A brief history of Kendal Meeting House
We are very proud of our wonderful Grade II* listed building, it’s fascinating stories and design details. Like many other Meeting Houses, it’s well worth a visit!
Early Quaker meetings in Kendal held at private houses. In 1687 a Friend bought the plot and building on the present site. Sold in 1689 to the meeting’s two trustees, Bryan Lancaster and Israel Newby.
During the following century, substantial alterations made to the premises. By 1814 Friends decided on a completely new meeting house. A subscription list was opened and Francis Webster a local architect appointed. The resulting building was a Georgian town meeting house. Completed in 1816 and used today both by Kendal Quaker Meeting and the Quaker Tapestry Museum.
The new building comprised an entrance lobby, stone staircases and a large room occupying the whole of the ground floor. This divided into two separate rooms by means of shutters, lowered or raised using winches in the attic. These shutters are visible in the Quaker Tapestry Museum.
The upstairs gallery ran round three of the walls and, together with the ground floor, provided seating for around 750. Special events used the large room, such as visits by travelling ministers, large Quaker gatherings, weddings, funerals etc.
Women Friends held their own distinct business meetings chiefly concerned with the care of people, whilst the men met to discuss finance and property matters. As most Quaker Meeting Houses required two separate rooms.
Women met in the smaller room and the men met in the larger room, now occupied by the Quaker Tapestry Museum. Sunday Worship used this larger room: the men on one side and women on the other, as was usual in most chapels and churches. Seating was by way of long, heavy wooden benches, one is in the entrance lobby. Friends at the head of meeting sat on three facing benches, acknowledged ministers at the top, elders below, then overseers. The clerk’s table was in the middle of the second row. Watch the Tapestry videos on these benches.
The similarly furnished smaller room with matching ministers’ benches under the gable window.
Two chandeliers lit each room suspended beneath large circular openings in the ceiling, connected to a ventilator in the roof so as to ensure a flow of fresh air.
A large central stove with an underfloor flue and a stack in the west gable wall heated the smaller room, at the insistence of women Friends. Heating was provided later for the larger room by means of a coke boiler: this was in the cellar which at that time frequently flooded when the river was high.
Attendance at Sunday worship in 1816 numbered several hundred, but in 1835 the Beaconite Controversy led to the resignation of 300 Friends in Kendal, Manchester and Bristol, asserting the authority of the Bible over Quaker mysticism and the Inward Light. Kendal Meeting split and a number of Friends left to join other churches including the nearby Brethren Church. The membership of Kendal Meeting was reduced to about 100 as a result.
Up until the early 20th century the building continued to be used in the same way. In 1932, due to developments in State secondary education, Stramongate Friends School (founded 1698 and across the road from the meeting house) had to close down. Since its premises were used for Kendal Meeting’s flourishing Sunday School classes, alternative accommodation had to be found. In 1934 alterations were made to the smaller meeting room. An upper floor provided three classrooms and a stage in the small meeting room, perfect for social events and smaller gatherings.
After 1934, Sunday worship continued to be in the large meeting room. In the nineteen-seventies this transferred to the smaller room. Regional meetings continued to use the large meeting room until about 1980.
By 1990 Friends in Kendal had come to realise that the meeting house was too expensive for them to maintain. Modernising the premises promised full use and attract lettings.
Local Friends were reluctant to sell their historic building but lengthy attempts to find an alternative solution failed due to restrictions imposed by the Historic Buildings Authorities. Kendal & Sedbergh Monthly Meeting finally agreed to sell the property. A committee found a new site on Romney Road and appointed an architect. At a meeting of Kendal Friends in December 1990, discussed plans for a new meeting house with warden’s accommodation. The Stramongate meeting house put up for sale but without success.
Along came Quaker Tapestry…
In 1992 the Meeting’s Clerk, Marion Winchester, suggested to the founder of the Quaker Tapestry, Anne Wynn-Wilson, that the Exhibition might find a home in Kendal. The Area Quaker Meeting set up a trust together with the owners of the Tapestry (The Tapestry Scheme) and launched an appeal for funds which raised sufficient money to refurbish the premises in 1993-4. Lowering the small meeting room windowsill improved the lighting. The removal of the stage provided space for Kendal Meeting’s library. Carpets covered the rough, uneven floorboards and the wooden benches replaced with chairs. This created the much-improved meeting room where Friends regularly meet for worship today.
Quaker Tapestry Museum opened in the large meeting room in the spring of 1994. In 2000 the Quaker Tapestry Trustees renovated the adjoining meeting house cottage to provide accommodation for visiting stewards. The Tea Rooms opened in 2002, completing the renovation of the whole site. Minor alterations to the first floor offices to provide three working spaces and a rest area for stewards.
The meeting house remains the property of Kendal & Sedbergh Area Quaker Meeting which leases the building to the Quaker Tapestry Museum. Kendal Quakers continue to use the premises regularly for meeting for worship and social activities.
Prepared by Monica Baynes and Peter Leeming in consultation with David Butler. December 2008.
Sources: David Butler, ‘Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain’. 2 vol. Edition 1999.
Help us maintain the Meeting House for all to enjoy
Keeping our wonderful Grade II listed building in good repair is very important. We have assessed the costs of repairs and improving ventilation and insulation of the Meeting House roof, together with repairs to the south entrance porch. Quaker Tapestry, supported by local Friends, is leading the appeal to raise £115,000.
This may seem a lot of money but the planned work should last 60-100 years! Read more about our appeal for funds
All donations, large or small, gift-aided if possible, will be gratefully received to help us reach the target as soon as possible. Please donate what you can today.