part of Anglia-Ruskin University

Watercolour of Maldon Meeting House and Burial ground

Watercolour of Maldon Meeting House and Burial Ground

In 1656, following the visit of James Parnell, Quaker meetings for worship started to be held in Chelmsford. Growing in numbers, their first brick Meeting House was built in Baddow Road in 1699 costing £150. Records show that trustees of the Meeting House were John and Joseph Lumm of Chelmsford and Samuel and William Marriage of Broomfield. The Marriage family name is a thread which runs throughout the story of Chelmsford Quakers from earliest times, and there are still Marriages in Chelmsford Meeting.

In 1789, as the size of the Chelmsford meeting continued to grow, a site adjoining the Meeting House in Baddow Road was purchased, and a larger Meeting House built, being completed in 1791 (see plaque opposite). The cost was covered by Robert Greenwood, Joseph Marriage, and William Knight collecting subscriptions from the meeting. Because of their refusal to pay Church taxes such as tithes and church warden rates, the Marriages - who were farmers - often had a good deal of their crops seized by courts, but despite this they were a major subscriber.

The Meeting House in Baddow Road was replaced in 1824 by a substantial Meeting House in Duke Street, opposite the railway station, which remained in use for 130 years. Accounts dated 1826 show that the cost was £3,922 ( about £164,000 today), and twenty years after completion there was still a debt of £520!

The sale of this Meeting House funded the building in 1957 of the present Chelmsford Quaker Meeting House in Rainsford Road, as well as new Meeting Houses for Brentwood Meeting and Billericay Meeting, which prior to this held meetings at various locations in the area.

Plans for the Witham Meeting House were drawn up in 1801, but the actual building was not completed until 1809. However, by 1875 membership had dropped, meetings were irregular, and eventually abandoned altogether. Various other bodies used the building - the Salvation Army, the Peculiar people, etc for a time, but eventually, riddled with dry rot and decay, the building had become a liability and was sold in 1953.

The first Meeting House in Maldon was a small two story building just off the High Street, and was used from 1709 until 1820, when it was sold for £200. In 1820 the present Meeting House (see picture above) was built at a cost of £1230 - about £50,000 today.

Billericay. In 1695 it was reported that a Meeting House was being built in Bellerica (a 17th C spelling of Billericay). The members demolished and rebuilt in brick a property 'on the street of Billericay close to Norsey Lane'.They did not own the freehold of their Meeting House, and by 1715 were moving to a sight in Great Burstead which they had been able to purchase. It was only a small place, and the members gradually declined in numbers, and meetings ceased, the building being sold in 1831. A Meeting was re-started in the 1940s in hired premises until the purchase and conversion of the present Red House on Bell Hill in 1957.

Brentwood Meeting started in the 1940s, meeting in hired premises whilst looking for a site of their own. In 1955 land was purchased for £1,000, and Hugh Lidbetter - the architect of Friends House, the Quaker headquarters in London - was asked to design the building, which was opened in 1957.