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Twickenham United Reformed Church

Our History: the one page version!

These pages present some aspects of our history. Our church minute books only go back to 1882, so our knowledge of church life before then is patchy. There are so many unanswered questions!

It would be nice to tell you when our church started, but we do not really know! Lady Amelia Shaw is credited as being instrumental in the founding of the church and she only assumed that title when she married Sir Robert Shaw Bt. at Twickenham Parish Church on 2nd July 1834. In December 1835 a building known as 'Lady Shaw's school room' (probably our present hall) was registered for public worship. In 1840 our first minister, Rev Benjamin Kluht, was appointed. See 'The first pastorate'

The Shaw's home stood on the corner of First Cross Road and Hampton Road and included the sites of the present church buildings and Grace Court. A further piece of the garden was used for building the first chapel in 1844 - see The church site.

The Shaws had no children and in 1860 Lady Shaw died intestate at her Kensington home (it appears that she moved there after Sir Robert's death in 1849). For a while the future of the church hung in the balance as her estate claimed the ownership of the church buildings. Church member and well-to-do city merchant, Andrew Bowring, stepped in and bought the site, subsequently selling it on to the trustees.

In 1866/67 the buildings were enlarged and a link was built between the chapel and hall, giving the U shape we have to this day. The debts incurred in carrying out this work would hang over the church for many years. The Journal of Abraham Slade, a member of our church during the mid-Victorian period gives us some insight into the tensions of this period

In the late 1870's there were serious disagreements between the church members and minister and the church was dissolved. For the next few years it was run as a mission by the London Congregational Union. In 1882 the members once again felt able to re-form themselves as an independent Congregational Church. The harmonium was replaced by an organ in 1885 (see picture page).

Over the years the numbers and composition of the membership have changed. Twickenham's late nineteenth century evolution from small town to London suburb (see Twickenham in 1898) brought in a new middle class: three of those who joined the church during the first years of this century found their way into Who's Who (see Three prominent members). In more recently years we have gone from being a church with a high proportion of members working as teachers, nurses and in other public sector jobs, to having a significant number of members who run their own businesses - as was the case in the late nineteenth century. Plus ça change!

The one really unhappy period in the church's history came in the late 1920's. Following internal divisions the membership fell to 42 and the view of many members was that closure was inevitable. But sometimes God has other plans! Under the leadership of Rev Arthur Parker, a retired missionary whose life had been spent in India, the problems were worked out and the church began to grow again. He was 72 when he came to us - if God has called you, you are never too old!

Congregational Churches were originally fiercely independent (some still are) but most agreed to the Congregational Union of England and Wales becoming the Congregational Church in England and Wales in 1962 (in case the significance escapes you, we went from being a church to part of a larger church). In 1972 we then became part of the United Reformed Church, when most CCEW churches joined with the Presbyterian Church of England. Since then the Churches of Christ and Congregational Union of Scotland have joined the URC.

A history of the church, 'Chapel Next the Green' by A.C.Bryer, ISBN 0 9501639 9 6, was published in 1982 to mark the centenary of the re-formation of the church in 1882. Copies are still available.

For a more general coverage of nonconformist history in Twickenham see Victoria County History: Middlesex: Nonconformity in Twickenham - though its information on the formation of our church is incorrect - they have just repeated accounts that were current when the VCH was compiled. The United Reformed Church History Society web page gives sources for more general nonconformist historical material.

For lots more information on the history of the area visit the Twickenham Museum website

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Last updated 16 Sept 2008

For queries and feedback relating to the history pages of this website, please mail history@twickenhamurc.org.uk