Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting House Including Fence and Interior | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting House Including Fence and Interior

Item details

Name of item: Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting House Including Fence and Interior
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Religion
Category: Meeting House
Primary address: 119-123 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Parish: Alexandria
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
119-123 Devonshire StreetSurry HillsSydneyAlexandriaCumberlandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

Since 1903 the Devonshire Street Meeting House has played an important part in history of the Religious of Friends in Australia and with the Sydney Regional Meeting in particular. Until the construction of the Wahroonga Meeting House in 1964 this Meeting House was the only Meeting House in Sydney. It was purpose built as the first Quaker Meeting House in Sydney and has been used for this purpose and other activities sponsored by the Quakers continuously since construction. The Meeting House provides evidence of a decision to locate in Surry Hills, an area associated with poor social and economic conditions at the turn of the century, and has maintained a continual connection with the local community since then.
The designer of the Meeting House was Alfred Allen Jnr., Architect, a member of the Local Meeting and son of Alfred Allen Snr. At one time a member of State Parliament, and an important and at times controversial member of the Friends during the middle part of the 19th century.
The Devonshire meeting House is associated with a number of activities that are important to the history of the Quakers and the broader community, including: child care, adult education, anti-war and anti-conscription activities and the Aboriginal Land Rights movement.
Date significance updated: 02 Mar 04
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Alfred Allen Jnr
Physical description: Two storey Federation Free Classical style church. Constructed of face brick and the gable roof is covered with terracotta tiles and a skillion roofed porch facing Devonshire Street.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Date condition updated:17 Oct 03
Modifications and dates: Internal and External alterations - 1998
Further information: Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Meting House


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

This building is the 4th meeting houseof the Quakers. The first built in 1835 at 195 Macquarie Street. It was not legal owned by the Quakers and was sold in 1840 and used as a Baptist Church.
The second was an old caretakers cottage in the Quaker's Burial Ground within the Devonshire Street Cemetery converted for use as a Meeting House in 1854.
The third was built in 1867 adjacent to the converted cottage. The building was constructed with the financial assistance of 200 pounds from the English Friends.
The fourth and the current Meeting House was built after the acquising of the Devonshire Street Cemetery by the Railway Authority for the expansion of Central Railway Platforms in 1901.
The society acquired a parcel of land in Devonshire Street that was part of the Butts Estate subdivision of 1871, originally part of Joseph Foveaux's 105 acre grant in Surry Hills. The acquisition was of Lots 6, 7, & 8 as shown in DP 979159 with an area of 14.5 perches. The land was reported to include two cottages and cost 800 pounds, yet a survey report of 22 July 1902 states that this land was vacant with the allotments on both sides being built upon.
The architect Alfred Allen Junior was a member of the Society and was probably the son of one of the key, and at times controversial, figures in the Society of Friends in Sydney in the 1860s also by the name Alfred Allen.
Alfred Allen Snr who was a member of State Parliament between 1887 and 1894 was at one time expelled from the Sydney Meeting and established a separate Meeting House in Pitt Street.
The building cost about four thousand pounds and was first used on Sunday August 8, 1903. The official opening ceremony was on Saturday September 18, 1903. The Meeting House is associated with causes supported or sponsored by the Quakers including: child care, adult education, anti-war and anti-conscription activities and the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Sydney Quakers evolved from the English Society. First introduced in Australia in 1833. The current meeting hall is the 4th meeting hall that the Quakers have operated from and is the longest occupation of one meeting place of the 4.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Meeting House is associated with causes supported or sponsored by the Quakers including: child care, adult education, anti-war and anti-conscription activities and the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The building has aesthetic significance as a good example of a Federation Free Classical design used in a religious building. It is representative of the design, use and stylistic characteristics of a number of earlier similar buildings. Its distinctive gable roofed form without steeple tower, and symmetrical design layout and use of neoclassical elements is typical of earlier buildings now lost.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Devonshire Meeting House is socially significant as the continuing focus of the spiritual activities of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Sydney since 1903. The building retains associations with a number of important events of historical and social significance in the 1960s and 1970s including the Vietnam War anti-conscription movement and the Aboriginal Land Rights movements.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Religious Society of Friends and associated activities has considerable potential for research and contribute to our understanding to a further part of our culture.
Integrity/Intactness: Other than some internal alterations the building as a whole is still intact
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the fa├žade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I151614 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Religious Society of Friends Meeting House 119 Devonshire St1996 Geoff Ashley  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2420659

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