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Twickenham United Reformed Church

Our History: Rebuilding 1866-7

Once the uncertainty following Lady Shaw's death was resolved the trustees set about enlarging the premises. Their plans were not matched by their resources though ...


1863 OS map

The map above shows the chapel and school buildings in the early 1860's. At that stage it appears that they were in separate ownership (see the Church Site and the British School). The chapel, opened in 1844 (see the First Pastorate) was now too small, as had been noted in the 1860 Annual Report: A project for giving additional accommodation to the congregation has been in consideration and steps have been taken to arrive at a plan and estimate, but the death of Lady Shaw having thrown the terms of tenure upon which the Chapel is held into uncertainty, it has been deemed advisable to suspend further operations until we are placed in a more definite position, nothing however under any circumstances will be done without the concurrence of the congregation.

Once the ownership of the chapel and school sites had been secured and both were now united under a new trust deed dated 14th June 1866 the trustees set about providing the much needed additional accommodation. The architect chosen was Michael Prendergast Manning (b.1832) of Mitre Court, Fleet Street whose drawing of the old and new building (photo of original in Richmond Local Studies Collection) is shown here. The contractor was a Mr Nye of Ealing

Architect's drawing

Our main source of information is the account of the new buildings that appears in the 1867 Congregational Yearbook.

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"The buildings, which present a specimen of very successful planning and effective grouping, were designed with a view of making available, as far as possible, the old buildings and materials, and are of brick, picked stocks with red brick and Bath stone dressing partaking of a Byzantine character, adapted to the purposes of the buildings and materials used. The parts of the building in black indicate the extent of the old chapel and school, and those in half tint the new work. B, Platform; C, Pulpit; D, Passage to vestries; E, Minister's vestry; G, staircase to gallery and heating chamber in basement; H, entrance vestibule, 15 feet by 6 feet; I, side lobby or wind porch; K, entrance to same; J,J, entrance doors from footpath of public road; L, large vestry, 20 feet by 16 feet. The remaining letters refer to offices and entrances; Y, large schoolroom, 54 feet by 22

The walls of the Chapel are raised and the whole covered with new open timbered tie beam roof, ceiled between the rafters. The seats are open benches, 2 feet 9 inches back to back and 20 inches for each person. The glazing of windows is in cathedral tint rolled plate, in quarry and geometrical designs. The gas lighting by pendants from the beams and the warming by hot water pipes. The contract price is £1534, which with the cost of mortgage, £596, deeds, commission etc, will be increased to £2,500

Not everyone was so enthusiastic. A visiting reporter from the Richmond and Twickenham Times (11 Oct 1873) commented:

"Had Solomon been an architect and seen the Congregational Chapel on Twickenham Green ... [he] would have been sorely puzzled to define its architecture correctly .... In appearance the building is unique and as a matter of taste it is a question whether it would not be well for it to always remain so seeing that the elevation, which is Mediaeval - Norman - Gothic &c, &c, is as heavy as it is inartistic. On so good a site with the broad open Green before it to lend effectiveness and beauty to a pleasing elevation, it does seem a pity that the chapel is not as pleasing to the eye as it might have been, had a little more taste been displayed in its deign. As it stands, it is a kind of architectural sphinx, for it remotely suggests a Rhenish castle in miniature, a one storied ecclesiastical villa, an attempt at a church and a churchified chapel. Were it possible to speak in terms of praise, consistently with truth, of this curious conglomeration of bricks and mortar, it would give me great pleasure to do so, but I have to write what I think, and am therefore bound to confess that beauty is not an element in the design of the Twickenham Congregational Chapel.

Nor is the interior any more pleasing than its outwards appearance. Both are wanting in finish and completeness. The pews are not even painted and in consequence, time has left its mark upon them in many grimy patches. Mischievous little hands have exhibited their artistic powers by sundry pencil sketches of the heads of ladies and gentlemen which forcibly display the appreciation of the grotesque in juvenile minds and their ingenuity in extemporising drawing boards in the most unlikely places, even on the backs of pews underneath the shadow of the pulpit. It will not, however, be long before the chapel is completely renovated (or perhaps it would be more correct to say completed) ...."

Abraham Slade, local builder and church member, had other misgivings about the scheme, which he noted in his Journal:

October 21st 1866: The people are altering the Independent Chapel and I am afraid that they are going to entail a heavy mortgage on it which will be a heavy drag to my neighbours as well as myself and family - In order that my children may know how this was brought about I will make a brief statement of the facts connected with it.

