Building record MYO4213 - Friends Meeting House Friargate


Friends meeting house, built in 1817, on the site of an earlier house which was in use from 1674. The current Meeting House is the latest in a long line of structures constructed by the Society of Friends (Quakers) on this site since 1673. The buildings on the site (then all listed) were demolished after consent to demolish was granted in August 1977. The new building opened in May 1981.


Grid reference Centred SE 6038 5159 (27m by 33m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

NMR related events:
613515 Architectural Survey Investigation by RCHME/EH Architectural Survey 1995

NMR related object:
BF060236 Friends' Meeting House, York

David Rubenstein, The Quaker Meeting House in York 1673 – 2009, (Article on website). SYO1780.

it was in 1673 that its first meeting house
was planned. It was completed the following year. Edward Nightingale lived in Far Water
Lane, now Friargate, and it was he, as Stephen Allott tells us, who took a 99-year lease on
existing property adjoining his own home. The property was converted into a Quaker meeting
house, divided into separate sections for business meetings of men and women, at a cost of
about £225, a sum raised by subscription. By 1681 a porch, a gallery and a stable were added
for a further £129. Thus organised Friends’ worship began in this quarter of York and has
continued in the same area ever since. Upon the death of Edward Nightingale in 1696 Friends
purchased the property for £195, of which £100 was paid by York (later Yorkshire) Quarterly
Meeting. This body, which bore Quaker administrative responsibility for the whole county,
held its sessions in the York meeting house which was in the words of its historian Pearson
Thistlethwaite, ‘in every sense [its] home and headquarters’. Indeed, the building was the
property of the quarterly meeting until 1912, when it was transferred to the ownership of York
Preparative (local) Meeting, which had long shared the financial burden of building and

Victoria County History, 1961, A History of the County of York: the City of York, (Bibliographic reference). SYO1174.

George Fox first visited York in 1651; he spoke to the congregation in the minster and was afterwards thrown down the steps of the church, but when he left York several people 'had received the truth'. (fn. 28) In the same year William Dewsbury, 'perhaps the foremost man in gathering the Yorkshire Friends', (fn. 29) held a meeting at York in the orchard of Richard Smith, a tanner. (fn. 30) Two York Friends, Boswell Middleton and Agnes Wilkinson, were imprisoned in 1653 for speaking to preachers in the churches and four similar offences were reported in 1654. (fn. 31) In that year George Whitehead, later to become an eminent Friend, visited York and described the meeting there as small. (fn. 32)

After his first visit in 1651, Fox returned to York on several occasions: in 1663; in 1665 when he was under arrest but was able to speak effectively to a large number of troops; in 1666 when he describes a large meeting at York; and in 1669 when he was present at the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting in York. (fn. 33) Amongst the Friends penalized in York during the 17th century were Stephen Crisp, who travelled in Yorkshire in 1660; (fn. 34) John Taylor, a prominent Friend who settled in York as a sugar refiner; Edward Nightingale whose property was used for the meetings; and Thomas Waite, a bookseller. (fn. 35)

In 1659 the Friends in York were meeting in their own 'hired house' and on five occasions these meetings were disrupted either by the interference of soldiers, or of the mayor and aldermen; the worshippers were commonly offered violence and abuse. (fn. 36) Meetings were reported in the same meeting-house in 1660, when citizens opposed to the Friends broke all the chairs and benches, saying they did so by order of the mayor. This meeting-house was the property of Edward Nightingale, a grocer, and was situated near his house in High Ousegate. In 1670 Nightingale was heavily fined for permitting meetings in his house and for attending meetings held in the streets. In the same year eighteen persons were fined for attending Quaker conventicles, so that the York Meeting was virtually dispersed. (fn. 37)

The early organization of the Friends in Yorkshire is not certainly known but it seems likely that the county was in 1665 divided into five Monthly Meetings, subsequently regrouped into seven. (fn. 38) In 1668 the York Monthly Meeting is described as comprising York, Tadcaster, Selby, and Whixley (W.R.) Meetings. (fn. 39) In 1669 York was one of the 14 M.M.s into which Yorkshire was at that date divided. (fn. 40) The Yorkshire Q.M. minutes for 1669 are the earliest extant, but they imply that periodical gatherings of a similar nature had been held previously. The M.M.s within the Q.M. have been regrouped from time to time and in 1960 numbered seven. York M.M. has a continuous history throughout the period, but its constituent 'particular' meetings have varied, including, beside those in the city, nine in other parts of the county. (fn. 41) The York M.M. was still in existence in 1956 and the Yorkshire Q.M. was still held in the city.

