A 17th century Quaker Meeting House which is Grade II listed for its architectural and historic interest, along with the 25m wall to the south. There is a small garden attached part of which formed the original burial ground from the mid-17th century. The garden is now a space for quiet reflection in the summer months and also used by various groups who regularly meet in the building.
The Quakers arrived in Banbury in 1654, when a plot of land was purchased off Horse Fair for a burial ground. By 1657 a Meeting House had been built on adjacent land, behind the Flower de Luca Inn. In 1664 an additional piece of land was bought off Horse Fair. In 1665, Edward Villiers was imprisoned for building a meeting house and for placing walling around the ground. A Women’s Meeting House was added to the north-west of the existing building on land purchased in 1681. A new main meeting house was constructed in 1751 followed by continued developments in the 19th and 20th centuries (Heritage Quakers, 2016).
The Meeting House lies to the north-west of Horse Fair in the centre of Banbury, opposite St Mary’s church and close to People’s Park. The Meeting House and the boundary wall to the south are both Grade II listed. Both are constructed in local Hornton stone. The boundary wall to the south largely obscures the burial ground and buildings from the street. The main entrance is on the south side of the meeting house, comprising a short step and an arched metal gate.
The garden (550m2) lies on three sides of the Meeting House, to the south, west and north. The plot at the north-east is an outside paved play area used by the playgroup that meets daily during weekdays in the original Women’s Meeting House part of the building. The playgroup as one of the regular users of rooms has access to the garden. This shared use does not impinge on the tranquil nature of the space.
Part of the garden was originally the burial ground associated with the Friends Meeting House. An early undated plan shows the burial ground was sited to the south and west of the Meeting House (Heritage Quakers, 2016, fig 6). The last recorded burial was in 1849. Tribute is paid to the history of the garden with six gravestones remaining by a wall at the north.
The garden is laid mostly to lawn with beds for shrubs set along the walls and around the central area, which now contains a modern concrete shed and the remains of a stone wall. The borders contain mainly mature shrubs (buddleia, berberis, cotoneaster, euonymus, kerria, weigela, hydrangea, mahonia). Trees are set around the garden. There are eight yew trees; some have been cut back but from the size of the trunks it is estimated they must be of some age. The garden was formerly dominated by a large beech tree some 250 years old, situated by the far western wall, but this was felled early in 2023. Some of the logs have been cut to create a children’s seating circle.
The beds containing the shrubs are underplanted with spring bulbs. The bed by the main door into the meeting house contains roses, lavender and some annual flowering plants. The beds around the garden contain plants such as bergenia, common ferns and yarrow giving pleasant colour in the summer. It is a low maintenance garden that is not over gardened and has a naturalistic feel with cow parsley, ground elder and primroses in evidence. There are no unusual plants or trees in the garden; the plants are well spaced to good effect, each being allowed to find its space. Overall, the garden provides a peaceful and welcoming space, in the middle of a busy town.
Address: Horse Fair, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 0AH
We are grateful to The Banbury Friends for enabling our visits and sharing the historical information about Banbury Friends Meeting House.
Banbury Guardian, 250-year-old-tree in Banbury town centre to be felled, 31 Jan 2023 (Accessed November 2023)
English Heritage (2020) Banbury Quaker Meeting House. List Entry Number 1199817 [Online]. Available at: www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=1199817&resourceID=5 (Accessed 18 August 2023)
Heritage Quakers (2016) Friends Meeting House, Banbury [Online]. Available at: https://heritage.quaker.org.uk/ (Accessed 18 August 2023)
Langley, John (1945) The Meeting House of the Society of Friends in Banbury. Printed by William Brindle, Chipping Norton and published by the Banbury Society of Friends
The Arthur Fox (1931) map is reproduced with the kind permission of the Banbury Quaker meeting.