When Lady Shaw died she died intestate - and 560 pounds had been lent by her at the erection of the chapel so that her heirs made a claim for that amount - so that the trustees were obliged to raise the money and in order to do so the whole of the property was sold to Mr A. Bowring of Fenchurch St, London, and the people then formed a committee of 12 to carry out the repurchase of the property from Mr Bowring and among the rest my name was placed among the number (but without my sanction) and when done I did not unfortunately withdraw it.

A scheme was set on foot by a few of the leaders of this movement to borrow six hundred pounds and pay off the debt and raise the money by degrees and then pay off the six hundred pounds - and to this I consented - But some few were not satisfied by this but wished for alterations to the property that would involve a very heavy outlay. And in order to [do] this they employed a London architect to prepare plans and specifications and get tenders for the works - The lowest being 1560 pounds, which was accepted - which made including the formal purchase about 2160 without any provision for gas or heating and sundry other matters amounting in all to about 2800 pounds. My name was put with another as Treasurer, but my partner took everything into his own hands and I never saw any of the money or yet any of the books or accounts or yet any statement of their affairs - I was unwillingly drawn into the vortex, and at the present feel sorry every my name was associated with a proceeding which, instead of helping the cause of Christ, I am afraid will be a heavy clog to it. I would advise all my children to beware how they act in these matters, and never in any way lend themselves to anything that will leave a heavy entail upon others. I was unwittingly drawn into it and when too far drawn did not like to retract. I now hope that the matter may end well and that my feelings may fall to the ground.

On 27th January 1868 he noted: The trials of our chaple are now fast coming on - £500 wanted and we don't know how to raise it.

A report presented to the January 1869 meeting of the London Congregational Chapel Building Society confirmed the difficulties:

Twickenham: A brief reference was made in the report presented at the Annual Meeting of 1867, to the enlargement and renovation of the Chapel, purchase of freehold, and general improvement of the property. It was then reported that the contribution of the society was a loan, without interest, of £200. The outlay proved in excess of the expectation of the local Building Committee, and, in consequence, they were brought into urgent difficulties. On consideration of all the circumstances of the case, your Committee earlier in the year , voted an addition of £300 to the £200 already advanced from the Loan Fund. A recent communication was however made to the committee by the zealous treasurer of the chapel expressing his readiness to contribute £10 for every £90 subscribed on condition of the entire liability being discharged during the year 1869, and earnestly appealing to the Committee for a similar promise on their part. Your Committee have acceded to the proposal and are therefore prepared to make a grant during the year 1869 of £150, on fulfilment of the conditions named. Your committee commend the esteemed Pastor, Rev G.H.Jackson, and the few faithful and enterprizing friends around him, to the generous sympathies of the Christian public in the arduous effort in which they are engaged

The following year it was reported that to the Annual Meeting that the initiative had not been successful:

It was notified in the last report that the loan in this case had been increased to £500, and that on certain conditions a grant of £150 had been promised. Owing to peculiar circumstances the conditions agreed to have not successfully been reached by the congregation but these circumstances have been so far accepted by the Committee as a satisfactory explanation, that they have paid the promised grant on the return of the total amount advanced from the Loan Fund. There is still a considerable debt on the chapel but your Committee trust that now the difficulties in this case have ceased to be serious. The Rev. G.H.Jackson is Minister

On May 21st 1873 the LCCBS Loan Committee considered an application submitted from Rev. S.Fisher [who had become minister in October 1871] for an additional grant in aid of an effort for removal of the remaining debt of £1100. They agreed to grant a further £50 subject to the debt being cleared by the end of the year. In December this period was extended for a further three months. On 5th May 1874 a thanksgiving meeting was held "to commemorate the extinction of the long standing debt", helped by contributions of £50 and £100 from the chairman of the meeting, Mr E.Nicholson of Colne House and Samuel Morley MP respectively. The chairman "was sure that the greatest amount of praise was due to their minister, who seemed to have a call to kill debts". Mr Fisher had solicited 920 contributions netting £1050. "Many letters had to be written, nearly every house in Twickenham likely to assist was visited, and many in Richmond. To the city, suburbs and neighbouring towns one hundred and fifty two journeys were taken. Twenty five counties were honoured by written and personal appeals and ten long journeys were made in England" (quotations from the Richmond & Twickenham Times). Two bazaars had yielded a further £205, and collecting cards £59.15.3. In appreciation of the pastor's efforts, a presentation was made to him.

And so in less than ten years the members of the church had secured the sites on which their chapel and school stood, had rebuilt them so as to provide the accommodation the growing church needed, and had paid off the not inconsiderable debt incurred. The next few years would much less happy: before the decade was out, the church would be dissolved with worship continuing under the supervision of the London Congregational Union.

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