Hemel Hempstead’s Quaker Meeting House is situated in the Alleys, Saint Mary’s Road off the Old High Street, and was built in 1718, and we are celebrating its Tercentenary throughout 2018.
There was a small Meeting house and burial ground at Wood end on the Redbourne Road before the Act of Toleration.
George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement in 1652, had a large following and they suffered persecution for their faith – one such being that they had to bury their dead outside the parish. After the Act of Toleration in 1689, Quakers were free to build their own Meeting Houses within their parish. By 1718, Hemel Quaker’s had permission to have a burial ground and to build a Meeting House.
This is now a listed building and the second oldest place of worship in the town (St Mary’s church being older). The earliest part of the present Meeting House was constructed in 1718 at a cost of £315, on land purchased from the Bell Inn for £26. Quakers also gained the right to draw water from the well of the Inn and to drive their coaches through the arch into the High Street.
The gallery was removed when alterations were made to restore and expand the building. The gravestones were removed and placed by the walls, and a large garden established which is well used in the summer by Friends.
Hemel Hempstead Quakers figured prominently in the life of the town in Victorian times. The Cranstone family had an iron foundry business. Their lasting memorials are the White Bridge in Gadebridge Park and the drinking fountain in Boxmoor. The gates of the Old Town Hall were designed by a member of the family. These were not cast in Hemel Hempstead, due to their size, but were cast in Coalbrookdale near Telford, which was predominantly Quaker at the time. The first Fire Service in Hemel Hempstead was privately funded by the family. Lefevre Cranstone is known abroad as an important artist, particularly in the USA, but never achieved recognition in Britain.
Local membership of the Meeting had declined by the end of the 19th century and between 1905 and 1948, there were no regular meetings held by Friends in Hemel Hempstead.
The development of the New Town in the post-war period brought an influx of young families, and the increased local membership necessitated expansion of the building in 1959 and 1976, providing rooms for children’s classes and committee meetings.