Despite the persecution during the first twenty years of Quakerism in York it was possible in 1674 to adapt some tenements adjacent to Friargate (also belonging to Edward Nightingale) as a meetinghouse. In 1678 a gallery and a porch were added to the house and an adjacent mill-house and stable were converted into a meeting place for the Yorkshire Q.M. (fn. 42) The freehold of the site was purchased in 1696. (fn. 43)

In 1684 the Q.M. published a condemnation of the action of several members in York in seceding to form a separate group. The answer to this condemnation was signed by four York Quakers including Edward Nightingale. The separate meeting appears to have begun in 1681 (fn. 44) and was the expres sion of opposition to an advice against hasty second marriages; (fn. 45) it persisted at least until 1690. (fn. 46)

In 1695 the York society was in debt, despite 'the making of monthly as well as larger collections over the past eleven years'; the aid given to Friends imprisoned in York castle reduced the society's resources at this period. (fn. 47) The size of the meetings appears to have been increasing, for in 1709 it was agreed that those on the first day should often be held in the great meeting-house because of the pressure on space in the small meeting-house. (fn. 48) By 1743 there were said to be 50 persons attending the York Meeting, but it is not clear that this was an increase in numbers. (fn. 49)

In 1718 a new meeting-house for the Q.M. was erected, adjacent to the old meeting-house on the west, and to Far Water Lane (Friargate) on the north. This building accommodated between 800 and 1,000 persons and cost £562. (fn. 50) In 1786 this larger meeting-house and the smaller one used by the York Meeting were formed into a single trust. (fn. 51) In 1816 the large meeting-house was taken down and after the purchase of some adjacent property was replaced by a larger and more convenient building. This building provided two meeting-rooms, a library, committee room, and doorkeepers' premises and was approached by a covered yard from Friargate. The larger of the two meeting-rooms had a gallery on three sides, the smaller had galleries on two sides and there was accommodation in all for 1,200 persons. (fn. 52) The total cost was £3,274. (fn. 53) The building was red brick with arched lights; entrance was by three double doors behind a colonnade. The architects were Watson and Pritchett of York. (fn. 54)

The site of the meeting-houses was enlarged in 1884 on the construction of Clifford Street. At the same time the smaller or women's meeting-house was reconstructed and a cloakroom, caretakers' accommodation, a lecture room, two committee rooms, and a room for the Q.M. library were added. The cost of these improvements was £6,145. The additional buildings, flanking the 1816 meeting-house on the south, are built of red brick and the main entrance from Clifford Street is approached by a flight of steps. The architect was W. H. Thorpe of Leeds. (fn. 55)

In 1891 further alterations were made and the entrance from Castlegate on the north of the meeting-house was closed. In 1912 the York Meeting received the Trust for the meeting-house, which previously had been held by the Q.M. (fn. 56)

The Yorkshire Q.M. library was established in 1776 (fn. 57) and is housed in the Clifford Street buildings. It includes the Birkbeck library, a set of books and pamphlets published by Friends, collected by Morris Birkbeck of Guildford, which was presented to the Q.M. in 1811. (fn. 58)

The first Quaker burial ground in York lay close to the Clifford Street meeting-house, on land owned by Edward Nightingale. Though the number of burials was small it is possible that Quakers who died during imprisonment in York castle were buried there. No burials are recorded after 1671, but the land remained the property of the York Meeting until 1884. (fn. 59) In 1667 land was purchased for a burial ground on Bishophill, south of the river between the present Albion Street and Cromwell Road. Lindley Murray, the author, and John Woolman, the American Quaker who died of smallpox whilst visiting York, are buried there. The burial ground was enlarged by the purchase of an adjacent site in 1823. (fn. 60) In 1855 the ground was closed for burials and land for a new burial ground was purchased next to The Retreat. (fn. 61) Both these grounds were the property of the York M.M. in 1956.

¶A meeting was started in the Foresters' Hall, Acomb, in 1906. Four years later this was recognized as the Acomb Allowed Meeting. (fn. 62) The Primitive Methodist Chapel on Acomb Green was bought by the Friends in 1911. (fn. 63) The Acomb Meeting continued to meet here and was occupying the premises in 1956.

A Leeman Road Meeting was begun in 1906 (fn. 64) and was held in the Adult School which stood at the corner of Walworth Street and Stamford Street and was destroyed in the Second World War. In 1908 this meeting was recognized as a 'particular' meeting and a Preparative Meeting was established. The Leeman Road Meeting closed in 1925. (fn. 65)

A meeting in Layerthorpe was started in 1909 in Redeness Street Adult School and moved the following year to a school in St. Cuthbert's Road. It was discontinued in 1913. (fn. 66)

A meeting in the Adult School in Balmoral Terrace, known as the South Bank Meeting, was begun in 1910 and discontinued about 1918. (fn. 67)

RCHME, 1981, City of York Volume V: The Central Area, (Monograph). SYO65.

