Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 12 - F for Friends House

Friends House front on Euston Road
Friends House garden
Friends House in Euston Road, London is the very imposing headquarters of Quakers in Britain. With a vast columned entrance facing Euston station and a more modest arched entrance facing a garden at one side it is familiar to generations of Quakers arriving for meetings or to visit the bookshop, cafe or restaurant. It is a busy hub for Friends from all over the country, as it houses the Library and the central offices of Britain Yearly Meeting, but also for a wide variety of other groups.

Liverpool Meeting House by Lidbetter
The building was designed by the Quaker architect Hubert Lidbetter (1885-1966). He was born in Dublin but educated in England and was just starting out in practice after spending the four years of the First World War in the Friends Ambulance Unit when he entered the competition to design a new home for Quakers in London in 1923. The project was finally finished in 1927 and he was awarded a bronze medal for his design by the Royal Institute of British Architects, which led to other commissions including new meeting houses at Birmingham Bull Street in 1933 and Liverpool in 1941.

Over the years the exterior has hardly changed but the interior has been refurbished and decorated in various ways. The simple lines of Lidbetter's original vision still remain and seem to me to combine a Quaker simplicity with a sense of scale. This is particularly the case in the main room, the Large Meeting House, where sessions of Yearly Meeting are held three years out of four. This room is about to undergo a transformation which will radically change its appearance and there are many, including myself, who look forward to the result with some trepidation.

1934 book by Elfrida Vipont
Many Friends who have visited the building regularly over the years as I have feel very much at home there. I have worked in the Library, both behind the desk and in the reading room, have sat on a variety of committees all over the building and have been coming regularly to Yearly Meeting since the 1970s. I therefore have a sense of being part of what goes on at 'the centre' when I am in my local meeting as well as when I am in Friends House.

Friends House has never been a stranger to controversy. Many have questioned the necessity for such a large building on such a valuable plot of land and have asked whether Quakers might be better moving to a different place or sending different parts of the administration to different places. No resolution has been found however and Friends House remains as good a centre for the Society of Friends in Britain as is possible at the moment and Lidbetter's building continues to make its presence felt on the Euston Road.


Anonymous said...

Have you read 'Colin Writes to Friends House'? It looks intriguing.

Gil S said...

Yes I read it many years ago when I worked in Friends House Library. It's very out of date now as you might expect, given the changes in committee structure, but interesting as a period piece!