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Twickenham United Reformed Church

Twickenham Church-going in 1851

With thanks to Dr T.H.R. Cashmore who originally wrote this for the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society newsletter

In 1851 an attempt was made to carry out a census of all those attending church on Sunday 30th March. The actual count was carried out by the local ministers or their officials. The results were far from satisfactory in part because the standard of response was so uneven: some ministers objected to there being a census at all and others gave the cursory answers or left sections of the questionnaire blank or admitted to ignorance on such details as endowments or the cost of the original buildings.

Twickenham in 1851 had a total population of 6,354 souls:2,820 being male and 3,434 being female. There were five places of worship answering the census questions: St Mary's, Holy Trinity, Twickenham chapel (in Montpelier Row) - all these were Anglican - the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Holly Road, and the Independent or Congregationalist chapel by the Green.

The census returns showed the following as attending a place of worship on the 30th March.


Church or Chapel (seats) Morning Afternoon Evening Avg M Avg A Avg E
St Mary's (1040)
General congregation 311 277 nil nil return
"Charity scholars" 136 131 nil nil return
Holy Trinity (592)
General congregation 250 170 nil 400 200 nil
Sunday scholars 125 80 nil (last 12 months average)
Twickenham chapel (300)
General congregation 170 120 nil 200 150 nil
Sunday scholars nil nil nil (last 12 months average)
Methodist chapel (160)
General congregation 60 - 130 nil return
Sunday scholars 52 67 nil nil return
Congregational chapel (300)
General congregation 68 - 196 75 - 170
Sunday scholars 56 - - 60 (last 5 months avg)

In other words, at the morning service ( which all denominations held) there were over 1,200 people in church, roughly one fifth of the total population. Holy Trinity claimed that "the Congregation on Sunday morning 30th March much below average". Charles Proby, the Vicar of St Mary's complained that the weather had been showery, and that this had affected the numbers.

Amidst the dry statistics of the returns (now in the PRO bound in the volume HO 129/4/133-134) other information comes to light. Four of the clergy signed their church returns: Charles Proby for St Mary's, Thomas Bevan for Holy Trinity, Henry Parish for Twickenham Chapel, and Samuel Haywood for the Congregational chapel (Haywood himself was then living at 20, Trafalgar Square). The Methodist return, however, was completed and signed by Edmund Baker, Steward and Trustee, who lived in Back Lane.

A more personal note was struck by Mr Proby who attached a personal note of comments to his return. He explained his failure to fill in the questionnaire about endowments by adding in his note "I can only say that my feelings militate strongly against such an investigation...though I have been Vicar of this place for upwards of thirty years I have never seen the endowment".

Proby then went on to make certain general points:-

"Having passed my 80th year and having been confined to my room for many months and not perfectly recovered from the effects of powerful medicine I trust to my having as little trouble as possible put now upon me.... I give the numbers as reported to me by the Churchwardens who have employed the best means of ascertaining them but I do not see how they can be of any use, The day being very showery on both morning and evening prayertime - and a Lady's School having removed from the place since Sunday last which school occupied Four or Five Pews - and it having been the day appointed for the reading of the Queen's Letter on behalf of the Society for Propagating the Gospel - But it would be difficult at any time to get even a tolerably accurate of the average attendance at Church in this place from its proximity to London which sends so many visitors..so many by Railway, excursionists. From Kneller Hall being scarcely settled and from The increasing importance given to this station by the Railway Commissioners - It may be useful to remark that the Church is mainly divided into large family Pews many of them being occupied by two or three persons - But it has been compute that if every seat was occupied ( including the schools) 1040 persons would be there - that the wants of the Gentry Tradesmen and poor especially might be supplied by enlarging and re-pewing the church..."

Proby then noted that the "Charity children" numbered 754 Boys (surely an error for 154 boys) and 113 Girls. He also commented that few of the Free seats and unappropriated pews were used by the poor since "some of them are bits of board in the ailes (sic) and Galleries between the Pew doors".

THRC June 1984

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