Friargate now runs from Castlegate to Clifford Street but, as Hertergate or, from c. 1560, Far Water Lane, originally continued down to King's Staith. Its name, meaning 'Hert's street' or possibly 'Hart street', is first recorded in 1175. The boundary of the Franciscan Friars' property, which in 1280 and 1290 had already engulfed one or more, perhaps parallel, lanes, was extended in 1314 'from their middle gate by the head of the chancel of their church to the lane which is called Hertergate' (CPR, 1313–17, 166). In 1808 the lane was renamed after the former Friary. The first burial ground of the Society of Friends lay beside the lane, although not used after 1671. Lower Friargate, beside the Law Courts on the S.W. side of Clifford Street, is 60 ft. S. of the line of the old Water Lane

RCHME, 1981, City of York Volume V: The Central Area, (Monograph). SYO65.

(27) Friends' Meeting House (Fig. 31), of brick with a slate-covered roof, stands on the E. side of Clifford Street at the corner of Friargate, but the historic part of the building, erected in 1817, is set back from the frontages in a secluded position. The Society of Friends was meeting on this site in 1674 in a house to which additions were made in 1678 (VCH, York, 405–6). In 1718 a larger meeting house for the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting, capable of seating over 800 persons, was built adjacent to the older one on the N.E. side (Hargrove, ii, 217–9). A gallery was erected in it in 1778, and further alterations were made to the smaller meeting house in 1774 and 1785–6 (Meeting Archives). In 1816–7 the meeting house built in 1718 was mostly taken down and replaced by a new and enlarged one; the foundations and some of the lower parts of the older walls were reused but the building was extended 15 ft. to the S.E. The S.E. wall of 1718 had been built on a length of the precinct wall of the Franciscan Friary (23) and remains of this survive in the basement. The architects of the new meeting house were C. Watson and J. P. Pritchett and the building was described at length in a book published soon afterwards (W. Alexander, Observations on the Construction and Fitting Up of Meeting Houses etc. for Public Worship, illustrated by Plans, Sections and Description including one lately erected in the City of York, embracing in particular the method of Warming and Ventilating (1820)). As well as the meeting house itself, additional rooms were built including a library and a committee room. The cost was £3,274 and full building accounts are preserved in the archives of the Meeting. The feature which attracted most attention, and was referred to in detail in Alexander's book, was the method of heating and ventilating. This was accomplished by the smoke flue from a furnace being taken in a circuitous path under the floor and set inside a broader fresh air duct. The smoke flue was built with thin brick walls on each side and flagstones above and below; these became hot and warmed the air in the outer flue which escaped into the meeting house through registers in the floor. The smoke flue was eventually taken up the N.W. wall to an outlet at the apex of the pediment. The ventilation flue could also be used for admitting cool air in the summer. A similar system was also inserted into the smaller meeting house at the same date. A small record closet with a vaulted ceiling was built on the N.E. side in 1797 and allowed to remain in the general rebuilding of 1817. Major alterations were made to the whole group in 1884–5 when a three-storeyed block of rooms was built to the S.W. with an elevation to the newly-formed Clifford Street, and the original 17th-century meeting house and the committee room of 1817 were demolished and replaced; the architect was William H. Thorpe of Leeds (Building News, 16 April 1886). In 1903 a new heating and ventilating system was installed, but still using ducted hot air. The meeting house of 1817 still stands, with the adjoining block built for the library, and is of special interest for the full contemporary publication.

Fig. 31. (27) Friends' Meeting House, Clifford Street.

The N.W. elevation is of facing brick in Flemish bond, but the lower part is now inside a lobby which was originally an open court; the three entrances have modern glazed doors set in the original architraves, but a colonnade which stood in front, shown by Alexander, has been removed. Above are two tiers of five blind windows and within the overall pediment is a bull's-eye. The other elevations are of randombonded common brick and the window openings have flat arches and later casements; in the gable of the S.E. wall is another bull's-eye.

¶Inside, there is a gallery on three sides, supported on iron columns (Plate 67). The gallery front has elongated fielded panels surmounted by a low balustrade. The simple bench seating may be of the early 19th century and rises in tiers below the gallery; on the walls is a dado of fielded panels. In the flat ceiling are round ventilators with fanwise slats. Two staircases to the gallery have stone steps, square balusters and moulded mahogany handrails.

Because of the sloping ground there is a small basement at the S.E. end; inside this, a length of the Friars' Wall, of magnesian limestone, survives to a maximum height of 4 ft. and is overlaid by 2 in. brickwork, probably of 1718.

Sources/Archives (4)

  • --- Bibliographic reference: Victoria County History. 1961. A History of the County of York: the City of York.
  • --- Article on website: David Rubenstein. The Quaker Meeting House in York 1673 – 2009.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1981. City of York Volume V: The Central Area.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1981. City of York Volume V: The Central Area.

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Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Jul 3 2020 3:44PM


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