Winchmore Hill Friends Meeting House: A brief history and guide
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) first emerged as a distinct religious denomination in 1652 in Lancashire under the leadership of George Fox (1624-1691), an itinerant preacher from Leicestershire. The movement rapidly gained support and by 1654 had reached London.
The earliest known reference to Quaker activity at Winchmore Hill is of a meeting held by William Brend, a Quaker preacher, in a barn at Thacker’s Yard near Winchmore Hill Green.
Our use of this site
John Oakley, a Quaker weaver and silk merchant from Spitalfields, purchased in 1672 one acre of land at Winchmore Hill with a house and barn. In 1682 he gave the property to the fledgling Quaker community on condition that he and his wife could live in the house until their deaths. (Oakley died in 1684 and his wife, Elizabeth, died two years later – theirs are the first burials in the grounds.) The barn was already being used for Quaker Meetings before Oakley’s death. In 1687 the Quakers moved on to the site and made a decision to build a permanent Meeting House. A year later the new building was finished – Quakers have worshipped on this site continuously up to the present day. The remainder of the site became a burial gound.
George Fox, a key founder of the Quaker movement, made several visits to Winchmore Hill between 1670 and his death. His last visit was in December 1690 when he stayed at the home of Edward Man at Fords Green near Green Lanes (Fox died a month later and was buried in an unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields next to the City of London.)
Throughout the eighteenth century the Winchmore Hill Meeting was well supported, with several prominent Quaker business families (including the bankers Barclays and Hoares) settled in the area. The burial ground was much in demand, as most of the London meeting houses were located on cramped sites and had no spare land for burials.
By the end of the century the original Meeting House, which had been cheaply built, was becoming a maintenance liability. A new building was a necessity. Work commenced in 1790 and was complete by April 1791. The work, which included a boundary wall for the burial ground, cost £710-2-6. The money was raised by 39 subscribers mainly from the Quaker business community with both bankers and brewers prominent among them.
The new Meeting House consisted of a large meeting room with a gallery at the rear and a long narrow room at the back, originally used as accommodation for a resident doorkeeper.
Further additions followed. A dwelling house and lobby was built in 1796. A washroom (now the kitchen) followed in 1809 and the toilets in 1911. The separate warden’s Cottage was also built in 1911, so then the dwelling house became the School Room (now the Small Meeting Room).
The nineteenth century saw the defection of most of the more prominent business families, as the delicate balancing act between Quaker ethics and the demands of hard-nosed capitalism became increasingly difficult. For much of the century membership was small, but the Meeting survived mainly because of the many Quaker funerals held at Winchmore Hill.
Twentieth century and beyond
The early twentieth century saw large suburban development with Winchmore Hill being entirely swallowed by the London conurbation. The influx of new people to the area resulted in a big increase in membership. By the twenties membership had reached an all time peak of 150. This process was helped by prominent Quaker support for the peace movement and conscientious objectors in the two world wars.
The Winchmore Hill Meeting celebrated its 250th anniversary in 1938 and its 300th anniversary in 1988.