A BIRKENHEAD Quaker meeting house has been handed a Grade II enhanced protected status by Historic England.

The Park Road South 19th century site is among 11 meeting houses given a new or enhanced listed status in a bid to celebrate their 'quiet simplicity'.

Duncan Wilson, Historic England's chief executive, said: "Quaker meeting houses are precious pockets of calm in an otherwise hectic world, and I'm delighted to see their quiet simplicity celebrated through listing.

"They are a largely unsung group of fascinating and surprisingly varied buildings that reflect the history, attitudes and ethos of the Quaker movement.

"While many still serve their Quaker communities, their historic charm and flexible spaces are also enjoyed by lots of other groups, visitors and passers-by and they deserve to be protected for future generations."

The oldest meeting house in the world is still in use, opening in Herford in 1670 to replace meetings held in private homes, has been upgraded to Grade I protected status.

Largely led by George Fox, The Quaker movement, or the Religious Society of Friends, began in the 1600s.

He turned his back on the established Christian church and believed everyone could have a direct relationship with God, removing the need for priests or churches.

Early on, Friends met for silent worship in places ranging from hilltops to people's homes, but as the movement grew meeting houses were built, usually unassuming buildings, plainly decorated in reflection of the Quaker commitment to simplicity.

Now 300 of the 500 groups, or meetings, in Britain have a dedicated meeting house rather than renting a space or meeting in a private home.

In England, more than 250 meeting houses are protected as listed buildings, though not all are still in use by Quakers.

Some meeting houses predate the 1689 Act of Toleration, before which Quaker worship was outlawed, including the venue in Hertford which was visited at least three times by Fox, and which retains much of its original character.

Resembling a pair of houses outside, inside it is one large meeting room to the full height of the building, lined by timber panelling and rows of benches, while the roof is supported by a single oak column in the centre.

Ingrid Greenhow, of the Religious Society of Friends, said: "I am delighted that Quaker places of worship are recognised as important elements in our national heritage.

"It is particularly heartening to see examples of 19th and 20th century meeting houses being listed. Our meeting houses continue to be centres for our faith and witness today."