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Twickenham United Reformed Church

Our History: Our founder

Early accounts of our church's history may be inaccurate in many respects but all agree that the formation of the church was due in no small part to Lady Amelia Shaw. The little that we know about her is outlined here.

Lady Shaw was the second wife of Sir Robert Shaw, a Dublin banker and politician of Scottish ancestry.

Sir Robert's great great grandfather, William Shaw, went to Ireland and fought for King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689, and was rewarded by the grant of land there. William's great grandson, Robert (snr) moved to Dublin in the mid-eighteenth century, prospered as a merchant and became Accountant General of the Post Office. In 1785 he acquired Terenure House, an estate of 35 acres. His eldest son, 'our' Robert, was born on 29th January 1774.

On 7th January 1796 Robert married Maria, daughter and heiress of Abraham Wilkinson, and as a dowry received £10,000 together with a 110 acre estate, Bushy Park (possibly named after our local park here in Teddington) which adjoined Terenure House. Six months later Robert Sr. died leaving his son in possession of both estates. He sold Terenure House in 1806: Bushy Park House became the family home and was occupied by members of the Shaw family until 1951. See the Bushy Park House and Terenure College, pages on the Terenure 2000 web site for more information on these estates and a picture of Robert Shaw.

Robert had a dual career, as a partner in Shaw's Bank (merged into the Royal Bank of Ireland in 1837) and as a politician. From 1798 he was an MP in the Irish Parliament (voting against the union with England) and served Dublin as its MP at Westminster from 1804-26. He was created a baronet (i.e. becoming Sir Robert) on 17 August 1821, being formally invested by George IV when he visited Ireland in 1822.

Maria died in 1831 having borne nine children. Sir Robert's cousin, Bernard Shaw, had died in 1826 and Sir Robert had provided Bernard's widow, Frances, with a cottage on the Terenure estate where she lived for the next 45 years. One of Frances' grandchildren, George Bernard Shaw, was to be a regular visitor. On several occasions Sir Robert proposed to Frances, but he was turned down each time

and now to matters of more local interest

The Times, Friday July 4th 1834: "On Wednesday the 2d inst, at Twickenham [Parish] Church, by the Rev Mr Snow, Sir Robert Shaw, Bart of Bushy-Park, County of Dublin, to Amelia Spencer of Twickenham, daughter of the late Benjamin Spencer MD, formerly of Bristol". Dissenters would only be allowed to be married in their own chapels after the passing of the Marriage Act 1836. Amelia, in her early forties, became the second Lady Shaw. Part of the marriage settlement involved the purchase of a house in Twickenham (see the church site) which was placed in trust for her - at this time married women could not own property. The trustees were Frederick Shaw (second son of Sir Robert), Henry Pownall (local landowner and owner of much of the Great Tithe) and John Bridges.

On December 4th 1835 Hull Terrell, Solicitor, made an application to the Bishop of London to register as a place of worship "a certain building situate in the parish of Twickenham in the county of Middlesex in the diocese of London in the occupation of Mary Clift called Lady Shaws school room to be used as a chapel for religious worship by protestant Dissenters ..." and this was duly registered on December 28th.

In 1840 the church called its first minister, Benjamin Kluht (see the first pastorate). Following his ordination service on March 10th 1841, "a number of ministers and friends dined at the George Inn. Sir Robert Shaw presided; and his excellent lady was also present".

Three years later Lady Shaw gave up some of her garden and advanced the money for the construction of the first chapel: "The foundation stone of a new Independent chapel was laid .. on 10th April 1843. The ceremony was performed by Sir Robert Shaw, Bart, acting for his excellent lady, who has been the principal means, under God, of introducing and sustaining the gospel in the neighbourhood, and who, beside giving the ground on which the chapel will stand, contributes liberally towards its erection.". The financial side was formalised in the 1848 trust deed, where the trustees accepted liability for a debt of £550, being the sum advanced by her for the construction of the chapel.

The Times, 13th March 1849: "The venerable Sir Robert Shaw expired after a rather brief illness on Saturday evening (10th) at his seat, Bushy-Park, in the County of Dublin, in the 76th year of his age. ... He is succeeded in his title and principal estates by his eldest son, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Shaw, and a portion of the County of Dublin estates, the property of the late Lady Shaw, devolve on the Rt. Hon. Frederick Shaw, as her second son". The present holder of the title, Sir Robert Shaw, 7th Bart, lives in Calgary, Canada. A manuscript note in the church archives states that quarrels between Lady Shaw and a Mrs Litchfield led to the closing of the chapel for a period in 1849, but more probably this was connected with Sir Robert's death.

Amelia remained in the house in Twickenham but by 1851 had acquired a house at 10/11 Kensington Gore [subsequently renumbered to 8], a few yards from the site of the Great Exhibition - this appears to be the centre house between the present day Jay Mews and Queen's Gate. The 1851 census lists her at this address, aged 60, with two servants also listed. The P.O. London Directory 1851 and 1852 editions Court Directory list her as living at 'Kensington Gore and Twickenham'. Lady Shaw died at her Kensington home, aged 68, on 11th January 1860. Unfortunately we do not know where she was buried, save that it was not at Kensal Green or Highgate - a task for someone to investigate!

* * *

Unfortunately for the church, Lady Shaw died intestate, with no surviving close relatives. On 28th January 1861 Letters of Administration were granted to Edward Payson, an American farmer who was the sole executor of the will of Penelope Martin, Lady Shaw's late cousin. The estate was assessed as being just under £10,000 (probably something like £1m+ in today's money). An advertisement in the London Gazette, April 9th 1861, requesting any claims against her estate cites her as 'Lady Amelia Shaw of No 8, Kensington Gore, London, and of Tay Down House, Brighton ...'. Payson claimed back the money that Lady Shaw had advanced twenty years earlier, temporarily leaving the church in a very uncertain position. Fortunately, thanks to one Andrew Bowring, this money was found the future of the church secured.


See 'The Shaws', Nathaniel Harris, Dent, 1977 also Dublin City Libraries "The Shaws of Dublin" pages

Sir Robert and Lady Shaw's Marriage: The Times 4th July 1834; Sir Robert Shaw's obituary: The Times 13th March 1849, Gentlemen's Magazine May 1849, p.541; Lady Shaw's obituary: Gentlemen's Magazine March 1860, p.306

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Last updated 11 June 2008. For comments and reports of bad links etc., please mail webmaster@twickenhamurc.org.uk