History of the Meeting House
The land on which Wandsworth meeting house now stands belonged to the Abbots of Westminster, having been bestowed to them by Edward the Confessor. On the dissolution of the monasteries, the land was passed by Henry VIII to the Earls of Spencer.
A local Quaker, Joan Stringer, held a copyhold of this land of a small house, shop and three sheds. In 1674 she underleased this property to the Society of Friends and the first Meeting House was erected in 1674 at a cost of £202. A stone in the burial ground records Joan Stringer as the ‘giver of the ground’.
By 1731, the original building was badly in need of repair, and in 1740 Andrew Hisgood, a tenant on the premises, wrote: “The first winter of our coming to this troublesome house we lighted the fire thirty times….. and my wife tells me that she has been above one and a half hours a-laying and a-lighting and a-blowing the fire to a good heat.” The surrounding area was damp and often flooded, so that Quakers seriously considered building a wooden walkway across the fields to ensure they could come to meeting without the hindrance of walking a longer way round in wet weather.
In 1778 the present meeting house was built at a cost of £600 and the original flagstones kept to form a passage way. The title deeds suggest that the area that is now the small meeting room was originally a ‘paled yard’. The cottage on the street front was probably in existence 300 years ago, but has been substantially refurbished, and a new façade built in 1927. The side entrance was covered over sometime in mid 1950s.
The meeting room retains its wooden paneling and benches, which are arranged in a ‘hollow square’ typical of most Quaker meetings. The meeting house was one of the first properties in the area to have a piped gas supply and an iron stove was later installed for warmth, in the centre of the meeting room.
The secluded burial ground is an oasis of peace in the noise and bustle of Wandsworth High Street. Many old gravestones remain, including members of the Hanbury family (Allen and Hanbury pharmaceuticals). Thomas Hanbury gave his house at Wisley to the Royal Horticultural Society.
In the 1930s, Wandsworth Meeting House provided a venue for the Adult School movement (originally founded by the Religious Society of Friends in the middle of the C19th), and acted as a centre, offering sympathetic help for unemployed people. Since the middle of the C20th, considerable improvements have been made to the adjoining rooms and to the caretakers flat. C21st improvements have included good insulation and draft proofing to the meeting room, which not only makes us more comfortable in Meeting for Worship, but also reduces our environmental footprint.