Local Quaker History
Today a parking area, the crescent shaped forecourt, outside the gate, was originally part of a turning circle providing a carriage sweep for horse drawn carriages and hearses when Church Hill was a narrow country lane.
The structure of the Meeting House remains substantially as built in 1790, except for the removal of the gallery. In 1974 it became a Grade II listed building of special architectural and historic interest.
The building is a plain rectangle built of yellow stock brick (probably made locally) with large sash windows having delicate glazing bars, a roof of Welsh Slate, and a floor of wide pine boards.
The front is a restrained classical pedimented facade with mouldings; recently matching mouldings were uncovered on the sides and restored. The entrance, unusually wide and without steps, was designed with funerals in mind.
Inside, note the plain white walls and wooden panelling at lower level. The interior of Quaker Meeting Houses has traditionally been simple and austere, avoiding pictures, decoration and symbols. The seating was old wooden benches and more recently chairs. Some of the window panes still retain their original glass. Note the wood- panelled inner entry doors and their unusual oval panes of glass and the low window, which allows a doorkeeper to view the entry while also worshipping
The cottage is currently let to tenants. A prefabricated building called the Anne Rommert hut, long used for children’s meetings but now let. The path through the meeting house grounds is not a right of way and there is no parking on the forecourt unless on meeting business.
Originally burials were confined to the southern part of the site adjoining the road. The Burial Ground was extended northwards in 1821 over land that had previously been let for grazing. The earliest burials were unmarked, but later burials have the characteristic Quaker headstones – small, round-topped and bearing only the most basic information. This expressed equality between individuals and a lack of ostentation. The rows of headstones are marked by letters set in the Burial Ground walls.
The walls are also Grade II listed. There are drainage problems: records of these problems and early drains date from eighteenth century and in the boundary wall is an arch which spanned those drains. Eventually poor drainage forced the end of burials in 1980; but the site continues in use for the scattering and interment of ashes.
The older part of the burial ground includes headstones for the Hoare and Barclay families, both involved in banking. Samuel Hoare junior (1751-1825) was a leading supporter of the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. In the newer part there a stone jointly commemorating Luke Howard (a pioneering meteorologist, responsible for the system for classifying clouds) and his wife, and Alice Hum (founder of the Palmers Green Girls High School). A stone commemorating the prominent 18th century Quaker physician, John Fothergill, has been removed to the Quaker School at Ackworth which he founded.
In the last decade the meeting has fundraised to strengthen the building, and is repairing walls. The burial ground is still in use, as it has always been, for those who are a part of the Quaker community.
The burial ground is managed on organic principles using a professional gardener and volunteers, and is believed to hold a breeding colony of stag beetles. Among the many mature trees there are unique species. Dominant is the 25 metre high Cedar from North Africa (Cedrus Atlanticus) believed to have been planted around 1850.
This beautiful space is shared free of charge with the general public and we receive no public funds in support. Donations to support its upkeep would be welcome.
This brief history and guide is based on A History of Quakerism at Winchmore Hill by David Olver (2002) update 2011/2020 by GD and SC.